December 23, 2016

Step-by-step guide to renovating your garage

For many people, the garage is the most neglected part of the house. Used by a huge number of households as simply a storage place for the junk that isn’t needed anywhere else, the garage’s intended purpose is forgotten. But this makes it a completely wasted space that could be used far more effectively.

Here, Mike James - working with Wessex Garage Doors - has laid out a step by step guide to renovating yours, and getting maximum enjoyment from your man cave!
With parking spaces harder to come by than ever before and the weather remaining bizarrely inconsistent, a garage is the perfect place to store your car. Of course it can also be a brilliant place to indulge in DIY projects. 

Step-by-step guide to renovating your garage
But if you’re going to use it properly then it can worth completely renovating it. This will allow you to cast off your old habits and start making the most of this part of your home. Here’s our step-by-step guide to renovating your garage. 

Step 1: Set a budget
As with any home improvement project, your first step needs to be setting a budget for everything that you want to get accomplished. It should be noted that a garage renovation things can be achieved cheaply but if you’re willing to put in a little budget it will go a long way. 

It’s essential that you should stick to your budget; once you start making improvements it can be tempting to add expensive units such as a heater or a dehumidifier. If your budget can stretch to these then that’s great, but there are other aspects of the garage that it can be best to focus on first. If you have extra money left other it can be spent on extravagances. 

Step 2: Declutter
Your next move needs to be to get rid of the clutter. If your garage has become simply a storage space this step can take a while, but if you set aside an afternoon you can get it out of the way with minimal fuss. Of course if you’re removing things that usually live in your garage, you’re going to have to get rid of some of them completely. It’s worth taking the time to create an inventory of the things that you are going to throw away, sell, donate and keep. 

It is essential here that you’re completely honest with yourself about what you’re going to use and what you need. How often do you really get on that old exercise bike? If these things are just sitting in the garage it’s unlikely that they play an important role in your life.

Step 3: Clean thoroughly
Once you have decluttered and gotten rid of the stuff that you never use, it’s time to give the space a good spring clean. You may find that this area hasn’t been cleaned for a long time, so it could be worth investing in some modern cleaning equipment to get the job done. Hire or buy a pressure washer and clean out the whole of the garage. This is going to be especially important if you are also going to do up the interior, as if the garage is dusty and dirty it won’t be possible to paint or otherwise improve it. 

Step 4: Remove any oil stains
You might encounter a problem while carrying out your cleaning – oil stains. Whether these come from your car or from an old lawnmower, oil stains can be very stubborn and won’t necessarily be washed away by conventional cleaning methods. So here’s a fool-proof way to get rid of them:
First you need to get some cat litter. Sprinkle enough to cover the oil stain, then using something heavy like a brick, grind the cat litter into the stain, or alternatively you can tread it in with old shoes. Sweep away the powder and then repeat a couple of times (for large stains you may need to repeat this process several times over a few days). 

Now apply some a heavy duty cleaner – oven cleaner will do fine – and scrub this into the stain with a brush.  Finally rinse this with a hose. Again, you can repeat this process a couple of times if the stain doesn’t shift properly. 

Step 5: Choose new flooring
Now that you’ve cleaned everything thoroughly you can look into making upgrades to the interior. First we can look at different types of flooring you can put down. Assuming you have removed any currently flooring and are left with concrete, your first option is concrete sealer. This is probably the cheapest of the flooring and the easiest to apply if you’re short on time or experience. You can also use concrete stain which is effectively the same thing with added pigment. 

Another popular choice for garage floors is epoxy paint. It is resistant to chemicals, oil and petrol and is available in a wide range of colours. It will take a while to get it done correctly, however, as you’ll need to seal the coat with a primer made for concrete. Rubber tiles can also make an excellent addition to your garage. They are easy to install and are very tough, making them ideal for your car and any other DIY activities. 

Step 6: Add a coat of paint
Sometimes the garage can be forgotten because it’s not given the same kind of care and attention as the rest of the house – if your garage looks drab and uninviting it’s no surprise that you tend not to use it. So smarten things up with a good coat of paint and make the space somewhere that you actually want to be. 

Step 7: Install extra shelving
While you have the space available, use some time putting up extra shelving. You don’t want your garage to devolve back into a storage space for junk but it’s natural that you are going to keep some items here. Any DIY or garden tools, for example, can have a place here. Adding shelves allows you to store things neatly. Not only does this provide you with more space, it also prevents your garage from becoming a dumping ground again. 

