How to manage the risk of leaving your commercial property empty

How to manage the risk of leaving your commercial property empty

 

If there are two words that owners of commercial properties fear most (behind “late rent”), they would likely be “vacancy rates”.

Having a property become and remain vacant is a worst-case scenario for landlords, and yet it can be very quickly realised in markets with appreciating rental rates or when an asset is poorly managed. Vacant properties can not only cost landlords money in lost rental income, but they can also be targeted by squatters, vandals and thieves. Costs that can be associated with property damage and theft can rack up substantially, putting a further dent in the landlord’s bottom line.

Know the risks

Vacant buildings are a major draw for miscreants, and there are plenty of such buildings throughout the UK.

Vacancy rates in the retail sector rose 161 per cent between December 2008 and March 2013, and although the vacancy rate for offices in London dipped to a 14 year low of 4.8 per cent in Q2 2015, that still leaves a fair amount of unoccupied space. Although you may not have an occupant in your premises, you or your organisation could still be liable and even face prosecution if a trespasser injures themselves while on your property. A trespasser injured in a vacant commercial property once received nearly £600,000 in compensation!

In addition to being liable for any injuries, you will also be liable for any damage done to your property if you fail to notify your insurer. It’s worth noting that when you do, your premiums will likely be affected. However, if you don’t, you could be in found to be in violation of the “change of occupancy clause” which could leave you uncovered and therefore liable for the costs of any damage yourself. Insurers Aviva reveal that £2 billion worth of damage is attributed to vandalism and arson in properties throughout the UK, with 25 per cent of this pertaining to vacant properties.

What you can do

To protect yourself financially in the eventuality your property becomes empty, there are some things you can do:

  •  Where possible, remove any electrical and copper pipes along with radiators, as theft of or damage to these are among the fastest-growing insurance claims, according to Aviva.
  • Remove anything valuable, such as electronics, which could be enticing to thieves or squatters.
  • Carry out a risk-assessment to identify points of entry, and put in place appropriate measures to secure them.
  • Ensure you have a working CCTV and alarm/security system in place in your property, so that in the event it is vacant even for a short space of time, you are quickly alerted to any intruders.
  • Turn off the water supply to eliminate the risk of pipes bursting and causing costly damage.

 

Written by: Charlotte Peel on Thursday 15/09/2016

 

Landlords Set to Foot the Bill for Energy Efficiency Upgrades

Landlords Set to Foot the Bill for Energy Efficiency Upgrades

 

Private rental sector landlords throughout England and Wales could soon be required to fork out for measures that will make their properties more energy efficient.

New laws mean that from 2018 it will officially be illegal for landlords to rent out residential properties that have either F or G energy efficiency ratings.

Until recently, the government has helped landlords carry out eco-friendly upgrades on their properties through Green Deal incentives and tax allowances.

But those methods of offsetting the costs involved in these processes are no longer being made available and many landlords are now expected to be left paying for efficiency improvements out of their own pockets.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has said that it expects the processes involved in upgrading a property from F or G efficiency ratings to cost individual landlords up to £5,000 each.

According to the RLA, the likelihood is that the eventual impact of the new laws relating to energy efficiency and residential properties will be that private tenants are being asked to pay more money each month in rent.

“The government’s proposals will amount simply to another tax on tenants,” said the RLA’s policy consultant Richard Jones in a statement.

The RLA has called for policymakers in Westminster to consider more carefully the impact of whatever measures they introduce to improve energy efficiency levels within the UK’s housing stock and to provide financial help for landlords who are being required to make expensive improvements to their properties.

“Whilst we all want to see improvements in the energy efficiency of homes to rent that cannot come at the expense of driving up rents,” said Richard Jones from the RLA.

Incoming rules mean that by April 1st 2018, all newly let residential buildings or properties with renewed tenancies in England and Wales will need to have at least an E rating with regard to their energy efficiency.

By the beginning of April 2020, the same will be true of all properties being rented out privately anywhere in England and Wales, with breaches to these rules set to carry a civil penalty of up to £4,000.

 

Written by: David Rowling on Wednesday 14/09/2016

 

What are asset-stripping thieves looking for in an empty commercial property?

