The Car That Stays Clean

Just watched a fascinating video about the worlds first ‘self cleaning’ car. As someone who hates cleaning cars I was more than a little interested.  Nissan have just finished trialling a Note MPV which is coated in ‘super-hydrophobic’ and oil repelling paint. The paint creates a protective layer of air between itself and the environment, which means mud, rain and other road gunk just slides off. There are obvious cost savings as well as additional protection for the car body. Now it’s been developed, I’d expect this paint to find its way to high end production models quite soon, and more mainstream models, not long after that.

I mention it for two reasons., firstly because you could be interested, and secondly as a warning…many businesses are vulnerable to technological advance, and even the humble car wash could fall victim if this becomes commonplace. Are there similar threats to your business, and what can you do about it? While you’re thinking about it, here’s the video.

Streetwise Property Alert 12th June 2014

Here we are again with some more overseas property news and views…

Canada – What Sort of Landing?

Most pundits agree that Canada’s property market is to dip – but how much and how hard? According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the market is set for a soft landing, with prices rising 1.6 per cent in 2015.

‘Economic and demographic fundamentals will still support new building activity, but builders will continue to adjust activity in order to manage inventory, particularly in the multi-family sector. Builders are expected to continue to manage their starts activity in order to ensure that demand from buyers seeking new condominium units is first channeled toward unsold completed units or unsold units that are currently under construction.’ More to come for those you registered with us as buyers in this market.

Best Beach Properties

Over in the US, RealtyTrac has issued a report on the best beach town housing markets based on home values, weather, air quality and crime rates. ‘Buying near the beach is one of the best ways to ensure a property will appreciate in value. Whether buying for retirement, a vacation home or a primary residence, homes located in quality beach towns benefit from virtually unlimited demand and a finite supply of
land to build on.’

Where? Four of the top 20 markets are in Florida – Hobe Sound in Martin County leads the way with ‘an average temperature of 76 degrees, 64 per cent sunny days, 98 per cent of days with good air quality and a crime grade of A+. The town ranks number one thanks to its low median estimated market value of homes and condos: $191,189.’ Other Florida beach towns? We have Naples at number two and Marco Island at number five and Key Biscayne at number 20. Interested in this sector? Email for more information.

North Dakota News

New data from the US Census Bureau reveals that North Dakota has been building at the fastest rate across the USA over the past three years. The Census Bureau’s Rodger Johnson comments, ‘For much of the last century, population totals declined in some areas of the northern Great Plains, as people were drawn to opportunities in other parts of the country. Recently, the trend in part of the northern Great Plains has reversed. North Dakota’s population previously peaked in the 1930’s at 680,845 and only surpassed that level in 2011. The state’s 2013 population estimated now exceeds 723,000.’

North Dakota Developments, the developers, add, ‘North Dakota’s housing situation is incredibly dynamic. North Dakota Developments is already building its fourth site in order to house the oil workers of the Bakken Formation – and still more accommodation is needed. Providers here literally cannot build fast enough. Even with our housing units being constructed with modular technology out of state and transporting them here once built, which speeds up the construction process considerably, we are finding that demand continues to outstrip supply.’ Way to go yet?

Florida Positives

Just been looking through various documents from the Florida Realtors Association. Bundling together some quotes, ‘Florida’s strengthening economy and increased jobs outlook are positive signs for continued growth in the state’s housing market. Statewide, new listings for single-family homes in April rose 9.2 per cent year-over-year, while new townhouse-condo listings rose 1.4 per cent. This increase in listings shows many Florida homeowners are continuing to regain equity in their homes. Potential sellers who were on the sidelines now believe the time is right to put their residences on the market. And, for the 29th month in row, median sales prices rose year-over-year for both single-family homes and townhome-condo properties.’

‘We continue to see the development of a sustainable market here in Florida. The numbers all suggest a balanced market, and the slight uptick in inventory is a correction for the historically low levels we’ve seen over the past two or three years. If there’s anything that jumps out of these numbers, it is the rapidly disappearing short sale market. The decline in short sales – a characteristic seen all over the country – is a function of rising prices reducing the number of candidate properties for short sales. We expect this will continue as the market continues to improve. I can confirm the 23 June onwards visit is on; we have a few places left. A free report will be available for those who cannot make it.

All for now, see you again soon.

Solving The Healthy Eating Conundrum

Everyone knows that fresh vegetables are good for you, but despite that, consumption in the general population is way below what it needs to be. A recent report from the United States suggests that this isn’t because of cost, or even taste, but  rather because of the perceived inconvenience and time it takes to prepare the food.

