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  • Buy-to-Let

    Prepare your properties and tenants for the "worst winter on record".

    Britain is braced for the ‘worst winter in decades’ with the first major snowfall expected in weeks. Forecasters have warned the entire country is set for a horror freeze which will bring brutal winds and fierce blizzards.

    Many tenants will be hoping to save money on heating in the face of escalating energy bills, by turning off their heating when they go away for a few days to visit family or friends. The AIIC (The Association of Independent Inventory Clerks) is urging agents and landlords to be vigilant about checking their properties are safe from potential water and fire damage.

    Pat Barber, Chair of the AIIC comments: “The risk of property damage increases in the winter with flooding and fire. Water damage from frozen pipes can be devastating to a property. For example, an eight-inch crack in a pipe can spew up to 250 gallons of water in a day. It's not just the aggravation and cost of fixing the pipe itself, it is the damage the burst pipe does to the rest of a property. Walls, ceilings, floors and personal possessions stored in the basement or crawl space can all be ruined.

    “Last winter a group of tenants went off on three week holiday over one of the coldest periods of the year. They turned off all the heating and hot water, not wanting to pay for wasted electricity bills while they were away. Unfortunately they didn’t think to tell their landlord or letting agent that the property was to be empty for such a long period, when they returned they found both the kitchen and lounge ceilings had come down and the ground floor of the house was flooded. Frozen pipes has burst with spectacular results. Negligence such as this can also negate the landlord’s insurance policy which will cost both landlord and tenants thousands of pounds.

    “Fire risk is also greater in the winter with open fires, candles and Christmas lights. With the days growing darker and winter setting in, a few candles scattered round the room can lend a warm glow to an evening in or add some festive cheer to the season’s celebrations such as Guy Fawkes’ night, Eid and Christmas.

    “However, the sad facts are that over fifty fires are started by candles every day and that that tenants are seven times more likely to have a fire in their home. It is essential that smoke alarms are fitted and are working properly.”

    AIIC has put together some winter guidelines for agents and landlords to protect their property:

    Chimneys – Ensure they are swept once a year by a professional chimney sweep, ideally before the tenant starts using the fire

    Smoke Alarms – Check that smoke alarms are fitted in all properties and that they are all working properly. Replace batteries as necessary.

    Insulation: Ensure water pipes and the water tanks are lagged and insulated

    Heating – Advise tenants to keep their heating on if they are going away – on a minimum of 15 degrees. It’s sensible to open the loft hatch also, this allows air to circulate and helps to prevent pipes freezing and bursting in the loft.

    Boiler servicing – Ensure that gas and oil boilers are serviced every 12 months

    If the property is to be empty for an extended period it is sensible to have the heating/water system drained down by a qualified contractor.

    You can protect your rental properties against water leaks using an innovative new device from FloodCheck.

    Heavy rains are also forecast.

    Property Tribes likes this advice:

    1. De-clutter Your Gutters

    Clean out all the leaves, debris and other dirt trapped in your gutters by hand.

    Once done, put a hose-pipe onto the roof and allow the water from it to run into the gutters.

    Walk around the house and make sure that water runs through the gutter as it should, check if any of the gutters are leaking or overflowing.

    If there are leaks, then do what you can to seal them up – ask your local hardware store for advice on what would be appropriate to use for this.

    If you notice that the gutter is overflowing or not flowing, check the down pipes for blockages or dents (NOTE: The gutters could be overflowing because the angle of the downpipe is not correct and the water is running away from the downpipe. You would need to get a plumber in to sort this out for you.)

    2. Round and Round Your House

    First of all make sure that your downpipes feed the water away from your house – this should be checked in previous point. If the water is feeding towards the house, you can get concrete ‘channels’ from any hardware store to guide the water in whatever direction you want it to go.

    If you have flower beds along the walls of your home, be sure to dig drainage channels into the edges of the flower beds every metre or so – this will prevent the beds from flooding during heavy downpours.