Step 8: Use space wisely
While we are on the subject: you’ve got that extra space so use in intelligently. You could choose to add a workbench for DIY projects or make space for other storage essentials such as a bike rake. The key is ensure that you garage falls back into regular use. 

Step 9: Invest in a new garage door
Now that you have sorted out the interior of the garage, you need to think about the exterior. A great place to start is the garage door itself. If yours is a few years old it could be time to think about investing in a replacement. 

If you intend to use your garage as a place to store your car then ask yourself: what were the barriers that were stopping you from using it before? If one of those barriers was the fact that you had to get out of the car every time to open the door, you can do something about that by having electronic garage doors installed. 

Alternatively it could just be the case that buying a new door could completely freshen up the look. Not only does it make it more likely for you to use your garage but a new door also adds value to your home. There are a huge range of options available including wooden or metal doors, so you’ll easily be able to find one that suits the aesthetic of your property. 

Step 10: Prepare for winter
If you’re planning to use your garage for DIY projects as well as a car storage space, it definitely makes sense to prepare for winter. Consider insulating the walls in order to keep heat it. You could even add a heater to ensure you are in complete comfort when you need to work there. The new garage door in step nine should also do wonders for you here.

Which Garage Door is Right for You

Whether you’ve spent years and years renovating your current home and transforming it into your dream home, or whether you have just moved in and have decided to work from the ground up, choosing the perfect garage door can be hard work. It is important that you choose something that fits your lifestyle, goes well with the house and provides safety and security for your belongings. Garage doors are one of the largest moving objects in the household, so it is essential that they are sturdy, they work properly and they can take a beating if the going gets tough. 

Which Garage Door is Right for You
So how can you tell which garage door is right for you? Read on for more information on the different styles of garage door you can buy and install and their various benefits - provided by Lloyd Wells, a freelance writer partnering with CDC Garage Doors.

Not every garage door is alike, so it is important to know which types offer more security, which doors are more there for the aesthetic and which doors are suitable for smaller or more space-conscious properties.

Pros Automatic garage doors come in a range of styles so you are often spoilt for choice when selecting an automatic garage door set. Depending on the material you choose, you can also go for a sturdier and secure type of garage door. Automatic doors are great for forgetful types or if you just simply like the idea of shutting a door with a click of a button. They are also secure as there are no external locks to break open or tamper with once the door is closed and locked into its side tracks.
Cons If you have young children or pets, you will need to be aware of their presence when shutting the door. Most newer models may have sensory technology installed to recognise a foreign body passing under the door, but these can come at a heftier price. They are also often programmed to work at a set speed which isn’t always convenient if you’re the type of family that is constantly running late. 

Roller Doors
Pros For properties where space is an issue, the roller garage door should really be your point of call. These are doors that are mounted on tracks that run up the side of the door, with a barrel-like compartment at the top of the door that stores the door itself as it rolls up and away. Roller doors can be manual although most models nowadays are automatic to streamline the opening and closing process. 

Cons Once again for families in a hurry, this can take some time to open and close and not everyone has the time or the patience to wait for the garage door to finish its descent before they re-enter the house. You can purchase extra software that tells you whether or not the garage door is properly closed, which is a good get around if you don’t want to have to wait to check it yourself every time you close the door. 

Steel Garage Doors
Pros Steel garage doors are often considered the ultimate in garage security. Often found at corporate companies and guarding the entrance to company warehouses, steel garage doors are built to last and last. With high durability and a tough primer finish to make sure they are fully weatherproof, if you are looking for a juggernaut garage door to withstand anything you can throw at it, you can find it here.

Cons While steel doors are formidable and durable, they can also look a bit intimidating which will appear rather out of place in a nice neighbourhood. You can purchase steel doors in different colours or with a wood grain effect to mask their intimidating appearance, but that is going to cost extra.  
When looking for the perfect garage door, you want a door that is both secure and aesthetically pleasing. While steel garage doors are the best in terms of high security, they can look a little out of place in a homely neighbourhood area. Up and over garage doors are great for adding extra security to your garage door if needs be. For properties where space is an issue, roller doors would probably be the best option but often it really is down to personal preference.

