How to choose the best home for your health

It may not be surprising to learn that 80 per cent of people in the developed world live in urban settings, but did you know that 90 per cent of our time is spent indoors?

According to the Heart Foundation, the built environment has become our natural environment and this has a profound influence on our health, tied as it is to lower levels of physical activity.

The foundation states that the design of our cities, towns, streets and buildings plays a key role in our ability to lead healthy lives, so it’s important to choose a home and community that will best support an active and healthy lifestyle.

Lucy Gunn, a research fellow at RMIT University’s Centre for Urban Research, says the first key to an active community is density.

“You have to have enough people to provide amenity for,” she says. “If you design small blocks with good street connectivity, it makes it easier for people to walk around.”

Gunn says if there’s great route choice and ease of access, lots of people will walk, which then makes walking safer.

Similarly, if parks and open spaces are easy to access for sufficient numbers of people, they are more likely to be both well-utilised and safe.

“If sidewalks and cycleways are safe access routes, it encourages people to be more active,” Gunn says. “And if there are street trees you get shade and a nicer environment to spend time in.”

Good access to public transport and shops also provides opportunities for communities to be less car-dependent.

“If you want to get people out of their houses without driving you need really good access to amenities,” says Gunn. “Close proximity to a bus stop or station is critical and it’s the same with access to basic shops and social infrastructure.”

Gunn says a main street-style town centre encourages walking and is usually a nicer place to be than a shopping mall, where cars prevail.

The final piece of the puzzle is what Gunn calls “interventions”, the community programs that can work hand-in-hand with hard infrastructure. These might include fitness programs and activities that developers can introduce in partnership with local councils.

A great example is the Live Life Get Active program on offer at Frasers Property’s Fairwater community in Blacktown, where a trainer is on site every weekday to coach participants through free fitness sessions including yoga, boxing and cross-training.

“With mental health becoming a bigger issue for our community, it’s part of our responsibility in creating communities that we try and best facilitate social connection,” says Nigel Edgar, general manager – residential at Frasers Property Australia.

Edgar says Frasers Property has been placing a strong focus on health and wellbeing in the communities they’ve established over the past 10 years.

Fairwater, which is the first community in NSW to receive a 6-star Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia, ticks many healthy living boxes, with outdoor fitness stations, walkways, bike paths and children’s play areas all adding up to over 9.5 hectares of open space. A dedicated community development manager is also on site to coordinate community activities.

According to a survey conducted by Frasers Property in August 2017, 65 per cent of Fairwater residents feel physically healthier, 88 per cent feel happier and 80 per cent feel more connected to their community than they did in their previous home.

“A happy community with well-connected occupants is a community which thrives and is far better than living inside your own four-walled box,” says Edgars.

Source: domain.com.au/living

How to negotiate a lower interest rate with your lender in five simple steps

Did you know you can pick up the phone at any time and try to get a better deal from your lender?

If you said no, you may be among the large cohort of Australians who feel confused and disempowered by the lending landscape.

More than half of Australians are unaware that borrowers with variable interest rates can try to negotiate a lower interest rate with their lender, according to a recent survey by online broking platform Lendi.

Of the 2500 people surveyed, more than 60 per cent thought it had become harder to get a loan in the past year. That’s despite credit restrictions easing and ABS figures showing a surge in the number and value of owner-occupier loans in November last year.

The survey also found more than 80 per cent of home owners would switch banks for a better deal, but only a third had ever refinanced.

“There’s clearly a disconnect between intentions and actions,” said Lendi co-founding and managing director David Hyman.

More than half of those surveyed thought it was hard to find the best home loan deal available.

“It’s not apathy that is paralysing borrowers,” Hyman said. “It’s a lack of transparency in the market which blocks action by making it hard for borrowers to understand what their options are.”

Australians feel there is a power imbalance when dealing with lenders, with three quarters of people believing banks had more power in the home loan market than customers and brokers.

“The majority of Australians believe the distribution of power in the home loan market is unjust,” Hyman said.

While it may seem at times like banks are holding all the cards, lending to customers forms a huge part of the banks’ business model, with more than $2 trillion in home loans on their books.

A borrower taking out a $400,000 loan at the average variable rate of 3.82 per cent stands to pay $272,619 in interest over a 30-year loan term, assuming rates remain stable.  Considering the huge amounts of money banks stand to make from borrowers, it’s in a lender’s interest to try to retain customers.

