Much Loved Images, but Meerkat Firm Busted By Uk Competition Watchdog

meerkat image with Oops

Britain’s competition watchdog has found that comparethemarket.com is in breach of antitrust law over its arrangements with insurers, which could be resulting in higher costs for consumers.

Following an investigation, the Competition and Markets Authority provisionally found many of the price comparison website’s contracts include so-called “most favoured nation” clauses.

They were found to prevent home insurers from quoting lower prices on rival sites and other channels, meaning customers are presented with fewer options.

It also meant home insurance companies are more likely to pay higher commission rates to comparison sites with the extra costs potentially being passed on to customer, the CMA said.

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “Over 20 million UK households have home insurance and more than 60% of new policies are found on price comparison sites. Therefore it’s crucial that these companies are able to offer customers their best possible deals.

“Our investigation has provisionally found that ComparetheMarket has broken the law by preventing home insurers from offering lower prices elsewhere. This could result in people paying higher premiums than they need to.”

The comparison website, famous for its use of meerkats Aleksandr and Sergei in its TV adverts, could be fined up to 10% of its revenue as a result of the breach.

A spokesman for comparethemarket.com said: “We are disappointed by the CMA’s provisional findings.

“We will carefully review the evidence once we have access to it, and look forward to working with the CMA over the coming months to ensure a satisfactory outcome.”

By Ravender Sembhy, Press Association City Editor CITY CompareTheMarket 02 Nov 2018 – 11:52

meerkat group

5 Last-minute garden jobs to do before winter arrives.

Almost time to batten the hatches before winter arrives - but you still have time to do last-minute garden jobs to beat the winter chill.

5 garden jobs before winter

You may have been enjoying the balmy autumn, but as the sweaters and woolly socks come out, it’s almost time to put the garden to bed.

So, what last-minute jobs should you be doing?

5 jobs for garden

1. Shelter vulnerable plants

My pots of geraniums (pelargoniums) are still going strong but they won’t be for much longer, so if you want to keep them for next year, find them some shelter now.

Cut them back to 10cm (4in) and put pots in a light, frost-free place such as a greenhouse or a sheltered porch next to the house. If the spot isn’t completely frost-free, wrap the pots in bubble wrap to give them extra protection.

If you’ve a conservatory or a cool spare room, even better. Don’t put plants near central heating or they will wilt and die when you bring them out next year.

Do the same with fuchsias, cutting them back before you put them under cover for winter, and hardly water them at all until growth starts again in spring.

5 garden jobs before winter

2. Divide perennials

The ground should still be soft enough to dig up overcrowded clumps of perennials and split them, replanting the divided clumps to give them more space.

This will lead to better performance in subsequent years and you’ve also increased your stock. Repeat planting is really effective at creating continuity and flow in borders, and dividing perennials is an ideal way of doing this.

Good subjects for division include crocosmia, rudbeckia, helenium, cranesbill geranium and catmint. You can also lift and divide hostas, although you’ll need a sharp knife to slice through the thick, congested roots.

last jobs before winter

3. Trim hedges

Try to do this when the weather’s still fine – you don’t want to be getting the hedge trimmer out when it’s pouring. If you tidy evergreen hedges now, they will look neat until next year as they won’t put on much new growth during the cooler months.

Also, trimming now may save you a bigger job in spring, when you also risk disturbing birds’ nests. Deciduous shrubs can be pruned into winter.

4. Get rid of the last of the weeds

Try to dig out any pernicious perennial weeds you see lurking, such as bindweed, couch grass and ground elder. You’ll need to dig them out completely, root and all, as if you leave any fragments of root in the soil they will come back in spring.

Hopefully, if you dig up the perennial weeds now, your job won’t be as arduous in spring. If you have areas which have been totally invaded, consider covering the ground with sheets of black plastic, secured with bricks at each corner, which will stop the light and hopefully kill the weed in a few months.

end-of-summer, garden-tips, dead-heading

5. Take cuttings

Want to increase your stock? It’s a perfect time to take hardwood cuttings of shrubs including weigelas, roses, dogwood, philadelphus and willow. They can often be grown on outdoors in a prepared trench.

Select vigorous, healthy shoots grown in the current year and remove the soft tip growth. Cut into sections 15-30cm (6in-12in) long, cutting cleanly above a bud at the top, with a sloping cut to shed water and as a reminder which end is the top.

Cut straight across at the base, below a bud or pair of buds. Dip the base into hormone rooting powder, make a slit trench in a well cultivated but vacant area of the garden, push the cuttings in vertically, 30cm (12in) apart and firm the soil back around them, closing the trench.

Water them in. This time next year they may have rooted enough to be moved. This job can be done at any time between mid-autumn and late winter.

