Statement on Cladding Fire Safety Bill

The House of Lords’ decision to reject the Government’s cladding bill yesterday should remind the Government that its responsibilities to leaseholders and tenants goes further than simply removing unsafe cladding. Proper plans must also be put in place to rectify the costs of additional safety procedures such as waking watches, which have been mandated by the Government. The additional costs incurred by various parties, including that of fire safety surveys, should be seen as part of the overall cost of the cladding crisis. It is important that these wider issues are resolved in order to avoid ambiguity.

Written by Israel Moskovitz,

“Response to the Government cladding announcement” first appeared on my Medium profile.

Statement on Government’s Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme

We welcome the announcement of the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme. We will be looking at accessing this fund to roll out charge points across our portfolio where possible, in conjunction with our managing agents. By being able to provide charging points in our buildings, we will make it easier for our tenants to embrace the electric vehicle revolution and in doing so help the country reach our Net Zero Carbon targets.

Written by Israel Moskovitz,

“Statement on Government’s Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme” first appeared on my Medium profile.

Response to the Government cladding announcement

The Government has faced huge amounts of pressure from across the property sector to resolve this issue. Is it right that the fund to remove unsafe cladding is increased, which will finally end the months of confusion and anxiety for many thousands of people. However, the funding must go further; the Government’s decision to exclude thousands of leaseholders from access to this relief will take some people back to square one.

“There must be a clear pathway forward. Although the loan scheme is a welcome effort to accelerate the work to remove the cladding, it must come with more clarity about the costs to leaseholders and how it will affect their future. It is also essential that the Government sets out a clear response to managing fire safety costs in order to ensure the cladding crisis is resolved once and for all.

Written by Israel Moskovitz,

“Response to the Government cladding announcement” first appeared on my Medium profile.

Improving the energy efficiency of your building

Reducing the energy consumption of your building should be a high priority for any landlord or freeholder. As well as lowering running costs, conserving energy will make it easier to comply with tightening environmental regulations, give you sustainable credentials and ultimately impact the property’s long term value. There are multiple ways in which you can improve the energy efficiency of your building, from the development process to bolt on changes.

If you are investing in a new-build property, there are three main things to consider: the bioclimatic architecture, insulation and ventilation.

Bioclimatic architecture adapts the building’s design to the natural conditions of the environment in order to reach thermal comfort. The location, orientation, shape, size and interior design of a building all must be considered in order to best protect the building from its local environment. For example, the shape and orientation of a building will determine the quantity of sunlight and wind it is exposed to.

Energy efficient buildings will all have high performing building envelopes. This includes thorough insulation, premium glazing and windows, and air-sealed construction. Thermal insulation is a low-cost proven solution that begins saving energy and money as soon as it is installed. Ground decks, roofs, lofts, walls and facades must all be well insulated for maximum efficiency. Air leakages result in heat loss, meaning that your heating system may be working in overdrive to meet temperature demand. An airtight building is essential to conserve energy.

For both new builds and renovations, making improvements to the building envelop will ultimately bring returns for the landlord.

High performance insulation goes hand in hand with a suitable ventilation system. Ventilation will not only provide fresh air, it will also direct CO2 and moisture outside of the build and save energy by recovering heat.

For landlords wanting to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings, replacing doors and windows can be a great investment.

There are multiple upgrades within your existing buildings that you can make. Installing energy saving LED light bulbs could help you reduce your energy use by 75% compared to incandescent lighting. Installing daylight controllers which only switch on when natural light is insufficient, or infrared sensors which switch off lights in infrequently used spaces such as corridors and stairwells would also make a difference.

There is a host of “green” gadgets on the market from smart thermostats and smart wall socket plugs to solar-powered outdoor lighting. Upgrading to certified energy efficient appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers and washing machines is an investment that will offer significant savings in operation.

For individual properties there are numerous measures like solar panels and ground source heat pumps that can provide alternative renewable sources of hot water that reduces the overall burden on the grid. Landlords must carefully consider the cost/benefit returns from these investments and investigate sources of funding such as the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

Growing environmental awareness, tightening energy regulations and increasing energy prices, mean that going forward, reducing your building’s energy consumption will be essential to comply with regulation, attract tenants and increase your profit margins.

Written by Israel Moskovitz,

“Improving the energy efficiency of your building” first appeared on my Medium profile.

Business and charity should mix

For businesspeople, keeping charity close to heart and head is essential to their success.

Recently, I was lucky enough to be involved in a community project that will make a massive difference to a charity very close to my heart. It was announced last week that Side by Side, a Jewish special needs school, would receive fibre optic internet for free at their new site in Hackney. My company, Avon Group, worked with internet provider Community Fibre to ensure that the broadband was installed free of charge and monthly fees were waived. For a small school that is supported mainly by charitable donations, this deal will make an incredible difference.

