The Speaking Exchange

Online video has opened up a lot of money making opportunities. Speaking Exchange, based in Brazil, is one such opportunity which brings together Brazilian nationals wanting to learn English, and US senior citizens with time on their hands.

The idea is that the students log on to a website and form a video link with  a senior citizen living in a retirement home. They then have a chat on a pre-determined topic, and the whole thing is recorded for tutors to evaluate. It’s a great way for the students to have a conversation with someone whose mother tongue is English without having to go to the expense of travelling. The other side of the coin is that it’s a nice way for senior citizens to feel more active and engaged with the world.

Could you use online video to bring together people who would never usually  encounter each other for mutual benefit? If so, there could be a business in it.

Streetwise Property Alert 26th June 2014

Welcome to the latest UK property news and views. Heads up! If you are interested in the ‘£10k Off’ London property, you need to move on this today. Another heads up! If you are investing in the Cheltenham JV, please remember the closing date is 30 June 2014. Invest in this and you have a place in the imminent JV2 (assuming you have funds, of course). Meantime…

Property Prices Overview

The latest figures from ONS, the Office of National Statistics, suggests that prices rose by 9.9 per cent in the 12 months to the end of April 2014. That is up from 8.0 per cent in the 12 months to the end of March 2014. As ever, we need to say ‘think micro-markets’ when it comes to doing your due diligence. After all, we should note that the ONS advises that, in the 12 months to the end of April 2014, prices in London rose 18.7 per cent with the South-East and East of England seeing 8.9 per cent and 8.5 per cent rises respectively. Take them out and the average rise is just 2 per cent.

Peter Rollings at agents Marsh & Parsons suggests we have reached a turning point. ‘After a very lively start to the year, where an acute lack of supply and subsequent competition for homes pushed prices higher, we’re now sailing into steadier waters. Stricter controls for mortgage affordability and the renewed housing stock is moderating the market and property price growth has slowed.’

‘In prime London, the ratio of registered buyers per available property has fallen from 24 in January 2014 to 16 in June, so as the market returns to more normal trading conditions, buyers can make the most of the extra breathing space. London has long been akin to its own city state, and is wholly unrepresentative of the broader nationwide picture. If the government or the Bank of England were to slam their foot on the brake too heavily, they risk setting back the emergent housing market recovery outside of the capital.’

BTL Club Update

Lots of interest in The BTL Club we are creating from September – in essence, we will stop sending BTL deals out via the general membership and present them solely to members of The BTL Club.

Yes, it’s free but please do not join if you are not serious about investing as it’s a drag for everyone involved to go through everything only to find at the end that you have £6.39 in your bank account.

We are going to split the club in two with a separate one for London; email back now to be added to the list(s). The London list we will limit to just 100 members and we have about 55 so far; so be quick for that one.

Land Registry News

The Land Registry has announced that it is to be the sole registering authority for Local Land Charges (LLC) in England and Wales, ‘leading to a standardised national fee for the first time.’

Some newspapers are reporting this as happening now. Not quite, ‘preparatory work will begin from April 2015 for a phased migration of the LLC service to begin later that year.’

‘The proposals will provide a one stop shop digital LLC search service, which will improve and standardise the service through faster turnaround times. This is consistent with government’s digital by default agenda and will ease the process of buying property. We have listened to the consultation feedback on LLC and have made a number of changes to the original proposals. For example, the period covered by a LLC official search will not now be limited to 15 years.’ More to come in due course.

London Prime Lettings – News

According to the latest residential lettings report from Chestertons, there was increased activity in Q1 2014, with the number of applicants up 7.7 per cent over the year and agreed lets up 6.2 per cent over the same time. Stock levels decreased by 22.5 per cent. You don’t need to be an economist to work out ‘what happens next’. Chestertons is forecasting rental growth of 2 per cent for the prime London lettings sector in 2014.

‘Looking ahead, due to London’s improvement of the overall economic performance, growth rates are set to outpace the national average over the next couple of years. Once the balance between supply and demand has reached healthier grounds, rents are expected to stabilise across the board. In terms of prime locations Tower Hamlets is forecast to see the strongest growth in household numbers of 29,548 over the next five years.’