What are asset-stripping thieves looking for in an empty commercial property?

 

Having a commercial property lay vacant is leaving it subject to a high risk of theft and damage.

Particularly during winter months, the rates of theft occurring in empty commercial properties rises. Due to demand from overseas markets for materials such as metal, these are often among the first things to be stripped from a vacant premises. In fact, according to the Vacant Property Specialists, the pillaging of metals is one of the quickest growing UK crimes. It is also one of the priciest, costing the country an estimated £770 million a year.

According to Aviva, of the £2 billion worth of damage done to property in the UK through vandalism and arson, 25 per cent of it relates to vacant properties. While you may not be able to prevent a property from becoming vacant, there are certain things you can remove from it once this is the case to lessen it’s appeal to thieves:

Electrical and copper pipes

Copper in particular is especially appealing to thieves. Copper can be used to make a number of items, ranging from plumbing accessories to fibre optics, and so it is a valuable metal to hark on black markets. Although the stock price of copper has dropped to a six-year low in September, it is still seen as a versatile and therefore valuable scrap metal, and so the profits associated with it’s theft are tempting.

Radiators

Also among the fastest-growing insurance claims, radiator theft is a rising concern. The metal can again be of interest to a number of parties, and so anything that can be easily detached from the wall is likely to be taken.

Generators

Particularly in the winter months, there is an increase in generator theft throughout the UK. In fact, they are in such high demand, properties don’t even necessarily need to be vacant; in 2013, over £150,000 worth of generators was stolen from an industrial estate in Merseyside after thieves raided the property overnight, entering through a disused and therefore unwatched back gate.

Electronics

Perhaps unsurprisingly, unwanted visitors to a vacant commercial property will lift any piece of technology along with any electronics left lying around. Even if not functional, the parts of the device can be sold and used, and therefore the electronic in question still has value.

Final thoughts:

The longer nights and colder weather of the winter months sees an uptick of theft carried out under the cover of darkness. If you own a vacant property, consider having motion-sensor lighting installed outdoors to deter potential thieves from attempting to gain entry. You should also consult with a specialist security company regarding the installation of other deterrents and safety measures to keep your property secure.

 

Written by: Charlotte Peel on Wednesday 14/09/2016

 

Ways to create better workspaces

Ways to create better workspaces

 

It’s common knowledge that a well-designed and effectively-planned workspace enhances work quality, improves well-being amongst staff, and increases productivity. If your workspace is in need of an overhaul, or if you’ve outgrown it, you might be tempted to search for bigger and better premises. But did you know that there are a number of extremely cost-effective ways to improve what you already have, without the hassle of moving? We take a look at how you can achieve it.

Before you begin

It can be hard to evaluate a workspace when it’s busy and thriving but overcrowded and inefficient. Find a time when employees aren’t there and try to view your premises objectively. Could a lick of paint and a rearrangement of the floor space be enough? If you need more floor area, do you have the capacity to expand? What is your budget for the work you’re considering and could it work harder for you?

Of course, you could do the work yourself, hiring in sub-contractors to build, decorate or generally renovate but, when you’re running a business full time, it can be difficult to justify spending the time on planning the project and implementing it. It can also be hard to see past what’s already there and to imagine the changes which need to be made. This is where you should seek the assistance of independent experts who can see the space with fresh eyes and offer solutions to your problems.

Things they may suggest include:

Extend and expand

If shortage of space is your problem, and you have the potential to expand, it can be considerably cheaper to create more room, rather than moving premises. A good building surveyor will be able to advise you on how to maximise your floor space through additional building work, can assist you in applying for planning permission, and even suggest reputable contractors who can do the work for you.

Better lighting

Studies have shown that poor lighting in an office, warehouse or factory can result in eyestrain, headaches, fatigue and even depression amongst workers. It certainly reduces productivity, and Health and Safety legislation makes ‘suitable and sufficient’ lighting a requirement for safe working conditions. Good lighting is one of the most important elements to consider when planning refurbishments or new building works, and if you can’t get as much natural light into the building as you’d like, think about high-performance, low-energy lighting which will not only increase productivity but also save you money.

