Posts Tagged ‘Commercial Property’

How retail needs to evolve to survive

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By Ratio Law’s Joanna Norris 

Just as it appears that market conditions are improving for businesses across the board, there is  yet another report about how the retail sector is lagging. A recent paper by Centre for Retail Research predicts that by 2018, the total number of shops in the UK will decrease by 22% with a further 164 major or medium-sized companies likely to face administration, meaning a loss of some 22,600 stores and 140,000 jobs.

It’s long been agreed that the rise of internet shopping has played a huge part in the demise of the high street, but what can bricks and mortar retailers do to not only survive, but thrive?

1: Make it easier for the customer: One of the perks of online shopping is the ability to buy anything, at any time and get it delivered anywhere (all within reason, of course). We’re living increasingly busy lives, meaning many people simply don’t have the time to go to the shops and wander around aimlessly, before leaving empty handed because they can’t find what they want.

But while online shopping allows customers to buy virtually anything quickly and easily, there are often issues when it comes to receiving the goods. A survey by Which? found more than 60 per cent of consumers have faced delivery problems when receiving an online purchase. Whether it’s because people get fed up of coming home to a doormat full of ‘sorry we missed you’ cards, or their workplace has clamped down on getting personal parcels delivered to the office, consumers want more control and flexibility when it comes to accessing  their purchases.

This is why services like Click and Collect have soared in popularity over the last couple of years. And it’s not just a service that traditional bricks & mortars are offering, online retailers are getting in on the action too. For example, Amazon has placed lockers in a number of retail units  across the country, enabling customers to collect their purchases at a time and location that suits them.

Although Click and Collect services provide increased convenience for consumers, they are not a panacea and there are a number of potential issues retailers need to consider if they decide to provide access to the service. For example, do they have the space available not only to hold the stock, but to also cater for the number of customers coming to collect items? Is it a service that they can offer out of normal trading hours? In addition, how can they ensure that restricted goods such as alcohol, tobacco and knives, are sold only to the appropriate age group?

2. Relax Sunday trading rules: Following on from the theme of making it easier for the customer, relaxing Sunday trading rules is one possible solution that many businesses would like to see implemented. Currently, retailers are only allowed to trade for six hours on a Sunday, between 10am and 6pm. However, smaller stores of less than 3,000 sq ft are able to open for longer.

The restrictions were suspended during the Olympics and Paralympics, and many retailers now want them to be lifted all together. While supporters of the idea believe it will provide more convenience for consumers, boost spending and increase job opportunities, critics worry it will harm smaller retailers and that it could have an adverse effect on British traditions.

3. Rethink the purpose of the store: Although more and more people are purchasing goods online, many consumers still like to go into an actual shop and see or try the products in real life. Many retailers have noticed a trend for ‘showrooming’, that is going to look at a product in a store but then buying it at a lower price online. While this practice can be damaging to smaller retailers who lose out to the bigger companies who can beat them on cost online, some retailers are recognising this is a trend they can take advantage of.

As a result, it may not be long until we start seeing traditional bricks and mortar stores as ‘retail destinations’ where consumers can go and view a few samples – which they can touch and feel, rather than simply a place where they go and purchase goods. Retailers who evolve in this way may well start to exploit technology, such as interactive screens, to help immerse consumers into the brand as well.

If this trend takes off, we could well see the look of the high street change. Large premises may be turned into smaller, independent units, or bigger spaces may take on more of a department store feel through smaller concession retailers. Of course, if retail units are adapted for  viewing, as opposed to buying, the existing trading laws may not apply or require adaptation to support these changes.

What do you think – are there ways that retailers can adapt to survive on the high street?

Could you benefit from the changes to business rates?

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By Joanna Norris, Partner at Ratio Law

If you run a business out of a non-domestic or commercial property, chances are you will have to pay business rates. These are paid to local authorities and go towards funding local services.

Business rates can be a considerable cost – especially for smaller businesses. Since the start of the new tax year though, the government has introduced a few changes to help companies and ease some of the financial pressure off them.

So what are these changes, and could your business benefit from them?

