Help to buy

There’s loads of debate about whether the government’s help to buy scheme will create (further inflate?) a housing bubble. Radio 4 broadcast an episode of The Report last night which is a really good commentary with views from all sides. Short cut to knowledge!

Security of tenure

I feel passionate about the need for longer term tenancies for people who want to make a home and require security of tenure in their rented property. So passionate that I’ve set up a whole business dedicated to achieving it! So, today I was excited to read Shelter Scotland’s new report The case for greater security for private tenants in Scotland.

In it they document some really good ideas – reviewing the grounds for repossession under assured tenancies, making it easier to create longer tenancies with statute designed to encourage it, and ways to make future rent increases reasonable rather than exploitative.

Although I understand their position, I’m less keen on the idea of scrapping short assured tenancies. I think short assured tenancies serve a useful purpose for many tenants and landlords. I do however agree that short assured tenancies are now being written as the norm when actually both parties would benefit from a modernised form of an assured tenancy.

In my business, I specialise in setting up and looking after long term tenancies. I’m doing it within the existing framework of assured and short assured tenancies. I recommend my landlords begin by offering a short assured tenancy. During the initial period of the tenancy I work with the landlord and tenants to build our relationship. At the end of the initial period we review and if the landlord and tenant want to continue, we talk about whether they would like to change any of the terms of their agreement. For example, they might agree to add a longer notice period, create the next lease with a longer initial period, or move to an assured tenancy.

I would love to see a review of the short assured and assured tenancy statute. It would make these negotiations and agreements much easier and would make this kind of arrangement much more common. I would love to see more tenants with security of tenure and more landlords with long term reliable tenancies in place. This would be so progressive and would the rental sector to be a viable and attractive alternative to home ownership.

Housing market behaviour

I am getting a bit tired of hearing news reports that say “the housing market is recovering” or “housing market does XYZ”. There is a market and the emergent behaviour is the result of the behaviour of each participant (buyers, sellers, lenders and all the other professionals). I understand that commentators are excited by information telling them that things are changing and there is something new to report. However, what I see happening in the housing market here in Edinburgh does not match these reports. This is because I’m looking at the underlying behaviour while they are looking at one metric which hides all the detail.

Here in Edinburgh I have friends who are bidding on properties that are selling in as little as a fortnight. These are properties such as colonies or family sized homes in the city – the key point being there is a limited number of these and the buyers have the means to bid higher.

Then at the other end there are properties which are on the market for months and months, and where the sellers are periodically dropping the price or taking the property off the market. These are first time buyer homes such as one bedroom tenement flats and these buyers haven’t had a real-terms pay rise for years.

How do you describe the market in Edinburgh? Recovering? Bubble? Stagnated? Healthy? It’s all of these things, but in small specific sectors.

What does it matter? Well, I think it matters because the market participants listen to the media reports and their behaviour is affected by what they hear. This then changes the emergent behaviour of the whole market. The market is deeply affected by what people think and say about it. I love the complexity of markets, it’s so interesting, and that’s why I’m frustrated when the news reports simplify things so much.

A woman from Brazil

Red Brick

It would be good to hear more about the work of Raquel Rolnik, the UN special rapporteur on housing. Today she has hit the headlines in the UK for her investigation into the ‘shocking’ bedroom tax and her subsequent condemnation of it as a violation of the human right to adequate housing.

Rolnik also concluded that Britain’s previously good record on housing was being eroded by a failure to provide sufficient quantities of affordable social housing, and more recently by the impact of welfare reform. Her conclusions could carry weight during legal challenges to the bedroom tax because Britain is a signatory to the International Convention that includes adequate housing as a human right.

Lacking in class as always, Tory Chair(man) Grant Shapps failed to deal with the criticism but launched ‘a crude rant against Rolnik’. On the Today programme he said her comments were ‘an absolute disgrace’. He questioned the right of…

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Human right to housing

I could not agree more with the report from Raquel Rolnik on adequate housing in the UK. She reports:

The trend has been to give priority to home ownership in detriment 
of other forms of tenure and to encourage a private renting sector 
with flexible tenure arrangements.
[P]rivate tenancies can be as short-lived as six months and 
significantly more expensive than the social rental sector.
Home ownership has provided housing for more than one generation 
and it is deemed a common aspiration for many. However, the 
takeover of the housing sector by the financial sector has exposed 
many households to a highly volatile market, with skyrocketing 
prices during the boom years [...].
The right to housing is [...] about enabling environments for 
people to maintain their family and community bonds, their local 
schools, work places and health services allowing them to
exercise all other rights, like education, work, food or health.
[...] I would recommend that the Government puts in place a system 
of regulation for the private rent sector, including clear criteria 
about affordability, access to information and security of tenure.
[...] I would encourage a renewal of the Government's commitment 
to significantly increasing the social housing stock and a more 
balanced public funding for the stimulation of supply of social 
and affordable housing which responds to the needs.

Rolnik’s unbiased and fresh reporting is the emperor with no clothes, which I assume is the reason the government has gone mad with denials and retorts this morning. I am so disappointed that when it is presented with clear and useful feedback on the existing situation, without having to pay for expensive research, that it does not listen and take on board the information.

At least in my little corner of the UK, I am working on helping people to find security of tenure. It’s such a basic requirement for most people, and yet so rare in private rented accommodation. Let’s make it easier and more commonplace.

Beauty in public spaces

I loved Art Everywhere. It’s a shame it only lasted for a few weeks, but while it was happening there were some amazing works of art on billboards and poster sites instead of the usual adverts. I generally like the idea of making our environment look nicer, for example guerrilla gardening. Yesterday I noticed a small fox stenciled on a wall on Union Street and was almost tempted to take a picture because I liked it so much. Today I saw this tweet from @leithlate about a new painting taking shape on Leith Walk and was inspired to go down and have a look myself:

Isn’t it great when people can express and create in spaces which otherwise would be functional but not very beautiful. I would love it if we could encourage more of these improvements to our environment.

Code of conduct

The Evening News today has a story about Edinburgh Councillor Cammy Day hoping to introduce a charter of standards expected of private landlords. I’m in favour of a charter, but many in the industry have come out in response saying they’re not in favour, even though they want to raise standards.

Those against it are saying there are already codes of conduct in place and already standards that they need to meet. This is true, however, poor landlords who do not abide by the rules are still operating. Ideally, the rules would be enforced and landlords would all have to meet the requirements. However, enforcement being what it is right now, a charter is quite a useful idea.

I think a charter is another way to build a culture where tenants know their rights and are able to have their rights enforced. It’s not so much that a charter itself is going to fix things, but it’s another initiative which will help to change things for the better.

I’d like to see a private rented sector in Edinburgh where standards are upheld, people live safely and securely, while landlords and their agents are able to trust tenants to look after their properties. Anything which moves us towards this outcome is a good move in my book.