A lot of it depends on what you think would look good outside your home and what also fits in well with the surrounding environment. Still, if you are unsure, you can always get in touch with an interior designer or a professional who installs garage doors as they will be able to offer more specific advice on the best style for your home.

8 home improvements you can make without planning permission

If you wish to enhance or add value to your home, you may be worried about needing to obtain planning permission to make the home improvements you want. The good news is that under Permitted Development Rights, there are many things you can do in your home that don’t require the red tape and bureaucracy often associated with getting planning permission.

Permitted Development Rights generally apply to residential properties but not to Listed Buildings or property in Conservation Areas, AONBs or National Parks, where stricter planning rules will apply. If you live in a flat or maisonette, planning permission will still be required for exterior alterations (e.g. windows, doors) although interior refurbishments may fall within permitted development.

8 home improvements
In case of any queries or if you’re not sure where you stand, your local council planning department should be your first port of call. Much valuable information is also available from For specific advice regarding you particular property, you should consult a reputable building surveyor.

Here are 8 of the most popular property alterations that you can carry out without planning permission.
1.      Internal remodelling
If you’re looking to refurbish the interior of your home, there’s not much you cannot do. As long as any work done inside your house doesn’t extend the area, or footprint, of your home, you can remodel as you see fit.

Fancy installing an en-suite shower room to the master bedroom? Changing the room layout by moving a wall or door? Whether you wish to convert your old dingy kitchen to a spacious kitchen/diner, create open plan areas for a more contemporary living vibe, or add a downstairs WC under the stairs (plumbing permitting), planning permission is not required.

The same goes for attached or integral buildings that are currently not part of the main house. If you have an integral garage and wish to convert it to a home office – no problem.

The only caveat is that you need to follow Building Regulations for electrical and structural alterations, so make sure you consult a professional to deal with these issues first.
2.      Doors and windows
Unless your property is listed or in a Conservation Area, no planning permission is necessary to move, replace or add new windows, including double glazed windows. Building Regulations will need to be followed for new or bigger doors or windows.

That said, upper floor windows on side elevations must be fitted with obscure glass and there are restrictions on the type of opener you can install. As for bay windows – they count as extensions and therefore do not fall within permitted development rights.

3.      Loft conversions
Loft conversions are a great way to increase the living space in your house as a cost-effective alternative to moving. Done well, they can also enhance the value of your property. If you’ve been wanting to add a guest suite or more space for a growing teenager, loft conversions are the perfect solution.

Under Permitted Development, you’re allowed to construct dormer windows to give you extra headroom within the converted loft, as long as the dormers aren’t higher than the highest part of the roof or extends beyond the roof plane.
4.      Basements
If you can’t go up, perhaps you can dig down? Perfect for a home gym or cinema, indoor pool or spa room, or even an extra bedroom, basement conversions fall within permitted development rights and don’t require planning permission unless extra engineering works are required.
5.      Porches
Normally, any extensions to the front of a house require planning permission, however you are able build a porch without. The only proviso is size: it can’t be more than 3 metres high, be within 2 metres of a road and cannot exceed a total of 3 square metres in size.
6.      Extensions
Both single storey extensions (including conservatories) and two storey extensions can be built without the need to apply for planning permissions. However, various caveats and restrictions exist with regard to the dimensions/size, location and materials used, as well as the glazing options permissible for any new windows.
It should be noted that the rules are not straightforward and you are advised to take professional advice from a respectable building surveyor before you commit to any building project.
7.      Solar panels
As long as your solar panels don’t extend beyond 200 mm of the wall or roof and no part of the solar panel is higher than the highest part of your roof, no permission is need. Freestanding panels can also be installed without permission, though their size and proximity to the boundary may be limited
8.      Summerhouses and sheds
If you want to build a summer house or a shed in your garden you can do this without permission, but some general rules apply:
       The building has to be less than 50% of the size of your total garden area
       The structure must be single storey and cannot be higher than 2.5 metres
       It cannot be used as any form of residence – storage, a gym, an office, a garden workshop etc are all fine.

9 top tips to make the most of your Spanish roof terrace

Let’s be honest, living in Spain is all about the glorious weather. If you want to truly feel at home in your Spanish property, it’s important to make full use of all the available living space – outside and inside.

Here, Lloyd Wells - working with Spanish specialists PromasBuilders has provided 9 top tips for making the most of a roof terrace.

