July 2021 – Property Planning

We recently signed up to a new five year fixed mortgage. Five years seemed a good time to fix at 1.65% for, with the spectre of inflation lurking (and potential associated interest rate rises). We’ve spent quite a bit (~£20k) on renovating our current house over the past two years, getting it to how we want it. Over that time local house prices have continued to rise. Wales appears to be bucking the trend, as house prices continue to rise here whilst falling or flatlining elsewhere in the UK (1, 2). Zoopla seems to estimate that our house is worth 10-15% more than we paid for it three years ago. The Rightmove estimates have asking prices for our area rising by 15% in one year (1). This seems an overestimate, and more about ambitious sellers. Either way, we would hope to achieve a 10% increase, and the useful leverage of a mortgage makes the equity my most significant asset.

Received wisdom (or what estate agents tell you) is to buy at the absolute upper limit of what you can afford. Borrow to the hilt, as that outsized leverage will boost your equity return.

When we purchased our current property it was following two previous purchases where we were gazumped/ outbid. For one, a property round the corner from our current home, it went to sealed bids and we narrowly lost. I found out later (through discovery of a mutual friend of the owners) that the ‘winner’ could not meet their bid, pulled out, the sale fell through and the owners remain in the property. The other potential purchase was in a different suburb, 15% more expensive than our current home was priced, and was a proper fixer-upper. We were gazumped by an offer 10% over our asking price bid prior to contract exchange. I am still sore about that.

We set a firm limit on our budget when we were buying this house. The mortgage had to serviceable by a single one of our salaries, just in case. Staring down the barrel of statutory maternity pay I am glad of this self-imposed limit. Estate agents and banks offered us 150% of what we spent, on favourable terms. We looked at some much larger houses in the countryside at the time. Houses that are now worth 20% more thanks to the pandemic rural shift. Will all those people who have moved be happy once they realise the internet doesn’t get better than 10Mbps, no takeaway delivers, and they need to do a 15 minute drive for a pint of milk on a Saturday morning.

Both MrsShrink and I were raised in the countryside (a market town and a hamlet respectively). With the new generation here we will return to our roots at some point. We hope that we haven’t missed the boat on rural house prices; I suspect we haven’t and a rejuvenation of city centres with bars, independent stores and activities will once again lure people back.

A shopping list is already being put together for that eventual purchase. Like Simon Lambert of the This Is Money podcast, stamp duty dissuades us from too many further purchases (3). Without stamp duty we would be tempted towards another five year property step up the ladder. As it is we will probably look for another fixer-upper as a forever home. A lifetime timescale means planning for 20 years in the future, and there the recent IPCC report on climate change has me concerned (4). Everything in the report frankly scares me witless, and I have to hope for the inventiveness, altruism and resourcefulness of the human race, even if others don’t (5, 6). Things like using flooded coal mines to heat homes through geothermal waters (7).

The specific bits of the IPCC report that’s got me thinking refers to sea-level rise and water cycles. Large parts of the UK are only a couple of meters above sea level, and the IPCC report suggests a rise of 0.28-0.55m by 2100 on the minimum best-case climate change projection, 0.63-1.02m in the most likely scenario, and up to 5m in the worst case estimates (Box TS4, Technical Summary)(4). It’s difficult to picture this, and the conventional flood risk calculators from the government (England, Wales, etc) used on building surveys and by insurers don’t seem to take it into account (8, 9). Helpfully Climate Central provide two different models, a coastal screening map and the more complex Surging Seas map which includes multiple models and the latest research based on Antarctic melting (10, 11).

Our future home will need to be >20m above sea level and away from active flood zones. How many of those taking ownership of a new build property as a forever home could anticipate annual flooding in the 2030s due to more extreme weather and sea level rise. We’re also aiming to be as off-grid as possible, for resilience and environmental purposes. Solar PV, ground source heat pumps, micro-hydro, and Tesla Powerwalls are all future dreams. Is this overly extreme? A bit prepper? Would welcome thoughts in the comments.

July’s Finances

Checking the assets and liabilities:

These are taken, as always, from my Beast Budget spreadsheet. I saved around 33% (28% not including pension) of my salary, which will probably be the last of the big savings months as MrsShrink is moving to statutory maternity pay. This months S&S ISA money again went into Vanguard’s ex-UK Dev World Acc Fund. There’s been a bit of churn in my Freetrade account, moving out of meme stocks into more long term holdings – mostly selling the last of my GME/ PLTR. If you fancy a free share, sign up to Freetrade with this link (I also get one).


  • Groceries – Budget £200, spent £396.02, last month £281.22 – This is hugely over. MrsShrink and I sat down and noticed we had been spending at least £150/week in supermarkets, plus smaller shops. We’re not sure what this is on, which is a worry, so it’s going to be rice and beans for a month to see.
  • Entertainment – Budget £100, spent £133.45, last month £219.15 – We’ve been hosting a bit this month, which explains this cost
  • Transport – Budget £250, spent £384.92, last month £445.35 – More car parts. Thanks to my Starling pots and budgeting I’ve still got a little set aside for this
  • Holiday – £150, spent £0, last month £0
  • Personal – £100/ £78.71/ £236.81
  • Loans/ Credit – £50/ £960/ £340 – The main focus this month
  • Misc – £50/ £145.83/ £535.24 – A baby is an expensive investment
  • Fees – £300 /£421.85/ £630.26 – My indemnity fees have increased, so I’ll need to revisit this

In the garden:

Full on harvesting now, with lots of green beans, courgettes, cucumbers and squashes. First tomatoes should be this month, and the potatoes are hardening off in the ground ahead of being lifted. The heatwave caused a lot of my lettuce to bolt, so I’ll need to sow some more. I’ve also got some curiosities (luffa, salad burnet, land cress) going in the greenhouse.

Happy August everyone!

The Shrink


  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-58203740
  2. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-9893165/House-prices-UK-Asking-prices-fall-time-year-says-Rightmove.html
  3. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/podcast/index.html
  4. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/#TS
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2021/08/16/latest-ipcc-report-predicts-disasteryet-again-but-not-much-will-happenyet-again/
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/aug/13/ipcc-latest-climate-report-hope
  7. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210706-how-flooded-coal-mines-could-heat-homes
  8. https://flood-warning-.service.gov.uk/informationlong-term-flood-risk/postcode
  9. https://naturalresources.wales/flooding/check-your-flood-risk-by-postcode/?lang=en
  10. https://coastal.climatecentral.org/map/11/-0.1212/51.4848/?theme=sea_level_rise&map_type=year&basemap=roadmap&contiguous=true&elevation_model=best_available&forecast_year=2050&pathway=rcp45&percentile=p50&return_level=return_level_1&slr_model=kopp_2014
  11. https://ss2.climatecentral.org/#9/51.5074/-0.1278?show=satellite&projections=0-K14_RCP85-SLR&level=5&unit=feet&pois=hide

Property Renovation Lessons III

A return to the Property Renovation series, picking up from where I left off in part II considering internal fabric and structure. Here I’ll look at room specific construction, layout and furnishings.

Dry Rooms

I am using this as a catch-all for lounge/ living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, offices, corridors… basically any room that doesn’t involve plumbing beyond central heating radiators.

The vast majority of fittings and furnishings in these rooms will be cheap to fix and replace. I’ve covered the walls and floors themselves in part II, but what about the added features. There’s a brief ‘Bluffers Guide’ to period features available here, which I’ll expand on in part (1).


Is the wood panelling surrounding doors, windows and cupboards, which covers where plaster would crack over time through repeated movement. Fancier houses have fancier architrave. Cheap modern renovations or late 20th century houses often have very simplistic architrave. There’s actually very few styles and most have been around since the Victorian era, so it’s easy enough to replace and match. At worst, you can have a specialist company make a pattern and mill you some to match.

Image Credit: Pinterest

Ceiling Roses

Generally seen in older properties, ceiling roses first started appearing in the 1600s in affluent plastered homes as a ceiling decoration for chandeliers (2). They spread through the 18th and 19th centuries, gradually evolving in design such that you can use design elements to date a room if you’re a proper nerd. By the 1850s developments in plaster meant that a ceiling rose did not have to be sculpted by hand, but could be cast in a workshop and sold in large volumes. These days you can get them in polystyrene (why?), plaster or metal (even more why?) in various styles off the shelf. Ceiling roses only really suit a room (IMO) with a 12-foot plus ceiling, but can be a good way to add period features back in quickly.

Image Credit: Victorian Cornice Company


In a similar vein, corbels were originally simple projections from walls which held up structures above. The Victorians took inspiration from medieval builders in designing patterned corbels, which became more decorative (3). They reached a point of being entirely decorative, often non-weightbearing and made of plaster. They can also be found on fireplaces and shelving.

Image Credit: Pinterest


Cornicing and Coving (and Friezes)

Cornicing is the decorative moulding found at the junction of wall and ceiling. Technically cornicing is actually any form of horizontal decorative element that tops a building feature, the word cornice coming from the italian for ledge, and so external decorative moulding is also cornicing (4). We use cornicing interchangeably due to classical description of internal cornice over a frieze, with an architrave below. Cornicing tends to therefore refer to more intricately patterned mouldings, whilst coving is simpler. Cornicing and coving both come in plaster, polystyrene (and GRP/ other plastics) and wooden forms. Repairing damaged plaster cornicing can be pretty difficult, so always worth checking the state of all rooms. In really smart houses, echoing their classical roots, you may find plaster friezes below the cornicing and above the picture rail. Again from the 1850s onwards these could be cast in complete lengths and then fitted on site. Many of these skills have now been lost, and heavy successive coats of paint can hide detail, so finding such features in good condition is a treat.


Image credit: The Victorian Emporium

Dado rails and picture rails

A dado rail sits at around 90cm from the floor, and was originally used in the Georgian period to protect the wall from chair backs during formal dances (5, 6). They fell out of fashion but then returned as a separator for friezes or anaglyptas.

Picture rails have been around since the 15th century, but again we have the Victorians to thank for their widespread use as the lowly proletariat added them to their parlours as a fashionable way of hanging pictures (7). That is still what they’re for. If you have picture rails, please use them, don’t then stick a nail in the bloody wall. As ceilings got lower so did picture rails. As such, there is no correct height, picture rails can be placed anywhere between coving to architrave, but are generally placed 30 to 50cm (12 to 20in) below the ceiling. Picture rails are a great feature for a period home, and painting above in a lighter colour can add to the feeling of height as well as lightening up otherwise imposing rooms (8).

Image Credit: VintagePropertyRestoration.co.uk


Serves the same function as architrave, masking the gaps between edges of plaster and floorboards which are likely to move. Skirting began to be used in the Georgian period, but again became popular in the Victorian era (9). The more grand or ornate the house, the taller and more intricate the skirting, before gradually becoming smaller again up to the 1980s. Much like architrave, skirting now comes in plastic, softwood or metal forms, and can be made to order to match previous designs. It’s worth pointing out the difference with wood panelling, traditionally in the UK called wainscot, a much older technique pre-dating plaster. This dates from when buildings were stone, and wood panels were added to reduce draughts and keep the room warmer. Later they became decorative. Out of fashion currently, and you’ll need a carpenter to repair (10).

Image Credit: Pinterest

All of the above furnishings and fittings can be added back in with care and attention to detail (8, 11). The ’70s has a lot to answer for in terms of removal of features, but equally the current pre-occupation with Victorian features may well go out of fashion. We’ve viewed our position as custodians, and tried not to remove features of our property as we’ve renovated, even if we don’t like them.

Fireplaces and chimneys

For as long as there have been dwellings, humans (great apes) have had fireplaces. These developed from central cooking fires, to hearths, to the inglenook. These were enclosed hearth areas off a main room, which incorporated a cooking area, a main fire, and sometimes bread ovens etc (12).

Image Credit: Wikimedia

These enclosed hearths were gradually incorporated into the room while retaining the grate or back. Cast iron firebacks were used to retain and radiate heat. Decorative surrounding were added in the Louix XIV, XV and XVI periods, extending into the Georgian period with more classical plaques or motifs (13). In the Victorian period developments in mass metalworking allowed for cast iron insets for fireplaces (14). These, and stylistic developments are most commonly seen today. Due to the gradual development of styles over time it’s possible to date most fireplaces to a rough decade, like the Victorian one below (13, 14). Reclamation yards usually have a good selection of styles, and reproductions are available. 

Image Credit: FireplaceAntiques.co.uk

From the Edwardian era through the Art Deco period fireplaces were more commonly concrete and tile, and these can be harder to repair though replacements are available (15). The first electric fireplace came along in 1995 (just an overgrown electric radiation to me), and modern fireplaces are usually more about home interior design than serving as a traditional focal point. Make sure to match your new fireplace to the correct era. 

Image Credit: c20fireplaces.co.uk

A significant caveat and kicker when looking at properties to purchase or for renovations is around chimney breasts. These are the (usually) brick structures surrounding the fire and flue up to the chimney. They support the weight of the chimney above, and are often integral to the structural design of the property (16). Where fireplaces and chimney breasts have been removed for design or space purposes always check this has been done to regulations and by someone who knows what they’re doing. Because of the weight carried above it would be usual to take the whole chimney out, not just a ground floor section. If this is the case then permanent support for the chimney above will need to be inserted, usually designed by a structural engineer (17). Beware the cowboy!