Charity is an essential tool in strengthening our Community. It nourishes causes that support needy and vulnerable people, helping to support individuals throughout their lives. It is therefore essential that charities are run well, providing those in need with the best support possible.

Through my years of philanthropic work, I am always struck by one fundamental fact that people often get wrong: the skills you apply in business should be no different to the ones applied in charity. Or, to put it another way, business know-how is fundamental to the success of a charity.

This might seem jarring to philanthropists, who argue that a special dedication to the cause separates business and charity. No doubt, if your heart isn’t in a charity, you shouldn’t be either. But a group of dedicated individuals, left to their own devices, is not enough. For a charity to be truly successful, we must take that dedication and apply business sense to it.

During my involvement with charities as both a donator, active volunteer, and board member, I have often reflected on the value businesspeople with other specialisations can bring as charity trustees. After all, we are in a unique position to apply a wealth of business experience and acumen.

Trustees with a business background have unique gifts that can help charities run more effectively. It can be too easy for businesspeople to silo their work life away from philanthropy, to view it as a tick-box exercise and commit minimal effort to it.

It seems clear to me that business and charities aren’t all that different. Charites still have board meetings, or meetings with other charities and sponsors. Who is better than an experienced director to chair these meetings on their charity’s behalf?

Like all businesses, charities need to ensure that their financials are water-tight and their work in compliance with the law and government regulations. An accountant will help to ensure that all outgoings are responsibly invested and signed off; a commercial lawyer can ensure that contracts are appropriate and regulations are adhered to.

But professionals also bring something intangible — a business nous, and some excellent contacts to boot. If we can apply this to charities, the results can be terrific.

What does that mean in practice? To successfully apply this to work life, businesspeople must do something challenging — they must consider charity at every turn. Understanding how a charity can benefit from a business deal can mean the world to that non-profit organisation. I speak from experience when I say that communicating a charity’s interests, as well as your business’, will often lead to additional support for a charity.

After all, what is the harm in asking? All businesses understand the importance of charity. More often than not, laying out how a charity might be included, and might benefit, in a business deal will create new opportunities. This might be as simple as a conversation with someone in your network.

By keeping a charity’s aims close to your heart and in your head at all times, you are better able to make a real difference.

Written by Israel Moskovitz,

“For businesspeople, keeping charity close to heart and head is essential to their success” first appeared as an opinion article in the Jewish News as well as on my Medium profile.

Planning reform — helping build Britain’s future

The Government has announced a major planning reform — a shakeup that is long overdue. Out of date planning regulations have not been reformed in the UK since the Second World War, with successive governments instead opting to alter the existing system. This has led to a process that is plagued by inefficiency and, given the current housing demands, is unfit for purpose. These proposed reforms will give the property sector a renewed sense of purpose as we begin to get the economy moving after Covid-19.

The existing system, in which councils vet planning applications on a case by case basis, will be overhauled, replaced with a three-tiered zonal system. Councils will be given the power to divide up land into three sections: “growth”, “renewal”, and “protected”. Under the plans, growth areas will be earmarked for big development project. If these developments are based on pre-approved design codes, they will automatically receive approval, cutting out years of red-tape from planning oversight. Renewal areas will see “gentle densification”, adding more homes to existing residential areas. Finally, protection of green belt land and areas of outstanding natural beauty will be bolstered.

The widespread reform aims to go further than any government has gone for decades by removing the time consuming and inefficient planning process. The Government said that it would require local planning applications to be developed and agreed in 30 months, a significant reduction from the current average of five years.

This is a welcome move for the property sector. The existing planning system was entirely unfit for purpose. As well as the painstaking and time-consuming process it took to get approval, the appeal process exposed extreme levels of bureaucracy within local councils. Under the old system, applications that were rejected the first time around for minor infractions would subsequently be passed six months later. Indeed, a third of applications went through on appeal after a refusal. Reform was essential.

The new regulations will enable the Government to finally realise its ambition to build more houses, something that previous reforms have manifestly failed to do. Government targets for new houses have consistently been missed, an appalling record that has blighted the UK’s property sector for years.

Along with the recent extension to permitted development right (PDR), that enables existing residential flats to be expanded by up to two floors, the planning reform demonstrates real intent by the Government to build beautiful houses in smart ways.

The removal of red tape will also help SME developers to bring new and exciting designs to local areas. The emphasis on developments that match the surrounding area demonstrates a connected thought process that realises local communities must be expanded whilst retaining their essential features. If the housing crisis is to be defeated once and for all, we must realise that innovation has to take precedence.