All for now, see you tomorrow with some more news and views.


How to Publish Your Book Online

There are many ways to publish your book online. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to one of the easiest:

1. Create an account on It’s owned by Amazon. If you have any question you hit a button that says “Call Me” and within 30 seconds they have a customer representative calling your phone.

2.  Download a Microsoft Word template they provide  The template is similar to those used by any publisher when they format your book.

3. Make a  cover. Createspace has over a million options when you combined their templates with images, fonts, etc.

4. Save as a PDF and upload it. Let them pick an ISBN number.

5. Choose a price.  $7.95. is the minimum price if you want them to distribute it to bookstores, libraries, etc along with Amazon. You’ll get about a $2 royalty per book at that price. But if you choose a price of $20 then you would get about a $14 royalty. Much higher than any publisher will ever give you.

Streetwise Property Alert 25th June 2014

Welcome to today’s email of property news and views…

Istanbul – Prices Still Rising

According to the latest figures from Gyoder, property prices in Istanbul are now rising at twice the rate they were this time last year. They rose by more than 1 per cent in April. Much of this growth is being driven by foreign investors. We’d urge you to consider where the local buyers are purchasing too. As always, you are likely to be letting to and selling to local buyers.

Adil Yaman of real estate agents Universal 21 comments, ‘We would normally expect fluctuations in growth in the early part of the year, which are traditionally times when the market takes a breather. The buying season normally reaches a peak in August with strong growth also seen in June and July. In August 2013, for example, property prices in Istanbul increased by more than 2 per cent in a month, which would add £1,000 to the price of a £50,000 apartment in the city.

‘The city has seen huge investment in its infrastructure, which hasn’t always been popular with locals but the pace of change in the city is rapid and the population is rising with it. So it comes as no surprise that this puts pressure on existing housing stock. Along with the recent announcement of a third airport in the city which will provide a boost to suburban areas like Beylikduzu, all the signs are positive for another year of strong growth.’ More to come.

Germany Cut-Off

Those of you looking for 12 per cent returns in 12 months should take a look at the Germany investment. But, as advised, this offer will be gone by 1 September. Now is the time to look – email for details.

Brazil – New Offer

Members have invested heavily and very successfully in Brazil over the past two years. We now have details of a new deal. Up to 17.5 per cent yields. Low entry level from £21,000. Returns in 12 months. International escrow facility to protect investors’ funds, managed by independent solicitors. Clear and defined exit strategy. Award-winning developer. Proven and secure track record in similar projects. In essence, you put from £21,000 in and get up to 17.5 per cent yields in a year. Interested? Email back – we have a PDF for you.

Crowdfunding Cut-Off

Are you one of the UK crowdfunders? Please note that funds need to be over by 30 June – that’s the cut-off point. Email back if you are thinking of progressing this. It’s not too late to get the full pack and to visit with me.

Spain – Sareb Update

Spain’s ‘bad bank’, Sareb, is in the news as its head, Belen Romana, has been talking in public at an event in Madrid. ‘It’s time to invest in the property market because it is stabilising in terms of price. New mortgage lending grew 2 per cent in March from a year earlier, marking the first annual increase in four years – and providing another sign of

It’s been said that the Bank of Spain could force Sareb to revalue some of the 51 billion euros of assets it took on at zero, if they do not carry certain guarantees and have been in default for over 18 months. ‘We will do what we have to do.’ Interesting – we will have an article on this shortly.

Utilitarian Undies

I’m not sure whether Canadian Danieal Cormier is on to something and I’m out of touch with the way people live, but his business idea is interesting in any event. Danieal is hoping to revolutionise the men’s underwear market with a design that incorporates pockets for phones and other gadgets. Now I don’t know about you, but I rarely find myself in a situation where I’m wandering around in my Boxers and feel the need for pockets. I tend to wear trousers if I’m going to be doing stuff requiring pockets. But maybe I’m old fashioned.

Anyway, the business is a timely reminder to give some thought to how the clothing market might be given a boost. If people are so tied to their phones that they need a pocket in their pants, maybe they need one in their socks as well. Maybe women would like storage space in their bra’s? Secret agents and aspiring bombers have been known to hide stuff in their shoes, so why not ordinary folk? Time to get your thinking cap on…now there’s a thought…hats!