So here’s the problem – how do you market fresh vegetables in a way which makes them more attractive to mainstream consumers, and removes the perception of difficult  and time-consuming preparation? There may be solutions in pre-preparation, packaging, presentation or suggested usage,  but it seems like there’s a lot of money to be made for anyone who can nail the problem. You’d be enhancing the nation’s health too.

Streetwise Property Alert 11th June 2014

Welcome to today’s news and views…

Cheltenham Crowdfunding

You can chat to the developer, you can visit with me – I’ll show you around – and you can read all the bumph that’s on offer; but, if you want to invest in the Cheltenham JV, you’ll need to make a move in the next few days. Email back?

Market Overview

The latest Nationwide review reveals that UK house prices rose by 0.7 per cent in May which means they are now 11.1 per cent higher year-on-year. Where next? ‘There have been tentative signs that activity in the housing market may be starting to moderate with mortgage approvals in April around 17 per cent below January’s high. It is too early to say whether nationally this is indicative of a cooling trend in the wider market. The slowdown may partly be the result of the introduction of Mortgage Market Review (MMR) measures, which may take a few months to bed down.’

‘The underlying pace of activity should become more evident as we move through the summer months and the impact of MMR becomes clearer. However, with mortgage rates close to all-time lows and labour market conditions continuing to improve, underlying demand for homes is likely to remain strong.’

‘The modest numbers involved so far suggest that Help to Buy is unlikely to be the main factor behind the recent pickup in the wider housing market. For example, 12,853 Help to Buy mortgages were completed in the first quarter, some 6,327 under the mortgage guarantee scheme and 6,526 under the shared equity scheme, equivalent to around 9 per cent of total mortgage completions over the period. Low mortgage rates and growing buyer confidence on the back of improving labour market conditions and the brighter economic outlook are probably playing a much greater role in stimulating buyer demand.’

‘Best’ BTL Towns

The latest facts and figures on buy-to-let returns from HSBC reveal BTL ‘hotspots’. Southampton, with a rental yield of 8.73 per cent, comes first and is followed by Manchester, Nottingham, Blackpool and Hull with 7.98 per cent, 7.67 per cent, 7.63 per cent and 7.47 per cent respectively.

Of course, we need to put this into context – the data suggests that the lowest yields are to be found in London; the implication being that this is a place for BTL investors to avoid. We should point out, for newcomers at least, that most investors look for the best returns from a mix of yield and capital growth.

Those BMV BTLs

Remember the BMV BTLS deals we ran at the weekend? Let me stress – these deals are in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you want to bag these bargains, email back. There is currently availability in Liverpool and Scotland; more to follow for those who ask for details. We will, shortly, go ‘behind-the-scenes’ with this service.

Hot Share Tips

Our friends at – visit to sign up for free – offer various property-related tips today. Let’s quote, ‘Numis upgraded its recommendation on housebuilder Bellway (BWY) from ‘add’ to ‘buy’, leaving its target price unchanged at 1,810p. Numis highlights the fact that the stock has shown one of the best long run total shareholder returns in the sector which it puts down to the company’s balanced approach to growth and risk management. Numis went on to argue that the company has a platform to show an accelerating rate of volume growth. The shares were up by 12p at 1,392p.’

‘St. Modwen Properties (SMP) expects pre-tax profits for the first half of this year to be significantly ahead of the same period in the prior year as occupancy rates continue to rise across the income generating portfolio. Demand for commercial properties has increased, signalling returning confidence in the UK market. Management is now confident of achieving sustained future growth through asset management, land sales, and development. The shares rose by 9.2p to 378.1p.’ Do check out the site.

All for now, see you again soon.

Book Trailers

In a bid to boost sales of physical copies of books, major publishers are now turning to movie-style trailers to promote the work of their best selling authors. These are then aired via TV ad’s on the likes of Google TV.

T.V advertising isn’t something that’s within the scope of  most of us, but putting together a professional looking video, and getting it out to the world via Youtube, certainly is. Could you create a movie style trailer video for your business or enterprise? It doesn’t have to be serious, it could be ‘tongue in cheek’. And if you do a good job, it could reach a huge audience for free.

Streetwise Property Alert 10th June 2014

Welcome to today’s email…

Spain- Surely Not?

According to the International Monetary Fund, IMF, Spain’s close to bottoming out. ‘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.’

‘However, the almost total lack of new housing starts in recent years means the only option for 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’.

‘Prices also show signs of improvement after years of 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 this time last year.’ We’ve had a big response to our recent offer – serious investors only – to trawl our BMV Spain databases. We are giving the first wave of respondents two weeks to see what’s what and will then repeat the introduction for a second wave of up to 100 respondents.