Thinking about adding a granny flat? Here are 9 points to keep in mind

It might be a great solution but building an annex is a big decision. Lisa Salmon (who had one built for her mum) discusses the granny flat boom.

adding a granny flat pros cons

Thanks to rising property prices and expensive care home fees, a growing number of families are opting to live with, or right next to older relatives, by building granny flats on their homes.

The latest figures from the Valuation Office Agency show there are now nearly 39,000 granny annexes in England and Wales alone – an increase of 16% in recent years.

The government has tried to encourage families to live together by discounting council tax and scrapping stamp duty increases on annexes, and ministers have stressed the benefits of inter-generational families, which help save the NHS and social care system a lot of money.

But if you’ve got an elderly relative, is constructing a granny flat on your home the right option for you and them?

building granny flat points to consider

It was certainly the right choice for our family. Around three years ago, my widowed mother Sheila, now 81, and my husband and I decided we should build a granny flat for her on the side of our house. So she sold her house about 40 miles from us, and we applied for planning permission to build a two-storey annex.

It was a huge decision for us and my mum, who was leaving the house she’d lived in for more than 50 years, as well as her friends and neighbours, to live in a new city where she only knew us.

But the alternative was that, as she got older and became less mobile, she could be lonely – and there’d be no one to help her if she fell, for example, or became ill. Her moving to live, not with us, but next to us, was clearly the best option – particularly as she’d always been vehemently opposed to moving into a residential home should the need arise.

My mum’s now lived in the annex for around two years, and while the process wasn’t always easy (the build was stressful, to say the least!) and my mum understandably still misses her old life and home, we have no regrets. My mum lives completely independently in her self-contained one-bedroom flat on the side of our house, still regularly drives over to her old golf clubs 40 miles away, and is (gradually) forging a new life here.

family living granny flat

There’s no doubt, building a granny flat has worked for us. But what about other families?

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK (ageuk.org.uk), thinks granny flats are a “great solution” for elderly living – although clearly they’re not something that can be rushed into.

“This type of accommodation is one of a range of housing options open to older people who want to maintain their independence for longer in a smaller, easier-to-manage home, with around-the-clock family support when needed. It’s a great solution, but needs agreement and understanding on living arrangements and expectations,” says Abrahams.

“Bold and innovative new independent living arrangements should be encouraged and made easier to implement and afford. When so many older people are finding it increasingly difficult to get the support they want when they need it, alternative living arrangements for older people such as this play an important role in reducing the overwhelming demand on not only health and social care services but on housing too, and will ensure good health and wellbeing for longer.”

building a granny flat

Thinking of building a granny flat? Here’s nine points that might help…

1. Bridge before care

While it may not be possible for an elderly person to avoid going into a care home eventually, a granny annex can offer a useful bridge between independence and the provision of care.

2. No council tax

The National Federation of Builders (NFB) says an annex occupied by an elderly or disabled family member has a 100% council tax discount.

3. Shared bills

Depending on how it’s built and your preferences, bills may be shared between the family home and the granny flat, potentially saving money (assuming granny or grand-dad doesn’t have the heating on all the time).

4. Do it sooner not later

Moving can be very stressful for anyone, but especially for an older person. A decision to build a granny flat needs to be made sooner rather than later – ie. before an elderly relative is in desperate need of an accommodation change, and while they’re still reasonably mobile if possible. Look on it as an investment for the future.

5. Choose builders carefully

A new build can also be very stressful, so choose your builders carefully. The NFB’s Find a Builder (builders.org.uk/find-a-builder) helps people contact reputable builders who’ve been strictly vetted and have undergone a range of reference checks.

6. Plan for future needs

Think carefully not just about the elderly person’s needs now, but what they may be in the future. If your granny annex is two storeys, do the bedroom and toilet need to be downstairs in case mobility becomes an issue in later years?

7. Communication is key

Honest and detailed discussions are crucial, both with the builder before construction about the budget, timescale and exactly what you and the elderly relative want, and with your relative about how bills will be paid (if they’re shared), who’s responsible for the garden if it’s shared, whether you eat together, whether you knock before entering each other’s homes, etc.

8. Get legal advice

It’s important to discuss, and get legal advice if necessary, what happens if either the younger family or the older relative wants to sell up and move to a different property but the others don’t want to sell.

9. Be prepared for relationship breakdowns

It may also be worth seeing a solicitor to discuss what happens if there’s a relationship breakdown, as one of the family homeowners may demand their share of the property in divorce proceedings. What happens to the granny flat occupant then?

adding granny flat

If you are considering building or adding a granny flat and want to know how this could change the value of your home, please do call your local office for a free no obligation market appraisal where you can discuss the options that you are considering. https://www.mccarthyholden.co.uk/branches/

Phil Spencer shares 5 questions all buyers should ask when house hunting

As a survey reveals many buyers wish they'd known more about their property, TV's Phil Spencer shares his expert tips.