Wet Rooms


For some, the place to brush your teeth and shit, hopefully not at the same time. For others, a place of tranquil relaxation. Interior design styles with bathrooms seems to change yearly, so I’ll only briefly touch on things here. The Victorians, they obsessed with cleanliness, again kicked us off in the modern understanding of bathrooms once they mastered hot water, cast iron baths, plumbing and Mr Crapper added his flourish. Although I must admit, if I get the resources I’d go full caldarium/ frigidarium.

Image Credit: Hevac-Heritage.org

These spread after WW1, though your lowly commoner only really got indoor toilets and bathrooms post-WW2. Early versions had a water heater (often gas) next to the bath. During this period most fixtures were cast iron or ceramic, and decoration was often in the form of tiling. The claw foot freestanding bathtub began to disappear due to space constraints, and because they’re a pain to clean around (18). Matching sets became fashionable, and with the uptake of coloured plastics we reached the avocado bath era (see part 1). Finally, in the 90s and 00s everything went sanitary white, for that sterilised clinical slab look.

Badekar og varmtvannsbereder

Image Credit: Norsk Folke Museum

Lightweight plastics and modern manufacturing methods mean there’s a smorgasbord of choice. Modern style appears to be going more slimline – low rise freestanding showers and built in toilets. Not my personal taste as they can be a pain to DIY repair. Lots of classical designs are also being re-used or updated (19). Even the bloody avocado bath (20). So don’t rip it out just yet, the design world is your oyster.


Tied in with the hearth and central room for most of history, the spread of kitchens to the masses also came with the Victorians. This time as they cleared people from shared living slums to their own private homes. This coincided with wood or coal-fired stoves, which were much more efficient and quicker than open fires (21). These were developed to run on gas (1826) and electric (1912). Victorian kitchens were utilitarian workspaces, often with a Belfast or butler sink in a separate scullery (for wet cleaning work) and foodstuff stored in a pantry. The late C19th and early C20th saw these spaces opened up and incorporated (you can’t fit a scullery in a miner’s terrace). They’ve gradually become cleaner, sleeker and with more accoutrements as time has gone on. From a renovation point of view kitchens can soak up money, and you largely get what you pay for. A quick repaint and re-tile may be a few hundred, a second hand or cheap kitchen may cost you £1-3k, decent high end kitchens run to tens of thousands. Buyers choice.

Image Credit: John Desmond/ Veterans United

Renovation potential

How many thousands of articles are there on assessing renovation potential? Everyone wants the short cuts. So now you’ve read my rough guide to features here’s some tips:

  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Most people (I think) will at some point want to make a stamp on the property they own. A lot of these stamps are highly personal taste. What you think is renovation, updating or beautifying may not be what a buyer or renter wants to see. Know your target: is this your forever home, a five-year stepping stone, or a BTL. 

  • Know the local ceiling price

Leading on from the above, there’s no point buying a three-bed terrace and then throwing in a £30k kitchen, extension, basement and loft conversions if after all that it’s only worth £100k. (Caveat: does not apply if you consider it your forever home). Go on Zoopla or Rightmove and look at the sold house prices for a feel for maximum value (22). For BTLs there’s a good calculator at South St made by one of the r/UKPersonalFinance people (23)

  • The ugly work can add the most, but might add nothing

Before thinking about painting, that new bathroom, the six-burner rangemaster, do the shitwork. Make the house warm, dry, secure and free of damp. Structural defects may be hidden and can cost huge amounts to correct with no direct gain to property value. Central heating, rewiring and re-plastering are messy jobs, but will almost always add value. The jobs which need special skills and are the most difficult are often the ones that add the profit (22, 24, 25).

  • Know your limits

If you’ve never held a paintbrush then raising the roofline for extra head space in that loft conversion is probably a bit too much. Be prepared to leave stuff to professionals (26). One man with the right tools could do something in two days that would take you two weeks. Brickwork, structural work, roofing, plumbing, and electrics all require specialist skills and kit. Plastering, carpentry and painting are all better with experience. 

  • Get it certificated 

Linked to the above, tradesmen will be insured and appropriately qualified. Many property changes require certification. The sob pages of the tabloids are filled with stories about eejits wasting money (27, 28). Get multiple quotes. Get planning permission. Get it signed off and keep the certificate somewhere safe (29).

Final Points

Here’s three take homes if you can’t be bothered remembering all that:

  1. Know your worth – that overtime at your day job may be a better return on investment than DIY
  2. Know the value – of the local property, and how long you’re willing to hold it for to calculate cost/ benefit/ return on investment
  3. Get multiple quotes, use reputable traders, get the certificates

Hope that was useful!

The Shrink


  1. https://www.houzz.co.uk/magazine/a-bluffers-guide-to-identifying-period-features-stsetivw-vs~79477800
  2. https://www.prickettandellis.com/period-features-a-rose-by-any-other-name/
  3. https://www.patterncut.com/history-of-corbels-medieval-modern-architecture.html
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornice
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dado_rail
  6. https://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/advice/plaster-mouldings-and-dado-rails
  7. https://www.1900s.org.uk/1900s-parlour.htm
  8. https://www.vintagepropertyrestoration.co.uk/blog/55-picture-rail
  9. http://allenpartnership.co.uk/a-brief-history-of-skirting-boards/
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panelling#Wainscot_panelling
  11. https://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/advice/plaster-mouldings-and-dado-rails
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inglenook
  13. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/how-to-choose-a-fireplace-and-identifying-historical-design/
  14. https://www.fireplaceantiques.co.uk/history-of-antique-fireplaces
  15. http://www.c20fireplaces.co.uk/rfpi
  16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimney_breast
  17. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/how-to-remove-a-chimney-breast/
  18. https://www.brownstoner.com/architecture/victorian-bathroom-history-plumbing-brooklyn-architecture-interiors/
  19. https://www.realhomes.com/design/traditional-bathroom-ideas
  20. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/interiors/avocado-bathroom-suite-now-back-fashion/
  21. https://www.johndesmond.com/blog/design/a-brief-history-of-the-kitchen/
  22. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/how-to-renovate-for-profit/
  23. https://south.st/test/
  24. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/20-sure-ways-to-add-value-to-your-home/
  25. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/renovation-assessing-the-potential/
  26. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/diy-what-to-leave-to-the-professionals/
  27. https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/months-work-thousands-spent-added-13191459
  28. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6303067/Woman-forced-tear-dream-home-spent-150-000-renovating.html
  29. https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/08/the-five-home-improvements-most-likely-to-blow-your-budget/

Reasons to be fearful and cheerful in 2020

So a new year, a new decade, has arrived. What could lie ahead, and how could it impact your goals? In general I try to avoid the news and speculation on this blog. For ease of digestion I’ve condensed down my thoughts on current risks and boons on the financial horizon into this one post. As one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure I’ve not separated the positive and negative, and any old hack can predict doom, so in a linked follow-up to this post I’ll also offer some ‘Ninja-style’ thought experiments. I encourage you to play out the options in your head, thoughts and comments welcome.

  • The whole damned B***it saga is nearly over.

Or at least we can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Is that light a rose-tinted halycon glow of coal-fired power stations and a Wolseley in every council-semi car port? Or is it a bright new future of an independent UK driven by strong economic growth and an embrace for emerging technologies? Is it both? Does it matter?

It is re-assuring that following the general election there was a general upswing in economic confidence in the UK, typified by the surge in the pound (1). But since the heady heights of $1.34/5, we’ve seen the pound whipsaw depending on what BoJo is saying, whether Trump is inadvertently warmongering, and the ECB/ BoE’s machinations (2). My top line take is companies hate uncertainty, and at least the current government will provide some certainty, even if it’s distasteful to some quarters. Whether you’re pro-Brexit like the DIY Investor UK, or anti like TI at Monevator, at least we can all agree that it’s time to get the debacle moving (3, 4).

  • World markets continue on an unprecedented bull run

People keep predicting recessions. They’ve not happened. Last year saw gains on the US stock market (S&P 500) of 28% (5, 6). Alright some of that was recouping the losses of the December 2018 ‘correction’, but that’s still massive. In fact it was the best return since 2013, with new record highs.

Help from the US Federal Reserve through cheap cash, and new tech IPOs/ expansion are the fuel for this growth. Trade wars, warnings of global economic slowdowns, Brexit and the inverted yield curve have all been unable to stop this juggernaught. The Stoxx Eurozone 600 also a 23% jump, with the Shanghei Composite close on 22%, and the Nikkei 225 a relative laggard at 18% (6). The FTSE was the only fly in the ointment at 12% (7). Still impressive by most standards. The CBOX Volatility Index (^VIX), a measure of fear in the market where spikes are usually associated with sell-offs, started 2020 well down on 2019. Much of 2019 was spent between 16-22, where fear levels greater than 15 suggest traders think a recession is imminent. 2020 started around 12-14 (8). Traders see people crying wolf about recessions, and are starting to ignore them. Investment through low-cost index funds may have removed the human behavioural volatility from the market, whilst consistent developments in technology and other sectors mean that gains in one area offset slowdowns in others (9, 10). Is the permanent bull charge the new normal?

  • Interest rates remain low meaning cheap credit and mortgages

Interest rates were cut in the wake of the 2008 recession, and they’ve remained there and it looks like they’ll stay low for the forseeable future (11, 12). The BoE base rate is currently 0.75%, and didn’t change at the last vote (12). In the US mortgage rates are also falling, though for different reasons (13). This is crap for cash savings, but fantastic for mortgages which due to the ongoing competition in the market, remain at or around record low rates (14). The house price to earnings multiples are also falling, and the combination of cheap mortgages, a bit of government certainty and (slightly) more affordable prices means the number of mortgage approvals is going up (15, 16). For us on the street this means cheaper mortgages and cheaper credit cards.

  • Monetary policy is limited by current low interest rate

Interest rates have been kept low over the last decade to continue stimulus (along with quantitative easing) to the sluggish economy. Here’s a 7 minute video on how interest rates influence inflation and public spending as the basis of monetary policy (17):

Low interest rates discourage cash savings and encourage spending (18). But the economy remains beset by headwinds, and at this point in the (supposed) economic cycle we should have high interest rates that can be cut again when the next recession comes. Instead quantitative easing and low interest rates have remained. Where can economic policy go to spur further growth? Some countries have started using negative interest rates to promote spending (19). Most notable is Japan, which has had negative interest rates for decades, with minimal effect on growth (20, 21). Has Japan led the way into a brave new world of shackled economic policy and stagnant growth?

  • Flatlining property prices

This could be something to cheerful about, or fearful about, depending on your point of view. Dan at Pursue Fire discussed in this month how house prices appear to have rebounded somewhat since the December 2019 election (22). This is Money also did a useful piece, looking at what different organisations are predicting for the coming months on property prices (23). The general consensus is that house price growth will remain ~2%, roughly in line with inflation. Lots of reasons behind this, which can be broadly summarised as: very high house price to earnings ration (-ve effect on sales due to affordability), low mortgage interest rates (+ve effect on sales due to affordability), government meddling with Help to Buy and LISAs (+ve effect on sales and inflation of prices), government meddling with Buy-to-Let rules (-ve effect on prices through landlords offloading property), changes in immigration including Brexit (-ve effect on house prices in South East due to decreased demand), and the coming of age of interest only mortgages (unknown so far). Bad news for those whose nest egg/ pension is the growth in equity in their property, good news for anyone just starting out or upsizing. All those wannabe property developers better pack up their bags, as the days of 10% year on year growth may well be gone (24).

  • Corporate and private debt is reliant on low interest rates

A monetary policy of low interest rates has not only meant cheap mortgages, but also cheap debt for consumers and industry. Those 0% interest credit cards are tempting. So tempting UK household debt has risen 11% in the last two years (25). One could argue that recent lifestyle inflation/ keeping up with Jones’ has been financed with cheap debt, but these stories are never that simple. If you deep dive Hire Purchase (PCP) and ballooning student loans (not low interest rate) are the majority of the story (26). What happens to all this debt if the interest rates start to rise?

Looking beyond private debt, there was some debate in media channels about the rise of ‘zombie firms’ – companies where turnover and profit were persistently low and with high leverage (27, 28). These firms have hung about because low interest rates enable them to survive, whilst in the good old days a recession would have killed them off. They drag down productivity and GDP, crowd out markets and generally stink up the place like a good zombie but with less bitey action. They haven’t gone away and probably constitute 10-15% of global companies (29). The IMF has spoken of almost 40% of the debt in the eight world leading economies would be too expensive to service in a recession (30). These crappy companies and their dodgy debt remain a sword of Damocles hanging over the market (31).