Prime Central London News

We have a strong core of members interested in PCL and so we offer an update today from W.A. Ellis. Key points? Sales are down 17 per cent year-on-year. Correctly priced property is the key to sales as, in places, supply outweighs demand. Lettings-wise, 77 per cent of tenants are from overseas.

‘Although there has been much talk of a housing bubble, a more cautious story is emerging in London. It is the rate of transaction which is of most concern and a strong barometer of confidence within the upper end of the London market. In May 2013, 932 properties in total were sold throughout London. However, this May, there have only been 774 sales – almost a 17 per cent reduction in transaction levels year on year.’

‘It is also interesting to note that 25 per cent of the house stock currently available on the market has been reduced in price, indicating an initial optimism now countered with a distinct sense of realism, as the window of opportunity within the Spring/Summer market begins to narrow. Not only that, but year on year the average rate per sq ft achieved on houses is 1 per cent down from £1,876 per sq ft in the first quarter of 2013 to £1,858 per sq ft in the first quarter of 2014.’

‘That said, we are enjoying an active spring market with correctly priced property selling well but the ‘froth’ has undoubtedly come off. We believe that this is partly due to the government’s tax on ‘enveloped dwellings’ (those held in company names) and the increase in SDLT. Looking ahead, realistic pricing is key if one wishes to effect a sale within the next six weeks before the traditional summer slowdown.’

‘The lettings market is sporadic with supply now outweighing demand in various areas of the market. There has, however, been increased activity in the sub £1,000 per week 1-2 bedroom price range, and we are experiencing a very buoyant family houses market. We have seen a 12 per cent increase in the letting of family houses since January 2014 compared with the same period in 2013 and as families are keen to settle before the start of the new school year, we cannot see this waning.’

‘This time last year we became aware of the increased savviness of students. Two or three years ago we would have seen a student ‘scrabble’ for one, two and three bedroom apartments in August and September but, wising up to the fact the best properties get snapped up, student demand starts earlier and earlier, and I now expect these enquiries to increase before the summer holidays.’

‘Corporate relocation enquiries are also on the increase, with
relocation consultants eager to find their blue chip clients the right property before the summer. Our figures for May-to-April 2013/14 (WAE financial year) show that 77 per cent of our tenants came from outside the UK. Agents and landlords in prime London remain very welcoming of ex-patriots, as do our vendors, seeing 64 per cent of our sales received by foreign investors.’

Costa Rica – Time To Look?

Our friends at OPP Connect reveal that ‘Spurred on by rising demand in the coastal regions of Guanacaste and Puntarenas, overseas investment in Costa Rican real estate has grown to US$1.16billion in 2013, with condo developments growing in popularity.’

They quote The Costa Rican Coalition for Development Initiatives’ (CINDE) Gabriela Llobet, ‘Investing in real estate in 2013 reached a record US$1,160million. Of these, at least two thirds correspond to the purchase of land, property and business of local residents not foreigners.’ Good to see – we are sick to death of hearing about hotspots driven by foreign investors where there is little or no local market in place; it’s a recipe for eventual collapse. More to come on Costa Rica? You tell us. Are you interested?

All for now, see you again soon.


Just Bottles

In a crowded market, one way to stand out from the crowd is to offer a very niche, specialised product or service. There are thousands of photographers out there, but I bet there’s only one that specialises exclusively in photographing bottles. The appropriately named take pictures of bottles and nothing else. If you wanted a picture of a bottle, where else would you go?

Now this does sound really specialised to me and I’m surprised there’s enough of a market for bottle photo’s, but what do I know? The people at Weshootbottles know their market and have decided this is an economic niche. Similarly, you know your market and will be able to identify areas of potential specialisation there.

If you’re finding being a generalist is giving the rewards you want, perhaps it’s time to look at how and where you might specialise.

Streetwise Property Alert 9th June 2014

Welcome to today’s email – a property market and mortgages review by our ‘Mr Mortgages’, Peter Faulkner…

UK mortgage approvals fell more than expected in April to their lowest level in nine months, adding to the signs that new rules on bank lending have taken some of the heat out of the housing market. The Bank of England said on Monday that mortgage approvals numbered 62,918 in April, down from 66,563 in March, marking the third consecutive monthly
slowdown. Mortgage completions are down to the lowest level for 10 months. 48 per cent of new mortgages were taken up by first time buyers (FTBs), up from 38 per cent last year with only 4 per cent of FTB mortgages completed in the London area.