Interest rates are at historic lows and many economists are expecting another cut in February, and lending has become more competitive with smaller lenders growing their market share, meaning borrowers can get a better deal from their current lender if they know what to ask and how to ask it.

The 5-step guide to negotiating with your lender

If you think you’re paying too much interest on your home loan, it’s time to contact your lender and ask for a better deal. But there’s more to it than that.

“It’s a classic case of preparation is everything,” says Canstar group executive of financial services Steve Mickenbecker.

“You don’t just turn up at the lender and say ‘I want a better deal’ because the answer will almost always be ‘too bad’,” he said.

“Or, they might throw you a bit of a bone, which might be a little discount, and hope you go away happy.”

1. Research the market

The first step is researching what rates are available from other lenders. “Do the homework first,” Mickenbecker said. “Find out what you can get elsewhere.”

Mickenbecker recommends having a list of at least five lenders including a mix of the big four and smaller institutions.

Rates should be for comparable products. If you have an interest-only investor loan, there’s no point comparing it with principal-and-interest loans for owner-occupiers.

2. Talk to the right people

Negotiating a lower rate requires a targeted approach, because some bank staff have greater power to reduce your rate than others.

“If you have a banker as a contact, it can be great to go to that banker first,” Mickenbecker said.

“If you try the branch first and get nowhere, the next step is to get on the phone and find the customer retention team. They normally have more latitude to negotiate.”

3. Make your case

Mickenbecker says borrowers should explain to the customer retention team the reasons why their rate should be reduced.

“You basically say to them, ‘Look, I’ve had my loan with you guys for five years and made all the repayments on time. This is my rate and it’s not in the market. I can do better than this. I expect my loyalty to be repaid.’

“It’s useful to have all those lines written down in front of you.”

Mickenbecker said it was important to remain polite, but assertive.

“You should be nice, but firm,” he said. “You’re being polite and friendly, but you’re certainly not presenting yourself as a pushover. You’re presenting yourself as someone who understands the market and won’t take no for an answer.”

Mickenbecker said this approach might yield results, but it was important for borrowers to be realistic.

“Ultimately you might not get what you’re after, so you have to know what your bottom line is.”

4. Call their bluff

If your lender refuses to lower your rate, or you feel the reduction is too small, it’s probably a good indication that it’s time to refinance.

“It’s easier to stay where you are, of course,” Mickenbecker said. “If you’re 0.2 per cent off the lowest in the market then maybe that’s OK but if it’s 0.4 per cent off, then that’s not OK.

“If you don’t get what you’re after, go to number one or number two on your list and apply for that loan as a refinance loan.”

While changing lenders may feel like a huge hassle, the savings add up over the life of the loan, and the sooner you refinance, the more you stand to save.

5. Use a broker

Alternatively, you may find it simpler and quicker to approach a broker to handle the refinancing process.

Brokers facilitate more than half of new mortgages, and are usually able to present borrowers with a range of lenders and products to suit their situation.

They can also model how expected savings compare with any break costs to work out the best approach.

Source: www.domain.com.au/


 

How to keep your house cool without using too much power

Finding energy-efficient ways to cool your home doesn’t just save you money on bills – it can be critical on sweltering days when everyone else is also using their aircon and there’s a risk of blackouts.

Earlier this month, governments and energy professionals around the country issued warnings about using energy in the home amid the bushfire crisis. Their warnings were clear: despite staggering temperatures, do your best to use less power to avoid power outages.

NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean urged residents to cut electricity usage after the state grid’s links to Victoria went down on January 4.

The same day, the temperature in Sydney’s western suburb of Penrith reached an eye-watering 48.9 degrees.

With hot weather still to come, combined with bushfires continuing to ravage the country, residents have been urged to cool their homes using alternative measures and, where possible, use less energy than they usually would to avoid blackouts.

Before you reach for the aircon remote, here are some alternative ways to keep your home cool without using excessive power this summer.

Keep your windows shut

While your first instinct might be to open the windows and let any air blow through, this can actually trap more heat.

“Although it’s natural to want to let fresh air in, the likelihood that the hot air will cool down the house is very slim,” says Hannah Craft from Environment Victoria.

“It’s best to close the doors and windows and keep that cooler air inside. If the temperature is due to drop overnight, throw your windows open before you go to bed and allow the cooler breeze in.”