Streetwise Property Alert 24th June 2014

Welcome to your Tuesday email. Missed the UKPA and/or IPA PDF newsletters for June? Email back. Meantime, Peter Faulkner, our ‘Mr Mortgages’ offers his latest thoughts…

Sharply rising UK house prices and Mark Carny’s (Bank of England Governor) comments have fuelled speculation that the BoE will use its new macro-prudential powers for the first time in the near future to manage associated risks and prevent excessive growth in household debt. These powers are themselves set to be strengthened, subject to consultation, following Chancellor George Osborne’s recent speeches.

However, it is not about limiting mortgages further; the market, especially in London, is being influenced not by credit buyers but by cash buyers. More than one third of houses (36 per cent) were bought entirely in cash during Q1 2014, compared with less than a quarter (24 per cent) seven years earlier. The percentage of total housing demand that is financed by cash reached an estimated all-time high of 61 per cent in Q1 2014.

The residential mortgage market remains very subdued, with mortgage debt still shrinking in real terms and on aggregate, households putting over £10 billion of equity into their homes every quarter since mid-2010. However, BTL represents a much larger proportion of total lending.

Average residintial mortgage loan to value ratios have been exceptionally depressed since the financial crisis and – despite the gradual rising trend since 2009 – median first time buyer LTVs remain lower than at any point prior to 2007. While the Bank of England has flagged concerns about rising loan to income ratios, the affordability rule changes arising from the Mortgage Market Review (MMR) mean that new owner-occupiers seeking a mortgage will only be granted a loan that is manageable at considerably higher interest rates (stress testing) and at lower loan to values (larger deposits) and pay more as house prices continue to rise.

UK averages paint a picture of a housing market where the use of cash has become a key driver. There are broader questions for government about the implications of this, though in part it has been driven by a shortage of mortgages: a situation that is being corrected. But for the FPC, whose remit is to maintain financial stability, it suggests that additional intervention into the mortgage market is not warranted.

Affordability criteria for older clients have become a real issue under new MMR rules. Mainstream lenders are just not able to help on most cases due to their affordability formulae with automated rule driven systems. The best chances of success if a client is over 55 years of age are the smaller building societies that still hold mandates and can take a view of cases presented properly. Best in the market at the time of writing for older clients are Buckingham and Market Harborough building societies using a specialist club for packaging.

Auction finance? Last week I mentioned a new product coming out. It has arrived. A client can get auction finance or quick finance for a quick purchase and then convert to BTL after only three months. Most other BTL lenders require minimum of six months or one year. Thank you Peter. More from Peter next week. Email back though if you’d like to chat with Peter.

Finally, we’ve got a flat to introduce in Docklands. In short, it’s a one bedroom flat next to Crossharbour DLR station and just 10 minutes’ walk from Canary Wharf. It also has a reserved underground parking space. It has been consistently let for the past 20 years and is currently let at £1,235 pcm. We are going to introduce it at £350k but can offer it to a serious member who can get going with it this week for £340k; a saving of £10,000. Email back.

There’s Money In Muck

Composting may be the right thing to do for the environment, but it can be hard to get around the smell and the mess, particularly for town dwellers with small gardens.  Compost Cab is a new service about to launch in Washington, DC, that removes some of the unpleasant aspects of the job.

Compost Cab provides customers with a bin equipped with a  compostable bag liner. Each day clients will fill the bin with their organic material, and once a week Compost Cab will pick up the bag, leaving behind only a clean bin with a new liner. The cost is simply $8 per week per bin.

Clients who have been with Compost Cab for nine months or longer can claim some finished soil in return. For every fifty pounds of  waste the company collects from them, they can receive five pounds of fresh compost and one pound of worm castings in exchange.

Apparently the average American family produces more than 500 pounds of leftover organic material every year. There’s no reason why a British family would produce any less.  Composting not only keeps that waste out of  landfills, but it also produces nutrient-rich, fertile, natural soil.  In addition, it keeps organic waste out of other bins, thereby freeing space for other materials.