Temperature

Having a workspace at the wrong temperature not only reduces productivity but can also lead to illness and absenteeism among your workers and increase the number of errors they make. Getting it right, therefore, is vital. The optimum temperature for an office, for example, is between 21-23°C (70-73°F), so it’s important to have a modern, efficient heating and ventilation system installed.

Noise levels

Open plan offices without adequate acoustics can lead to a 66% drop in productivity, as well as increase stress levels, and absenteeism. In fact, the EU estimates that £34 billion is lost each year due to excessive and unwanted noise in the workplace. Acoustic ceilings, flooring and wall panels can be highly-effective in reducing ambient noise levels and increase efficiency as well as workers’ well-being.

So, before you move, think about how you can improve! Our Building Project and Consultancy team can offer you creative and cost-effective ideas for enhancing your workspace, whatever your budget. Get in touch today for advice and information about your commercial or industrial project.

 

Written by: Ian Harrington on Thursday 08/09/2016

 

 

How to get planning permission for a residential development

How to get planning permission for a residential development

 

It’s well known that the UK is suffering from a housing crisis. The National Housing Federation estimates that in order to house everyone who needs a home we need to be building around 250,000 houses every year, in England alone. The stark truth is that only half that number is being constructed. So, if you’re keen to build a residential development of whatever size, how do you go about getting planning permission?

The planning system

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the planning system, at first glance it can seem quite daunting. Each local authority has its own set of requirements which it has developed to suit the need of its local area. Therefore, an application which is accepted in one area may be rejected in another. It’s worth doing your research before making a planning application to find out what your local authority’s priorities are.

Planners are required to consider applications which enhance the government’s National Planning Policy Framework and which support the following: achieving sustainable development, building a strong, competitive economy, ensuring the vitality of town centres, supporting a prosperous rural community, promoting sustainable transport, supporting high quality infrastructure, delivering a wide choice of high quality homes, requiring good design, promoting healthy communities, protecting Green Belt land, meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change, and conserving and enhancing both the natural and historic environments. Your application will be better received if you can demonstrate that it is in line with both the national framework and your local authority’s stance.

Choosing land

If you have identified a piece of land which on which you propose to build, the good news is that you do not have to own it to make a planning application. You can purchase the land subject to planning permission being granted. This means that completion of the purchase is conditional upon receiving the permission you want or by having an Option Agreement which means that you can buy if the planning permission is successful, or to simply move on, if you’re not.

If the land you have identified has outline planning permission, the principle has been established that it is possible to build on it – the details of the size and shape of the dwelling will be the telling factors and will be listed on the approval document. To achieve full approval a greater depth of detail will be required.

The application process

Once you have your plans drawn up you must submit them via the government’s online planning portal [https://www.planningportal.co.uk/] which will direct your application to the appropriate local authority. Alternatively you can print out copies of the application and post them.

You may wish to seek assistance in drawing up your plans. An architect, builder or solicitor can assist you, or you may wish to engage a planning professional. It is also advisable to have a meeting with a planning officer to discuss your application before submitting your plans – some local authorities charge for this service. There are a range of consents available so it’s important that you make sure you have chosen the correct one – failure to do so will invalidate your application.

You’ll be required to submit the required plans of the development and site you’re proposing, any supporting documentation, a completed form and the correct fee. Supporting documents can consist of a location plan and a site plan, as well as an ownership certificate, an agricultural holdings certificate (whether or not the site has an agricultural holding on it), and a design and access statement, if the authority requires it. Your local authority may also require additional documentation, which will be specified.

It should take about eight weeks to receive a decision from your planning authority. You can track the progress of your application on the system. If it looks likely to be refused, you can withdraw it, amend the plans in accordance with the planners’ guidance and then resubmit it – this will not incur an extra fee. It is important that you avoid a refusal, as the plot or property to be redeveloped may then be ‘blacklisted’ on the system and in the planners’ minds. If you are unsuccessful in your application you can appeal against the decision and while this is a free process it may be a protracted one.