Insulate your home

This is a long-term solution rather than a quick fix, but it will keep your home cool over the long term, making you comfortable not just in the summer time. And there are some forms of insulation that you can install yourself.

“Insulation is a great way to keep your home cool in the summer and warm in the winter,” says Craft. “And as an added bonus, insulating your home can help you save on your energy bills.”

Invest in a cooling pillow or sheet set

There’s a range of cooling pillows and sheets available online, designed to keep you cool during the night and lessening the need for running the airconditioner.

Shade your windows

This is another preventative measure as shading prevents heat from coming straight through the window and warming up the room.

“Shade your north and west-facing windows. Before suggesting film which isn’t necessarily good for the environment, consider awnings, trees and pergolas with vines,” says Craft. “These are particularly good options, because they give you shade in summer and sun in winter.”

By using a fan, the heat is distributed around the room immediately, and the cold air is continually heated then pushed out by the heater.

If these aren’t an option, you could consider putting a reflective film on the glass. This works well in summer, but means you get less sun in winter.

Use a fan first

Instead of turning the airconditioner on as soon as you feel warm, try a fan.

Craft says home owners might be surprised to learn how much energy they can save.

“Fans are a good money saving tip as well as an energy saving tip. They cost virtually nothing to run, while your airconditioner can guzzle electricity, which in Victoria means it’s also responsible for a fair whack of carbon pollution,” she says.

“Evaporative coolers don’t use as much energy as refrigerated airconditioning, but they guzzle water instead … as much as 60 litres an hour for ducted systems.”

Move the party outside

Avoid heating the kitchen by firing up the barbecue instead. Try some old school, pre-aircon methods like using a spray bottle on your face and body, carrying a wet face washer or setting up a kids’ pool while you’re out there.

Source: domain.com.au/living


 

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Brisbane home prices at record high

Brisbane home values are at a new record high and continuing to climb, while price growth is starting to slow in Sydney and Melbourne, new figures reveal.

CoreLogic’s national home value index rose 0.9 per cent in January, taking the annual growth rate to 4.1 per cent — the fastest in a twelve month period since December 2017.

Ahead of the Reserve Bank’s interest rate decision on Tuesday, the index shows home values increased across every capital city and region, apart from regional South Australia, where values held steady in the first month of the year.

CoreLogic’s home value index for January, 2020. Source: CoreLogic.

Brisbane prices rose 0.5 per cent in January to a median value of $499,691, down slightly from the 0.7 per cent climb the previous month, but up 2 per cent for the December quarter.

House prices gained 0.7 per cent in January, but unit prices dropped 0.6 per cent.

Home values also rose 0.8 per cent in regional Queensland, although parts of the state’s outback regions continue to be weak due to persistent drought and poor economic conditions.

CoreLogic head of research Eliza Owen said the index showed “the value of dwellings collectively across the Brisbane market is sitting at a record high”.

Ms Owen said the city’s relative affordability and surrounding lifestyle benefits should drive further demand from buyers over 2020.

“We have also seen a spillover in demand (for Brisbane) from expensive capital cities like Sydney and Melbourne,” Ms Owen said.

“What we’re seeing in Sydney and Melbourne is prices going up, but the growth rate softening because of affordability challenges and more stock.”

Ms Owen said the outlook for the Queensland economy, which had often held back the housing market, was looking positive.

“There are actually some pretty promising things happening for the Queensland employment market,” she said.

“Over 2019, we saw a significant rise in the number of people employed in scientific, technical and professional services — typically high income employment services that could drive demand in the Brisbane market.

“We’ve also seen an uplift in rental prices across Brisbane; up 1.6 per cent over the end of January.

“With mortgage rates at near record lows, this could attract more investors to the market as well.”

CoreLogic Asia Pacific director of research Tim Lawless said housing affordability was worsening, particularly in the capital cities.

“Smaller cities, including key affordable regional markets where economic and demographic trends are healthy may offer some insulation from these affordability constraints,” Mr Lawless said.

“Looking ahead, interest rates are expected to see further reductions, which, along with consistently strong population growth, is likely to continue to support housing demand.”

ANZ has raised its growth expectations for house prices, with the bank now expecting an 8 per cent rise nationally this year — up from 6 per cent.

Almost 90 per cent of experts surveyed by comparison website Finder expect the official cash rate to remain on hold on Tuesday, but nearly 80 per cent are tipping an interest rate cut by May.