Phil Spencer home buyer questions

Buying a property can be a very lengthy process with lots of back and forth – but many buyers still end up wishing they’d found out just a few more crucial details before the deal was finalised.

California Shutters (californiashutters.co.uk) recently asked 1000 UK homeowners what they most wished they’d known about before purchasing their property: Competition for parking spaces came out tops (20%), followed by noisy neighbours (19%), high renovation costs (13%) and traffic noise (11%).

Oliver Robertson at California Shutters comments: “With all the challenges and decisions to be made when finding and choosing a new home, it’s easy to forget about the little things that will impact on your home life day to day. Whilst our survey shows most movers have a good awareness of problems like damp and pests prior to moving in to a new home, they can still be caught off guard by other things such as having to fight for parking spaces or deal with noise from next door or traffic from the road.”

Phil Spencer home buyer questions

A similar survey of first-time buyers, by My Home Move Conveyancing, found that the level of work needed on the property was the most common thing buyers wished they’d been better informed about. How much this work would cost came out second.

“Aside from the cost of moving, making first-time buyers aware of the practical decisions they need to make when buying their first home will give them a better chance of being able to play the ‘property game’ long-term and benefit from being a homeowner,” says My Home Move Conveyancing CEO, Doug Crawford. “Our advice, and the advice of people that have already learnt these lessons, is to consider questions such as whether the property will increase in value, whether expensive DIY work is needed or whether your mortgage arrangement is going to work long-term.”

TV property guru Phil Spencer, who recently launched the advice site for buyers MoveIQ, agrees that as well as the ‘big’ questions, the ‘small’ things should not be overlooked. “Buying a home is always a mixture of heart and head. Your first impression as you walk through the door is crucial to your decision, but so too are many other less obvious factors,” says Spencer.

“It’s essential that you do your homework, or you risk being blinded by emotion during the purchase. Even worse, you could end up with expensive problems down the line. Asking the right questions before, during or after that first viewing can make the difference between identifying the perfect home and having an unwanted surprise after you’ve committed to buying.”

Phil Spencer home buyer questions

So what questions should you be asking? Here, Spencer, who certainly knows a thing or two about house-hunting, shares his top five…

1. How long has the property been on the market?

“This should be one of your first questions,” says Spencer. “The average time it takes to sell a home in the UK is two to three months, according to the Government. So, if the property has been on the market for considerably longer, it may have an issue that is stopping it selling, beyond just being priced too highly. But you’ll need to get your detective hat on to find out what it is.

“One red flag to look out for would be if the current owners have lived there for an unusually short period of time. There is usually a reason behind a seller trying to get shot of a property after a short period. You’ll need to push the agent or sellers for clues: Is there a nuisance neighbour, what are crime levels like in the area, how busy are the roads and how much does the property cost to run (utility bills, council tax etc)?”

2. Is the property in a conservation area?

“If you are drawn to the history and charm of older homes, bear in mind that your scope for making changes to such a property could be severely limited,” says Spencer. “Specific rules about what you can and cannot do to the property will vary from local authority to local authority. Some may prohibit you from making changes to metal railings, windows, trees and even the colour of the front door. So, if your heart is set on a house with history but you’ve got an eye on modernisation, make sure to ask about anything that might block your plans.”

Phil Spencer checklist

3. Is the property a freehold or a leasehold?

“There are pros and cons to both freehold and leasehold properties. As a leaseholder, you will have to pay annual fees to the owner of the freehold, from ground rent to maintenance charges. These can fluctuate over time, so make sure that when you’re budgeting you factor in the possibility that ground rent will increase or maintenance charges could spike if the building needs major repairs,” says Spencer.

“By contrast, if you buy a freehold property there’s no ground rent to worry about, but you will be responsible for everything, including the roof and the maintenance of the structure. It’s important to get a detailed survey that will flag up any issues that need urgent – or expensive – repair.

4. Are there any pending planning applications that might impact me?

“This is a quick bit research you could carry out before actually viewing your prospective home. Nearly all local authorities have a planning portal on their website that allows you to view any previous or pending planning applications. If, for example, you were considering buying a home close to agricultural land, it might be a good idea to check whether the friendly farmer next door has just submitted a planning application for a new pig-rearing facility!”

5. Has the seller made any changes to the property?

“If changes have been made recently – especially structural ones – you need to know so you can ask the seller for any relevant documents, receipts or guarantee certificates. Equally if the seller has spent money doing the place up, they will have raised the asking price accordingly – so you need to make a judgement on whether the premium is justified. One other question I always ask a seller which can prove revealing is, ‘If you were staying, what other improvements would you make?'”