  • 12 monthly instalments

Business rates used to have to be paid over ten monthly instalments. Now, businesses can opt to pay them over 12 months instead. This should give companies greater control over their cash flow.

  • Rate relief

For 2014-15 and 2015-16, shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars that have a rateable value of below £50,000 may be eligible for a £1,000 rate relief.

  • Empty retail premises

Businesses that move into retail premises that have been empty for a year or more can benefit from a 50 per cent business rate discount. The discount will be applied for a maximum of 18 months, between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2016.

  • Capped increase

Normally business rates increase in line with the Retail Price Index, but it is currently being capped at two per cent.

Business rates can be contentious topic, and while these changes should be a bit of welcome news for some businesses, there are some who argue more needs to be done. From basing rates on sales rather than property value, to eradicating them all together, there are lots of different views and we’re undoubtedly going to see more changes to the system over the coming years.

For more information and details on how to calculate your business rates, visit the government website here, or, if you’re about to sign for a new commercial property and want some advice on business rates contact one of the Ratio team.

Help to Buy: heaven-sent support for wannabe home owners or disaster in waiting?

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Much has been made of the government’s Help to Buy scheme, with past criticisms coming from the mouths of Business Secretary, Vince Cable and departing Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King. The incoming Governor, Mark Carney, has indicated that the scheme will not continue beyond its initial three year period if it starts to threaten the stability of the UK economy by creating a house price bubble.

But what is the scheme, and why has it caused controversy?

The scheme was initially made up of two distinct elements, the first of which was rolled out in April 2013, and the second of which was due to commence from January 2014, but was actually brought forward by the government to October 2013.

The scheme is made up of a number of different options, including an equity loan, mortgage guarantee and shared ownership.

Help-to-buy equity loan
The equity loan scheme enables first time buyers and movers to secure a government loan of up to 20% of the total purchase price of a new-build house with a purchase price of up to £600,000.

The property must be purchased for use as a primary home (so no sub-letting permitted) and the purchaser must contribute at least five percent of the price, with the remaining 75% typically being met by mortgage finance.

The purchaser pays no fees on the government loan for the first five years, but from year six is required to make an initial payment of 1.75% of its total value. After that the annual figure payable rises in accordance with the RPI (retail price index) plus an additional 1%.

The fees are not offset against the loan, which is repayable after 25 years or on the sale of the property – whichever comes first.

It’s worth noting that the sum repayable is based upon the sale price of the house, meaning it can increase or decrease. For example, on a house purchased for £200,000 with a deposit of 5%, equity loan of 20% and mortgage covering the remaining £150,000; which later sells at £210,000 – the loan repayable would be £42,00 – an increase of £2,000 as per the higher sale price of the house.

Help-to-buy mortgage guarantee
This part of the scheme has been designed to increase the availability of high loan to value mortgage products. It enables mortgage companies to purchase a government guarantee of up to 15% of the mortgaged property’s value. The guarantee is provided to the mortgage company, not the purchaser and the purchaser will still be required to have a deposit of between 5 – 20% of the purchase price. The guarantee is available on properties with a purchase price of up to £600,000, which can be new build or existing.

To be eligible, potential purchasers have to pass affordability checks, must be purchasing the house to live in – which must be the only property they own (in the UK and abroad) – and the mortgage must be taken on a repayment basis (not interest only).

Help-to-buy share ownership schemes
We wrote about shared ownership help-to-buy schemes earlier in the year. You can read that post here.

In conclusion…
The aim of the help-to-buy scheme is to encourage the property market to start to move again, and enable eligible purchasers to secure the lower mortgage rates that are typically available to purchasers with bigger deposits. However, concerns have been raised that the scheme will cause a property bubble, which could in turn cause economic uncertainty – spelling out bad news for the UK.

Critics of the scheme point out that increasing house prices mean that first time buyers are actually no better off; as they are still required to find a hefty deposit. Based upon a UK average house price of £239,000 in May 2013 (an increase of £10,000 on the previous 12 months’ figures) – a 5% deposit is £11,950 – a huge sum for many people.

