Tuesday, 10 April 2018

TOP TIPS: WEDDING CHECKLIST FOR YOUR BIG DAY

It's almost prime wedding season and when you are planning your big day, you want everything to be just perfect. From the smaller details like your invitation design, to your choice of venue, a lot of work goes into ensuring that your wedding lives up to your dreams. To make sure that you don’t run out of time to book services or forget to include anything, we have pulled together a comprehensive checklist of all the things that you need to remember:


1. Calculate your budget

Before you plan anything, you will need to decide what budget you are working towards. If you are receiving contributions from your families then you need to have these conversations before you start looking at venues or anything else as your budget will dictate most of the decisions you are going to make. The majority of weddings run well over the allocated budget, so try to think about under-spending to stay within your budget.

2. Choose the venue (and date available)

This will be the biggest decision and usually needs the most advanced booking, so make sure the venue is your first big task as it can take quite a lot of research and visits, unless you already have a place in mind. Whether you want a quiet registry office ceremony or a big, extravagant wedding venue choice like Goosedale, the sooner you start with this task, the better. Deciding your date might come down solely to venue availability but could also be influenced by price, weather and guest availability.

3. Select your wedding party

Once you know the size and type of venue, it is easier deciding on how many people will make up your wedding party. This can be one of the most stressful parts of the entire planning, if people are expecting to be included and they are not. The earlier you communicate this, the less chance that people will have already made assumptions that they are included in the wedding party.

4. Guest list

The guest list can be another tricky affair, especially when you are on a tight budget or want to have a small, intimate ceremony. Again, the sooner that this gets confirmed, the more time you will have to adjust the list and invite additional people if others cannot make it on your big day.

5. Send out the invitations

Send the invites out as soon as you can so that people have the chance to RSVP and let you know that they can definitely make it. You might need to chase people up for responses and some people prefer to set up an online RSVP to make the process quicker.

6. Book your officiant

Make sure you leave plenty of time to book your officiant because you simply can’t have a wedding without one!



7. Final bookings and arrangements for the day:

• Caterers and menu
• Wedding outfits
• Wedding cake
• Weddings rings
• Photographer
• Car/vehicle hire
• Florist
• Entertainment
• Hotel accommodation
• Drinks for the toast
• Gifts for the wedding party
• Plan the order of the day
• Table plan
• Ceremony music
• Choose photo scenes/locations

If you use this list as a guide then you should be able to relax and enjoy your big day without worrying about the smaller details. You can always hire a wedding planner to take responsibility for everything if your budget allows, or you can delegate certain tasks to different members of the wedding party if you trust them enough to be organised. Remember, it is your day and you can plan it however you want to, so don’t worry about trying to keep everyone else happy!

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Thursday, 5 April 2018

TRAVEL: TOP TIPS FOR A FIRST TIME SKI TRIP

I've just recently returned from a 5 day ski trip to Alpendorf in Austria and given that it was my first time skiing I thought I'd share my top tips for anyone else thinking of going for the first time. I left the UK with just 2 hours of skiing tuition under my belt and I felt totally underprepared having no idea what to expect when I got there and I relied quite heavily on YouTube packing videos for guidance on what to take but there were some things that I would definitely have been better off knowing before I went! 



1. Get some tuition before you go
Even if you just get a couple of hours in a group session on a fake ski slope it is much better to arrive having already worn skis and ski boots for a short time because then at least you know what they're going to feel like. You can book time with an instructor at places like Xscape (Castleford & Milton Keynes) and Chill Factore (Manchester) which will give you a feel for what it's like and you can learn the basics and more depending how much time you have. Skiing, even with prior tuition is quite daunting because the conditions are so different but I'm really pleased I went to Xscape beforehand. You can get tuition when you're in-resort but I'd say your experience of skiing is going to be far better if you can ski before you go, mastering parallel turns will do you the world of good.

2. Make sure you take plenty of layers
Depending on the weather, you might not actually need thermals etc. but you do need to dress for the top of the mountain regardless of what the weather is like at the bottom. It can and probably will be much colder at the top than it is at the bottom of the resort. If you layer up you can always take layers off. Even at the end of the season every day I wore a long sleeved thermal top, a t-shirt, a microfleece and a ski jacket and only 1 of the 5 days skiing did I feel the need to undo my jacket for a while. 




3. Accessories are always a good idea
I can't stress how different conditions can be from one day to the next (even one hour to the next!) so it's really important that you're equipped for it to be tipping with snow. The most important things I'd say you need to put in your suitcase accessories-wise are goggles (these come with different levels of UV filter and light uplift abilities so it's a good idea to find out the weather for the time of year you're going and buy accordingly. Definitely buy a neck warmer or a buff (basically a tightish fitting snood), I don't like the idea of scarves because there's too much to get caught in ski lifts etc. but a neck warmer will keep your neck and lower face from feeling the cold. Sunglasses are also a good idea but they need a good UV filter because trust me being up in the mountain, the light bouncing off the white snow makes it almost impossible to see sometimes! Sunglasses are good for days when it is actually sunny but not snowing. 


4. Suncream is also always a very good idea
As you probably already know, the sun is actually really strong up in the mountains. Because the air is thinner and there's lots of reflection from the snow, it's surprisingly easy to burn up there. Admittedly the surface area which isn't covered by clothing is small but nevertheless burnt cheeks, forehead and nose is never good look so you do need to buy some sun screen. You also definitely need to get something for your lips too because they will burn and become very dry and sore very quickly if you're not careful. I went for a ski protection duo from Malibu with a small tube of face cream and a lip protection stick and it was exactly what I needed (sun protection and it still has the signature coconut scent, what more could you want?!)


5. Make sure your ski boots fit properly 
I can't stress this enough because this ruined the second day of my holiday. I couldn't ski because my ill-fitting boots gave me a blister on my shin in the first day, I assumed they were supposed to be a little uncomfortable so I soldiered on but it turns out they shouldn't be quite that uncomfortable. If you're hiring do not hesitate to go back if they feel like they're rubbing anywhere. Admittedly, ski boots aren't the most comfortable thing but when I discovered what it felt like to wear a pair that fit properly it was like walking on clouds compared the others. 

6. Expect to be very, very tired
Skiing is hard and every bit an extreme sport. Doing 5+ days is a heck of a lot of quite intense exercise in one go and it really does work out muscles that you never knew you had. I quite literally hate failing at anything but I could have easily given up sometimes because I found it so difficult! They say the worst week of skiing you'll have is your first one but I can safely say that I was so proud of myself by the end of the week because I at least graduated from the nursery slope onto some of the 'proper' runs. 



7. Buy a jacket with a zip pocket on the arm for your ski pass
Chances are, you'll have a little card which gives you access to lifts which ultimately enables you to ski which will need to be accessed quickly so you don't hold queues up; the last thing you want to be doing is stressing about getting it out of the bottom of a bag so buy a jacket with a zip pocket on the arm so it will just automatically scan as you walk/ski through.

8. Don't be scared of falling
You will fall when you're skiing. Whether you're going down a particularly steep run or you just lose your balance but it is so easily done and just remember not to be embarrassed because even the most experienced skiers fall!

9. Check out the map of the ski resort before you go
If it's your first time you'll want to be heading to blue runs because they're generally quite nice in terms of steepness etc. the last thing you want to do is jump in at the deep end because in short you simply won't be able to do it. Even if you have had tuition in the UK you'll quickly realise that although the artificial snow is good, the reality can be very, very different.

10. Most of all... have fun, have a laugh and enjoy the traditional apres ski culture!

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Tuesday, 20 February 2018

BUYING A NEW BUILD SERIES: HOW TO CREATE A 'SNAGGING LIST'

If you're a new build owner, you'll be no stranger to the infamous 'snag list'. Some people's have a few things on it and some new owners have lists which are much, much bigger. I personally was at a bit of a loss as to what to look for to put on it before I moved in properly but trust me your snags will become apparent when you move in.

For those of you who are wondering what 'snags' are it's basically things that need touching up or adjusting in your house because ultimately builders will make mistakes and miss bits when they're working to tight deadlines. Some snags will seem petty but when it's your house and you've paid a lot of money for it you want everything to be right. I wouldn't recommend trying to snag on your home demo; you'll only see glaringly obvious stuff then and you need to use that time to listen to what your site manager has to say about your new home because he will give you some valuable advice. Personally I think snagging is best done gradually, taking one room at a time and looking carefully.



Here's what I would pay particular attention to:

GENERAL SNAGS

Have all your Finishing Touches/extras been included? Part of my turf incentive was a 1.8m fence which hadn't been included. Granted they only ended up putting it on one side anyway because only one side belongs to me (*eye roll*) but it's one half that I don't need to pay for.

Outside brickwork - make sure there are no chips, cracks or holes that shouldn't be there

Settlement cracks - these are perfectly normal and shouldn't be anything to worry about but they are unsightly nevertheless so you need to make a note of where these have appeared. These will appear for a while after your house is built so they may need to come back a few times to fill them in. I've heard some site managers won't fill in until you can fit a pound coin in them, however this hasn't been the case with mine - I had a huge crack along my stairs and they filled it within the first month along with a few other small ones but they are still showing up nearly 2 months after I moved in.

Try all light switches/sockets/USB ports/phone sockets and TV aerial sockets - be mindful that until you have a TV aerial your sockets won't work; in my previous post about hidden costs of a new build I mentioned that new builds generally don't come with an actual aerial.

If you've not had flooring put down check that your floor is level and there's no huge gaps between the skirting and actual floor - you can still do this with flooring down but it might not be as easy to spot.

Check the door frames have been filled round the edges - I ran my fingers along the top of the door frames in all rooms and discovered that there was a huge gap between that and the wall where they'd not filled it. To me this is just laziness in the hope that the homeowner doesn't notice; it's a two minute job though.

Check all exterior doors and handles work as they should - The lock had actually dropped quite a lot on my front door for some reason which meant that the handle was a pain to lift and when you thought you'd locked it the door was actually still unlocked!! Again a couple of minutes job just to adjust the door.

Check all windows open and close as they should - You should have received keys for these if they are key-operated so make sure they open and close properly. If you're unsure how they work just ask your site manager to show you again.

Make sure all radiators are working properly - are they all getting hot as they should?

Is all paintwork and finishing neat and tidy? - Have any walls been accidentally scratched or marked since they've been painted? Have the undersides of your windowsills been painted (an area which seems to be overlooked!).

Check behind things to make sure they've been finished properly - Behind the small radiator in my downstairs toilet was an absolute mess of wires etc. which hadn't been properly plastered, painted and finished (presumably another thing they thought I might not notice with it being behind a radiator) and they've also not finished off the painting properly behind my downstairs loo.

KITCHEN

Try all appliances and make sure they work properly - one of my snags was that my oven made an awful rattling noise when it reached a certain temperature. Turns out that the casing had dropped slightly and was catching on the cooling fan, it was a simple fix of just adjusting it slightly and it's fine now. Check all gas rings and extractor fans.

Check all taps, plugs and overflow pipes to ensure there are no leaks and water pressure is good - I had a leaky tap (identified by the pool of water which collected at the bottom of it) and a leaky overflow which hadn't been properly sealed (identified by finding water dripping into the cupboard under the sink).

Check all cupboards are aligned - sounds daft but a slightly wonky cupboard will drive you insane!

Boiler pressure - keep an eye on your boiler pressure and make sure it stays somewhere between 1 and 2. If it drops below one this can indicate a problem but don't try and solve it yourself, make sure you always notify your site manager.

BATHROOM/DOWNSTAIRS TOILET

Make sure toilet flushers work properly - sometimes a slight misalignment can mean it can be awkward to push the button down to flush the loo - nobody wants that do they.

Check all taps for leaks and adequate water pressure - the pressure on the cold tap in my bathroom is shocking and has yet to be sorted. I also had a leak on my bath taps which I found out the hard way when a huge wet patch appeared on my living room ceiling. Not ideal at all and it did happen twice in my case because the first time they came to 'fix' it, they hadn't actually fixed it but when they came back a second time they replaced the taps.

Check the seals round the bath - also do this after you've had a full bath.

Check that the bath side panel runs flush with the floor - mind didn't and the builders put an extra bit on the bottom to tidy it up.

Check the extractor fan works - and always make sure you use it when you shower or bath.

Check that the plugs don't leak water out - Both my upstairs and downstairs bathroom sinks have a defect in the plugs where water escapes even when they're pushed down and closed. I'm told it's a manufacture's fault and I'm waiting on replacements.

Check tile grout and alignment - Unfortunately when things are rushed attention to detail often isn't a priority but you will notice it if your tiles aren't properly straight also check all tiles have been grouted properly.

Check your shower fitting and make sure it works and there are no leaks

Wow, that seems like a huge list for snagging and believe me this is not an exhaustive list. As I said, some of the snags will stare you square in the face but others you will have to look a little closer for but it's well worth doing so because generally if the builders are still on site they're easily contactable and they will come and do all your snags for you. If they haven't and you have encountered problems you must go to your sales office and push for help and if you don't get any joy from there you need to ring Persimmon (or your developer's) head office. I did that with my leak and they got the site staff on it pretty much straight away.

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Monday, 19 February 2018

BUYING A NEW BUILD SERIES: HIDDEN COSTS

When I bought my house I noticed a distinct lack of information like this, as a lone-buyer (like a lone wolf but just an independent woman buying a house on her own *insert sassy girl hand out emoji here*) all I wanted was some real life advice and guidance on buying new builds; the pros, cons, tips and 'warnings', if you will. This is by no means a definitive fact sheet but mainly advice I can give based on my own experience. As some of you may know (especially if you're here from Instagram) I bought a Persimmon Homes new build but I imagine that a lot of the information here will also apply to most other new build property developers. You'd assume that buying a new build would mean you'd be ready to go with all the things you need included in the price but unfortunately this really isn't the case but here's what experience has taught me...



You need to ask what they're willing to give for free 
This will very much depend on the site and how popular it has been but it honestly doesn't hurt to ask the question about what extras they can include free of charge. I'm lucky to have a step-dad who isn't a stranger to bartering and he managed to get me money off the release price of the house and turf to the rear of my house. Persimmon often have promotions on certain houses which can be found on their website if they're looking to sell a particular type of build so make sure you check on there and make sure you just ask the question in the sales office. The worst thing they will do is say no.

Be aware of what is and isn't included with your house
You'll quickly realise that with any new build the majority of the 'nice' things in a house come at an extra cost; the extra bits that you would probably assume would come with your house could cost you a pretty penny so although it's unavoidable I always think it's better to be forewarned and forearmed because unexpected costs can be a shock especially if you're on a tight budget. Here are some of the things to remember when considering your 'finishing touches' spend:


- Standard tiling in bathrooms is minimal; depending on your style of house they'll maybe only do 2 rows of tiling or in my case they'll tile up the wall where the shower is but then leave a huge square bare so the shower is rendered pretty much unusable unless you want to wet the plasterboard through. 

- Which leads me onto the shower situation; in my experience a standard shower above the bath in Persimmon homes isn't great, it's literally a shower head on a fixed holder with a ring to hold the hose in place halfway down meaning that it's very difficult (if not impossible) to use the shower to swill the bath out. They also gave me the most horrendous white, crinkly shower curtain which I quickly replaced with a £3 Primark one which was infinitely better. In houses with an ensuite they do not include a shower above the bath as standard. That said, if you are just looking for a slightly better shower above your bath you can get these from B&Q for around £30 and glass shower screens can be bought for around £80.

- You only get a choice of kitchen up to a certain build stage so you need to enquire about this at your sales office. If you can choose you will probably only get a choice of 3 different colours of door; I upgraded to a full choice of colours and designs which cost £350 for a 2 bedroomed house and the price does increase the bigger the house. 

- The standard appliances in Persimmon homes are limited to a white oven and hob. You can upgrade to stainless steel extractor hood, hob and oven for £375 - that's all down to personal taste though, it doesn't improve functionality and you can definitely live without it. 

- Your new home will not include a TV aerial so unless you get sky you're looking at around £125 to have an aerial installed. I paid for an additional TV aerial socket in my bedroom and at no point was I told that I didn't get a TV aerial. Slightly annoying and £125 that I didn't expect to spend. 

- Your home will not come with turf as standard. I think lots of people have found this out the hard way; as I said I was lucky enough to get turf included as an incentive but both my neighbours currently have a mud garden. Not ideal in winter especially when you have children and dogs. 

- Waste/recycling bins aren't anything to do with your developer but it's definitely worth keeping in mind that your local council may charge you for bins. I have 2 bins which cost me £36 each... another £72 I wasn't expecting to pay! Pop your postcode (or one near yours if you're unsure what it will be) into the government website to find out more information from your local authority.

- Carpets do not come as standard this shocked me when I first found out and they're really bloody expensive from Persimmon. However it is something that I've known a fair few people get included as an incentive. I didn't get them included but I did use a local company for mine (Floor Coverings Local for anyone in the South Yorkshire area) and they managed to shave over £1000 off the price that Persimmon had quoted for my whole house and I had picked the best underlay and premium carpets. It is a pain moving into an uncarpeted house but I was lucky enough to be flexible with my move in date so I just arranged for them to go as soon as I received my keys; they were brill actually, I'd definitely recommend them.

- Double check that your house is freehold. Some houses are sold as leasehold properties which basically means that you own the bricks and mortar but you actually rent the land it's on from the developer which will incur a yearly cost. It's just something to double check so you're not hit with an unexpected £100+ a year ground rent charge. Persimmon actually sent me an invoice by mistake and I nearly hit the roof when I saw it because I knew full well that my house was freehold - thankfully after a quick phone call it was all resolved but you really do need to be aware that leasehold properties do still exist.

- You may need a joiner or someone handy with tools to cut holes in your kitchen cupboards for appliances - this might not incur a cost if you've got someone who can do it for you or the people on site are helpful and accommodating but your kitchen won't come with holes for things like your washing machine piping and fridge plug so you'll need to get these sorted.

So as you can see the costs can mount up if you're not expecting them but this shouldn't put you off new builds because you have to remember that if you were to buy a pre-owned house there'd probably be things you'd want to change immediately which you'd obviously factor in when you were buying the house; so this is very much the same. What you have to keep in mind is that everything in your new house is shiny, new and 100% yours to put your own stamp on.

*all prices in this post are correct as of September 2017.
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