Coronavirus – what’s changed?
As we go to press, the Government has introduced a second lockdown, which is due to last until Wednesday 2nd December. To help protect the NHS and save lives, we shall be following their advice to work from home but we do not anticipate any interruption to our service.
How should I contact my Property Manager?
Direct dial numbers for all Property Managers are listed on our website. Telephone calls to our switchboard will be diverted where possible. Emails will be answered by your usual contact or another qualified member of the team. For general enquiries, please continue to email firstname.lastname@example.org
Will property inspections go ahead?
Yes, inspections of the grounds and commonways will go ahead as normal but, unless an emergency arises, Property Managers will not enter individual flats.
Can tradespeople enter my home?
The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government has confirmed that tradespeople can enter property to carry out necessary works. The nature and urgency of each job will be taken into consideration, as will the shielding requirements of any vulnerable tenants. When instructing contractors, we always request that they follow the appropriate PPE procedures.
Will Health & Safety inspections
No, it’s absolutely essential that safety inspections such as fire alarms, fire doors, gas and electricity, and their associated works go ahead as planned. Failure to do so could put lives at risk.
Can you stop people from congregating in common areas and grounds?
Unfortunately, in our role as Managing Agents, we don’t have the power to enforce social distancing.
Can I let my flat during lockdown?
Yes, tenants can move home and removal firms can operate during lockdown. Our in-house Lettings department, AR Lettings, encourages virtual viewings but also offers physical viewings with protective measures. The team have just celebrated their 100th 5 star review on Google for their outstanding service. The benefit of choosing AR Lettings is that, working alongside our Property Managers, they offer a bespoke service that draws on their knowledge and understanding of the blocks we manage. To discuss your letting requirements, call 01273 760007 or email email@example.com – all Austin Rees leaseholders will be offered a special discount.
Caring for your property
over the winter
This year, more than ever, many households will feel the financial strain that the festive season brings. Below we’ve listed a few ideas on how to keep the cost of repairs low and spirits high:
- As the temperature drops, if your property will be unoccupied, set your central heating system to turn on automatically at around 5 degrees. If pipes containing water are left to freeze, the water will expand and could cause the pipes to crack or burst. When the ice thaws, water could then leak from the damaged pipes and cause substantial damage, so it’s important to maintain a steady temperature.
- If you’re planning on going away once restrictions ease, consider turning your water supply off at the stopcock and draining down the system so that no water is left in the pipes to freeze.
- With more people staying inside due to the cold weather and the current risk of infection, showing consideration for your neighbours is crucial, especially when living in a block of flats. Cosy nights in aren’t quite as relaxing when all you can hear is someone learning to play the trumpet, so think about how the use of your own home could impact others enjoying theirs.
- If you don’t have a tumble dryer, resist the temptation to turn up the heating and hang clothes indoors unless there’s sufficient ventilation. Condensation can build up very quickly, damaging internal paintwork, woodwork and plaster, and can quickly develop into stubborn mould.
- Be vigilant in and around your property. Report any blocked drains or dislodged tiles that may have occurred since your last site inspection as a result of wet and windy weather. Prompt action can prevent costly repairs due to water ingress.
External Wall System surveys explained
External Wall System (EWS) surveys have been the subject of numerous media reports, as well as enquiries made by leaseholders concerned about selling their flat.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and lenders, in co-operation with government officials, jointly created the EWS system in December 2019 as a way to assess the external wall safety of buildings over 18 metres. By proving that external walls were not made up of combustible materials in terms of cladding, fire break systems or insulation, the idea was to give mortgage lenders, valuers, residents, buyers and sellers much-needed confidence and peace of mind.
Although initially, the EWS1 form was recommended for residential blocks of 18 metres or taller, it appears that some lenders are now requesting them for buildings under 18 metres.
What you should know…
- The survey is not mandatory at this point in time. Different lenders have different rules on where they will request one to be carried out.
- The question of whether an EWS1 Form exists often arises during a sale, but the buyer or seller cannot initiate the process of instructing a survey themselves.
- The survey should be arranged via the Freeholder or RTM Company’s Managing Agent.