If you need any assistance or advice with the process of obtaining planning permission for a residential development, talk to a member of our team. We have many years’ experience in how the planning process works and can offer you guidance as to what will work best for your development.

 

Written by: Joseph Fitzsimmons on Tuesday 06/09/2016

 

What are the most popular commercial developments in 2016?

What are the most popular commercial developments in 2016?

 

With the recent news that BHS is closing its stores across the country, the UK’s high streets face another hurdle in their efforts to attract customers. However, Britain’s entrepreneurial spirit means that new businesses are starting up to replace those that are lost. We take a look at the newest commercial trends which will boost our economy.

Coffee shops

Consumers in the UK drink around 70 million cups of coffee every day and by the end of the year, it’s estimated that they will have spent almost £8 billion on flat whites, Americanos, lattes and cappuccinos as well as accompanying cake. It’s no wonder, therefore, that coffee shops are springing up all over the country. We can now get our caffeine fix at more than 20,000 high street coffee shop outlets and whether you prefer your drink from one of the leading chains or an independent outlet, there’s no doubt that café culture is here to stay.

e-cigarette shops

It’s now nine years since the government banned smoking in the workplace and enclosed public spaces. Since that time the number of heart attacks as a result of both smoking and passive smoking has fallen by 40% and 900,000 children have been spared illness. It’s also cut the number of smokers down to around 18% of the adult population. To compensate for the lack of opportunity to smoke, vaping has increased in popularity and this has led to around 8,000 e-cigarette shops opening on our high streets. These independent retailers are making the most of the popularity of vaping to offer a wide range of products designed to satisfy the craving for nicotine.

Cat cafés

We’re a nation of animal lovers as demonstrated by the 8.5 million dogs and 7.4 million cats we own. But for those who don’t have the time or space for a pet, a cat café may be the answer. Currently there is a handful in the UK, with cat cafés on the high streets of London, Nottingham, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Dublin and Manchester, with more in the pipeline too. It’s well-known that cuddling a furry friend reduces blood pressure, relieves stress, increases self-esteem and makes you less lonely. So for those of us whose lifestyles prohibit pet keeping, cat, as well as rabbit and owl cafés may be the answer to our prayers. Expect more of them across the country soon.

If you’re looking to begin a commercial adventure in the world of coffee, e-cigs or cats, we can help you. For advice, information and assistance in sourcing your ideal commercial premises, talk to a member of our team. Our knowledgeable and informed staff can help with a variety of issues, from finding a location to ensuring you have the correct lease.

 

Written by: Ian Harrington on Wednesday 31/08/2016

 

Understanding the different types of commercial property surveys

Understanding the different types of commercial property surveys

 

An understanding of the different types of commercial property surveys which are available will help you decide which one you need, and why you need it. We take a look at the variety on offer.

Introduction

Commercial property surveys differ from domestic ones in many regards, not least of which is that they are more comprehensive and concentrate on more than a simple monetary valuation. They are also highly-specific in respect of the client’s commercial needs. For anyone involved in commercial property, as a buyer, seller, landlord or tenant, here is our brief guide to the three most important types of survey.

Building survey

For those interested in purchasing a commercial property, a building survey will provide a detailed report on the condition of a building, highlighting any defects, outlining the current condition and advising if any maintenance will be required in the future. The report will state what the building is constructed from, whether that be steelwork, reinforced concrete, traditional brick etc, and point out if any hazardous material, such as asbestos, is present.

Because of the nature of commercial leases, whereby a tenant is often liable for repairs to the premises, a building survey is essential to clarify in detail the condition of the building and its component parts. Suggestions for remedial works may also be given in the report. For tenants, it is important to understand future repair liabilities and how the implications of this can affect lease negotiations and for those wishing to purchase a property, it can assist with the possibility of a lower price being accepted by the vendor.

Schedule of condition

For both property owners and new tenants, a schedule of condition is a useful report on the state of a commercial property at a given point in time. This report will describe, in detail, the condition of every part of the property, from floor to ceiling, and everything in between, and document that with photographs. This is important for tenants who have a liability within the lease to return the property to its original condition at the end of the term of the lease and has the potential to save thousands of pounds in repairs.