If you’re lucky, your property will have a roof terrace – and what a wonderful place for outdoor relaxation this can be, as long as you know how to make the most of the outdoor space. We’ve compiled 9 top tips to help you transform a plain outdoor roof space into the perfect summer oasis.

1.       Get some shade
First things first: Spanish summers are scorching hot! Be warned, unless you include an element of shade in your rooftop design, it won’t be fit for purpose when you need it most. Whether you choose a covered awning, a sun sail or canopy, or a simple parasol, an effective sun shade solution is a must.

2.       Add vibrant colour
Transform a plain space with the clever use of colour. Why not paint a wall in a vibrant shade of orange or turquoise and make the most of the beautiful Mediterranean light? Easier on the eye than the customary whitewashed walls, you can combine comfort and style in a single paint job.

3.       Add outdoor furniture
Depending on whether you choose to use your roof terrace as a formal dining area or relaxed chillout space, you need to furnish it with a bit of pizzazz. All-weather comfy seating areas, sofas and armchairs will transform a plain terrace into a cosy outdoor lounge, while patio seating will enable you to entertain your dinner guests al fresco.

4.       Go green
Plant up your concrete terrace and turn it into a lush oasis! Choose planters or bring in soil for proper flower beds, but be careful to choose appropriate plants for the location and climate. Drought and wind tolerant species are best – succulents and cacti, olive trees, orange trees and palm trees should all thrive in the Mediterranean heat. Hibiscus, hypericum, passiflora, Bird of Paradise and Bougainvilleas all produce spectacular floral displays. One word of advice for the aspiring patio gardener: an irrigation system is highly recommended.

5.       Just add water
Of course, for the full oasis effect, you really need a water feature. A fish tank, water fountain or paddling pool? It all depends on the space you have available and the kind of ambience you wish to evoke on your terrace.

6.       Outdoor cooking
If your roof terrace is large and secluded enough, you may be able to use the space as an outdoor kitchen. Add a barbecue or other cooking facilities and a dining suite and invite your friends over for grilled lamb chops, fish or burgers. Add a few drinks and make it a Spanish parrillada!

7.       Make it cosy
Take the inside out – introduce some home comforts to soften up a hard stone tiled exterior environment. Why not create an outdoor lounge with the help of some colourful floor rugs, soft canvas cushions, snuggly rugs or exotic throws? Perfect for relaxing during the day or nighttime entertaining.

8.       Garden lighting
Create a magical atmosphere after dark with the clever use of light. Candles or storm lanterns are a must, and solar lights of fairy lights can add a touch of fun. If your building fire code allows, you could install a fire pit for added atmosphere and warmth on chillier evenings.

9.       Make it fun
Finally, make sure you turn your rooftop sanctuary into a fun place to be! Sunloungers and mini fridges? Hot tub? Sound system? Giant chessboard, anyone?

December 19, 2016

Buying a house at auction: what you need to know

With house prices rising all the time it could seem like a great idea to buy at auction. With rock bottom guide prices and some great bargains to be had, it is possible to get yourself a fantastic property if you’re willing to act quickly. 
Buying a house at auction

But if you’ve never considered buying at auction before, the prospect can be daunting. What is the procedure? What are the hidden risks? Is it really as easy as it seems?
Mike James, a property expert and writer working with George Ide, has provided the guide to exactly what you need to know before you consider buying a property at auction. 

What are the benefits of buying at auction?

One of the major advantages of buying a property at auction is that you can get a house cheaper than those that are available from estate agents. While this isn’t always the case, there are opportunities to get excellent bargains. 

You’ll also find that many of the properties that come up at auction are unique and different from the standard home. If you’re looking for something quirky, an auction can be a great place to get one.
It’s also worth noting that there is no chain with auction properties which can be one of the major frustrations when buying a home. Equally, the sale is agreed when the auction is completed so there’s no chance that someone can come in and offer more. 

What are the risks?

It should be noted that like any auction – the environment might not suit someone who is either inexperienced or very competitive. It can be easy to get into a bidding war without realising how much you are spending. Constantly telling yourself “it’s only an extra…” can lead in you going heavily over-budget. Remember that once the auction is over, the sale is agreed, so you will be committed to that price. 