It’s early days , but this could well prove to be a big success in these eco-friendly times. And if it works in the United States, why not here?

Streetwise Property Alert 23rd June 2014

We are looking to overhaul ‘Property Alerts’ from September; new websites, beefed-up weekly services etc. We are also going to limit memberships for the weekly, fuller services (London, France, Spain, America, Lifestyle, Investment, Hotel Property Alerts) and will only be taking on about another 100 or so members for (each of) Spain, America and France Property Alerts in particular. Time to sign up? Read on…

Spain – The Edge Of Recovery

James Daniel, head of the IMF’s Spain mission, has authored a new report on Spain suggesting is it on the brink of recovery. ‘After six consecutive years of house price declines, especially intense in certain periods, everything points towards the end of this scenario drawing to a close, giving way, at the least, to price stability.’

‘Prices show signs of improvement after years of accelerating declines. Average national house prices rose 0.84 per cent quarter on quarter and are down just 1.7 per cent over 12 months. This is a big improvement on the double digit annualised declines last year. This is the first time in eight years that sales and prices have improved together. The market hasn’t seen this since the first quarter of 2006.’

‘However, the lack of new housing starts in recent years means the only new homes are those built during the boom and still for sale. A large share of them are in the hands of the financial institutions, being sold actively with price reductions. As this stock reduces, the relative weight of new home sales will decline to ever smaller quotas.’ At SPA, we have some buying checklists coming plus inspection trip visits to Marbella and Murcia and some more BMV deals.

US- Slowing Growth Update

According to the latest report from real estate data provider Clear Capital, we are seeing ‘slowing growth’ in the property market. In a clear reminder of our oft-repeated statement, ‘beware averages’, the report indicates that the annual price rise across the 50 major metro markets is 22.3 per cent but ‘there is some considerable variation depending on location…varied from a fall of 37 per cent to growth of 45 per cent.’ You need to look at micro-markets. In Cleveland, the best-performing zip code area is up 42.4 per cent, the worst is down 23.3 per cent.

More generally, ‘It’s no surprise that the spring buying season isn’t moving the needle this year. The rising price floor in the low tier sector of the market has squeezed investor returns, thereby removing a key demand segment. We don’t expect to see a large pop in prices through the summer buying season. It’s likely we’ll keep chugging along at our current pace, somewhere around one per cent quarterly gains for the rest of the year.’

‘Considering the number of key housing fundamentals that remain stressed, like millions of borrowers still underwater, high levels of student debt, potential borrowers with less than perfect credit, and a job market that is still recovering, we don’t expect a market with waning investor demand to withstand any eye-popping rates of growth. Although it’s not a quick fix to the larger housing problem, home price moderation is really a healthy move for the market overall.’

‘While some might be discouraged by a weak spring buying season, we are encouraged that price trends are finally calibrating back to pre-bubble norms. Despite other headwinds, moderating home prices will serve as the foundation to a more balanced market moving forward. Remember, we’re still in recovery mode which means deals exist. Market participants just need to look deeper. As softer gains continue to unfold, broad stroke investment approaches will prove less and less fruitful. As such, market participants who pinpoint investments will be better positioned for success.’ Interested in America? We may be testing a separate Florida service shortly. Let us know if this
interests you.

France – Prime Market Update

Knight Frank reports that buyers returning to the prime property sector in France. ‘Against the backdrop of the global recession, the Eurozone debt crisis and President Hollande’s austerity measures, France’s prime property market has faced considerable challenges in recent years. Nonetheless, a villa on the Côte d’Azur or a ski chalet in the Alps remain amongst the most popular investments for international second home buyers.’

‘With deflationary risks increasing in Europe, the European Central Bank is considering following the lead of the UK and the US by injecting a round of quantitative easing (QE) into the European economy. This will have the effect of driving down the euro and increasing the appetite for French property from non-Euro buyers.’

‘Where property is priced accurately interest is generated, viewings are arranged and sales are agreed. However, there are still far too many properties that are unrealistically priced and languish on the market due to a lack of realism on the part of some vendors and a lack of transparency in the marketplace. We are cautiously optimistic about the market.’ We have a visit to Paris coming up this weekend – feedback next week – and are about to introduce a new ‘Centre Parcs’ type deal near Paris. All at FPA!