  • Many financial products offering high returns or underlying current strategies are untested

There’s a whole raft of financial instruments which can be filed under ‘working now’, promising and at times attaining strong returns, which have never seen an economic downturn. That’s either because they’ve gone mainstream since 2008, or they’ve been developed since then. We’ve got no idea what will happen to them. In this bucket of uncertainty I chuck:

  1. P2P lending – Connecting those investing with those borrowing with minimal middle men (32). I’ve spoken before about my concerns of default risk in P2P. There’s analyses that suggest P2P resembles subprime mortgages (32). The default rate at Zopa was 4.52%, and 5% doesn’t look unreasonable. The services take a percentage to cover for these defaults, but what happens when the default rates start to rise in an economic downturn. Zopa has stress-tested again BoE modelling, so here’s hoping they’re doing enough (33, 34).
  2. Buy to let, particularly student flats and hotels – As investors look for returns and the BTL allowances are tightened, those seeking returns have lent on students. Much easier to be a student landlord than a slum landlord. Increasing numbers of students, particularly from overseas, have been seeking better quality accommodation than the traditional damp bedsit. This has driven a property boom, with plenty of agencies helping you to invest in a purpose built flat providing 7-15% returns (35, 36, 37). University cities around the UK have seen massive blocks of flats go up to house students (35, 38).  Problem is students don’t want to live in them as they’re too expensive, and there’s now market oversupply (39, 40). I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to spend £600+/month for a studio flat with shared kitchen. My student accommodation was £280/month with an ensuite. That’s £300 for beer! So the companies are going under and investors are losing out (41). Hotel room investment appears to be aimed at a similar target market (42). 10% returns in bricks-and-mortar away from the scary stock market. Investment in this sector is growing despite a string of high profile collapses and vague references to ‘ponzi-schemes’ (43, 44). Frankly I file the whole idea under ‘too good to be genuine’.
  3. PCP car sales My pet hate, I advise everyone to read the FCA findings and tell me how this is not a car crash waiting to happen (45). Default rates remain low, but commission-based salesman are racing to the bottom of the lending pool. Everyone who wants a flash car has one, people aren’t buying but the pressure for sales remains (46). There’s already talk it could be the next PPI, but people are signing themselves up to this wittingly (47). Even when they admit they don’t understand (48). I’ll stick to my ropey old shitbox.
  4. Crypto – I’m not even going to try and speculate on that rollercoaster.

The simple answer here is stick to tried and tested financial mechanisms.

  • China, the engine room of recent growth, has an untested banking sector

Bit of a funny communist state China. The majority of the banks remain state-owned, and there’s a national culture of saving. They therefore rarely share worries about the sector. Beyond the state banks are ‘shadow banks’, which have funded much of the real estate development in recent years (49, 50). The lending those banks were built on was fuelled and funded by China’s hyperbolic growth. Now that growth is slowing, risky business ventures are failing, and there’s been a spate of bank bail-outs (50). Stress tests suggest this is the tip of the iceberg, with the People’s Bank of China’s annual stability report suggesting 586 out of 4,379 banks are at high risk of collapse (51).

  • Green and sustainable technology and funds are going mainstream

The diversification and ease with which individuals can self-invest, coupled with global recognition of the climate emergency, is fuelling a massive growth in green and sustainable funds. Millennials aren’t consulting a financial advisor and then putting cash in an active fund containing oil and tobacco, they’re using Nutmeg or Wealthsimple and selecting green companies (52). It feels like a tipping point has been reached when even companies like Vanguard bow to pressure (53, 54). Growth follows investment, and I hope the pressure will mean a societal industrial shift towards sustainable approaches. Are we seeing the re-invention of our economy, the greatest shift since the industrial revolution?


  • 2019-nCoV, a.k.a Wuhan Virus. 

To be clear, there are lots of coronaviruses, they are a source of the common cold. The novel coronavirus which emerged in Wuhan is a nasty bastard. I’ve been chatting to my friends who work in infectious diseases and they’re worried. To them it is Wuhan virus, and that is how I’ll refer to it. Why is it so bad:

  1. It’s seriously infectious – Conservative modelling suggests a basic reproductive number (R0) of 2.68, i.e. every infected person spreads it to 2.68 others (55, 56). I’ve seen less conservative estimates at 4. Epidemic doubling time is 6.4 days. Growth within the population is exponential. For reference most pandemic and endemic infections have R0s between 2-5, including Spanish Flu (57).
  2. It can be asymptomatic or mild – Control measures such as those used for Ebola, SARS, MERS etc were effective because once someone contracted the infection they became unwell, and they could be separated out and isolated. Their symptoms allowed isolation during the infectious period. Wuhan virus appears to be infectious while asymptomatic, meaning people can spread it without knowing (58).
  3. It hits the mortality sweet spot – It appears to kill around 1-2% of those diagnosed (probably much lower with asymptomatic cases). Ebola, SARS, MERS etc were all more deadly, but this reduces a pathogens ability to spread quickly and reduces the host reservoir. Wuhan virus kills the old and infirm, at a rate that maintains a large host population (59, 60).
  4. China has almost certainly hidden the true numbers – People in Wuhan are having quick burials, others aren’t being tested, and the fact Wuhan virus can be mild and asymptomatic suggests the spread could be significant worse than reported (61, 62).


People are already speculating on the effects of Wuhan Virus on the stock market (63, 64, 65). My friends suggest this is the next Spanish Flu, and we’ll see tens of thousands of deaths globally amongst the infirm and elderly (66, 67). We live in interesting times.

So that’s it, and I haven’t even touched on Trump or the Middle East (68). Making forecasts is a fools game, the only surety of which is that you’ll smack yourself for what you said (69). We suffer from huge psychological biases when thinking about the future (70). Is a consistent bull run the new normal, or will we see another great depression (71)? Join my in my next post to think through the options.


  1. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/general-election-result-pound-dollar-euro-exit-poll-tory-boris-johnson-a9244661.html
  2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50821583
  3. http://diyinvestoruk.blogspot.com/2019/12/we-are-leavingat-last.html
  4. https://monevator.com/weekend-reading-brexit-bites/
  5. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/31/the-stock-market-boomed-in-2019-heres-how-it-happened.html
  6. https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/sp-500-2019-annual-return-for-year-best-since-2013-2019-12-1028790061?
  7. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50955629
  8. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/v/vix.asp
  9. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2020/01/22/bull-market-without-end-amen/#146f30422637
  10. https://www.wsj.com/articles/global-stocks-mixed-on-last-day-of-exceptional-year-11577787736
  11. https://www.forbes.com/sites/billconerly/2020/02/01/interest-rate-forecast-remaining-low-throughout-2020/#4aa5548b5395
  12. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-7947231/Interest-rates-kept-hold-0-75-Mark-Carneys-rate-decision.html
  13. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/01/30/mortgage-rates-sink-their-second-lowest-levels-three-years/
  14. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-7723941/Ten-year-fixed-mortgage-rates-hit-new-record-low.html
  15. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jan/27/uk-banks-mortgages-interest-rates
  16. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/housing-market-england-mortgage-approvals-lending-a9311706.html
  17. https://youtu.be/4XYlQ_HbDTw
  18. https://www.economicsonline.co.uk/Managing_the_economy/Monetary-policy.html
  19. https://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2019/oct/29/negative-interest-rates-mad-economic-science-or-the-logical-next-step
  20. https://www.fxstreet.com/analysis/japan-negative-interest-rates-and-the-death-of-monetary-policy-202001021535
  21. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/11/13/japan-economy-west-us-economic-future-trump-topsy-turvy/
  22. https://pursuefire.com/monthly-update-16-december/
  23. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-7801417/What-property-prices-Britain-2020-onwards.html
  24. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-7943741/House-prices-174-years-70-year-period-got-cheaper.html
  25. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50671834
  26. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/bulletins/householddebtingreatbritain/april2016tomarch2018
  27. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/may/06/zombie-firms-a-major-drag-on-uk-economy-analysis-shows
  28. https://fortune.com/2019/09/02/why-zombie-companies-are-on-the-rise-and-could-pose-a-threat-to-the-u-s-economy/
  29. https://www.businessinsider.com/zombie-firms-statistics-on-low-interest-rates-and-leveraged-loans-2018-10?r=US&IR=T
  30. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jan/04/debt-will-kill-global-economy-pensions-ageing-population
  31. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2020/01/14/trillion-dollar-corporate-debt-mountain-threatening-worlds-economy/
  32. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/peer-to-peer-lending.asp
  33. https://www.moneyobserver.com/how-will-p2p-fare-during-downturn
  34. https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2019/12/05/created-to-democratise-credit-p2p-lenders-are-going-after-big-money
  35. https://www.ft.com/content/770992fc-d3d6-11e9-a0bd-ab8ec6435630
  36. https://www.rw-invest.com/student-property-investments/
  37. https://www.endsleigh.co.uk/blog/post/why-property-investors-are-buying-student-accommodation/
  38. https://www.studyinternational.com/news/student-housing-uk-europe/
  39. https://moneyweek.com/503652/investing-in-student-property-doesnt-stack-up
  40. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/buytolet/article-5620311/How-invest-student-property-buy-let.html
  41. https://www.ft.com/content/1db98d5c-98c5-11e9-9573-ee5cbb98ed36
  42. https://sterlingwoodrow.com/hotel-room-investment/
  43. https://www.savills.co.uk/research_articles/229130/274445-0
  44. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-50350281
  45. https://www.fca.org.uk/publication/multi-firm-reviews/our-work-on-motor-finance-final-findings.pdf
  46. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46774053
  47. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2019/10/05/car-financing-loans-could-erupt-next-ppiscandal/
  48. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-7546811/Nine-ten-motorists-confused-car-finance-options.html
  49. https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/paper-dragons-will-china-cause-next-financial-crash
  50. https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3044148/chinas-banking-debt-crisis-ticking-time-bomb-must-be-defused-urgent
  51. https://www.fxstreet.com/analysis/theres-a-major-banking-crisis-unfolding-in-china-202001080837
  52. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2019/02/16/millennials-push-green-bonds-mainstream/
  53. https://www.ft.com/content/7d64d1d8-91a6-11e9-b7ea-60e35ef678d2
  54. https://www.ft.com/content/5b6caa5e-bd4f-11e9-89e2-41e555e96722
  55. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30260-9/fulltext
  56. https://www.ft.com/content/ed3fb63e-41ce-11ea-bdb5-169ba7be433d
  57. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_reproduction_number
  58. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/study-reports-first-case-of-coronavirus-spread-by-asymptomatic-person/
  59. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00236-9
  60. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/30/opinion/wuhan-coronavirus-epidemic.html
  61. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/01/25/quick-burials-lack-tests-raise-fears-cornavirus-outbreak-much/
  62. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/jan/26/coronavirus-could-infect-100000-globally-experts-warn
  63. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-51239745
  64. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-51262450
  65. https://www.ccn.com/chinas-economy-on-the-brink-as-coronavirus-fears-intensify/
  66. https://khn.org/morning-breakout/who-to-reevaluate-global-emergency-designation-as-coronavirus-spreads-at-rate-of-1918-spanish-flu-pandemic/
  67. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/coronavirus-flu-healthcare-symptoms/
  68. https://www.fool.com/investing/2020/01/28/these-4-world-events-could-kick-off-a-market-crash.aspx
  69. https://rpseawright.wordpress.com/2020/01/02/forecasting-follies-2020/
  70. https://www.collaborativefund.com/blog/the-psychology-of-prediction/
  71. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jan/17/head-of-imf-says-global-economy-risks-return-of-great-depression

The Full English – Sparking joy

What am I blathering on about this week?

We’ve been watching a lot of Marie Kondo on Netflix in our house. If you’ve not seen it, it’s a bit of a weird sell. A tiny japanese woman with a penchant for organising sorts out hoarders houses. Here she is (1):

Now she’s made a profession (and massive cash) out of perfecting tidying up. She’s sold millions of books, and sparked plenty of knock-offs (2). Her key points are fairly simple, and revolve around attacking things in a certain order, with a future goal in mind, and only keeping items which ‘spark joy’ (3). There’s no point having 20 photo albums you never look at. Keep one or two collated versions somewhere you can see them regularly, etc…

This floats pretty close to minimalism for me. It’s an easy to digest, more accessible, less elite version (4). After all, minimalism aims to:

  • Eliminate our discontent
  • Reclaim our time
  • Live in the moment
  • Pursue our passions
  • Discover our missions
  • Experience real freedom
  • Create more, consume less
  • Focus on our health
  • Grow as individuals
  • Contribute beyond ourselves
  • Rid ourselves of excess stuff
  • Discover purpose in our lives (5)

It’s a counter-cultural push against the consumerism of general life (6). And as such it sits well with the FI community, in the general ‘buy less shit’ stakes. I’ve always liked the idea of minimalism. It fits a Manhattan loft/ bourbon and grubby nightclubs life-direction which is never likely to be achieved. I’m just fairly shit at it. I own a lot of stuff. Much of the stuff is fairly tatty. We’ve lived like students for 10 years and many items have been bought as ‘do-fers’; they’ll do for now. 5-10 years on they’re still doing. I’ve been de-cluttering over the last six months, but I’m still left with a sense that a lot of stuff with remain. I will never be minimalist. Marie Kondo tells me it’s okay if my stuff sparks joy. So my garage full of tools which spark joy when I have the right tool for the job is okay. The ‘do-fers’ don’t spark joy, so they’ll be replaced with items which do. Ultimately I think that boils down to an intentionalism approach to items, as we try to be more intentional with the choices we make in our lives. Why fill your life with shit that makes you miserable.

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” -Epictetus

Have a great week,

The Shrink

Other News

Opinion/ blogs:

The kitchen garden:

What I’m reading (affiliate links):

Food Of The Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution – Terence McKenna – An ethnobotanist explores humanitys’ fascination with hallucinogenics, and the role of altered states of consciousness on the development of human society.



