Tag Archive for: news

Making gardens fun again

Making gardens fun again

Somewhere between reality home makeover shows and worrying about resale value in five, seven or 10 years down the track, something has happened in many Australian backyards. Despite all the paving, blue fescue, mondo grass, hedges and trendy edible gardens, we’ve managed to make many of our backyards incredibly boring for kids.

It’s no wonder, really, that kids are spending more time in front of the box, or a wide range of other screens.

It seems like everything has just gotten so, so safe, and so, so boring. It was a relief to discover this week when I asked friends and far and wide how they had made their backyards fun, that one replied they had rigged up a treehouse and attached a makeshift flying fox to it. Score 10 points for the kids!

“Play should have an element of risk, it should be challenging,” says Hamish Henry, whose company Peppertown specialises in selling kids’ play equipment.  “You’ve got to build that, you can’t be too precious about your children, you’ve got to give them the opportunity to have the odd fall and take the risk.”

Not so much risk they end up seriously injured of course – it’s still sensible to provide soft landings such as sand and bark chips, (there are specialist mulches for play areas) underneath things like tree houses and flying foxes.

But perhaps there is hope – Henry says flying foxes are a big seller for his business, and parents are realising kids need open play spaces where there is active play involved. Think a tree house, or fort style set up, rather than a boxed-in ground-level cubby.

“It could be a raised deck with scramble nets going onto it and cross beams going over the top,” says Henry.

“The opportunity to get it around trees or into trees is important, or to put it into areas where you make children climb and use it as an experiential piece of play.

“What you want is you want to challenge the child, you want to say ‘here it is, go for it’ but also you want the children to play on it.”

“People buy ‘cubby houses’ and give them to the children [but] often they end up as a … pool shed, or another shed in the backyard.”

Matt Leacy, founder of Landart Landscapes, and a host on Channel Nine’s The Garden Gurus, is a big fan of trampolines in the garden – with a twist.

“Trampolines are a must as kids love them and they’re great for encouraging outdoor play.”

Making gardens fun again

Leacy has a rather nice way of saying  “but they are a bit ugly”. As he puts it: “Unfortunately they take up a lot of visual space in the garden”.

“Burying them can make them safer and more discreet – but it’s not as simple as just sticking it in the ground,” he says.

Leacy recommends excavating and putting in retaining walls and drainage to bury a trampoline for the long term.

“It does have a price tag but when you way up the possibility of having a trampoline in your garden for 10 years, then cost is worth it,” he says.

Retaining walls can be made from a number of materials including cement or brick. There are also kits on the market that include retaining walls and a trampoline mat.

Story by Carolyn Boyd, story source:

Foreigners stay keen on our real estate

Foreigners stay keen on our real estate

AUSTRALIA’S comparatively strong economy should drive continued foreign investment in our property market despite the uncertain international outlook, according to Colliers International managing director of investment services, John Marasco.

Mr Marasco said offshore investors had committed about $3.7 billion in Australian property markets in just the past six months. ”Local investors are also becoming more active, with pension funds looking to increase their allocations to commercial property.

”Investors will remain cautious, with forecasts suggesting the weight of capital chasing quality assets will lead to a further tightening of premium and A-grade yields by as much as 25 basis points in the next six months.”

Mr Marasco said the secondary-grade market would continue to experience a softening of yields as investors’ appetite for risk remained soft and owners placed more assets on the market as funding pressures increased. Despite this, opportunistic buyers would continue to target underperforming assets to take advantage of the potential future upside.

”Foreign investment from sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and REITS, particularly from Asia, is forecast to remain high as investors chase secure yields of between 6.5 per cent and 7.5 per cent in Sydney, compared with 4 per cent to 6 per cent returns in Hong Kong, Singapore, London or New York,” Mr Marasco said.

”For the first half of the new financial year, we expect an increasing battle for core and core-plus assets across all asset classes.”

Foreigners stay keen on our real estate

In the wider retail sphere, Mr Marasco said the going was tough: ”While household spending has been rising, expenditure in the traditional retail sector has been lagging other areas of consumption.

”With continued short-term pressure on the sustainability of occupancy costs, property owners will be focusing on tenancy mix and maintaining occupancy levels in their shopping centres, with growth in specialty rents limited.

”The stability of retail property, however, remains an attractive proposition for many investors as they look beyond the current challenges being experienced in the broader retail sector.”

Mr Marasco said the property sector would continue to be defined by the two-speed Australian economy in the year ahead. ”This will continue to present challenges,” he said, but the growth from the mining and resources sector would continue to stimulate the broader Australian economy.

Story by Phillip Hopkins, Story source:

Finally - LEDs hit home

Finally – LEDs hit home

LED lights are finally reaching a level that is set to make them the choice of lighting when it comes to what to put inside – and outside – your home.