Of course, not everyone will be happy with this reform. However, the residential property sector has faced a crisis of missed targets for years. By building more properties, more people will be able to access houses in the long run.

For SME developers such as myself, this reform comes at a time where the removal of red tape is essential not only for the property sector, but for the country in general. Covid-19 has taken its toll on virtually every sector; it is important that the Government creates the right opportunities to stimulate jobs and investment to help the country back onto its feet.

Written by Israel Moskovitz,

“Planning reform — helping build Britain’s future” first appeared on my Medium profile.

How to adapt to “The New Normal”: Taking stock of the changes across property sector

It is undeniable that we are all currently living in very strange times. In only a few months, every sector has changed dramatically. This especially includes the property sector — an industry that usually relies on face-to-face contact and personal relationships. Despite this, there are ways to develop within “The New Normal”. Flexibility is the key to learning how to thrive in our new world.

To better understand what your potential clients are looking for, you need to look at how your business is running. The first change to note will be whether or not you will be staying in the same offices as before, or even an office at all. Whilst it can be almost guaranteed that many companies will still see the value in keeping a bricks-and-mortar HQ, “The New Normal” has made everyone reconsider what they deem to be an essential place for work, and what that place needs in order to be most efficient.

What will be most important to your business going forwards? And is that drastically different to how you operated before?

Just like many businesses, potential commercial clients might be looking for smaller workspaces with the intention of having only a few staff members in at a time. Commercial property owners must assess how their assets with 100+ capacity can be modified to fit the needs of this changing time.

You also may need to reconsider the potential layouts of your offerings. Spaces designed around tightly-knit office cubicles, hot desks, and communal areas are likely on their way out. If these are the aspects you highlight when showing clients your portfolios, now is the time to rethink that strategy.

Now more than ever clients are looking for places with high-speed internet — this goes for both commercial clients and private tenants. Previously for tenants, high-speed internet was often a “nice to have”. In a world where many will begin working from home, top broadband speeds will be a necessity. Think about how high-speed internet will benefit your business and staff. If you have been joining the trend of video-viewings in lieu of in-person viewings, you will already know how reliant on internet the future of house-viewings now is.

In the 2020 budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced £5bn of investment to be put towards connectivity, involving putting full-fibre and gigabit capable networks into every home and business during the next five years. Top-speed internet is clearly the priority of “The New Normal”.

Likewise, the ideal locations of your properties might change. A decrease in the requirement to commute might mean that your potential private tenants begin looking outside of the city for a place to call home. It might be worth taking a look at your portfolio to see which of your offerings are slightly further out of what you ordinarily would market as an easy “commutable distance”.

Which of your offerings are in beautiful areas or near coffee shops and social hubs? Do you have any further-out properties that are larger or nicer than something for the same price in the city? Cultivating these will be the key to success. That is not to say that your city properties are now worthless — many businesses will still see the benefits of being city-based, as will many private tenants who still commute or love the city lifestyle.

Flexibility extends beyond changing your portfolio and how your business runs day-to-day. Your contracts might also need a rethink. As businesses move away from bricks-and-mortar as a long term solution, consider taking on shorter-term contracts to fill your office spaces. By doing this, you will make sure you have a constant flow of tenants rather than relying on long-term tenants that may become few and far between.

This may require rethinking the clients you look for. Consider renting to small businesses and start-ups, or invest in turning your office spaces into co-working offices. If you stay flexible and embrace a steady stream of a variety of businesses, you may find it easier to fill your properties than if you rely on long-term contacts or your traditional clientele alone. As businesses rebuild, short-term bricks-and-mortar will be vital.

In short, it is of the upmost importance that you stay relevant in “The New Normal” and flexibility is the way to keep from being obsolete. Be willing to observe and lean into the new trends that will appear, whether those trends are new prime locations for properties, dynamic shifts in how commercial offices work, or an increased reliability on technology. By keeping your portfolio flexible and up-to-date, you will undeniably benefit from “The New Normal”.

Written by Israel Moskovitz,

“How to adapt to “The New Normal”: Taking stock of the changes across property sector” first appeared on my Medium profile.

New PDR for residential buildings offers an opportunity for freeholders to get the sector moving after Covid

The Government has announced a plan to expand Permitted Development Rights (PDR), allowing residential blocks to be expanded by up to two storeys without prior planning permission. With the PDR for residential buildings set to come into force in August, freeholders have a great opportunity to kickstart the property and construction sectors after coronavirus.