- A competent party is required to complete the form, usually a fire engineer, specialist or fire expert. They will advise on whether any remedial works are required.
- EWS1 Forms are valid for 5 years.
- You are not required to obtain an EWS1 Form for each flat; the form is valid for the building as a whole.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) has called for a faster and fairer system, meaning the above information will be subject to change. Our Property Managers are well versed in this topic and happy to answer any further questions you may have.
Tell us what other property related topics you would like explained. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sowing the seeds of eco management
In March this year, we launched our ‘Going green’ campaign, promising to give more consideration to how we can reduce the carbon footprints of buildings under our management. However, not long after, the whole country went into lockdown and our eco ambitions had to be put on hold.
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, we’ve managed to make some progress. We’ve been speaking with the Brighton and Hove Energy Services Co-operative (BHESCo) and their partners at RetrofitWorks and Warmer Sussex as they have the expertise to help us adapt our working practices and advise our clients.
The first step was to choose a suitable building that could be used as a case study for others. We identified a purpose-built block of 41 flats on Hove seafront, built in the 1960s. The property has been managed by Austin Rees for a number of years and we have a strong working relationship with the directors of the Freehold Company. The building has apartments arranged over eight floors, with two entrances and two passenger lifts. The main roof is flat with an asphalt covering which has been scheduled for replacement in 2021. There are concrete floors, double glazed replacement uPVC windows and common hallways on each floor.
Our clients agreed to a survey and Warmer Sussex prepared a comprehensive report on the building. This included current efficiencies (and inefficiencies) for insulation, central heating, heat loss, energy consumption and other factors.
The surveyors inspected flats throughout the building as well as the main roof and common hallways. Flat owners shared information on their own energy consumption and we provided as much information as possible to help build the evidence base.
The completed survey considers the benefits of making changes to wall, floor and roof insulation, as well as replacing the boiler, windows and cladding. It talks of future-proofing through the installation of solar panels, ground source heat pumps and electric car charging points.
Austin Rees commissioned and paid for the survey to be completed so that we could share its data and recommendations. We’ll be publishing a series of articles on our website that discuss each of these recommendations in turn, starting with wall insulation. We then hope to work with our clients to make long-term changes, whilst opening the minds of other property-owners as to how they can make their own buildings more eco-friendly.
Supporting local charities
Austin Rees are delighted to be sponsoring the Rockinghorse Christmas fundraiser. Rockinghorse is a Brighton-based charity that was set up in 1967 by Dr Trevor Mann to improve the lives of sick children. As the official fundraising arm of the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, they provide cutting-edge medical equipment and vital services for paediatric wards, specialist neonatal units and support centres across Sussex. As the Rockinghorse charity doesn’t receive any government funding, they rely on the generosity of individuals, community groups and companies like Austin Rees.
The highlight of their Christmas campaign was to be the ‘Drop as an Elf on the 12th’ challenge – a chance to abseil 450 ft from the top of the British Airways i360 (dressed as an elf, of course). Sadly, the i360 has had to close as a result of the nationwide lockdown, so the event has been postponed until March. Rockinghorse will still be fundraising in the lead-up to Christmas and details of their scaled down activity can be found at www.rockinghorse.org.uk
Our offices will close for Christmas
at 1pm on Wednesday 23rd
December and will reopen at 9am on Monday 4th January. On Tuesday 29th, Wednesday 30th and Thursday 31st December, there will be a limited number of staff dealing with incoming calls and emails.
Emergency contractors will provide a service throughout the holiday period and their details will be posted on block notice boards and on our website.
As contractor rates may be higher than normal over Christmas and New Year, please only contact them in the event of a genuine emergency.
Our website and social media pages came into their own during lockdown, keeping everyone abreast of the latest
industry guidance and news on our services. If you’re on social, please do follow us on Facebook and Twitter:
With the Coronavirus situation constantly changing,
we’ll update our website with any new information
that affects our landlords and leaseholders.
If the Government’s predictions are correct, we
have a tough winter ahead. We’ll do our utmost to
be as responsive and considerate at managing your
building as we can. Let’s all follow the guidance, be
kind to each other and stay well.