Managing expectations is the mantra now amongst agents. Potential clients often tell me that the comparison websites tell them they can have such and such a mortgage at very low rate with very low costs. These headline mortgage products do exist, but most people will not fit them. This reminds me of a customer in a shop I owned many years ago
saying the item is too expensive, ‘it is much cheaper down the road’ to which I suggested he should go down the road. He shouted, ‘But they are closed’. I replied, ‘All our products are cheaper when we are closed’.

Lenders have de-skilled many staff levels and now rely heavily on computer software to filter applications. (Forget the old days when valuations could be appealed and lender’s business development managers or bank managers could help; they often cannot as they no longer have a mandate. More than ever people are experiencing, the Little Britain line ‘…computer says no’. By this time, the client has lost money on searches, valuations and booking fees, had a record placed on their credit file and lost the property because the delays have caused the chain to collapse.

Another comment I often hear is, ‘I don’t want to pay broker fees’ The good news is you don’t have to, just do it all yourself and good luck with that. A broker has to cover costs of regulation and compliance and indemnity insurance and continual professional development and training and office overheads and wages, before they open the door. FCA, Office of Fair Trading and insurance costs have all increased heavily above inflation and someone needs to pay for this. A good broker provides an added value service that protects the customer with access to the entire UK lending market and succeeds in getting the most appropriate mortgage.

Be aware that (as with other services) with independent mortgage brokers, you often get what you pay for. It is not just about a mortgage product in isolation, the client’s aims and objectives need to be married with their situation and other commitments now and into the future, which is why the broker/lender needs a great deal of personal and financial information. With a broker, all this needs to be assessed before approaching the right lender. These days, clients should ask not ‘can I get the cheapest deal’. They should start with ‘can I get a mortgage?’ Being an independent mortgage broker, I would say all the above, wouldn’t I? I agree that I do have a degree of bias.

UK average house prices have risen by over 11 per cent but this does not reflect the wide variances around the country and is year-on-year. Reports are coming in that the rate of growth has dipped in the last two months. Over the last year, London and the South East have soared by over 17 per cent with some hotspots recording above this level. Northern Ireland comes in second with 11 per cent growth, Yorkshire, Midlands and South West averaging between 5 per cent and 8 per cent, Wales 5 per cent and Scotland with no growth. These are averages with some parts of the country within these regions showing negative growth. It seems a contradiction with lending down and prices up. The concern is the policy decision makers are looking to see if the new MMR rules will feed in to cool the market and, if not, what measures may be taken to slow the housing market down. Headline proposals like reducing H2B available from maximum house price of £600k to £300k for FTBs will not have much impact.

The question on everyone’s lips is will the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee vote for an increase in interest rates in the near future? Pressure is mounting to start making regular ‘baby step’ increases against more rapid increases expected in 2016/17. Experts predict a small increase as early as February next year, three months before the election. The driver for this is the latest economic figures showing the UK having the strongest GDP growth of all western economies at 3.4 per cent last month and that there is increasing pressure to improve the situation for savers. The BoE is suggesting tighter controls on mortgage lending to slow own house inflation.

Our view from all the research and reports we have seen is that the BoE rates will get up to around 3 per cent by the end of 2017. Those on tracker rates now at 2.15 per cent over BoE base rate paying now at interest rate of 2.65 per cent could see their interest rate rise to 5.15 per cent, an increase of nearly two times present payments and possibly trapped if they have an interest only mortgage as, under new affordability rules, capital repayment and interest only mortgage products will be available and their own income situation may not have recovered from the recession. For example, if present mortgage interest only payments are £552 per month on a £250,000 mortgage, this will become £1,076 if rates go up by 2.5 per cent. Mortgage holders need to prepare for this.

Student loans are now being taken into account by lenders for MMR affordability calculations. Universities and student loan bodies and the government have said in the past this would not be the case. However, FCA guidelines are demanding that lenders take student loan debts into account. At present student loan balances and payment history does not appear on credit files but clients will be required to declare their student loans and how much they pay at application.

To fix or not to fix is of serious concern to most clients on variable or tracker rates. There are some excellent five year and 15 year fixed deals available. Payments would be higher than tracker or variable rates for the next 12 to 18 months or so, with break even and potential saving over the remaining years. Considering that rates have been at an historic low for seven years, most feel the only way longer term is for rates to rise.

Best value deals that are suitable for many that fit include:

B2L (purchase and re-mortgage) at 75 per cent LTV (interest only) at 3.55 per cent variable for term of the mortgage, Lender fee £999.

Residential purchase at 85 per cent LTV (capital and Interest) at 3.39 per cent variable for life of the mortgage, less a loyalty discount after five years of 0.24 per cent, lender fee £999.

Best 10 years fixed rate residential available is at 10 year term at 3.89 per cent on 70 per cent loan to value.