Equally, you need to remember that the guide price often has little actual bearing on the value of the property you don’t really have any idea on what the realistic selling might be. That means that you can spend a lot of time, effort and money searching properties that actually turn out to be far beyond your budget. It can be somewhat demoralising to have your heart set on a property only for it to immediately fly past your budget. 

There is often very little time between the time a property is added to an auction catalogue to the point where it is sold – weeks rather than months. This means that you have to be ready to act very quickly if you want to have any chance of getting the property. Ultimately this can feel like a rushed process and this doesn’t sit well with a lot of people who prefer to take their time and think about a decision. 

Do your research properly 

It’s absolutely essential to do your own research and take it seriously. As soon as you see a property come up that you like the look of, arrange a viewing with the auction house. You should treat this in exactly the same way as you would a house purchase through an estate agent – if you’re serious about buying somewhere, have a couple of visits. 

One important difference is that you should have a survey carried out and this should be done before you buy. Remember that you are committed to the purchase as soon as the hammer comes down so if you later have a survey that finds structural problems you will have to lose your deposit if you want to pull out of the sale. 

As was mentioned before, you can ignore the guide price. They are set deliberately low to attract more interest. It is also a very sensible idea that you should watch a few auctions first, if you’ve never bought at auction before. That process can be very worrying, so here are some tips for how to deal with it.  

How to deal with the auction

The first thing to say is that you need to set a budget and stick to it. As mentioned before, it can be very tempting to start to gradually increasing the amount you’re willing to spend and then suddenly you’re hugely over-budget and committed to spending more than you planned. 

Arrive early at the auction and find a good spot in the crowd where you can be seen by the auctioneer. You need to make sure you have two forms of identification with you – for example a passport and a driving license. 

You’ll need a specialist solicitor 

Finally, it’s important that if you want to buy at auction, you have a solicitor experienced in dealing with this kind of property. Standard conveyancers may not be especially familiar or might lack the expertise to give you complete peace of mind.

December 3, 2016

Island Paradise: 5 Tips for Purchasing a Home in Puerto Rico

Thinking about a permanent getaway to Puerto Rico? You are not alone; per a report published by CNN Espanol in February 2016, quite a few prospective buyers from the mainland United States have been attracted by a real estate downturn in the island, which now offers three-bedroom homes in coastal communities for less than $100,000.
5 Tips for Purchasing a Home in Puerto Rico
Even the legendary Wall Street investor John Paulson has revealed his intention of amassing real estate in Puerto Rico, a place that he is describing as "the next Miami." Here are five tips for you to consider as you plan to acquire property in Puerto Rico:

Retain a Real Estate Professional

Although the process of buying a home in Puerto Rico may seem very similar to that of the mainland, Alaska or even Hawaii, you are likely to be surprised by certain nuances in the housing market. First of all, you are bound to be confused by contracts drafted in Spanish and you may also encounter owner-financing offers that sound complicated. Your best bet is to contract an experienced real estate expert like The Home Town Team to protect your interests.

Conduct a Property Inspection

Once you have retained a realtor to help you find and buy a home, insist on a property inspection before moving forward with the purchase contract. The Puerto Rico housing market is in the path of tropical storms during each Atlantic hurricane season; this is a meteorological factor that makes property inspections a necessity.

Get Title Insurance

The legal concept of registered land ownership in Puerto Rico dates back to the days when the Spanish Crown ruled the island; as such, there is always a potential of property disputes, encroachments, liens, and other issues that you are better off not having to deal with. A title insurance owner's policy can protect you from such issues after closing; moreover, if the title insurance agent returns from the Registry de la Propiedad or the CRIM with bad news, you may want to look at a different property.

Look for Bargains

According to news daily El Nuevo Día, there were about 8,000 repossessed homes in the real estate-owned (REO) portfolios of Puerto Rican banks as of November 2015. One institution that held quite a few REO properties in 2016 was First bank, and portfolio managers were eager to talk to potential buyers looking for bargains. Best of all, these repossessed properties are free of liens or encumbrances.

Prepare for a Different Life

Puerto Rico can be a sharp yet pleasant change of lifestyle for you and your family. You should make it a point to learn Spanish even though just about everyone speaks English, and you may want to start talking to shipping companies before the closing so that you can budget accordingly.

In the end, you should know that Puerto Rico is beautiful and the people are super nice, so get ready to enjoy your new life in the sun.