  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Kondo
  2. https://konmari.com/
  3. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/organizing/a25846191/what-is-the-konmari-method/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimalism
  5. https://www.theminimalists.com/minimalism/
  6. https://www.becomingminimalist.com/what-is-minimalism/
  7. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-7140919/Can-modify-car-finance-dangers.html
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jun/26/uk-economy-cliff-edge
  9. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48820573
  10. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jul/05/bury-bodies-along-uks-motorway-to-ease-burial-crisis-expert-suggests
  11. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-your-money-48776454
  12. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48776125
  13. https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/hargreaves-lansdown-just-removed-nick-085637525.html
  14. https://www.cityam.com/freetrade-to-close-7m-in-second-crowdfunding-round/
  15. https://monevator.com/passive-fund-of-funds-the-rivals/
  16. https://monevator.com/defined-benefit-to-defined-contribution-pension-transfers/
  17. https://monevator.com/the-slow-and-steady-passive-portfolio-update-q2-2019/
  18. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2019/07/selling-vodafone-lessons-learned-from-one-of-my-first-defensive-value-investments.html/
  19. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2019/06/ftse-100-ftse-250-valuations.html/
  20. https://theescapeartist.me/2019/06/25/why-capitalism-is-better-for-your-pet-dog-than-communism/
  21. https://earlyretirementnow.com/2019/06/26/does-a-4-percent-withdrawal-rate-survive-a-60-year-retirement/
  22. https://cashflowcop.com/when-to-buy-a-house-if-you-have-student-loans-debt/
  23. https://tuppennysfireplace.com/how-to-drastically-cut-expenses/
  24. http://diyinvestoruk.blogspot.com/2019/06/aquila-european-renewables-trust-new.html
  25. http://diyinvestoruk.blogspot.com/2019/07/half-year-portfolio-update.html
  26. https://indeedably.com/independence/
  27. https://indeedably.com/indeedably-meta-redux/
  28. https://indeedably.com/inflection-point/
  29. https://firevlondon.com/2019/07/01/doubling-party/
  30. https://firevlondon.com/2019/07/03/june-2019-q2-review/
  31. http://quietlysaving.co.uk/2019/07/07/june-2019-other-updates/
  32. https://ditchthecave.com/30s-and-40s-financial-independence/
  33. http://fiukmoney.co.uk/june-19-net-worth-and-monthly-update-11-514218-9687/
  34. https://thesavingninja.com/twelve-months-later-savings-report-12/
  35. https://www.msziyou.com/true-love-never-smooth/
  36. https://awaytoless.com/monthly-spending-june-2019/
  37. https://gentlemansfamilyfinances.wordpress.com/2019/07/05/cashback-success-saving-30-100-on-car-insurance/
  38. https://gentlemansfamilyfinances.wordpress.com/2019/07/04/wild-strawberries-and-wild-gardens/
  39. https://gentlemansfamilyfinances.wordpress.com/2019/07/01/month-end-accounts-june-2019/
  40. http://eaglesfeartoperch.blogspot.com/2019/07/investment-review-june-2019.html
  41. https://financeyourfire.com/2019/07/02/portfolio-update-june-2019/
  42. https://financeyourfire.com/2019/06/28/adventures-in-cryptospace/
  43. https://www.earlyretirementguy.com/summer-2019-networth-update/
  44. https://www.iretiredyoung.net/single-post/2019/07/05/Early-retirement-costs-targets—June-2019
  45. https://asimplelifewithsam.com/2019/07/02/june-review-and-spending/
  46. https://www.1500days.com/uk-chautauqua-fi-peeps-scarce-sleep-and-lots-of-sheep
  47. https://sharpenyourspades.com/2019/07/07/allotment-jobs-for-july/








The Full English -HM Rev & Customs MVP

What’s am I buggering on about this week?

IMO the current government are utterly inept. That doesn’t stop the civil servants in the Palace of Westminster though, oh no. And some clever dick in HM Rev & Customs has been playing in a blinder over the last few years. Act 1) Letting inheritance tax quietly roll in. TI covered this in the Monevator weekend reading a few weeks back, but I wanted to look in further detail (1). The increasing CGT returns has partly come from increasing inheritance tax. This is the wealth of the baby boomers, coming home to the treasuries roost. To quote the i article, in the past 20 years the total value of people’s estates has more than doubled, so that as a percentage of income it’s reaching 1930s levels (2). It will continue to rise as the wealthiest generation die off.

I don’t particularly like inheritance tax. Beyond personal reasons I see it as an inefficient method of redistributing wealth stinging the middle class rather than the truly rich (who can circumvent it), and essentially double-taxation. YFG said it better on Monevator than I ever can (3, 4). Inheritance tax is currently at a relative effective low, but there are many calls for change. Some of this is driven by the way inheritance tax is stinging younger generations, who due to house price change have not been able to afford property and so have been waiting for inheritance to give them a step on the ladder (2). A survey published this week by Charles Stanley suggested that for many this expectation was unrealistic (5). Millennials were expecting 10x the median inheritance amount. The expectation was that this would act as their housing deposit, whereas in actuality the people they were inheriting from are living longer and more likely to use their house equity for nursing homes and then inheritance tax bills. Silly millennials.

What about Act 2? The BTL taxation noose. I’ve talked before about how I believe BTL is HMRC’s low-hanging fruit of choice. Now landlords are looking to sell-up as the new rules come into force (6). I think this is a really clever piece of rule-making. In the changes to Section 21, the government have made it harder to evict no-fault tenants, appeasing a big voting base (7). In the increase in stamp duty and removal of income tax relief they’ve stung profits, but harmonised with other income sources (8). Offsetting mortgage interest payments against income tax makes some sense from a business world point of view; like using stock write-downs and depreciation to reduce income assessments. It doesn’t make sense when you compare it to other private property scenarios, where you can’t offset your income tax bill with your domestic mortgage interest. Here it levels the playing field. The changes to the minimum EPC rating required for rental (now E), and tightening of BTL lending controls are just the kicker (9).

Practical upshot of tightening the rules on the BTL free-for-all, hobby landlords are driven out and professional landlords remain. Landlords come in all shapes and sizes, but those just about making the sums work are now going to struggle. The sale of these previously rented properties provides a nice CGT boost to the treasury, and also brings new property onto the market at a time when there is a housing stock shortage: double win! Just a shame these properties are generally only fair to middling quality, being ex-rental.

No longer interested in a BTL? Well you could go for a REIT, but I learnt this week about REAPs; Real Estate Annuity Plans (10). A sort of real estate investment bond, which funds affordable housing developments. Return is only 3%, but you get a nice warm glow inside without having to trigger your poverty allergy.

Have a great week,

The Shrink

Other News

Opinion/ blogs:

The kitchen garden:

What I’m reading (affiliate links):

Food Of The Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution – Terence McKenna – An ethnobotanist explores humanitys’ fascination with hallucinogenics, and the role of altered states of consciousness on the development of human society.


  1. https://monevator.com/weekend-reading-capital-gains-tax-receipts-are-soaring-a-good-bad-problem/
  2. https://inews.co.uk/news/business/britain-entering-golden-age-inheritance-baby-boomers-leave-assets/
  3. https://youngfiguy.com/inheritance/
  4. https://monevator.com/inheritance-tax/
  5. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48213333
  6. https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/05/landlords-should-you-sell-your-buy-to-let-properties/
  7. https://landlords.org.uk/support-advice/april-2019-changes-to-section-21
  8. https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/buy-to-let-property-investments
  9. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-private-rented-property-minimum-standard-landlord-guidance-documents
  10. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/may/04/ethical-housing-reaping-the-benefit-while-helping-out
  11. https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/05/almost-700000-fewer-savers-open-cash-isas-are-isas-still-worthwhile/
  12. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48185806
  13. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/06/universal-basic-income-public-realm-poverty-inequality
  14. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48174797
  15. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/05/traders-brace-for-sharp-sell-off-on-trumps-tariff-threat.html
  16. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/may/06/zombie-firms-a-major-drag-on-uk-economy-analysis-shows
  17. https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/uk-coal-renewables-record-climate-change-fossil-fuels-a8901436.html
  18. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48215896
  19. https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/industry/analysis-just-how-green-are-electric-vehicles
  20. https://news.sky.com/video/i-owe-it-to-patients-to-work-extra-hours-but-im-being-penalised-11714585?fbclid=IwAR2cS3aGhMMhk0wyWBpo4K0q3H-fr7adUyEzSDaZB9eKoYA2bsNoSFN3QA0
  21. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/may/05/airbnb-homelessness-renting-housing-accommodation-social-policy-cities-travel-leisure
  22. https://monevator.com/personal-financial-disaster/
  23. https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2019/05/08/tesla-procrastination/
  24. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2019/05/reckitt-benckiser-share-price-decline-good-value.html/
  25. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2019/05/selling-compass-group-after-share-price-gains.html/
  26. https://3652daysblog.wordpress.com/2019/05/06/stocktake-q1-2019/
  27. https://cashflowcop.com/multi-millionaires-and-still-have-to-make-choices-johns-story/
  28. http://earlyretirementextreme.com/what-permaculture-and-ere-have-in-common.html
  29. http://diyinvestoruk.blogspot.com/2019/05/im-getting-up-to-speed-on-climate.html
  30. https://firevlondon.com/2019/05/11/april-2019-were-back-on-top-of-the-world/
  31. https://ditchthecave.com/love-to-lose-my-job/
  32. http://fiukmoney.co.uk/april-19-net-worth-and-monthly-update-9-434843-561/
  33. https://thesavingninja.com/dont-borrow-worry-from-tomorrow/
  34. https://awaytoless.com/why-we-keep-our-finances-separate/
  35. https://awaytoless.com/monthly-spending-april-2019/
  36. http://eaglesfeartoperch.blogspot.com/2019/05/two-islands.html
  37. https://www.iretiredyoung.net/single-post/2019/05/10/Some-early-retirement-confusion
  38. https://indeedably.com/challenge-the-premise/
  39. https://indeedably.com/history-repeats/
  40. https://www.jackwallington.com/long-term-planting-on-the-allotment/
  41. https://sharpenyourspades.com/2019/05/10/allotment-jobs-for-may/
  42. https://paulnelson90.wordpress.com/2019/05/10/what-to-do-with-radish/





The Full English Accompaniment – A life like Miss Havisham?

What’s piqued my interest this week?

Lately I’ve been struggling to post regularly to this blog. One of the things that’s kept me busy in recent weeks is helping out a couple of friends with their house. How they came to it is like the plot of a B movie. It goes like this:

Mr & Mrs X worked for many years for an old lord, taken on to look after him in his dotage. The old lord lacked heirs, and all his family were long dead. When he died in the 1950s, virtually destitute, they were surprised to inherit his house, a rambling 6 bed Tudor/ Victorian lump (plus outbuildings and grounds) in commuting distance to London. Being lowly housekeepers well into their 50s they could not afford the upkeep on the pile. To pay the bills they took on a lodger, Mr Y, newly qualified in his profession and looking for cheap accommodation. Mr & Mrs X had no children and came to look on Mr Y as their adopted son. He helped around the house, did some modernisation and gradually took care of them as they got older. When they died, they left Mr Y the rambling house, which he cared for and maintained.

Our friends parents, Mr & Mrs A, met Mr Y some thirty years ago. Mr A and Mr Y worked in the same place, shared many interests and had the same taste in cars. They developed a good friendship, that lasted after Mr A moved to work elsewhere. Mr Y stayed in touch with Mr & Mrs A, seeing them monthly or so, and even providing gifts for their kids as the family grew. Our friend has fond memories of playing in the garden of the big house and exploring the rambling outbuildings; the old forge, stables, garages, piggeries etc. As the family got older they grew apart, Mr Y becoming reclusive, but they still saw him a few times a year. Mr & Mrs A moved further away, downsizing for their retirement on their pension.

A couple of years later Mr & Mrs A got a knock on the door in the middle of the night. It was the police. They were informed Mr Y had died, and could they identify the body and act as executor of the will. They arrived at the house to find it, in effect, derelict. Two rooms were accessible, which Mr Y had retreated to towards the end; the living room heated by a coal fire, and the kitchen where he boiled drinking water on a single ring stove and ate tins of spam. There was no heating. Electrics had been wired in ad-hoc by Mr Y, mostly in the 50s. Water was pumped from a well to a lead tank in the attic every day. Most rooms had simply been shut up and left.

In order to identify Mr Y they had to find documents to prove who he was. This involved entering rooms locked for years. One room was full of Victorian trunks containing the old lord’s family papers, including an invite to Queen Victoria’s birthday party. Another room was full of bees. Another had no floor, just a void to the cellar. The loft was inhabited by rooks. In a box in a closet in the spare bedroom was an expired passport.

The final kicker lay in Mr Y’s 20 year old will. It specified that the house was to go to Mr & Mrs A but they had to live in it as a family for two years before they could inherit. The house was uninhabitable. Cue the current situation, where Mr & Mrs A are living in a caravan in the grounds, slowly cleaning, updating and renovating.

Are there any lessons to this story or is it just a good dinner party anecdote? Mr & Mrs A were retired, drawing down their pensions and were not expecting to sink megabucks into a restoration project. Now they have a poisoned chalice. It doesn’t matter what you inherit if you can’t afford to maintain it (see here UK aristocracy). Plus there’s definitely other people out there like Mr Y, saving and making money on the stock market and living like misers (1). It’s a lesson not to forget that the money you earn, the property you own, must serve a purpose.

Have a great week,

The Shrink

Other News

Opinion/ blogs:

The kitchen garden:

What I’m reading (affiliate links):

Food Of The Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution – Terence McKenna – An ethnobotanist explores humanitys’ fascination with hallucinogenics, and the role of altered states of consciousness on the development of human society.