    If the INTERIOR walls, in the house, behind the flower beds show any sign of damp, do not hesitate to remove the flower beds and seal up the area with concrete – with the constant downpour, it is difficult to assess how long it might take the ground or walls to dry, which increases the chance of the damp causing damage.

    *** Suggestion: You can always replace the beds with flower pots to make the area more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

    Wooden window frames, doors and doorframes should be sanded down and resealed or oiled if needed. Wood is very easily destroyed by excessive water – you’ll notice on occasion after heavy rain your doors might become stuck and return to normal a few days later, this is due to all the water that they have absorbed.

    If your home is below street level or on a slope, ensure that all your outdoor drains are clear of any debris.

    Check that all outdoor lighting and plug sockets are in good condition – no wiring or electrical cables should be exposed.

    3. Way Up There

    If you’re feeling up to the task, checking your roof for damage or leaks is a good idea
    If you have a tiled roof, check that none of the tiles are loose – if the wind has caused tiles to shift, they will leave open gaps for water to leak through

    If any of the tiles are damaged or dented, they should be replaced with new ones

    The apex of the roof should also be well sealed – contact your local hardware store to find out the correct roof sealer needed to reseal your roof if required.

    If you have a flat roof, ensure that it is well sealed and that the flushing along the wall is well secured.
    Just giving this a bump as there is a severe weather warning for Sunday night/Monday - gale force winds!

    Vanessa Warwick Landlord and Co-Founder of PropertyTribes.com **Book your FREE portfolio review and health check with Property Tribes Financial Services**

    That Floodcheck is innovative! - what a great idea.
    If you have had property damaged by last night's storm, the BBC have produced a helpful guide of how to claim on your insurance.

    Insurers say they should be able to deal with all the calls fairly easily, as they are used to this type of weather "event".

    "Their first priority will be to work as quickly as possible to deal with claims, and help customers recover," said Mark Shepherd, a policy adviser to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

    Should I contact my insurer immediately, or wait for a couple of days?

    Insurers advise that you should contact them as soon as possible. Most companies offer a 24 hour emergency helpline. But it is important that serious damage is inspected as soon as possible.

    Am I covered for storm damage?

    Most household, business and and comprehensive motor policies cover both flood and storm damage. If damage is serious, and you need to move out of your home temporarily, most policies will cover the cost up to a specified limit. Typically you can spend up to 20% of the total insured value to cover alternative accommodation and heating costs.

    Can I arrange for repair work to be done immediately?

    If work needs to be done to stop further damage occurring, you can go ahead and get the repair work done. But keep receipts. Photos are also a good idea.

    Who will assess the damage?

    If the damage is serious enough, your insurance company will appoint a loss adjuster. He or she is independent of the insurance company, but paid by it. A loss adjuster should contact you within 24 hours, and visit your home within three days. But bear in mind that many loss adjusters will be extremely busy for the next few weeks. The loss adjuster will give you a timetable for the repair work, and tell you who will be doing it.

    Should I appoint my own loss adjuster?

    If you decide to appoint your own, you will have to cover the costs yourself. The insurance company will not pay. So be certain to ask for their charges before you hire them. And remember that the insurer's own loss adjuster may have a different opinion to yours.

    If a roof tile comes off, and causes damage to somebody else's property, am I covered?

    Most buildings insurance policies contain liability cover, up to a certain amount. Individuals are advised to contact their insurance company for further advice.

    Will insurance premiums go up as a result of this storm?

    Insurance companies say they are not expecting premiums to go up "across the board" as a result of the St Jude storm. But anyone making a claim may lose their no claims discount next year, and so may have to pay a higher charge.

    How much will this storm cost insurance companies?

    It is still too early to say. The great storm of October 1987 cost insurance companies £2bn in today's money. But floods in the summer of 2007 cost more than that: £3bn.

    Vanessa Warwick Landlord and Co-Founder of PropertyTribes.com **Book your FREE portfolio review and health check with Property Tribes Financial Services**