Post-Covid opportunities

Covid-19 has forced the entire sector to adapt rapidly to stem the spread of the virus. As I wrote recently, the residential sector is coming out of hibernation after three long months in hiatus. New ideas about how to market and sell properties will be needed. But, for freeholders, it is important to consider ways to take advantage of the opportunities already in play.

The new PDR allows residential apartment blocks over three storeys tall to be expanded by a further two storeys without planning permission. In effect, this gives freeholder the ability to significantly increase their existing assets without needing to go through lengthy and costly new planning applications.

The recent announcement by the Government offers freeholders a first tentative step into the brave new world of post-Covid. As we begin to emerge from lockdown, we must ensure that we maximise any and all opportunities.

Dual housing crisis

The housing shortage has existed in this country for years, with limited substantial effort being made to rectify it. In recent months, this crisis has been compounded by Covid-19. In order to respond to this dual housing crisis, there is a need to move quickly and efficiently to build affordable new houses. This sentiment was elucidated in a recent speech by the Prime Minister, who pointed to the housing sector’s role in getting the UK’s economy back on its feet.

The new PDR enables freeholders to do this by removing limits on block expansions, meaning more residential properties can be created quickly and easily. Likewise, by avoiding the need to build new developments, the PDR provides freeholders with a greener and more environmentally friendly way of increasing housing.

Considerations

When embarking on a new development, it is of course important to make certain considerations. Any redevelopments will inconvenience top floor leaseholders and tenants in the short term. Measures should be taken to prevent the disruption caused or, if disruption is unavoidable, alternative arrangements should be made available.

Furthermore, current top floor flats might lose some value in redevelopment. It is important to have these conversations with leaseholders and tenants early to explain the situation.

There are also strong benefits to this new announcement that will help both freeholders and leaseholders. Old roofs will be fixed with no cost to the leaseholders and lifts replaced. Likewise, construction work will provide freeholders the opportunity to carry out other important maintenance work.

Conclusion

Of course, this new PDR only offers us with a first glimpse into the post-Covid property sector. But it is increasingly clear the Government intends to stimulate the economy through construction. While freeholders must continue to search for new and innovative ways to adapt to the new normal, the PDR also offers a promising first step as we move out of lockdown.

Written by Israel Moskovitz,

“New PDR for residential buildings offers an opportunity for freeholders to get the sector moving after Covid” first appeared on my Medium profile.

New ways to advertise properties during Covid-19

Coronavirus has proved to be an obstacle for many industries, not least the property industry. With the restrictions created by social distancing, traditional methods to advertise properties during COVID-19 and steps for selling a property have had to be altered. This new landscape can be difficult to navigate.

Firstly, it is essential to adhere to official advice. As of 13 May, people have been able to move to a new house. Agents can list new properties, and in England they are able to visit properties to take photos and videos provided they adhere to public health guidance. Estate agents should not be visiting the property if any member of the household is showing symptoms or self-isolating. Physically distanced viewings are now allowed in England. However, they must only take place with serious buyers who are genuinely interested in the property. In the haste to get back to normal, it is important to remember that the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved is the most important issue.

While physically distanced viewings that adhere to public health guidelines are now allowed, tech savvy agents have been adapting to virtual views by embracing new technology such as video walk-throughs, 3D imaging and drone footage to showcase properties online. These methods can be extremely effective and are Covid-19 friendly ways to advertise a property. For those who were reluctant to embrace new technology, Covid-19 could be that final push to do so. Adopting these methods now, out of necessity, could ultimately benefit your business in the long run, even in a post-coronavirus world.

Preparing for a virtual viewing is similar to preparing for a face-to-face viewing, in that the property should be clean, decluttered and well lit. Do not neglect the outdoor spaces. Mowing the lawn, sweeping pathways and arranging any outdoor furniture will make a difference.

Plan your route, where you are going to walk and what rooms you are going to show, ensuring nothing is blocking your path. Once you have planned your filming route and what spaces you would like to focus on, decide what features you would like to give greater airtime to. Does the property have a kitchen island or a nice view from the master bedroom? Remember to give time to the front of the property and back garden as well. Also remember — you are not just selling the house, but the local area, so sharing high quality images of the local town will be beneficial.

Ensuring that you have high-quality video footage is essential. While a camera is useful, it is by no means necessary given the quality you can achieve on today’s smartphones. It is important to note that videos should be filmed in landscape and at eye level. Do the property justice by capturing it in the best possible lighting; turn the lights on, open the blinds and curtains and wait for a nice sunny day. A huge benefit of pre-recorded walk-throughs is that you are able to showcase the property at different times of day, in different lighting.

Multiple practice run throughs might be necessary before the video is ready for commercial viewing. It might be worth getting a professional to edit the video to maximise its impact. It will be personal preference whether you want commentary or music.

