How to increase your home’s value – with a sandwich

It is a tenet of neo-liberal economics that there is no such thing as a free lunch. This is obvious baloney. There are free lunches everywhere. The problem is that those free lunches are no longer served to people doing useful work. They are instead handed out to the owners of a few favoured asset classes through untaxed gains. We have created far more tax breaks for rent-seeking than for productive work… and then we wonder why Britain has a productivity crisis. Under a future Sutherland regime, there would be no tax paid on beer drunk in a pub I must admit I enjoy a few free lunches myself –

Solar panels in, swimming pools out: 2023’s property trends

Inflation has finally dipped a little but is still riding high, and mortgage rates may still rise further: Britain’s households are suffering a pay squeeze. But what are home-owners still spending their money on – and what has fallen out of favour? Here is Spectator Life‘s guide to the winners and losers in the property market this year so far… The winners… Solar panels High energy bills have kickstarted British householders into going green. During the first half of this year, sales of solar panels were up 82 per cent on the same period last year, according to MCS, the standards body. The hot spots of solar installations? Cornwall, Wiltshire

The growing appeal of the outdoor kitchen

For most of us the main ingredients of outdoor cooking are a smouldering barbecue grill, slabs of alternately under- and over-cooked meat and a light sprinkling of frustration. But these days, it seems, there is another option on the menu. Ever since the pandemic, more and more homeowners have been investing in lavish outdoor kitchens – keeping up with the Joneses with garden wine fridges, rotisserie grills, pizza ovens and professional-quality prep areas so they can cook and eat outside in comfort. The concept has been enthusiastically adopted by the likes of David and Victoria Beckham, who are reportedly awaiting a verdict on a planning application for an all-singing, all-dancing

What’s behind the bungalow boom?

‘Bungalows are almost perfect,’ as the old gag goes. ‘They only have one floor.’ But these once unfashionable properties are rapidly becoming anything but a joke. While the mortgage crisis is cooling most sectors of the housing market, demand for bungalows is growing. Estate agents report the properties receiving dozens of offers, selling for tens of thousands over the asking price or being snapped up before officially going on the market. The usual breed of downsizers and retirees looking to replace large family homes with something all on one level are facing stiff competition from budget-conscious purchasers seeking to renovate single-storey homes – and often turn them into family homes

In praise of the suburban semi

In 1939 George Orwell took aim at burgeoning British suburbia and its population of lower middle class lackeys in his novel Coming Up for Air, memorably describing the new homes being built on the fringes of cities as ‘semi-detached torture chambers where the poor little five-to-ten pound a-weekers quake and shiver’. More than eight decades on and the Office for National Statistics reports that one in three of us lives in a semi-detached home, an architectural style with a far longer and more interesting history than Orwell may have been aware of. They are also – officially – the hottest property type on the market. Analysis of more than 100,000 house

Is it possible to live without a bank account?

Of no account  Nigel Farage claimed that his bank has told him it will be closing his accounts, without giving him a reason, although he suspects it is because of his political views. Is it possible to live without a bank account? – According to the Financial Conduct Authority, there are 1.3 million adults in Britain who are ‘unbanked’. – A third of them do not want to have a bank account, sometimes because they have got into trouble with debt in the past. – There are 7.45 million ‘basic’ bank accounts designed to offer essential functionality for handling payments, without offering credit and other services. Around the houses How

Move over Brighton: is Folkestone the next coastal property hotspot?

As the recent heatwave simmered on, tempura oysters were being washed down with chilled rosé on the beachfront tables at Little Rock, an offshoot of Folkestone’s Michelin starred Rocksalt restaurant. Looking from the shipping container that houses it past a handful of palm trees down the long shingle beach, a huge crane punctuated the clear blue sky above the bright white curves of the town’s biggest new development. The Folkestone Harbour and Seafront Development Company is hoping to woo a wave of home-buyers to the Kent Channel town’s seafront, with the first phase of 1,000 new homes planned along the beach. The seaside resort and port, in the same vein

Has the regeneration of Elephant and Castle been a success?