  1. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-04-27/the-mystery-of-the-millionaire-hermit?srnd=businessweek-v2
  2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48119158
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/apr/29/big-tech-regulation-facebook-google-amazon
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/07/climate/ipcc-report-half-degree.html
  5. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47960657
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/apr/15/short-notice-evictions-face-axe-in-tenant-rights-victory
  7. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-29/u-s-lags-china-expands-in-race-for-electric-vehicle-dominance
  8. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/howmoneyworks/article-6812847/Money-Diaries-Im-24-earn-43k-struggling-pay-debt.html
  9. https://monevator.com/find-the-best-online-broker/
  10. https://monevator.com/understanding-bond-index-funds/
  11. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2019/04/invest-in-rolls-royce-plc.html/
  12. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2019/05/2018-stock-market-correction-and-the-art-of-being-patient.html/
  13. http://earlyretirementextreme.com/get-a-push-lawn-mower.html
  14. http://www.frugalwoods.com/2019/04/29/vegetable-seed-starting-supplies-and-other-march-2019-expenditures/
  15. https://cashflowcop.com/daring-to-dream-financial-independence-vs-childcare-costs/
  16. https://tuppennysfireplace.com/how-to-reduce-food-waste-save-money/
  17. http://quietlysaving.co.uk/2019/05/04/april-2019-other-updates/
  18. http://diyinvestoruk.blogspot.com/2019/05/pssttwanna-own-wind-farm.html
  19. http://thefirestarter.co.uk/autopilot/
  20. https://ditchthecave.com/april-2019-update/
  21. https://thesavingninja.com/crazy-gains-savings-report-10/
  22. https://littlemissfire.com/monthly-update-april-2019/
  23. http://www.thefrugalcottage.com/april-2019-a-month-in-review/
  24. http://www.thefrugalcottage.com/dividend-income-april-2019/
  25. https://gentlemansfamilyfinances.wordpress.com/2019/05/01/month-end-accounts-april-2019/
  26. https://gentlemansfamilyfinances.wordpress.com/2019/05/03/what-i-learnt-from-my-dads-early-retirement-aged-60-part-2/
  27. https://financeyourfire.com/2019/05/01/portfolio-update-april-2019/
  28. https://financeyourfire.com/2019/04/29/lifes-a-budget-and-then-you-die/
  29. https://pursuefire.com/monthly-net-worth-report-10-march/
  30. https://obviousinvestor.com/p2p-lending-portfolio-update-for-april-2019/
  31. https://www.iretiredyoung.net/single-post/2019/05/03/Early-Retirement-Costs—April-2019
  32. https://asimplelifewithsam.com/2019/05/04/april-spending/
  33. https://simplelivingsomerset.wordpress.com/2019/05/04/brexit-not-in-my-name-thanks/
  34. https://indeedably.com/self-inflicted/
  35. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/world-population-pyramid-1950-2100/
  36. https://youtu.be/yrwDx7tS_bE
  37. https://paulnelson90.wordpress.com/2019/05/01/beltane-the-best-month-of-the-year/
  38. https://www.jackwallington.com/allotment-month-42-weeding-asparagus-and-carrots-potato-chilli-and-artichoke-update/
  39. http://twothirstygardeners.co.uk/2019/05/sustainable-growing-medium-coco-coir-coconut-peat-test-garden/
  40. https://lifeatno27.com/2019/04/30/bring-on-the-boston-beets/

The Full English Accompaniment – New Build Property Warranties

What’s piqued my interest this week?

I learnt this week about another peril of buying a new-build home. One of the reasons people buy a new build is for the ‘peace of mind’ of having a home where everything is new, and if something should go wrong, it’s covered by a warranty. Most warranties are structured to provide ‘defects insurance’ to fix problems which emerge up to three years after the builder leaves site, and ‘structural insurance’, which usually covers from years three to ten (1, 2). The mortgage on your new build notes this, and like all other mortgages expects you to get your own home insurance as well (3, 4).

So what happens when the provider of your new build warranty goes bust? This is exactly what has happened with Alpha Insurance, who were declared in default last May (5). The cover continues to be provided, in some form, by the Danish Guarantee Fund, but that doesn’t help those trying to get a mortgage in the interim like one Reddit user (5, 6). The problem is that most lenders expect a valid new build warranty policy on new properties in order to lend. When the policy provider goes bust this can’t be evidenced. Finding a new provider is apparently a bit of a nightmare. Most policies are provided to large building firms via industrial providers (7, 8). If you’re not a building firm insuring an entire plots worth of houses you have to go to a specialist provider, who are more set up for self-build and one-off builds. These firms are more expensive, often require architects drawings, and may be unwilling to insure or warranty a property that’s already built (9, 10). This leaves the owner either unable to find a mortgage or forced to pay a hefty bill for a warranty that covers thing theirs home insurance already protects.

A niche issue perhaps, but when combined with the number of articles in the news lamenting the shoddy build quality of new homes, I’m sworn off buying a new build. Not a month goes by where articles advise on the merits of snagging surveys, and dubious construction practices (11, 12). Others report on owners issues trying to actually sort snags out, and homebuilding firms putting money aside to repair their own errors (13, 14). As always, do your own research and go in with your eyes open.

Have a great week,

The Shrink

Other News

Opinion/ blogs:

The kitchen garden:

What I’m reading (now affiliate links):

Tombland – C.J. Sansom – I love the Shardlake series, detective novels set in the Tudor period with a crippled lead character. Beautifully written.

Food Of The Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution – Terence McKenna – An ethnobotanist explores humanitys’ fascination with hallucinogenics, and the role of altered states of consciousness on the development of human society.

Enchiridion by Epictetus – Bedside reading for a bad day


  1. https://hoa.org.uk/advice/guides-for-homeowners/i-am-buying/new-home-warranties-cover/
  2. https://www.gocompare.com/home-insurance/new-builds/
  3. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/insurance/home/20-home-insurance-traps-and-how-to-avoid-them/
  4. https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/insurance/insurance/types-of-insurance/buildings-insurance/
  5. https://www.fscs.org.uk/what-we-cover/insurance/alpha-insurance-as-declared-bankrupt/
  6. https://www.reddit.com/r/UKPersonalFinance/comments/apglf3/alpha_insurance_default_cannot_remortgage_savings/
  7. https://www.cml.org.uk/consumers/buying-a-home/new-build/
  8. https://www.pbctoday.co.uk/news/building-control-news/all-you-need-to-know-about-structural-warranty/41840/
  9. https://www.fmbinsurance.co.uk/insurance-products/new-homes-insurance-build-assure/
  10. https://c-r-l.com/what-we-cover/structural-insurance/
  11. https://www.which.co.uk/money/mortgages-and-property/new-build-homes/snagging-surveys-apxu15x04s1j
  12. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/feb/02/new-build-homes-why-some-owners-are-left-feeling-the-cold
  13. https://www.ftadviser.com/mortgages/2018/05/10/mortgage-lenders-soothe-fears-over-new-build-issues/
  14. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46302905
  15. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature
  16. https://www.propertywire.com/news/uk/falling-house-prices-means-property-investment-is-less-attractive-new-analysis-suggests/
  17. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/11/study-links-heavily-processed-foods-to-risk-of-earlier-death
  18. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47200688
  19. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47224913
  20. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/12/electric-cars-already-cheaper-own-run-study
  21. https://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2019/february/royal-assent-tenant-fees-bill-signed-into-law/
  22. https://moneyweek.com/501682/pensions-drawdown-disaster/
  23. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/feb/14/renewable-energy-world-power-source-bp
  24. http://www.cityam.com/273176/starling-banks-75m-funding-round-merian-global-investors
  25. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47251465
  26. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/feb/08/risk-of-global-recession-may-be-low-but-we-are-heading-for-slowdown
  27. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/feb/14/how-can-we-tax-the-footloose-multinationals
  28. https://www.theguardian.com/business/nils-pratley-on-finance/2019/feb/13/interserve-needs-a-plan-b-given-the-rebellion-over-its-current-plan
  29. https://www.fool.co.uk/investing/2019/02/10/thinking-of-investing-in-these-neil-woodford-ftse-250-stocks-read-this-first/
  30. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/feb/09/william-keegan-nine-british-financial-crises-since-1967
  31. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2019/02/ftse-100-dividend-valuation-and-forecast-for-2019.html/
  32. https://gentlemansfamilyfinances.wordpress.com/2019/02/13/how-to-put-out-a-fire-use-liquidity/
  33. https://gentlemansfamilyfinances.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/early-redundancy-lessons-from-lifes-veterans/
  34. https://gentlemansfamilyfinances.wordpress.com/2019/02/15/if-i-lost-everything/
  35. https://thesavingninja.com/if-you-lost-everything/
  36. https://youngfiguy.com/wiped-out/
  37. http://quietlysaving.co.uk/2019/02/15/thought-experiment-2/
  38. https://indeedably.com/restart/
  39. http://ditchthecave.com/fear/
  40. https://firevlondon.com/2019/02/15/ive-lost-everything-through-a-cyber-theft/
  41. https://financeyourfire.com/2019/02/15/thought-experiment-wiped-out/
  42. http://eaglesfeartoperch.blogspot.com/2019/02/calculating-portfolio-returns.html
  43. http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2019/02/11/hanging-out/
  44. http://diyinvestoruk.blogspot.com/2019/02/my-global-index-funds-under-spotlight.html
  45. https://simplelivingsomerset.wordpress.com/2019/02/14/dutch-brexit-humour-from-outside-the-nuthouse/
  46. https://monevator.com/weekend-reading-29-quick-rules-about-money/
  47. https://indeedably.com/what-you-keep/
  48. https://lovelygreens.com/growing-tomatoes-from-seed/

Property Renovation Lessons II

Continuing where we left off, we’ll walk in the front door when viewing a potential house purchase. In part two I’ll cover what I’ve learnt to look for in general interior room condition.
Shut the front door

Before shutting it, take a look at it. It seems a bit odd, but much like shoes tell the story of a person, I reckon a front door tells the story of a house. There’s lots of different styles:

front doors

Look at the construction; is the door PVC/ composite/ wood/ metal? Is the style of the door in-keeping with the age of the property? White PVC doors are very common, because cheap, and if a prior owner has opted for a cheap door they may have opted for other cheap options in the house. Has the owner put a modern door on an old house, perhaps hinting at a major modern refurb. In an older property does it retain it’s original wooden door? If so, look at the state of the paint. Such doors can last hundreds of years with maintenance, but need periodic sanding and repainting to maintain integrity. Again you can learn a lot about the owners attitude to preventative maintenance.

Look at the locks and door furniture. As mentioned in Part I, many insurance companies offer preferential rates for BS 5-lever locks. Most PVC doors are safer as they will have a multi-point locking system. Don’t forget to change the locks when you move in. Look at the door furniture; it can hint at chintz inside. Front doors have changed dramatically over the years, they tell the history of a property, and are an easy way to improve kerb appeal (1, 2, 3).


You’re in the front door so look down. Victorian and Edwardian builders knew the importance of first impressions. Older properties will hopefully retain the beautiful parquet or tiled flooring. This can be replaced but it’s expensive and I don’t think it ever looks the same (although we have looked at reclaimed parquet in the past).

Worn parquet can be sanded back and re-varnished, as can original floorboards. This can be a DIY job if you fancy a go, budget at least £150 for a sander for a weekend and varnish. There’s lots of guides and Youtube tutorials which can take you through the process (4). Cover everything in dust sheets. We’re still finding dust three years later.

When viewing houses we would find try to find a neglected corner of carpet, or a piece where it had already come up, and peek at the condition of the floorboards. We were lucky with our first property that the floorboards had been hidden behind 100 years of layers of carpet and were pristine. We also discovered a hidden terrazzo floor in a property we lost out on.

Terrazzo is a polished solid flooring, produced by pouring a mixture of resin/concrete and marble/ stone chips (5). It has similarities with polished concrete and resin floors, which are both very fashionable currently (6, 7).

Laminate and carpet

Both of these I could write entire articles about. Laminate can be beautiful when done well. It also offers a cheap DIY way to update and upgrade a tired space, with ‘click-clack’ self-connecting forms available from most retailers. On the cons, it’s loud underheel, and is used by slum landlords to hide substandard flooring surfaces. Engineered hardwood flooring is the step up from laminate where a layer of real wood is added to a ply backing. This can really make a difference to a space but is understandably more expensive (8).

Carpet again comes in all shapes, sizes and styles. Look out for damage to carpet, lifting, or the carpet moth that will munch it’s way through natural fibre (i.e. wool) carpet in darker spaces. Bare patches in corners with discarded casings and potentially larvae will point towards the moth. We stripped the carpet from our whole house and switched to synthetic fibre to try and eradicate our infestation (9).

Wall and ceiling coverings

Lets talk plaster, paint and wallpaper. We’ll start with that perennial favourite, woodchip. Used in the 60s and 70s to hide poor plaster and imperfections, it’s wallpaper will added chips of wood to provide texture. It’s one of the main things to put potential viewers off a house. It’s a bugger to remove, as those woodchips soak up attempts to chisel it off. It’s super messy, takes ages, but is cheap to do DIY (main cost being a £30 wallpaper steamer from Screwfix etc). There’s plenty of guides on the internet into how to tackle removal (10).

The texture and endurance of woodchip means it can hide a myriad of problems behind it. To an extent any textured wallpaper can do the same, and should be treated as such. Anyone can wallpaper a room, and it’s a quick way to refresh a room or hide problems. Don’t be fooled by Victorian anaglypta’s either, which can look stunning but hide issues.