You might not see them on the shelves of Kmart just yet, but most lighting retailers now carry several lines of LEDs and they come in everything from strip lighting to downlight globes and, thankfully, replacements for what we would consider “normal” globes that fit into bayonet and screw-in fittings.

When we bought ceiling fans 18 months ago we put CFL globes in them instead of energy-sucking halogens. The compact fluorescents may have used only 11w each but they were awful – a really horrible light that was slow to warm up.

Read more

It’s not easy being green Why environmental campaigns are dying

It’s not easy being green: Why environmental campaigns are dying

It’s not easy being green when world leaders are grappling with the issues surrounding climate change.

While we use green bags at the supermarket, recycle our rubbish, maybe do a little vintage shopping and even try to grow some vegies in the backyard or on the balcony – is that really enough? Is green fatigue affecting campaigns to reduce our carbon footprint?

When Prince Charles recently boasted of his carbon friendly lifestyle, it didn’t come across quite the way he intended. His preference for wearing extra clothes rather than turning up the palace heating, his efforts to recycle old bathroom curtains into cushion covers, and the way he throws his bathwater on the garden at Highgrove, were all derided in the media as ”penny-pinching”. Read more

Stevens Rate cuts not aimed at aiding house prices

Stevens: Rate cuts not aimed at aiding house prices

Australia’s top central banker says recent interest rate cuts are not designed to spare mortgage holders the pain of falling house prices.

Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens said he had no intention of engineering a return to the spiralling property prices and household debt levels which characterised the pre-2007 housing boom.

Mr Stevens said the surge in household wealth in the decade or so leading up to 2007 – which rose by about six or seven per cent a year – was driven primarily by unsustainable growth in property prices.

That, in turn, was driven by households saving less and borrowing more, a trend which had reversed over the last five years. Read more

Seniors struggling to maintain homes

Seniors struggling to maintain homes

With all the rapture about interest rate cuts – now equalling 0.75 per cent over the last two months – spare a thought for older Australians.

Already a third of over 50s say they can’t afford their home repair bills, according to a national survey, and with every dent to their savings, things get worse.

Australia’s over 50s are facing a combined repair bill of $5.57 billion to fix more than 17 million defects in their homes.

The most common issues reported in research by insurance provider Apia were leaking taps (41%), trees that need to be trimmed for safety reasons (39%), cracks in walls (38%), insect or vermin infestations (33%), and blocked drains (27%). Read more

Is Your Flooring Making Your Child Sick

Is Your Flooring Making Your Child Sick?

Choose your flooring wisely, as a new study has found phthalates from PVC flooring in the urine of young children.

Phthalates have long been a health concern, particularly with children, with many countries banning their use in products that go into a child’s mouth, such as teethers, baby bottles, teats and toys.

Used as chemical ‘softeners’ by manufacturers, they are suspected of causing chronic diseases in children, asthma and allergies and hormone disruption.

The new study, conducted at Karlstad University Sweden, indicates that phthalates can be taken up by the body in ways other than orally, for instance through breathing and through the skin.

Is Your Flooring Making Your Child Sick

Urine samples were taken from 83 randomly selected children in western Sweden and the prevalence of four types of phthalates in the urine was measured.  The levels of certain phthalates proved to be higher in the urine of babies that had PVC materials on their bedroom floor, and showed that the uptake of phthalates in infants can be related to flooring material.

“With this study as a basis, we can establish that there are other sources that should be taken into consideration in regard to the uptake of banned chemicals and that we do not only ingest them in our food,” says Carl-Gustaf Bornehag, professor of public health at Karlstad University and leader of the study.

So now don’t just think ‘what colour’, ‘what texture’, ‘how easy is it to clean’ and ‘will it stand up to our wear-and-tear’…  you should delve deeper and find out if your flooring is phthalate free.

Phthalate-free options are available and will meet all your other criteria too!

Why take a risk with PVC flooring when other natural alternatives can be used.


Delay Now, Pay Later

Delay Now, Pay Later

Buying your first home is a combination of nerves and excitement.

Is now the right time? Is this a good buy? Are we doing the right thing? These are just a few of the myriad of questions going through a first home buyer’s mind.

Madeleine Hicks of Madeleine Hicks Real Estate believes that first home buyers only have two decisions to make. Do I buy now and set myself to make capital gains or do I procrastinate and pay later?

“Current market conditions are favourable to buyers. The market in 3 years time will be very much different to our current market place,” said Madeleine.

delay now, pay later

“Over the next 3 – 5 years those that buy now will have substantial equity in their home due to capital growth, those that procrastinate and put off the decision to buy will ultimately be buying at a higher price in years to come,” explained Madeleine.