It has been ten years since work began in earnest on the regeneration of one of the few surviving sections of old-school central London. While the rest of Zone 1 seemingly saw wall-to-wall gentrification, Elephant and Castle remained an outpost of stubborn, scruffy ordinariness, an oasis of discount stores, greasy spoons and traditional boozers. Over the past decade, billions of pounds have been lavished on sprucing up the Elephant. But while the old place certainly looks quite different – a cluster of new towers, thousands of new homes, a gaping hole where the 1960s shopping centre once stood – this is a regeneration that has had its fair share of troubles.

The invasion of the wheelie bins

Once I thought nothing could make residential Britain look uglier than pebble-dashing, PVC windows and satellite dishes. I was wrong. As if the country had not been brutally homogenised enough by the fact that every high street has the same shops, now every residential road is reduced to being an identical backdrop for a very persistent invader: the wheelie bin. Lined up like Daleks, they are breeding in my North London neighbourhood, blocking front gardens and pavements. Outside houses split into flats, where each has its own set, there are actual crowds of these 4.5ft graceless plastic buckets, which come in multiple colours for different sorts of rubbish. When wheelie bins first

Home truths: the crushing reality of the mortgage crisis

In December Jeremy Hunt hosted a mortgage summit, attended by lenders and the Financial Conduct Authority, to discuss rate woes. At the time, the numbers were at least moving in the right direction. During Liz Truss’s 49-day premiership, the FCA expected interest rates to rise to 5.5 per cent, an increase which was forecast to put 570,000 people into mortgage payment difficulty. Once Rishi Sunak and Hunt undid Truss’s mini-Budget, things looked calmer: a 4.5 per cent peak was expected, and 356,000 people were due to be in difficulty. Hunt was still struck by the figure. Horribly high, he thought. The Chancellor used the meeting to lay the foundation for

Whose job is it to keep airport e-gates open?

Do you hate airport e-gates? Me too. The instructions are poor, the facial recognition frequently fails and the ‘Don’t abuse our staff’ posters tell you you’re trapped in a system that’s bound to annoy. Last Saturday it went from bad to worse, when all 270 e-gates at UK entry points stopped working. ‘A technical nationwide border system issue’, the Home Office called it. But I think we should know who’s responsible – and a Hollywood-hacker-style trawl has led me to a 2021 report by David Neal, ‘independent chief inspector of borders and immigration’. Neal reveals that a single-supplier contract for UK e-gates was awarded in 2013, until 2023-24, to a

How to join the beach hut brigade

They are expensive to maintain, plagued by tourists and influences seeking picture-postcard holiday snaps and cost more per square foot than houses in some of London’s most affluent neighbourhoods – despite lacking basic amenities such as running water. And yet such is the allure of the traditional seaside beach hut that, amid an otherwise shaky housing market, prices for these modest timber shacks just keep rising.  According to research by Moverly, which provides digital home information packs, the average asking price of a beach hut in England stands at £49,290 – up 43 per cent in the past year. In Dorset prices are up 101 per cent to more than

The inconvenient truth about heat pumps

In Britain’s battle to cut carbon emissions, the government sees heat pumps as a key weapon. Unveiling the latest energy efficiency plan in March, energy secretary Grant Shapps doubled down on Boris Johnson’s offer of a £5,000 grant for anyone willing to install one. These smart bits of home technology work by transferring thermal energy from the air, ground or water. They are powered by electricity, which can be generated from solar or wind power, providing cheap and fossil fuel-free heating and hot water. So what’s not to like? The concept is nothing new. In 1856 the Austrian scientist Peter von Rittinger worked out a technique for drying out salt in salt marshes using an