Another covering you may come across is Artex. This is a further 70s product designed to hide poor plastering finishes behind a textured fascade. To make things even better, pre-1980s Artex was made with our old friend white asbestos (11). Undisturbed behind paint this is fine, but sanding or removal risks hazardous dust. The asbestos can be identified and the Artex removed by a specialist company, using steam or preparatory products (12). Some people tackle it themselves, which I would not recommend unless you are willing to risk Mesothelioma. The other alternative is to plaster over the top to produce a new flat surface.

People also deployed Asbestos (the wonder substance) in tile form on ceilings or where drop ceilings have been installed. This is mainly found in commercial buildings, but we clocked some hiding in a renovation project (a right dogs-dinner of a property) and ran. Again it really needs a specialist company to identify. Some people choose to remove it themselves with commercial-grade PPE, but I would not advise due to the health and legal risks (do as I say not as I do) (13). Asbestos has to be disposed of safely, and rules vary depending on your locality on whether your local tip will take it.

The only real mention I’ll make of paint is lead-based paints. If your house was built before the ’70s it probably contains some lead-based paint. This is only really an issue if the paint is damaged, crumbling, and you go around licking it or sticking it in your mouth. Kids do. It tastes slightly sweet (Darwin at work). Lead accumulation isn’t something to mess about with, so keep on top of it and don’t let your kids peel it off and chow down (14).


With the exception of paint, all of the coverings above can mask potential plaster issues. This is one of the reasons in recent property searches I’ve tended to prefer properties where I can see what I’m dealing with. Plaster problems fall into three main areas:

  • Dead Plaster

This is more an appearance than a problem itself. Traditional construction techniques were to use thin lathe battens nailed to the structural upright stud wall or brick. Movement of the wall, damp trapped in the plaster or superficial damage can all cause the plaster to lift away from the lathe. Attempts can be made to repair this by pinning the surround plaster and patching, but often it’s easier to hack off and redo with modern plasterboard and a fresh skim. On a ceiling this can suggest damp ‘falling’ from above, so a leak in a bathroom or roof (see below).

  • Cracked Plaster

Smaller cracks caused by structural movement in the property or just general wear and tear can be dealt with filler and a scraper tool. It’s important to make sure this is not the above, by lightly pressing on the plaster. If there’s a ‘give’ and movement then the plaster may well have peeled away from the underlying lathe, requiring more significant attention (15).

  • Damp

Damp. The blank chequebook to a cowboy builder. You’ll smell damp as soon as you walk into a house, that mouldy, fusty odour. It’s nothing to fear as long as you remember one rule. Damp has to come from somewhere.

Actually two rules. Rule two: rising damp is a sales tool. Don’t believe me? RICS agrees (16, 17). While osmosis happens, water won’t climb up a wall in a warm home because it has to. There’s such a thing as gravity. Damp proof courses are a waste of money. There I said it!

I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but ground and construction conditions have to be really specific. Rising damp requires hygroscopic salts to be present in the minerals used in the walls construction and surrounding soil to create an environment where water molecules can move through osmosis. They’ll often leave crystals on the wall. ‘Rising damp’ as a ‘diagnosis’ got big in the ’60s and ’70s as a way to fix the problem of damp inside houses, right around the time lots of poor quality houses were being built and older houses being renovated by caking them in impermeable concrete (18). Same goes for cavity wall insulation. Older houses built of brick, stone and lime mortar were permeable. They would absorb moisture, they could ‘breathe’. If a wall was facing the predominantly inclement weather it could get damp, but it would dry out when the weather was dry again. The Victorians and Edwardians solved this by having an air-gap cavity wall. People in the C20th didn’t like the fact that walls would get damp, so they covered them in impermeable concrete render or membranes, plus plastic wall paints. They then added double glazing without air vents. This kept the rain and weather out, but also kept moisture produced by general day-to-day living in. If you breathe on a cold pane of glass it steams up. Multiply that throughout your home and you get condensation. This is the main cause of damp in homes. Other causes include:

  • Insulation – (I look forward to the class action lawsuits in 30 years as swathes of government-grant retrofitted old houses succumb to damp damage)
  • Heating on/off – must be constantly ON, but low temp = 15 degrees C – heating and then cooling creates an environment for condensation
  • Ground levels outside higher than inside
  • Broken guttering or missing downpipes
  • Vegetation growing near the wall
  • Trees creating shade and moist air near a wall
  • Lack of ventilation – double glazing, no vents
  • Blocked chimneys – fireplace blocked up, no vents
  • Furniture against walls creating cold, damp areas (18)

The answer is (as always) preventative maintenance and taking a nuanced approach based on the buildings construction. If you live in an older home you cannot expect it to achieve modern standards of insulation. Ensure you use permeable materials to allow movement of moisture in renovation work. Appreciate your higher utility bills as a trade-off for period features and room sizes. As a slight aside here, if buying a new property ensure that there are air vents in the glazing, air bricks in the walls and plenty of opportunities for air movement. Amongst high-end architectural design the move is towards Passivhaus standards, where moisture, dew points and ventilation are carefully controlled as part of holistic approach to construction (19).

How to tackle damp?

Unsightly mould around windows (like above) or on walls (below)? Check for vents in windows and doors. Check the type of paint or wall covering used. Often this is down to people not opening windows or allowing ventilation in an attempt to keep heat in. Crack the window or buy a dehumidifier (20, 21).

Peeling plaster, cracked and lifting paint? The is more likely to be penetrating damp, or a leaking roof or bathroom plumbing if it’s the ceiling. This is often enough to scare off most buyers, but look carefully. Penetrating damp or a leak has to come from somewhere (22). Is the external ground level higher than the internal wall? Are there boundary walls abutting the internal wall? It could be caused by a sill or beam bridging a wall cavity. Go back outside and look externally for cracks in render, damaged, eroded or poorly pointed brickwork, absent flashing or leaking gutters. This is why it’s often good to view a house in heavy rain. If it’s on the ceiling is there a bathroom above? If so run all the taps and check for drips. Is the roof in good condition, and can you view the loft in rain to check for water ingress? We had penetrating damp in a previous house caused by a) a wooden sill which was exposed to rain which soaked internally, and b) an external garden boundary wall abutting the damp wall, with next-door slightly higher than our ground level. Solved by rebuilding the external wall with damp proof tanking. I worked on another house where a ceiling would get wet when the wind blew from the North-East, as it then forced the rain up a pitch through the roof so it could drip down. Had to put a new roof on to solve that.


Fuse board

Fuse boards, or more properly domestic consumer units, are a must check. They ensure electrical safety in your home, preventing you getting shocked (/dying) and the house burning down every time something short circuits. They’ve developed over time with progressive regulation changes. Up to 2001 most homes were fitted with fuse boards like the older Wylex one pictured, containing individual rewire-able fuses plus a main circuit breaker/ isolation switch. Since 2001 regs have mandated individual residual current devices (RCDs) protection for circuits, offering extra protection (23, 24). Any new electrical work being done to a property will require an RCD system to meet regs. Budget £300-400 for installation of this alone. My garage is currently (not working) on an old 1940s cast iron splitter unit like the last image piggybacked off the main RCD. I’m exploring ways to retain the unit as it’s bloody cool (25).


Sort of an extension of the above, but it’s important to ensure any electrical work that has been completed to the property has been done so by an accredited person. All work should be certificated and ideally marked as tested. Any changes to circuits like adding new sockets, adding new outlets, changing lighting circuits etc technically needs this (26). Ensure you get these certificates when purchasing the property and when you have any work done. It’s often a requirement for property insurance, it can be in the fine print in the mortgages, and you’ll need it to rent the property out (27). Work without certificates opens up a legal minefield, and can knock serious cash off the property value. Copy and paste this to central heating, gas work and plumbing.


One to check out as you look around. First, is wiring (and plumbing) fitted with surface trunking, or properly chased into the wall? Trunking fitted to existing wall is quicker, cheaper but looks less attractive (to me). Chasing into the wall is harder, slower and more expensive, but the flush finish looks smarter (28). This will give you an idea of the costs the owner has spent on this sort of work and the quality they’ve been happy with.

If you can see exposed wiring (try next to the fuseboard or under-stairs cupboards) look at the colour of the wiring. Wiring since 2006 has followed European and Australian code; brown is live, blue is neutral, green/yellow is earth. Prior to that we ran red live, black neutral and green earth (29). Since the 1960s most UK wiring has been sheathed in PVC. You can age your wiring on what it’s sheathed in. Prior to PVC was vulcanised rubber (notable by being black), before that was lead (notable because it’s… lead), and before that it was all sorts of odd stuff including cloth and paper-wrapped wiring (30). The cloth, lead and rubber all degrade, so will all be due replacement.


We made a not untidy sum ripping out the rats nest of old wiring in a previous property. Once we’d turned everything off at the main breaker we found cloth-wrapped, lead-sheathed (£££) and 1960s wiring had all been run in parallel circuits under the floor. The joys of renovation!

Other things to look out for are old plug sockets like the one below, featuring the earlier circular three pin plug. There were lots of variants of plug prior to the adoption of the ubiquitous three-prong plug and socket in 1947 (31). This means you can reliably date your wiring and definitely decide it’s due a rewire. The UK’s socket design is the envy of the world (32), so embrace it! Brown bakelite junction boxes, on the other hand, are not something to run from. They’re still in production, still used and definitely serviceable (33). I really like bakelite as I think it’s retro, but then I’m a bit weird.



Where’s the stop cock? Check if there’s one in the house as well as one by your meter (if you have one) where it enters the property. You and your neighbours will thank you when you’re not screaming “How do I turn off the bloody water?” at 3am.


The water pipe for your property is your responsibility from where it tees off the mains (34). Track it’s path throughout the house if you can, check for leaks and quality. Lead has not been used for pipes since the 1960s but most old houses will retain it somewhere (as it’s a pain to replace for various reasons). Most internal pipes will be stainless steel, copper or plastic. Old pipes may be iron. They all degrade over time (at different rates), so need periodic maintenance (35, 36).

Pipes in the UK for central heating are generally copper or plastic (often white). They come in various sizes. Size of pipe is an important consideration when fitting central heating, as you need to calculate the total thermal load on the boiler (the radiators) and the efficiency and flow rates (based on pipe diameter and water temperature) to ensure that your boiler has enough oomph to actually heat all the radiators (36, 37). There’s online calculators that can help you work out your heating requirement to spec this, such as here: https://www.plumbnation.co.uk/heating-calculator/ (38). Frankly, I just get a plumber.

While we’re on boilers, check if the property has one. There’s essentially two types of heating; wet and dry.


  1. Does the property have a wet system (i.e. radiators and a water boiler)?
  2. Is it gas, oil, coal, calor gas, solid?
  3. How old is it?
  4. Does it have a hot water cylinder or on demand?
  5. Has it been serviced?


This is a whole other set of posts. Essentially most houses are on gas boilers, of which the most common is combi-boilers which do heating and hot water. There’s system boilers, which have a hot water storage cylinder (so are better for households that have multiple bathrooms and need lots of hot water at once), but are generally less efficient. Then there’s conventional boilers which have a water tank and a hot water cylinder (39, 40). Newer boilers across the range are generally much more efficient. Google the brand and model number and check the reviews. Older boilers can be very reliable if well maintained, so check for service record stickers. Budget between £1-4k for a decent replacement, and remember you really get what you pay for with boilers (40, 41). Budget more for a new install on a property without central heating.

Oil-fired boilers and calor gas systems are generally used for the estimated 4 million households that are not on mains gas. Oil is a bit more fuel efficient than gas, but can cost more to buy as the cost fluctuates and you have to store it in tanks (generally bunded green things) (43, 44). You can also run out if you forget to order more, or the roads are shut. Same rules apply re: servicing and replacement.


In the UK this basically means electric heating systems in rooms. Other countries and some UK commercial and old buildings will use a central furnace and hot air vent system, but they’re inefficient for our construction practices. Electric heating costs more to run than gas, and should really be considered only where gas is unavailable, where heating is infrequently required or where wet system installation is impractical. We’ve gone through various stages of electric heaters too, with electric radiant heaters (i.e. old bar electric bar fires), electric fan heaters, through night storage, oil filled and panel heaters. Fan, radiant and oil column filled heaters are usually portable and can be used to heat up the room you’re in at the time (45).

Panel heaters can be very minimalist and are therefore currently the fashion choice. They’re generally touted as ‘eco’, but given all electric heating systems convert electricity to heat what that essentially means is they don’t use much electricity as they don’t give off much heat. Night storage heaters look more like a radiator and work by heating up a ceramic brick during the night (when electricity can be cheaper if you’re on Economy 7/10 or similar) and releasing it during the day (46, 47, 48). They work much more like a conventional wet system, and get a room toasty warm. Budget £500 per heater.

There’s also ground-source or air-source heat pumps, solar thermal, district heating, underfloor heating, biomass systems and all sorts of others which I can go into in detail if people are interested (i.e. leave a comment to motivate me to do it!). I may do an eco renovation post in the future.


In part two I’ve covered most of the general building fabric and utilities considerations. This should give you an idea of what to look for on property viewings and in your own home. In part three I cover room specific considerations (kitchen, bathroom etc), construction (chimneys etc) and layout.

