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Archive for December, 2014

Why Have a Pre-Christmas Clear Out?

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Although we are more used to the idea of a Spring Clean than a Winter one, many people do choose this time of year to sort out their old junk and tidy up around the house. Having a pre-Christmas clear out can be a great way to prepare for the festive season. Many of us like to get our homes in order before the kids start their holidays, our relatives turn up to stay in the spare room, and we need the kitchen to prepare a family feast. Getting rid of some unwanted items can also be a great way to prepare for the influx of new gifts that will occur on Christmas Day, particularly if you have kids in the house and your toy box or cupboards are already overflowing.

As well as getting your home ready for the festivities, your Christmas clear out might also turn up with a pile of unwanted items that you need to get rid of. Some of the things you find will need to be recycled or thrown out, but we often have a selection of perfectly useable items at home that we simply don’t want or need for ourselves. Christmas is a particularly good time of year to sort out these items as there are a few simple ways we can get them to someone who will actually enjoy them.

If you are feeling in the festive spirit, you might want to donate some unused items to charity, or take them along to a charity shop where they can find a new home for Christmas while they earn some much-needed funds for your favourite cause. Alternatively, if you are feeling in need of some funds yourself to cover your Christmas expenses, you could try to sell your unwanted items online.

Another option is to pass your unwanted items on to another person as a Christmas gift. Re-gifting has a bad reputation, but it is really a form of recycling and there is no point in keeping unused items in your home. Just make sure that you don’t give any gifts back to the person who gave them to you, and that you match each item with someone who will really appreciate it. If you still feel a bit guilty about re-gifting, you could always decorate or customise an item by hand before giving it away.

Autumn Statement Reveals Stamp Duty Reforms

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Chancellor George Osborne has announced some significant reforms to stamp duty as part of his Autumn Statement, which could mean substantial savings for many of those thinking about making a move. Anyone who is already in the process of buying their next home should be able to choose between operating on the new system or sticking with the old one, but buyers who are just getting started with their search will be working with the reforms.

Under the old system, the amount of stamp duty that people paid would jump up as property prices increased. Someone buying a property for £250,000 would be charged 1% of the property’s value, or £2500. If the property cost just a pound more, they would be charged 3% for the whole property, costing them £5000.

In the future, stamp duty will be set according to a graduated system that works rather like income tax. Properties costing up to £250,000 will be exempt from stamp duty, which will be calculated as a percentage of the property price that falls within specific bands above this. Buyers will be charged 2% of the value of the property between £125,000 and £250,000, 5% of the portion between £250,000 and £925,000, 10% on the portion between £925,000 and £1.5 million, and 12% on everything above this.

For a buyer purchasing the average family home at £275,000, this could result in significant savings. Under the old rules, they would need to pay £8250 in stamp duty. Under the new system, there will be no charge for the first £125,000. A duty of 2% will need to be paid on the next £125,000 of the property, up to £250,000, with a charge of 5% for the remaining £25,000 of the property that falls into the next band. This will add up to £3750, a saving of £4500.

The only buyers who should end up paying more under the new rules are those buying properties costing more than £937,000, so the reforms will be good news for most people. According to the Chancellor, 98% of homeowners should now be paying less when they are moving house.

Hertfordshire Searching for New Waste Solution

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Hertfordshire County Council has announced that it will start working with disposal company Veolia to come up with a new waste solution for the area.

Veolia had been expected to run a new waste incinerator in Hatfield, but opposition from local residents led to the cancellation of the project, thanks to a ruling from the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles. The company will now be given the chance to offer an alternative solution for dealing with the waste that is left over in Hertfordshire after the recycling teams have taken their share. The council will give Veolia six months to prepare its new proposal. Upon completion, the council will consider whether to continue working with Veolia or to terminate the contract.

The opportunity for Veolia to come up with an alternative for waste disposal in the county comes at no extra cost to the council, since it was included in the original contract with the firm. Although the council believes that it makes sense to take advantage of this free expertise, some members of the local community have expressed concern about the council working with Veolia again. The initial proposal for an incinerator at New Barnfield was met with significant opposition, so there is some anxiety about what a new proposal might look like.

The concern is particularly high because Veolia is currently in the process of pursuing legal action against the planning decision made by the Secretary of State. Grant Shapps, MP for Welwyn Hatfield, was among those to express doubts about the continuing relationship between the council and Veolia while this legal process is ongoing. If the legal action is successful, the council will then have the opportunity to decide whether the original plan for the incinerator or the new alternative plan will be the better choice. For the moment, the community remains in a state of uncertainty.

Whatever the outcome, the council emphasises that it has plans in place to keep on top of the county’s waste until 2021. This should provide plenty of time to come up with a long term solution that will meet everyone’s needs.

Mortgage Lending Bounces Back

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The most recent results released by the Council of Mortgage Lenders have suggested that the mortgage market is now bouncing back after two months of reduced lending. The amount of money lent to homebuyers last month was the highest for October since 2007, and it was 8% more than was lent in the October of last year. It reached a total of £19 billion for the month.

The rise in lending during the last month also marked a change in direction from the decline that was experienced in the early autumn. The previous two months had both seen a decline in the amount of mortgage lending, which has now been reversed. Lending in October was 5% higher than it was in September.

Although this apparent bounce back looks very positive, the precise cause of the rise in lending will not be properly understood until the Council for Mortgage Lending releases its detailed figures next month. The rise may have been a result of increased demand for mortgages from homebuyers moving into new properties, but it could also have been due to an increase in homeowners choosing to remortgage their existing properties. Remortgaging could have become an attractive option for many homeowners thanks to an increasingly competitive mortgage market that has recently been cutting rates. Lenders are hoping to tempt in more borrowers so that they can meet their lending targets by the end of the year.

New homeowners could also benefit from these better rates, but there is little evidence of a boost in the housing market to match the rise in mortgage lending. High prices and the expectations of interest rate rises in the near future have left potential buyers feeling cautious about committing to a mortgage. The demand from potential buyers dropped again in October, for the fourth month in a row, according to the Royal Institution of Surveyors.

The drop in demand has been matched by lower numbers of properties for sale, with many homeowners happy to stay in their current properties. This has left the property market in a fairly steady state, with property prices expected to hold steady, even as mortgage providers enjoy this boost to lending.

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