“Capital growth over the next 3 – 5 years will be slow but consistent. All these little gains will add up to a large gain overall,” concluded Madeleine.

If you are thinking about your first home, now is a great time.

Story source;

Small acts add up to big change

Small acts add up to big change

This week, thousands of cities across the globe will dim their lights at 8.30pm for an hour, joining in the world’s largest voluntary environmental action: Earth Hour.

Scheduled for the last Saturday of every March – closely coinciding with the equinox to ensure that most cities are in darkness as it rolls out around the Earth.

The growing importance of this global environmental action is reinforced by the unprecedented challenges our planet faces.

Our growing population is consuming at a rate that requires much more than one planet can provide. We are not living sustainably. While our carbon footprint grows, biodiversity is shrinking while our hunger for natural resources expands. Living beyond our planet’s means is putting increased pressure on food security, water security and climate security.

Small acts add up to big change

Earth Hour’s growth from 2 million people in Sydney, the city in which it all started, in 2007, to hundreds of millions in more than 5000 cities across more than 130 countries and territories shows that individuals across the globe recognise the challenges our planet is facing.

This year Earth Hour organisers hope to see this initiative grow further, with new countries taking part and landmarks from Las Vegas, Times Square, the Brandenburg Gate and the Eiffel Tower to the Burj Khalifa and even the International Space Station committing to switch off for the planet.

But the real value of Earth Hour does not lie in its sheer scale. The real value is in individual, grassroots actions. When you consider the potential of hundreds of millions of people all making small changes, it gives us hope for the future of our planet.

Earth Hour is about much more than an hour of darkness, it is about people showing their commitment to sustainability and environmental action. It is about individuals moving beyond NGOs, governments and businesses to express their personal commitment to living more sustainably.

So just remember – do your bit this week for the planet and switch off.  For further information have a look at



Make the most of your investment dollars

Make the most of your investment dollars

Knowing your limits and the market will help to expand your property portfolio.

Why do some people struggle to buy one investment property and yet others manage to own five or six? The answer isn’t simply that they have more money.

Investors who are creative in their approach to financing and who thoroughly research the important real estate indicators routinely achieve their goals faster and with less hassle.

There are several well-known ways to increase a property portfolio. You can take out an interest-only loan, buy with partners as ”tenants in common” or tap into your home equity.

Make the most of your investment dollars

Owning an investment property is not out of reach, it simply requires an astute approach. Photo: AFR

All of which help free up cash flow, enabling you to make more substantial contributions to a principal place of residence or to access cash flow for other investments. Coupled with buying investment properties in the right place at the right time, these tactics have reaped financial rewards for many people.

But savvy investors take their strategies to the next level. Let’s look at some of the less-traditional approaches to more profitable property investing.

Varying your income tax

If you’re negatively geared, a good way to improve immediate cash flow is to ask your accountant to submit an income tax variation form to your payroll office.

This reduces the tax rate charged on your wages by estimating your total end-of-financial-year tax position in advance. Rather than receiving a lump sum tax refund, you receive money evenly throughout the year.

Line of credit with a global limit

This is a line of credit home loan with a ”global” or ”umbrella” limit and several sub-accounts. It gives you maximum access to your equity to optimise your investment opportunities. The loan can be operated with multiple accounts under one global limit.

Mortgage Choice spokeswoman Belinda Williamson says line of credit accounts can be attached to a credit card. ”If you earn a decent income, using a credit card for expenses should mean that most of your income stays in the loan until the credit card payment is due, which helps to reduce the loan balance.”

Targeting distressed vendors

Successful investors don’t appraise the properties on the market in an area, they try to work out why they are for sale. Paul Osborne, of the buyer’s advocate firm Secret Agent, says it’s a smart move to understand household indebtedness in specific areas to snare a bargain.

He says many households are managing to service only the interest repayments, not the principal amount, of their home loans. As a consequence, the best buying opportunities tend to be in suburbs that have high proportions of household debt.

A secondary dwelling as an investment

Building second dwellings, such as granny flats, on the land held by either an owner-occupied or an investment property has become a growing trend. These dwellings can generate extra rental income and increase the property’s future value.

They also provide depreciation benefits and must be council-approved. Lending criteria for secondary dwellings varies from lender to lender and it’s smart to monitor how such additions in an area have shifted property values.

Choose a loan tailored to your needs

Depending on your finances, lifestyle and investment portfolio, there are a range of property loans to consider. Ms Williamson recommends checking the health of your home loan at least once a year.

”You should make sure that your loans not only meet your current needs but also take your future needs into consideration,” she says. ”Make sure that you are managing your loan, rather than letting it manage you.” Always be aware that new products are entering the competitive housing finance market constantly.

Story source: Story by Chris Tolhurst