The Shrink


  1. http://rockmystyle.co.uk/first-impressions/
  2. http://www.oldenglishdoors.co.uk/latest-news/doors-victorian-era/
  3. https://nonagon.style/the-easy-guide-to-exterior-front-door-styles-and-types/
  4. http://moderncountrystyle.blogspot.com/2016/02/how-to-sand-and-renovate-old.html
  5. https://www.doityourself.com/stry/how-to-repair-marble-floor-chips-and-cracks
  6. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/polished-concrete-getting-it-right/
  7. https://www.allthingsflooring.com/2017/07/polished-concrete-vs-resin-floors/
  8. https://www.ambiencehardwoodflooring.co.uk/wood-flooring-guide/real-wood-or-laminate-flooring/
  9. https://fivestarfurnishingcare.co.uk/carpet-cleaning/do-my-carpets-have-carpet-moth/
  10. http://lusheclectic.com/woodchip-wallpaper-take-it-off-or-leave-it/
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artex
  12. https://householdquotes.co.uk/removing-artex/
  13. http://www.asbestosguide.org/asbestos-ceiling-tiles/
  14. https://www.webmd.com/women/lead-paint#1
  15. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/renovation-assessing-the-potential/
  16. https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/home/-rising-damp-is-a-myth-says-former-rics-chief/5204095.article
  17. https://www.heritage-house.org/damp-and-condensation/the-fraud-of-rising-damp.html
  18. https://www.heritage-house.org/damp-and-condensation/managing-damp-in-old-buildings.html
  19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_house
  20. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/damp/article/dealing-with-damp/what-kind-of-damp-is-affecting-my-home
  21. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/mar/01/diy.homes8
  22. https://www.heritage-house.org/damp-and-condensation/types-of-damp-what-have-i-got/penetrating-damp.html
  23. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumer_unit
  24. http://www.judgeelectrical.co.uk/domestic-electrical/explanations/about-fuse-boards.html
  25. https://www.flameport.com/electric_museum/old_equipment/revo_15_amp_splitter.cs4
  26. https://www.niceic.com/find-a-contractor/electrics-explained/what-are-the-different-types-of-electrical-certifi
  27. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-tougher-electrical-safety-standards-to-protect-private-tenants
  28. http://wiki.diyfaq.org.uk/index.php/Electrics,_Socket_Chasing_(Flush_with_wall)
  29. http://wiki.diyfaq.org.uk/index.php/Wiring_colour_codes
  30. https://www.electriciancourses4u.co.uk/useful-resources/history-of-wiring-colours-cable-sheathing-bs7671/
  31. https://www.plugsocketmuseum.nl/OldBritish3.html
  32. https://www.fastcompany.com/3032807/why-england-has-the-best-wall-sockets-on-earth
  33. https://www.cef.co.uk/catalogue/categories/junction-boxes-bakelite-junction-boxes
  34. https://www.ofwat.gov.uk/households/supply-and-standards/supply-pipes/
  35. https://www.homify.co.uk/ideabooks/564032/choosing-the-right-water-pipes-for-your-home
  36. http://wiki.diyfaq.org.uk/index.php/Plumbing
  37. https://www.diydata.com/planning/ch_design/sizing_pipes.php
  38. https://www.plumbnation.co.uk/heating-calculator/
  39. https://www.uswitch.com/boilers/guides/boiler-guide/
  40. https://www.hometree.co.uk/energy-advice/boilers/types-of-boilers.html
  41. https://www.lovemoney.com/news/12664/how-i-saved-1200-on-my-new-boiler
  42. https://www.boilerguide.co.uk/articles/what-size-boiler-needed
  43. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/boilers/article/oil-boilers
  44. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/home-heating-systems/article/home-heating-systems/oil-central-heating
  45. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/electric-heaters/article/how-to-buy-the-best-electric-heater
  46. https://www.energywise.govt.nz/at-home/heating-and-cooling/types-of-heater/electric-heating/
  47. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/home-heating-systems/article/home-heating-systems/storage-heaters
  48. https://www.cse.org.uk/advice/advice-and-support/night-storage-heaters

Property Renovation Lessons I

Gather ye round students.

It’s a peculiarly British fascination that we own our homes. Your home is your castle.

The default setting for those with spare-cash in their middle-years appears to be adding to your castle, working up the property ladder or buy-to-let. Yet it’s a route full of pitfalls, and BTL is fast becoming a mug’s game. MrsShrink and I have been fortuitous in turning a £20k deposit in 2014 into a £52k deposit this year (~38% annual return). We did this by buying a fixer-upper and working our socks off in our spare time. MrsShrink comes from a family of serial renovators, and spent some time learning painting and decorating with a professional family member. I come from building trade stock, and have plied the hod and trowel. I know which end to hold a hammer. So here’s the lessons from along the way that we applied to our second house purchase and renovation.

Location Location Location

  • Buy the worst house on the best street in the best neighbourhood you can afford

Classic Sarah Beeny this one. Waiting for the rough looking house to come up can pay dividends, however there’s plenty of property developers also looking to do this who probably have cash on hand to swoop quickly (1). As an alternative look at what has been on the market a long time, work out why and knock them down for it if it’s overpriced. That unappealing quality avocado bathroom could be £15k off the asking price for a fed-up seller. The primary issue here is that due to Sarah Beeny, DIY SOS, The Renovation Game etc every man and his dog thinks they’re a property developer by ripping out a 30 year old fitted kitchen and banging in a Wickes’ budget MDF job (2). Shame that.

  • Check the location using Rightmove’s school checker, look for local shops and public services like bus stops, libraries, parks etc (3).

This again is partly straightforward. Even if you don’t have kids being in a good school catchment improves resale, although worth bearing in mind that schools can turn around quickly. Less thought about are bus stops; schoolkids yelling outside your house can pretty quickly turn a night shift worker potty. Likewise parks and outdoor sports areas.

  • Check the local streets on your councils planning portal and local area development plan

Is your neighbour about to be converted to an HMO? Is that spot of derelict land at the end of the road turning into a block of flats with no parking allocated. This is exactly what is happening a few streets over from us, and the next-door owner is currently selling up as their current uninterrupted view over the city is due to be replaced by six stories of students. Those planning applications may be the prompt for the sale. Also check your councils local area development plan (or equivalent). This may suggest (as for our current location) there are planned infrastructure, zoning or conservation changes which could dramatically impact the appeal of an area.

  • Check long term floodrisk maps

Published by the government, this shortcuts going through the purchase process only to find on your surveys that your new dream home floods any time we get fair-middling drizzle. For England see here, Wales here, Scotland here (4, 5, 6).

  • Google Streetview is your friend

Check the roof, neighbours gardens for a sense of upkeep of the local area, evidence of building work and other nearby extensions. Four doors up may have a single storey extension that makes getting your planning permission in five years time that much easier. What’s the rear access like? Does Streetview show the rear lane blocked by idle taxi drivers?

  • Check the street at rush hour and mid-evening.

This is a bit involved, hell some people buy houses without seeing them! However if you go to a house viewing at 2pm on a Saturday the quiet tree-lined street with great school access may be a different picture to the school-run mummy-chariot car park. Likewise mid-afternoon could get very different to mid-evening if your excellent local gastropub has less than polite clientele.

Kerb appeal

It’s not just about from this (1):

to this:

Though that first impression counts. If the house looks down at the heel then a clean and a coat of paint may do wonders. Here’s a short list of what else to look for:

  • Doors and windows – wood/ PVC/ aluminium?

Is the wood rotten? Is the PVC discoloured or warped? Is the aluminium corroded? Are the windows double glazed and if so what state are they in? If there is misting inside the windows, like below, it suggests the double glazing has ‘blown’, and is no longer sealed (7). This will still be warmer than single glazing, but lets less light in and obscures your view! Budget at least £500/window for decent replacements (8). Sash windows and wooden casements will cost more, but sash are more desirable and wood will last a lot longer if maintained. On older properties original sash windows can be retrofitted with double-glazing by specialist companies, and this can work out cheaper than having new units made (9). Finally, check the state of the external locks, as many insurance companies will give you better rates for a BS-standard 5 lever deadlock.

  • External walls – clad/ brickwork/ render/ pebble-dash/ stone/ other?

We’ll start with brickwork as in many ways it’s simplest, and most of it also applies to stone. Older and underburnt bricks can suffer from years of frost damage and degrade, a process called spalling, so check for evidence of failure like below (10). Stone will also erode over time (particularly limestone in acid rain, and sandstone mislaid with a vertical grain) (11)

Check for evidence of degradation of the mortar in joints which will require re-pointing (12).

Look for external cracking. In previous centuries lime mortar was used which allowed a degree of flex in the joints due to it’s softness, but as building has moved to stronger and easier concrete/ cement the joints have become inflexible and unyielding. Cracking can have multiple causes but it usually down to building settlement. A degree of settlement is normal over the course of a properties lifetime, and particularly after periods of heavy rain or prolonged drought when the soil underlying the foundations moves. Small cracks are nothing to worry about, but bigger ones may suggest faults with the foundations which can require costly underpinning work. When next to gable walls it may suggest the wall is pulling away from the rest of the house, requiring insertion of wall ties and structural work. If around windows/doors then it may suggest rotting, movement or inadequacy of the sill. If in doubt get a professional survey.

 (13) (14)

Render can have similar issues with cracking as above, but is utilised to offer a layer of protection to the underlying stonework. This was traditionally used where unfinished structural stonework was rougher/ cosmetically poor, or in exposed areas – coastal etc. Breathable lime-based renders were used on older buildings, and replacement with concrete can cause damp issues. Newer buildings have concrete render, which will usually last about 20 years. Certain areas of the country (in my experience Cornwall particularly) have issues with render staining which requires cleaning (15). Budget a couple of thousand pounds, plus VAT and scaffolding costs for a re-render (16, 17).

Pebbledash and roughcast are essentially a different form of render where pebbles are sprayed on or added into the render. It came to be used during the Arts and Crafts Movement, but is often associated with ’20s and ’30s housing where it was used to cover cheap and quick brickwork (structurally sound but not aesthetically pleasing) (18). It offers a greater degree of weather protection than standard render. Don’t write off a pebbledash home. Removal is time-consuming (read expensive), but painting can make a huge difference (16)

Cladding is it’s whole other separate post. Replacing cladding is a good way to bring an out-of-fashion exterior bang up to date. Cladding may require planning permission under permitted development rules, or further consideration in conservation or national park areas (19).

  • Check for cavity wall injection points

Cavity walls, where there is an air gap between the inner and outer skins of the wall, became mainstream in the 1920s (20). The two skins are tied together either with bricks placed perpendicular across them, stones, or now with metal ties. The original usage was to prevent the passage of moisture into the building from outside. Insulation in the cavity became compulsory in the 1990s. In older houses is became common to use an injection method to insert insulation into the pre-existing cavity, leaving behind tell-tale holes where drilled (21). Cavity wall insulation divides opinion. The added insulation can in principal save a fair amount on heating. I dislike retro-fitted cavity wall insulation due to the potential for air and moisture-bridging, especially across damp courses lower down in the wall. This allows moisture to track across where there was previously an air gap, or through osmosis past the damp proof course. In modern houses the damp proof course sits below the insulation as it is inserted during construction, and with the use of modern backed insulation boarding it is less of an issue. Do your own research.

What lies above?

  • Check the roof

I won’t go into different roof materials, again it would be a whole other post. Stand on the other side of the street and look at as many elevations as you can see. Are there any slipped slates/ tiles? Any missing ridge tiles? These can all be sources of leaks if the roof lacks underlay (22). Most tile roofs can last 50 years if maintained, while slates can last a hundred (23). Budget £5000+ for new roof. This could escalate if the underlying joists and rafters are warped, damaged or rotten, indicated by a sagging area of roof. If the whole roof appears bowed under weight then it may be less of a worry; this is usually the result of replacement tiles being heavier than the originals, gradual settlement over time, or the effect of weight following a period of heavy snow (24).

Damaged or degraded flashing is a common cause of a leaky roof. I would bring binoculars to look at the roof when I was viewing a house. Lead is generally used and is very durable, but can fatigue or come loose. More rarely zinc, copper, aluminium or galvanised steel has been used. Budget £1000-1500 as a minimum for remedial work including labour, materials and scaffold (25, 26).

Chimneys… where to even start? Apply all of the brickwork damage section here, particularly spalling. The heat expansion and freeze/thaw effects combine to result in rapid degradation. Check for mortar breakdown around flashing at the base, a common source of ‘falling damp’ which is water leaking down the chimney breast. Check for vertical cracks in the chimney, vegetation, nesting animals, degraded cement caps and loose chimney pots or cowls. All can cause problems (27, 28). We’re currently trying to have our chimney repaired as preventative maintenance, with quotes between £1500-2500. Getting the agreement of our neighbour as it is a party wall has proved troublesome (rented property). We can’t go ahead until we have their agreement, but hopefully they’ll go half.

  • Check the gutters, soffits and fascias

Again a multitude of materials and a cause for ‘falling damp’. Traditionally gutters were cast iron and painted. These with maintenance can last many, many years. For a short period there were asbestos and fibre gutters, before moving over to PVC or plastic forms. These don’t last as long but don’t need the maintenance (and are cheaper).

Firstly, check for vegetation or any signs of blockages in the gutters themselves. This causes rainwater to overflow (a cause of damp), but is easily remedied with a ladder (or if you really fancy get a bloke with a pressure washer). Then check downpipes and ground-level drains (gullys). Are they securely attached and are they all connected. Again a common cause of internal damp is a leaking external downpipe (29). I hired an aluminium scaffold tower for a week for £120 this summer and had a great old time digging years of rotting vegetation and a few carcasses out of our blocked gutters, before rodding out the downpipe and running new ground-level pipes. I also took the opportunity to repaint our soffits and fascias. Cheap fixes and maintenance preventing future problems.