In addition, if a housing bubble is developing (and prices certainly are rising again), then it’s arguable that the scheme opens both those accessing the scheme, and the taxpayer, to unacceptable risk.

However, although it’s easy to get caught up in media rhetoric about the potential downsides to the scheme, it’s also important to remember that, for many, home ownership remains a distant dream.

On this basis alone, the government should be applauded for its initiative, which at least seeks to make home ownership a reality for a wider range of families, individuals and couples than was previously the case. It should also be hoped that UK banks and building societies learnt their lesson the first time around, and that they’ve tightened up their approval mechanisms for mortgage lending – particularly with regards to high loan to value transactions.

Assuming that this is the case, and that prospective purchasers are assessed properly, with checks and balances applied throughout the course of the procedure, then perhaps the Help to Buy scheme isn’t such a bad thing after all.

For more information and advice on buying a home, the Help to Buy scheme, buy-to-let property investments, or selling and buying residential property, please contact Gisella Alberici on 0161 0281, or by email:

Top Tips for Buy-To-Let Investors

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For serial ‘buy-to-letters’ and prospective investors alike, there’s a great deal of buzz at the moment about pinpointing, precisely, the best time to buy. The market appears to paint a rosy picture, with rents at an all time high and 40,000 mortgages advanced to buy-to-let investors in the period April – June 2013 (the highest levels of any quarter since 2008).

However, ‘when’ shouldn’t be the only consideration when buying an investment property; as buy-to-let dreams can easily go sour.

Who is your ideal tenant?

The first thing to consider as a first time buy-to-let investor, is who you want as your tenant. This decision will naturally be based upon a number of different factors including your budget, whether you want to be a hands-on landlord and if you choose to invest locally or further afield.

For example: are you happy with high rent/high turnover tenants? If so, a student house may suit your requirements. Do you want the stability of longer term tenants, and will you consider accepting a slightly lower rent? If so, you may wish to consider a property in a town or village location near to good schools that will attract families.

Location, location, location…

Once you’ve thought about your ideal tenant, you need to research location. It’s a cliché, but it really is key – and that’s especially true for rental properties. That said, once you know what sort of tenant you want, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find the right location.

Don’t overlook the obvious things though. Students will probably be more interested in location (near to their university, or if there’s a dedicated ‘student’ area that’s a couple of miles from the university – near to good transport links) than interior design.

Families, on the other hand, may want a garden as well as space to park. They will probably also expect good central heating, new carpets and a nice bathroom.

Of course, cosmetic details can be changed, new carpets laid, and bathrooms installed – but these things all cost money. Which leads me nicely to…


You should always have a budget in mind, which includes a slush fund for unexpected extras. These can range from a broken boiler, paying for a gardener if the property is empty for a period of time, through to redecoration between tenants and even replacing windows and doors.

In addition, you’ll need to think about the cost of legal fees, searches and insurances. Your mortgage provider may require a structural survey, and last, but by no means least you could be liable for stamp duty, payable on properties over £125,000 on a sliding scale of 1 – 7%.

A word of warning

Although investment properties continue to offer an attractive investment opportunity, it’s important to ensure that you do your research properly, and take advice if you’re a first time investor.

Lord Lamont, the former Conservative chancellor recently raised concerns that the buy-to-let market is heading for collapse. Of course, the danger arises for investors who over-invest whilst interest rates are low, and who then go on to experience cash flow problems when interest rates inevitably rise.

Cash is king

The above point leads me nicely to my final word of warning: it’s absolutely vital that you have enough cash to meet your mortgage payments each month. Ideally your tenant will pay this for you, but you should still budget for months in which you have no tenant, or worse, if you find yourself with a tenant that can’t or won’t pay the rent.

Further, as most buy-to-let mortgages are provided on an interest-only basis, it’s also imperative that you save separately to meet the capital repayments on the mortgage at the end of the term.

In conclusion, buy-to-let properties can provide impressive yields, as well as longer term capital returns. However, it’s important to understand the potential pitfalls of investment, as well as the opportunities.

For more information and advice on buy-to-let property investments, or selling and buying residential property, please contact Gisella Alberici on 0161 0281, or by email: