Category Archives: Rowan’s Blog

Japanese Knotweed – a ‘growing’ problem!

“I’m sorry Sir, but we are going to have to decline this application. Why? Japanese Knotweed has been found on the property, and no there’s nothing you can do.”

Up until recently no one at Century Financial Planning had even heard of Japanese Knotweed, and we certainly had not expected to find ourselves embroiled in several separate Knotweed problems in quick succession. But in a true Chartered Financial Planner’s way we adapt, learn and advise.

So what is Japanese Knotweed?

Brought over by our delightful Victorian ancestors Knotweed was used as a fast growing plant to departmentalize gardens and provide privacy, not to forget its’ nutritional value. Now it ruins mortgage applications and strikes fear in the eye of any vendor.


Why is it such a problem?

Knotweed grows very, very quickly and has been known to grow into cavities in houses damaging the property. Despite never actually “pulling a house apart” mortgage lenders have adopted a very harsh, and to be honest, over the top stance on the plant.

Sadly when one bank decides not to lend it can cause a domino effect, other lenders are spooked thus leaving a handful left. So despite a property having a fairly innocuous plant on its premises and the likelihood of any significant damage being done slim, only having a handful of potential lenders that would even consider a mortgage application makes the house poor security for a loan.

What should you do if you find it?

Depends if you are buying, or selling.

If you are in the process of purchasing a property and the surveyor finds Knotweed within 7 meters of the property and the problem is not being treated, your mortgage application is going to be declined. If the Knotweed is 7 meters away from the building or is being treated, your application may still be declined. However, there are a couple of lenders who will base their decision on the discretion of the surveyor’s comments.

If you are selling your property and have found Knotweed don’t give up just yet because there are a few things you can do.

Firstly it might be an idea to take your property off the market while you deal with the problem at hand; the added stress of having potential new buyers declined at the 11th hour isn’t one you need.

The next step is contact a Japanese Knotweed Removal specialist. Things you need to look for are guarantees, and be certain they are a member of the Property Care Association.

The eradication of the plant is not an overnight process, but one that takes a couple of years. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t necessarily sell the property for that period, as I touched upon earlier a few lenders will leave it to the discretion of a surveyor’s comments. Things like, is a management plan in place? Does the removal company offer a guarantee? The extent, proximity and whether any damage has been done are all questions that the surveyor is going to want to know. And as a vendor you need to make sure you have as much information as possible to hand so the surveyor can make an informed decision.


This is a very grey area of lending at the moment, as most banks and building societies don’t want to stick their necks out and give specific guidance, and hence a difficult area to advise on.

Each case will have its own characteristics:
• Where the knotweed is
• The severity
• What the clients situation is regarding how quickly they wish to sell their home

Although it is not impossible to get a mortgage, it can prove very difficult. But should you make the necessary arrangements with a Japanese Knotweed Removal company, provide a surveyor with as many details as you can, you can only increase your chances of a positive outcome.

Rowan Higgs – Mortgage Mayhem

Well it’s been a while since my last blog entry. Three exams in six months will have something to do with that. I can now tell you how to protect a client’s assets, how that’s regulated and (very shortly), the tax implications. The wall on which I hang my qualifications is now getting busier, as well as the number of acronyms after my name!

Studying aside, my roll at Century Financial Planning has changed significantly since passing Mortgage Advice back in May. We hired an office administrator to take on a lot of my back office duties and my attention shifted to providing research on recommendations to advisers taking the mortgage work off their desks.

I have quickly found out that there were several omissions from the text books. Managing client expectation should have made up a considerable part of the syllabus. But most of all it takes a special set of skills to deal with the likes of the high street lender.

Patience is a virtue. Need to find out what criteria a self-employed applicant needs to meet for Bank X, be prepared to wait “your call is valuable to us and an adviser will speak to you shortly”. A simple query which can be answered in a few sentences turns into 30 minute wait. I’ve found a constructive way to spend my time while waiting on hold is to write blogs.

Once you’ve sourced a mortgage from the whole of the market, and passed on the recommendations to the adviser its then onto implementing the application. “This website requires Internet Explorer 5.01 or above” despite the fact your running off a browser updated less than a fortnight ago. This aspect of the process requires technical ability. I could now deliver an hour long lecture on how to disable cookies and enable compatibility; I’m currently running off three different web browsers.

A cool head in testing situations also goes a long way. You’ve waited for an underwriter to look at a case you submitted 10 days ago. During that time you’ve had the estate agent, applicant, and the vendor’s solicitor’s mother in-law chasing you for an update. Finally the lender responds to your many chases, but now they want to see a payslip from March 2011 and the bank statement you provided didn’t cover the 31st January. So the case has to go back to the end of the queue. But don’t worry they are currently working on turn-around times of 6 working days.

Despite all of the frustrations with the lenders, at the end of the day it’s the client who makes it worthwhile. Mortgages are emotive. Not only is it the biggest financial commitment most people will make in their life, but it also enables people to buy their first home, start a family, or simply to enjoy retirement. And that’s why I enjoy going to work each day. Arguing with a call centre in Delhi is worth it when you can tell someone that we received their mortgage offer in the post this morning.

The next few weeks will see me not only doing the research and owning mortgage implementation but actually going out to see our clients to provide advice face to face. With the experience I have gained doing the smaller remedial tasks and with the knowledge I have learnt through studying, I now know what lenders want to see. The questions I need to be asking clients, and the information I need to gather in order to speed up the process, and to make sound recommendations from the whole of the market.

Rowan Higgs – My first exam…outside of school and University

A borrower whose loan commenced in June 2002 and claims Support for Mortgage Interest in October 2012 is subject to what waiting period before help is provided?

Any ideas? Up until March when I covered the chapter on Arrears and Mortgage Support neither did I. And up until I revised the topic again in May could I tell you the answer is 13 weeks. On Tuesday 18th I sat my first exam on my way to attaining Chartered status, and today I can confirm I have passed!

Preparation for this exam had not taken the same course as previous qualifications. There were no time tabled lectures and group tutorials, detailed coursework or never ending essays. I pulled no “all-nighters” in the library and there certainly wasn’t that statutory know-it-all mate to copy notes from. So my first task would be to figure out a way to balance self-study and maintain focus in the office.

My textbook was to become my bible over the following six-months. I had originally decided a good way to tackle this module was to simply break it down into chapters in my book. I’d sit down on a Saturday afternoon and make detailed notes on a whole chapter. Chapter 1: Regulatory Framework… After my fourth Saturday on the same chapter it dawned on me (and Alan) I had in fact got so bored and utterly lost that this was a useless approach. Your brain cannot absorb twenty odd pages of the history of the Financial Conduct Authority on a Saturday, nor can it stop you from straying away, to the pub.

I met with Alan and Cheryl at the end of January to think of a way I could realistically learn the contents of this book. Testing wasn’t my preferred choice but setting a date to do a mini-test at least gave me something to work towards. Alan suggested I did an hour a day of just reading a couple of pages. A sturdy house is made from bricks, not 14 giant panels stapled together. Day-by-day I carried on this method until I sat a test on the first 7 chapters where I achieved a sound 68%. This method was appearing to work. In April I sat another test on the rest of the book and I recall getting around the same mark. Personally I was over the moon. The book had been completed! Alan had other plans though. But pleased with my progress booked the official exam for June.

Some people love surprises, but surprise tests!? All the questions I had answered wrong Alan began spontaneously throwing in front of me. This was the definition of ‘working on your weakness’. Progressively I sat more and more tests in the board room. Each time we would identify the areas I was weak in, and work on these. If I was persistently under performing on a topic, then getting the “surprise tests” wrong meant I would have to deliver a presentation, the next day. Me, a whiteboard and 40 odd years of financial services experience in front of me. Daunting, but a brilliant way to learn. The fear quite literally embeds the syllabus deep into your brain!

One week before the big day I got my best result yet, 90%. A quick well done, then straight back onto areas I can still improve.

I sat the exam in White Chapel, muggy and nervous I took two and half hours to answer the 125 questions. But I wasn’t expecting these questions. They were different. This was not the exam I had got 90% in the week before. The style of the questions was convoluted and open ended, they applied the theory to actual situations and suddenly the topics I was very confident in became confusing.

I agonisingly hit the submit button and to my relief a big PASS flashed up on the screen. A week later and my results came in the post, 107/125 – chuffed to pieces. And I could not have done it without the support from everyone in the office. Alan has definitely taught me that it’s not about how long you spend revising, but how hard you do. The last few weeks leading up to my exam saw the best of me, and has laid down a winning formula of studying.

Tomorrow I’m sitting down with Alan to discuss the timescales in which I should sit my next exam; we’re aiming for end of July. Bring it on!

Rowan Higgs – My first 6 months at Century Financial Planning

This Thursday I was offered a permanent contract with Century Financial Planning after my probationary 6 month period, an opportunity I did not wait to seize. Far from my student days of early 11am lectures, a sparse social life consisting of a mere few nights out a week, and summer holidays that apparently never ended.  I traded it in for scraping ice off my windscreen first thing in the morning, evenings spent studying in my bedroom and a sudden interest in the two shortest days of the week people refer to as “the weekend”. So why was it I was so happy to put the past behind me and leap at the chance of becoming part of the team at Century Financial Planning and a future in financial planning advice?

I joined Century Financial Planning after a rigorous selection process, responding to an advertisement for a Graduate Scheme in the Windsor & Eton Express in September. From day one I wanted to impress, and despite my science and law academic background, tried to keep up with the industry jargon. This lasted until halfway through day one. By lunchtime I had realised that this was not just a specialised subject, this was an area of about fifteen to twenty specialised subjects, built on a foundation of compliance and client interaction.

My first couple of months were spent learning administrative processes and installing these good habits to ensure no “t” is left uncrossed. This was under the supervision of my colleague Cheryl, her experience proved invaluable as she taught me the importance of executing any administrative task in a logical and logged process. Mistakes do not go unnoticed in a small office. I was taught to get things right first time and to understand what things were before accepting a task from an advisor. But most off all she was using these administrative task’s to give me an insight into what I would be advising myself in a couple of years time.

The vast majority of my days were spent processing mortgage and protection applications as well as answering incoming calls from clients. It was my first real experience in both of these areas. I had done a little mortgage law at university but not the finance side of things. It is very satisfying when a mortgage is offered to a client, enabling them to buy their dream home and the joy this brings.

After a few weeks it was time to start studying again. For every area in financial advice it seems there are at least two exams, and the directors of Century Financial Planning like their staff to do all of them! Suitably too may I add, both have the highest calibre of qualifications amounting to Chartered Status, one of the reasons I was so keen to join the firm in the first place. It gives me great inspiration to glance at the various certificates from the CII awarded to staff members at Century Financial Planning in the board room. Studying to get there though is tough, but done in bite size chunks while on the job experience is a great way to learn. I will be sitting my first exam in June.

One of my favourite experiences so far has to be the investment side of dealings. Clients are able to log in through our website to access information on their investments, with the added benefit of independent financial advice supporting their decisions. From General Investment Accounts to ISAs clients are broadening their investment knowledge and want advice to go with it. I have been to two different seminars presented by Fund Managers, debating economic forecasts and investment strategy at the Williams’ F1 HQ and Mercedes Benz World. Both days left me with a hunger to learn more, and the desire to keep up with economic affairs.

So when asked why I was so keen to sign a permanent contract, I can now say it’s because I have far more questions than when I started, which I want to find out the answer to. With the supervision of a brilliant team here at Century Financial Planning I now know this is where I want to be and thoroughly look forward to a future growing with the firm.