Your guttering will be attached to the fascia, with the soffit covering the underhang (30). These used to be made of wood, which would need to be periodically painted. In more recent years they’ve been replaced with PVC. Sometimes this covers and is fixed to a wood board, or is fixed to the older fascia or soffit. Watch out for where people have covered a rotting old fascia with PVC to hide it, as it will continue to rot and the guttering will fall out.

The hidden costs

  • Check utilities services

What do I mean by this? Check where the stopcock and meter are externally if it’s obvious. Check where phonelines enter the building. Both can be a pain to track down. More importantly – check the drains! Where does the external surface water drain to? Are there obvious access hatches to inspection chambers? Learn from my error, when I spent a wintry December week breaking up our concrete yard and digging down two feet to expose a broken salt-glaze pipe containing 12 foot of backed-up liquid faeces. If you’re planning to rework a property then knowing where the utilities is essential for plumbing planning.

  • Check the garden for Japanese Knotweed & other pests.

Look for the plant below, Japanese Knotweed. The effect on the value of the property is massive. It’s an invasive non-native species which is classed as hazardous waste, and any land containing it is counted as contaminated. It’s difficult to get rid of, spreads like wildfire and grows up to 10cm a day (28). A survey by YouGov and Environet UK estimates that 5% of UK homes have Japanese Knotweed (31). Finding Japanese Knotweed will knock 10% off that value of the property (31, 32, 33). Also take the opportunity to spot for evidence of wasps nests, bats, rats or mice.


So that’s outdoors briefly covered. In part two I’ll cover indoors, reflecting on what to look for in your first and second viewings when considering a house, and the mistakes we did and didn’t make.

The Shrink



  1. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/buy/should-buy-worst-house-best-street-turn-ugly-duckling-swan/
  2. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3114485/Want-make-money-property-Buy-house-avocado-bathroom-Artex-ceilings-quadruple-investment.html
  3. https://www.rightmove.co.uk/schools.html
  4. https://flood-map-for-planning.service.gov.uk/
  5. https://naturalresources.wales/evidence-and-data/maps/long-term-flood-risk/?lang=en
  6. https://www.sepa.org.uk/environment/water/flooding
  7. https://www.eygwindows.co.uk/lifestyle-blog/why-does-double-glazing-mist-up
  8. https://www.theecoexperts.co.uk/double-glazing-costs
  9. https://www.renovategreen.co.uk/building-fabric/retrofitting-double-glazing-into-old-windows/
  10. https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/Defects_in_brickwork
  11. https://www.heritage-house.org/damp-and-condensation/types-of-damp-what-have-i-got/damp-problems-caused-by-cement-pointing-of-brick-or-stone.html
  12. http://www.loughboroughproperty.com/repointing/
  13. https://www.diydoctor.org.uk/projects/settlement.htm
  14. https://gharpedia.com/diagonal-cracks-brick-walls/
  15. http://www.colinsquire.co.uk/red-stained-walls/
  16. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/render-faqs/
  17. https://www.thegreenage.co.uk/cost-of-external-render/
  18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roughcast
  19. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/cladding-new-facades-for-ugly-homes
  20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cavity_wall
  21. https://www.fixmyroof.co.uk/videos-and-guides/pitched-roof/repair-a-slate-roof/
  22. https://www.roof-stores.co.uk/guides/tiles-and-slates/roofing-tiles-slates-lifespan/
  23. https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/Flashing_in_building_construction
  24. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/roof-repairs/
  25. http://essexroofingandfascias.co.uk/portfolio-items/damaged-chimney/
  26. https://www.karnakcorp.com/roof-conditions/damaged-flashing/
  27. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/repairing-gutters/
  28. https://www.jjroofingsupplies.co.uk/blog/what-are-soffits-and-fascias/
  29. http://surveyingproperty.blogspot.com/2018/#.XAATl9v7SM8
  30. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/japanese-knotweed-house-prices-property-value-mortgage-insurance-how-to-treat-a8557971.html
  31. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/uk/property-buyers-sue-50000-japanese-knotweed-problem-homeowners/
  32. https://www.moneywise.co.uk/news/2018-09-28/japanese-knotweed-blight-has-slashed-uk-house-prices-20bn




Quarterly Returns Q2 2018 – A Tale of Two Cities

For my first quarterly return, I’ll lay out the basic plan for the future, and then tell a little story of hindsight.

Quarterly return posts will supplement my monthly Financial Dashboard, but with a different focus. While the Financial Dash mainly deals with my day-to-day, week-to-week goals, budgeting, the Quarterly Returns will cover investments in detail and look at my yearly targets. Here I will track purchases and sales, document my investment strategy, and discuss re-balancing and changes over time. Inevitably there will be some overlap, but I’ll try to minimise this.

Eventually the plan is to display some pretty graphs of exposure, increase over time etc. As I’m still developing my spreadsheets, for now I’ll just make a nice list.

Q2 Returns:

  • Cash Savings Accounts £400
  • Investments £0
  • Esoteric tat £3000


Yearly Targets:

Goal 1: Build an emergency fund.

As per the r/UKpersonalfinance flow chart, I’m working towards building an emergency fund (1).

I currently have a month’s outgoings in our joint account, and working towards two months. I’m chipping away at this, but now I have a month’s worth tucked away (and completed some fairly massive life-costs) I’m going to target debts.

Goal 2: Pay off debts

At the start of Q2 my short term debts were £2.5k to family and £4.3k on 0% interest credit cards. These are now £1,250 and £4.1k respectively. The aim is to bring my credit card debt down gradually, but as it’s at 0% for another 2 years I may indulge in some stoozing (2). I can also now close two redundant credit cards now I have no upcoming credit applications.

Goal 3: Reduce superfluous outgoings.

I’ve managed to reduce my living costs (see below), but an area for future work.

Goal 4: Commence investing!

The target for Q3.

A Tale of Two Cities

Inspired by Ermine’s tale of a dumb property purchase, here’s mine (3). This is a story of opportunity cost, the British love affair with owning our own home, and how as a person sometimes buying is not the right thing to do.

As mentioned in my Musing On… Mortgages post, MrsFireShrink and I were lucky enough to purchase our own home in our mid-20s. There are plenty of reports and opinion pieces currently doing the rounds, detailing how a third of my generation “will never own a home”, how it’s a housing crisis and changes must be made to the broken market (4, 5, 6). Wind back to 2014, and those worries are starting to bubble to the surface, but not yet in the public consciousness.

In those heady, pre-Brexit, pre-coalition-of-the-contemptible days house prices are still rising. Property is still a sure thing. We’re over the 2008 wobble, Dave Cameron is in charge and ‘the city’ and financial markets are looking bullish. Every man and his dog is flipping the equity from their own home into a nice little BTL side-hustle, an earner for retirement, inheritance for the children. The market looks nice and rosy, house prices always go up, right…. right? (7):

Enter stage-left MrsShrink (then MissFrugalStrongIndependentWoman) and I. We sat and planned our future together. I was living in work digs, 150 miles from MrsShrink. These were particularly miserable NHS digs, built after the war and updated when things broke, sometimes (for example see below) (8). Lying on my lumpy single bed as snow, rain and hail came through the single-pane aluminium-framed windows (which you couldn’t shut properly) I dreamt of a home to call my own. Heating that wasn’t on flat out, 24/7, even in midsummer. An oven that worked, A gas hob younger than me. A fridge lacking CFCs, etc.

The saving grace of these digs was that they were cheap. Really cheap. 90% of my earnings was paying off accumulated student credit card and overdraft debt, or sitting in our first, joint, savings account. MrsShrink and I knew nothing of investing, and to this day MrsShrink is fearful and does not trust the markets. Our plan saw me moving back to join MrsShrink in the city we had studied in, which we had both fallen in love with.

MrsShrink was equally frugal. She had moved in with a friend who had recently bought and was renovating a small terrace. While it was uninhabitable she was staying at his parents, paying a tiny rent, but not ideal accommodation. 6 months in and she was desperate for her own space.

With a small gift from MrsShrink’s mother we had enough for a deposit. The city we studied in was located in the South. A port city, bombed in WW2 and with high unemployment. Lively, cheap to live in, plenty going on and lots surrounding. Rows of identical, overengineered victorian terraces meant housing was around the national average despite being in the South. Early on we decided we wanted something old, with features, with potential but a manageable project.

The house

We spent six months viewing 20+ houses. We watched perfect houses get snatched up by people outbidding us. We viewed some real shitholes, rotten floorboards and collapsing joists. We stretched a bit and leveraged to 90% LTV on 200k. We planned to be there until we had kids, so fixed for 5 years. In 2014, everyone predicted an interest rate rise.

Eventually we found a place. It was a bad house on a good street, with agents pushing for much more than it was worth. In an area of high demand it had been sat for a year. [Warning sign]. It was vast, full of old features and 10% over budget. It also stank of fags and had some qwalitee 90s additions. Faux plastic panelling and fibreboard partitions anyone? [Warning sign]. The electrics had recently been done (cheaply) as had the central heating (cheaply) [Warning sign].

All this didn’t matter. We were in love with it. We could own this big house on this lovely street, all our own! We’ll renovate it, start a family, make loadsa-cash.

The troubles

We put down an offer for 5% under asking, which was accepted after a bit of haggling. We organised a full structural survey. This showed some damp and rot in the downstairs structure, so we went back to the vendors and knocked another 5% off. We were now on (just) budget. We weren’t fazed by this, every old house needs some work, and for houses where the vendor has been there over 10 years a survey may be the first time anyone looks for problems for a while.

The survey also stated that the walls were covered with thick wallpaper, as were the ceilings, and so the structure was impossible to examine. Fair enough said we. [Error]. As first time buyers we were a quick sale. Besides we were now desperate to be in. We wanted our house. [Error]. We completed within two months.

Walking back into the house for the first time, we were hit by a wall of fag-smell. Didn’t matter, we loved it. We held a party where we provided pizza and equipped all our mates with wallpaper stripping kit. The nicotine/tar ran out of the walls in rivulets. We all got contact high. Once we removed six layers of wallpaper and wood chip (spawn of the devil) the resultant 120-year old plaster was absolutely dead, falling off in chunks.

So it continued. I won’t document it all, but selected lowblows included:

  • Undiscovered rotten joists
  • Woodworm
  • Live bakelite or cloth-wrapped wiring throughout which hadn’t been removed, just run as parallel circuit
  • Replastering throughout as rooms sequentially were found to have collapsing or damaged plaster
  • Drains collapsing, prompting the external stack to back up and digging out 12ft of liquid shit in midwinter
  • Fibreboard dropped ceilings in bedrooms hiding fire damage
  • Asbestos boarding
  • Boiler wired through twist-and-tape off a socket, with no fuse
  • Porch collapsing due to rot hidden behind a fascade

Lots of the work I completed myself. The sleet helping to wash off six month old faeces was a particular joy. We dropped about £15k over three years completely renovating. I hate to think what it would cost in labour, as I did 10+ hours a week on it in addition to my 60 hour work week.

The move

Three years into owning our home I was offered my dream job, one that I didn’t believe would ever happen, working with some of the top people in the world. Snag; it’s 150 miles away in another city. After discussions, I moved to pursue it, with MrsShrink following when she found work. We spent the following six months finishing the house to a high standard travelling the 150 miles at weekends. We never got to appreciate the fruits of our labour.

Facing financial pressure, paying rent and bills on one home and a mortgage and bills on an empty one, we put it on the market. We had to port our mortgage to avoid a hefty 5% early repayment charge. An asking price offer made within a week of listing fell through three months later, days before exchange. Another offer fell through a month later. We finally accepted an offer 10% under asking price six months later. We completed two months after that, exchanging on our new property on the same day.

The moral

Why am I telling this story? Through sweat, tears, blood and new grey hairs we made £15k net profit. About what the house would have gained through local market forces anyway. We have more equity in our new property and gained a lot of experience for the purchase of the current house:

  • Don’t overlook flaws because of love unless you’re willing to pay for them in time, stress or money
  • Don’t assume that a survey finds everything (or is even worth the paper it’s written on)
  • The more layers of cosmetic presentation/ furnishing/ detail in a house, the more it can hide
  • You may not make money on property
  • You can’t tell what tenants are like until you see how they live
  • Market estimates are dung; something is worth what people are willing to pay for it
  • Get paperwork evidence for everything
  • Houses naturally depreciate over time, they fall down if uncared for

Ultimately we learnt the hard way that early in life mobility for work can be a greater asset than equity. The British romanticism of owning our home hamstrung us and tied us to a financial obligation. As young professionals we could have been better served by considering our mobility as an asset. Don’t settle down until you really know you’re going to. There endeth the lesson for 20-somethings.


  1. https://www.reddit.com/r/UKPersonalFinance/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoozing
  3. https://simplelivingsomerset.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/when-not-to-buy-a-house-a-cautonary-tale-from-a-quarter-of-a-century-ago/
  4. https://www.moneywise.co.uk/news/2018-02-16/homeownership-among-millennials-plummets
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/apr/17/one-in-three-uk-millennials-will-never-own-a-home-report
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/apr/28/proportion-home-owners-halves-millennials
  7. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2018/06/uk-shares-uk-property-better-value.html/
  8. http://s0.geograph.org.uk/photos/41/10/411045_a8075d90.jpg