Blooming expensive: the growing cost of a garden

As Cicero is often (mis)quoted as saying, if you have a garden and a library, that is all you need. And since the pandemic, our love of a garden has only got greater. Yet these days it’s often less about getting your hands dirty in the flowerbeds and more about having somewhere to kick back and enjoy a good book or drink rosé with friends. But while visitors are swooning over raised beds and begonias at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week, the price of having a garden of one’s own is higher than ever – especially if you want a generous one. According to the latest research by

Why house-hunters are heading to Derbyshire

You don’t get much further from the seaside than Derbyshire, a county landlocked at the heart of England. During lockdowns house-hunters simply couldn’t get enough of coastal property, and prices in Wales and the West Country boomed. But three years after the start of the pandemic, a new property powerhouse is emerging.  According to the latest UK House Price Index, prices in North East Derbyshire are up by almost 20 per cent year on year, to £259,000. Across the way, prices in the Derbyshire Dales are up 18 per cent year on year, to an average of £362,000. This performance would be impressive in a strong economy, never mind against the backdrop of rising interest rates and

The Eurovision effect: how Liverpool is changing its tune

Few British cities can rival the musical heritage of Liverpool – and as the Eurovision Song Contest arrives back in the UK after 25 years, Merseyside is getting ready for its moment in the spotlight. An extra 150,000 visitors are expected to descend on the city for the sell-out event this weekend. While the world’s eyes will be on the M&S Bank Arena for Saturday’s final, the Liverpool area will enjoy a whole week of club nights, raves, live screenings, concerts and after-parties. But it’s not just Eurovision that’s bringing a buzz to the UK’s fifth largest city: hot on the heels of that will be the relaunch of the

Why I’ve sacked my estate agent

The estate agent flashed a sarcastic smile and said it wasn’t so much that the market was in a bad place, rather that my property got so much ‘negative feedback’. I stared back at her, fuming. I had popped into the offices of this agency to ask for my key back, which I forgot to do last year when I gave up on them being able to sell my house. This summer, I’ve given it to a friend at a smaller agency, hoping he does a better job than the city slickers at this well-known outfit where they all shout ‘Rah-de-blah-de-rah-de-blah!’ no matter what I say to them. Miss Smarty

For sale: Jane Austen’s birthplace

‘There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort,’ wrote the eminently quotable Jane Austen in Emma, in 1815. ‘Nobody can be more devoted to home than I am.’   If the incomparable Regency writer and social critic could see Steventon House, on the site of her birthplace and childhood home in Hampshire, she would doubtless approve. Although it’s not quite on the scale of the manicured estates that feature so largely in her property-obsessed novels, the Grade II listed 1820s home is all Georgian elegance, with 7,000 sq ft of living space, beautifully proportioned high-ceilinged receptions and fine period features including decorative fireplaces, cornicing, and working shutters.   The six-bed

Mean streets: the psychology of neighbour disputes

Eunice Day’s breaking point came when her neighbours asked if she would move her car from a communal grass verge in their cul-de-sac so that it could be mowed. After several weeks of polite hostilities, Day stormed a neighbour’s home in the Dorset town of Ferndown, a row ensued, and the resulting scuffle left the 81-year-old in court charged with assault. In Bedminster, Bristol, fed-up locals have taken a more passive-aggressive approach to ‘outsiders’ parking on their streets. Suburban vigilantes have been creeping out and sellotaping notes to windscreens urging their owners to park outside their own homes instead. Over in the village of Polstead, Suffolk, meanwhile, one couple are

How padel courts became hot property

Peloton has peaked and troughed, wild swimming has made its splash – and now, it seems, it’s padel’s turn for the prime spot. Said to be the world’s fastest-growing racket sport, the game – a hybrid of tennis and squash, with a dash of ping pong – is fun and sociable (it’s played in doubles) and has been adopted by around 25 million people worldwide. Easy to get good at quite quickly, it’s also apparently the ‘new golf’ among retired footballers – David Beckham is a fan.  ‘Padel has become an obsession in the shires… a padel court is the latest must-have in country houses’ Across the UK, any sports