 

8 Reasons To Get Solar Panels On Your Home

house with solar panels

Could your property value be enhanced and the house become more saleable be with the benefit of solar panels and reduced energy bills? Putting property values top one side, in this article by Lisa Salmon (Press Association), she examines some good reasons to consider a solar panel installation.

Sunlight is free, so why not harness its energy through solar panels on your home?

Most people would love to save money on their domestic energy bills, and the summer is the ideal time to do it.

And that’s not just because you don’t need the heating on. It’s because all that sunlight is producing huge amounts of energy, which can be harnessed if you have solar panels on your home.

While a decade ago solar energy provided virtually no power, around 840,000 homes in the UK now have solar panels – also known as photovoltaics (PV) – and the renewable energy source regularly generates around a fifth of the country’s electricity for hours on summer days. The spell of hot, dry summer weather has helped break several solar power-generation records, and recently even very briefly eclipsed gas power stations, as the UK’s top source of electricity.

However, the solar energy boom may already have reached it’s peak, as solar panel installations have flatlined recently because financial incentives for householders to get them installed have been slashed dramatically, and will stop completely next year with no sign of a replacement scheme.

But green campaigners desperately want solar power to keep its foothold in the energy market, and point out there are still many reasons to consider installing solar panels on homes.

property roof with solar panel

1 Solar panels can save you money

The Energy Saving Trust (EST), an independent consumer body which helps householders and businesses save energy, says the amount saved depends on several factors – where your home is, what direction your roof faces, how big a system you install, when you install it, and how much of the energy produced you’re able to use yourself. For a typical 4kW system in the south of England, you could make around £275 a year in feed-in tariff generation payments and export payments.

Use the EST’s online Solar Energy Calculator (energysavingtrust.org.uk) to assess what financial benefits you may get from installing a solar PV system.

You’ll also save on electricity bills, says the EST. The amount you save depends on how much energy you use in a day when your solar panels are generating energy. If you’re usually out all day, you’ll only save around £90 a year on your bills. However, if you tend to be at home, you could save around £220 a year. Including the benefits from tariffs, this would give you a total saving of around £365-£495, depending on your lifestyle.

Caitlin Bent, home energy expert for the EST, says: “Solar panels are most suited to people who are at home a lot during the day, who can really take advantage of using free electricity when the sun is shining.”

2 You get paid for energy you produce

As well as saving on electricity bills, you can make money in two other ways with solar panels. Firstly, through the feed-in tariff, you’re paid for every unit of energy you generate. The feed-in tariff will close to new applicants in April 2019, although payments will continue for 20 years from the date of installation for those who invest in solar panels before April.

Secondly, you can make money via the export tariff, through which you’re paid for any energy you don’t use but send back to the grid. However, because export isn’t metered for domestic properties, the government assumes you’ll export 50% of the energy you produce. This means regardless of how much you use, you’ll be paid for 50% of your generation.

3 You’re helping to save the planet

Solar electricity is green renewable energy, meaning it doesn’t release any harmful carbon dioxide or other pollutants. A typical home solar PV system could save around 1.2 to 1.7 tonnes of carbon per year. The EST says: “By generating clean, green electricity you reduce your home’s carbon emissions. Plus, any solar energy you don’t use will be fed into the grid, so it can be used by someone else.”

4 Costs have fallen

A typical 4kW solar PV system now costs around £5,500 – £6,800 on average, according to government figures. When the feed-in tariffs began in 2010, costs were as high as £12,000-£14,000.

5 You can store solar energy on batteries

Batteries can now be purchased by householders to enable them to consume rather than export their solar electricity, which makes more financial sense.

6 It’s possible to use solar tiles if you prefer

Solar tiles are designed to be used in place of ordinary roof tiles. However, a system of solar tiles will typically cost about twice as much as an equivalent panel system. Therefore, solar tile systems aren’t normally as cost-effective as panel systems, and are usually only considered where panels aren’t appropriate for aesthetic or planning reasons.

7 They’re low maintenance

Solar panels require relatively little maintenance, but you may need to wash the surface occasionally, and make sure trees don’t begin to overshadow them, to make sure they continue working at their most efficient. Debris is more likely to accumulate on ground-mounted panels, and roof panels that are tilted at 15 degrees or more will be cleaned by rainfall. Panels should last 25 years or more, but their inverter is likely to need replacing at some point sooner, at a cost of about £800.

8 They come with a guarantee

“The performance of solar panels will degrade slightly over time,” says Bent, “but most come with a guarantee of at least 25 years.”

If you are a house buyer looking for a home with solar panels, why not undertake a property search from our home page