For property owners who have invested in the refurbishment of their property, a schedule of condition is useful to avoid contentious litigation at the end of a lease, if a tenant has damaged or abused the property in some way, providing documentary evidence of its condition at the start of the lease.

Schedule of dilapidations

This type of survey is usually carried out at the end of a lease by a property owner in order to establish the repairing obligations of their tenant, and to understand how best to settle the amount of dilapidation without resorting to legal action. In cases where the dilapidation is considerable, a building surveyor may also act as an expert intermediary in any negotiations, on behalf of either the landlord or the tenant.

It is vital that any commercial property survey of whatever sort is undertaken by a suitably-qualified and -experienced surveyor and that they are a member of The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). The reasons for this are twofold; firstly, RICS surveyors have undergone extensive and on-going training, backed with years of experience; secondly, they have comprehensive public liability insurance which protects both their clients and themselves.

If you need advice or information about any aspect of commissioning a commercial building survey, as a tenant, landlord, purchaser or vendor, talk to a member of our team. Our RICS-qualified experts can offer you professional, confidential guidance on the survey which is right for you.

 

Written by: John Padgett on Wednesday 24/08/2016

 

Which celebrities have commercial property interests?

Which celebrities have commercial property interests?

 

There seems to be no end to the interest we have in celebrities – what they’re wearing, who they’re dating and what misfortunes they’ve encountered in their private lives. But did you know that beneath all the glitter and fake tan, some of them are astute business people? We take a look at which celebrities have diversified their portfolios into commercial property.

Robbie Fowler

Probably Britain’s most well-known celebrity landlord, this former Liverpool FC player owns an estimated 80 residential properties which are thought to be worth over £31 million. At one time he owned all the houses in one street in Oldham. He now shares his commercial nous with prospective landlords in his Property Academy, which offers tips and advice to grow income through investment.

Rupert Grint

Best known as Ron, Harry’s best buddy in the Harry Potter series of films, Rupert invested his considerable earnings into property and now has a portfolio worth an estimated £12.9 million. Concentrating on his home county of Hertfordshire, his property empire, Eevil Plan Properties, spreads over a 20 mile radius and includes property registered in both his father’s and mother’s names.

Andy Murray

Not content with being a double Wimbledon and Olympic champion, Scotland’s finest ever tennis player has invested over £6 million into the purchase and refurbishment of The Cromlix Hotel, near to his home town of Dunblane. Now a five-star, luxury country house hotel it offers 15 bedrooms, a private chapel and tennis courts – naturally. Murray manages his investments through 77 Management Limited, and has recently also purchased a property near to the hotel with plans to incorporate it into the estate.

Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville

Once a formidable force on the football pitch, these two former Manchester United players have combined again to offer football fans the opportunity to stay in a soccer-themed hotel, the Hotel Football, situated close to the Old Trafford ground. They have also teamed up to develop one of Manchester’s finest historic buildings, the Stock Exchange, which is being turned into a boutique hotel, as well as investing over £200 million in a mixed-use development on the site which was formerly known as Jackson’s Row.

Robert de Niro

Hollywood A lister and multi-award-winning actor, Robert de Niro is best known for his performances in over 100 films, but he is also a canny investor. He co-owns several restaurants around the world, including Nobu, a Japanese/Peruvian themed eatery, a branch of which can be found in London’s prestigious Berkeley Square. He has also recently submitted a planning application for permission to build a luxury hotel in Covent Garden.

If you’re looking for commercial property in which to invest, talk to a member of our team. We have the expertise to source precisely what you need and can offer advice and information about every aspect of development. You don’t even need to be a celebrity.

 

Written by: Steven Jones on Tuesday 23/08/2016

 

What is a Principal Designer and what is their role?

What is a Principal Designer and what is their role?

 

In April 2015, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM Regulations) were updated to enhance health and safety issues during a development project. As a result of these changes, a new role, that of Principal Designer (PD) was created. We look at what they do and why it is important.

What is a Principal Designer?