As ever, good advice from Mr Mortgages, Peter Faulkner. Email back if you’d like to talk to Peter by email or by ‘phone.

Try On While You Wait

One of the main reasons I don’t like to buy clothes on-line is the hassle of sending them back if they don’t fit. I was therefore interested to hear about Netherlands-based JeansOnline  who are  giving online consumers 15 minutes to try on the clothes they order and instantly return any that don’t fit.

Customers selecting items, simply choose the Easy Fit & Return service when checking out. The option costs EUR 9.95, and is free for orders over EUR 250. Upon delivery, couriers will wait for up to 15 minutes for customers to try on their purchases. Any items they’d like to return can be handed back to the courier, saving the price of postage for the consumer,  and eliminating the need for an extra trip to the post office to  send the items back.

It’s an interesting idea and might give the company an advantage over other online clothes retailers. This might no be directly applicable to your business, but there’s bound to be something that customers don’t like about your ordering process. Why not find out what it is, and then offer a premium priced service which removes the problem?

Streetwise Property Alert 6th June 2014

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

Renr Rises – Think Carefully

I worked, freelance, for a while for a big UK publisher in the
finance/investment field. From the day I joined to the day I left, they wanted me to ‘spin’ my copy to encourage readers to, well, buy something from them. I didn’t last that long as, frankly, it wasn’t something I was comfortable with.

What I did learn from them was that most people are driven by ‘greed’ and ‘fear’. There’s an element of truth in this. So, instead of a heading such as ‘You Could Make Money From Such-And-Such’, you had to pitch it as, say, ‘You Could Make £23.479 From A Single Deal’(the sum being, at the time, more than most people earned in a year) and/or ‘But Hurry, Only Seven Places Left!’ (creating the fear that they may miss out). Generally, working to ‘greed’ and ‘fear’ principles proved effective (although, of course, you’re not supposed to tell anyone you work to these principles as few people like to think of themselves as greedy or fearful although they recognise it in everyone else).

I still see greed and fear all around me – at present, my eldest son and his wife are trying to buy their first place. They’ve saved a fair bit and we are chipping in with about half of the deposit. As each month passes, our half seems to go up and up for much the same type of property – sellers are getting greedy see, they’re adding on that bit extra. As often as not, it backfires when it comes to surveys as the surveyor pulls down the price and kills the deal.

And so we come, eventually, to the news that a new study by Online Letting Agents reveals that 90 per cent of landlords are going to put up rents in the next year. For many, it seems to be a knee-jerk reaction – prices are going up, so is demand, and so on – so I’ll put another £50 on the rent. Easy! Maybe – but I would urge you to at least do an assessment of the local micro-market and your property and would-be tenants before jumping on the bandwagon. Remember, if you have an extra void month whilst going for that £550 instead of £500 a month rent, you’ve pretty much wiped out a year of extra money straightaway.

Value – Adding Reminder

Interested to note that the latest West One Broker Sentiment Survey reveals that ‘property refurbishment projects in the UK have seen funding more than double in the last 12 months’. In effect, more and more money is being borrowed to refurbish and improve properties.

We will update our ‘value adding’ article again shortly – we try to remind members that the secret of adding value above and beyond cost is to add space but without losing any perceived plus points – a loft conversion tends to more than pay for itself if access is, say, above an existing staircase rather than via (and by losing part of) an existing bedroom.

Other key points? Consider the specific property – there is little point in adding parking space, so in-demand in big cities, if there is plenty of free parking nearby. Avoid over-personalising. Too many people assume they have great taste – no-one would admit to having poor taste any more than they would say they were greedy – but tastes differ. Remember the ‘ceiling’ – do what you like to a three-bed semi but it is still a three-bed semi and needs to be priced in line with comparable properties.

London – Where To Look

We still receive replies for members asking for those ‘sub £130k’ properties in London – long gone I’m afraid and demand is such that we no longer put London deals out to the general membership as it simply puts 200 more replies into the mix which we have to work through (I want £25k off…can I buy without a deposit…if it’s such a great deal why won’t you lend me the money etc).

Even so, we continue to offer pointers and note that Savills is saying that London needs 50,000 new homes a year to keep pace with demand (it won’t happen) and that over 80 per cent of that need is for properties up to £700 per square foot.

Fact is, an average of just under 35,000 new homes a year are expected to be built over the next five years. And Savills says ‘the shape of the development pipeline does not match the shape of demand. A shortfall of 15,000 homes a year will remain, increasingly concentrated in the lower tiers of the market, beyond zones 1 and 2.’ There we are then – your hotspots.

All for now, see you again soon.