Many in our industry have also been hesitant to make the move onto social media platforms, due to the belief that clients are not looking for property services on these platforms. However, it must be acknowledged that our client base on these platforms is growing. Social media is a great way to interact with users, share good press and advertise properties. Paid ads on Facebook and Instagram are often the most effective way to get in front of clients. Facebook has a great variety of targeting features that ensure you only pay to get noticed by your key target audiences.

Today’s consumers like to do a lot of research themselves online when making major purchases, and that includes buying a home. Create a professional, user-friendly website that makes it easy for users to access all of the information they may need. Make sure all your property pages have great photos, virtual tours, a list the hot spots nearby and their respective walking or driving distances and easy access to online maps. Also consider tools such as Google My Business, which makes it easy for users to find you in Google Search, Google Maps, and Google+.

When advertising and selling a property in the current environment, all parties will have to adapt and be flexible. If you are conducting face-to-face viewings, be sure to follow guidance closely. Covid-19 has significantly affected our industry. However, if you have not yet stepped into the virtual property world, this is your “silver lining”. Now is the perfect time to experiment. This technology will not cease to exist post pandemic. Instead, it is likely to become a base line expectation, so those who capitalise on it now will continue to benefit well into the future.

Written by Israel Moskovitz,

“New ways to advertise properties during Covid-19” first appeared on my Medium profile.

How property managers should adapt to PropTech

PropTech will affect how we live, work and build. It already is. New software, apps and hardware solutions are overcoming problems and increasing efficiency in the property occupation, development, investment and management sectors.

PropTech will affect everything from construction management, to rent collection processes, to how employees physically interact within office buildings. As a society we have become accustomed to dynamic technologies in the services that we use every day, so clients have rightly come to expect the same level of delivery and innovation from their real estate providers.

The adoption of PropTech to date has been slow and steady. However, it is pretty clear that all sectors of the real estate industry are being threatened by the rise of PropTech. For example, OpenDoor, Trulia or Purplebricks are changing the real estate and rental marketplace; Habiteo is disrupting real estate development; and Oracle or Redsky are changing construction management. Whatever the sector in this profession, there are dozens of startups looking to make processes quicker, more efficient or automatic.

However, over the past few weeks with the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have had to face the reality of conducting business without physical interaction, a situation that is uniquely geared towards PropTech solutions.

Most startups fall into one of two main categories. There are those that offer support for real estate professionals, providing tools to streamline processes, for data collection, time management productivity, or to attract business. For example, AskPorter automates tasks for agents, property managers and landlords like arranging a contractor or chasing rent. Others include Goodlord, Rentify, Propoly or HomeRenter.

However, there are also PropTech startups like Hipla or Homie that are proposing to eliminate and replace real estate professionals, ‘cutting out the middle man’.

As property professionals, how should we respond to these developments?

Primarily, we must realise that change is real and inevitable and will happen with or without real estate professionals. Moreover, in this current climate, these changes may need to happen sooner to ensure a company can continue to conduct its business. We must embrace it and keep working with our clients — current and future. Technological disruption holds great potential to deliver return on investment in the form of client satisfaction, staff retention or simply higher revenues and profits.

Keeping up to date with industry news is important. The more informed you are, the better your ability to anticipate changes in the market and meet the needs of your clients. Remain open-minded and conscious of the changing consumption patterns in the wake of COVID-19.

New PropTech startups have the ability to bring innovation into each step of the process and radically rethink existing systems. They might address one highly specific aspect of the industry such as construction management and coordination between the many actors in the business, or they might take on the entire business model, such as is the case with rental property management.

To ensure that traditional property firms remains competitive, it is essential to continue to innovate and be open to new inventions. Improving your efficiency or client satisfaction for example should be a continuous and evolving process. Invest in new technology and equipment. Experiment with different software, test new tactics and find out what is successful. Client feedback is hugely beneficial. The best way to improve client satisfaction is by serving your clients’ needs.

Key to surviving the disruption of PropTech is identifying your added value. Why do your clients need you? Why do they continue to use your service? What is unique about the service you provide? Once you have the answers, deliver on them consistently so that your clients won’t want to go elsewhere.

Ultimately, as a real estate professional with a portfolio of clients, you are in the best position to know and anticipate their needs. While we must keep up to date with innovation in our sector, technology is only a means to an end. PropTech startups will not succeed if they don’t fulfill clients’ needs. It’s up to you to determine how your clients’ specific needs can best be addressed.

Written by Israel Moskovitz,

“How property managers should adapt to PropTech” first appeared on my Medium profile.