All for now, other than to say email back telling us which services interest you and we will sign you up for free. See you again tomorrow.

The Bulletproof Clipboard

Have you ever felt the need for a bulletproof clipboard? No me neither but The Ballistic Clipboard from Impact Armor Technologies in the United States has been designed in response to requests from law enforcement agencies. It’s issued to traffic officers doing routine traffic stops and is both bullet and stab proof.

I tell the story for two reasons – firstly as a warning that there are probably better career moves than becoming a traffic cop in the United States!  But secondly, perhaps there’s an opportunity here. The tragic case of a Leeds school teacher who was stabbed in her classroom a few weeks ago, highlighted the dangers faced by people in seemingly ‘safe’ professions. In addition to teachers, I’m know  that social workers, health professionals and civil servants often risk assault by members of the public in the course of their work. Could there be an opportunity to create a range of items (like the clipboard) that double up as either a weapon or shield in the event of the worst happening?

Streetwise Property Alert 20th June 2014

Here we are again at the end of the week with some overseas property news and views….

Worldwide Update

Had a read through the Knight Frank Global House Price Index last night to check what’s happening where. Headline points? ‘Dubai topped the annual rankings, but prices rose by only 3.4 per cent in the first quarter. Croatia, Cyprus and Greece were the weakest-performing housing markets in the 12 months to March 2014. The US, Australia and Iceland now sit alongside several emerging markets in the top ten rankings for annual price growth. Fourteen countries recorded a decline in house prices year-on-year, 12 of these were in Europe.

‘For the first time since 2008 no single country tracked by the Global House Price Index has recorded an annual price fall in excess of 10 per cent. The bottom ten rankings reads like a geographical tour of Eastern and Southern Europe. House prices here, while still in decline, are now falling at a slower rate, even in the weakest housing markets such as Croatia, Cyprus and Greece. Singapore and Japan are the only non-European countries in the bottom 14 rankings. Cooling measures and tighter mortgage lending conditions have halted price growth in Singapore, whilst in Japan abenomics has yet to push house price growth into positive territory.’

‘We expect to see the index’s performance strengthen again in the second quarter. All eyes will remain on central banks, in particular the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank. The issue is not when interest rates rise but the speed and extent to which they do.

China’s Property Prices

We are at work on a BRIC report – Brazil, Russia, India and China – and note that a new study by Standard & Poor’s suggests that prices in China in 2013 rose some 11.5 per cent with some ‘top tier cities rising over 20 per cent in price last year’. However, the market seeks to have turned with year-on-year residential property sales to end Q1 2014 down 10 per cent compared to growth of 26.6 per cent over the same period last year. Even so, S&P states, ‘Property sales volume will rise 10 per cent in 2014 with stronger sales growth in the second half of the year due to price cuts from developers seeking to meet sales targets. Compressed margins will become a structural trend as tougher operating conditions prove most difficult for smaller developers.’ More to follow.

Spain’s Changing Market

An interesting article in OPP Connect draws our attention to the changing face of resorts in Spain. Let’s quote a little, ‘Costa Blanca estate agent Tony Barnes says that last year it sold more properties to non-European Union buyers, including those from China and Russia, than Spanish nationals and European expats. Wealthy Chinese and Russian buyers snapped up properties under the Spanish government’s ‘Golden Visa’ scheme offering residence with property worth more than €500,000.

‘While it is good to see movement in the property market, I have been concerned about the changing face of the popular resorts on the coast. For example, the Chinese have bought several properties on an urbanisation located just outside the town of Javea, and although they are typically purchased by an older person with a business-like aspect, within no time many occupants arrive. In some circumstances, it appears as though dozens of Chinese are sharing a property with only two or three bedrooms. Rubbish accumulates in the gardens, and there appears to be nobody taking responsibility for the upkeep of the properties, which lowers the tone of the urbanisation.’ Um, I think I will restrict my comments here to simply saying that buyers looking for a ‘home from home’ when buying overseas should do some careful research before progressing any purchase to ensure that the locality matches their personality and expectations.

All for now, see you soon!