Health and safety is of primary concern during any construction or development project. Without it, those who build, use or maintain structures are at risk. When the CDM Regulations were changed the PD took on full responsibility for CDM during the design phase of a project, as opposed to previously when the role was ‘contracted out’ to an individual who was not fully involved and, therefore, had little say in the design. Under the new rules, PDs have full responsibility for co-ordinating health and safety in the pre-construction phase of a project where there is more than one contractor.

PDs can be an individual (for smaller projects) or part of a larger organisation, and are appointed by the clients. They play a vital role in assessing how health and safety risks can be managed during a development. The decisions they take in the pre-construction phase make a significant impact on the project and ensure that health and safety are paramount throughout the process. PDs are usually architects or project managers and, therefore, have the technical capabilities, experience and understanding to combine their roles during the project.

What does a Principal Designer do?

The PD’s role begins before the construction project has even started. They work alongside the client and the principal contractor and are responsible for planning, managing and co-ordinating health and safety at design stage to identify, eliminate and control any potential risks. They must consider any pre-construction information which is available, such as a pre-existing health and safety file, and offer relevant information to both designers and contractors to enable them to carry out their duties correctly.

The role is very much focused on prevention and seeks to reduce, control and eliminate any possible health and safety risks, in an atmosphere of co-operation and co-ordination. It is their responsibility to ensure that the designers who are being used for a project, possess the correct skills and have sufficient experience in order for them to be able to carry out the work.

For small-scale domestic development projects a PD’s role may be carried out by either the principal contractor or the designer responsible for the pre-construction phase. On larger projects, a PD can appoint a Health and Safety specialist to assist them in performing their duties.

The importance of a Principal Designer’s role cannot be underestimated and should never be omitted from a development project. Like all aspects of health and safety legislation, it is intended to ensure that everyone involved in construction stays safe during the course of their work.

For advice and information on any aspect of building projects, contact a member of our team.

 

Written by: Joseph Fitzsimmons on Monday 15/08/2016

 

Understanding permitted development rights

Understanding permitted development rights

 

Permitted development rights (PDR) mean that certain building works can be undertaken without the need to apply for planning permission. Within a wider context, however, they now apply to the conversion of commercial premises into residential. Could this approach be one way to help solve the UK’s housing crisis? We take a look at what PDR means and what it allows.

PDR

Many homeowners already understand that they can extend their properties by a certain amount without approaching their local authority for planning permission. This has helped many people add space and value to their properties. However, under recently-relaxed rules, which came into force in April 2016, owners of commercial buildings can now convert them to residential under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.

Background

The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 classifies properties into four main groups:

Class A: retail premises including shops, restaurants and banks

Class B: factories, offices, warehouses and workshops

Class C: residential properties, hotels and hostels

Class D: health services premises, day nurseries, galleries, museums and places of worship

Within these Classes are also many sub-divisions.

An amendment to the above Order introduced a new class, J, which means that within strict guidelines, Class B1(a) offices can be converted to Class C3 (dwelling houses), without needing a full planning application.

The conditions in force mean that offices which were used as commercial premises i.e. offices, prior to 30 May 2013, which are not a listed building or a scheduled monument, and which do not form a safety hazard or a military explosives storage area can be converted into residential accommodation.

Caution

It is worth noting that storage facilities such as warehouses are exempt from PDR under Class J and their conversion to residential accommodation will not be permitted.

It is also important to remember that permitted development does not negate the need for consultation with your local authority – they will still have the final say on whether you receive approval, having considered transportation links as well as contamination and flood risks in the area. There may also be restrictive covenants on the building which will need investigating before any work is carried out.

Additionally, certain areas of the country, including the City of London, several London boroughs, outlying areas of London, and Manchester City Centre, are exempt from PDR to convert office space into residential.

Although the relaxation of PDR does not give carte blanche to developers to create homes from former commercial buildings, the new rules may go some way to alleviate England’s housing crisis and provide a sensible and sustainable way to reuse buildings which have fallen out of favour.

If you’d like more information about exactly how the rules are enforced in your area, or are looking for commercial premises with an eye to conversion, contact a member of the Eddisons team. Our experts can provide guidance and expert advice about the changes and help you understand your rights.

 

Written by: Joseph Fitzsimmons on Friday 12/08/2016