Thursday, September 30, 2010

Latest Property News from Ted Hanson

Friday 01 October 2010
Crown St Mall Modelling Workshops

Learn how to walk the catwalk, use make up to enhance your features and style your hair to suit your face. Crown Street Mall's Modelling Workshop will teach you the basics needed to present well in a modelling competition and give you some pointers to be the best you can be in this field.

More Information

Common mistakes that cost money

While investment property can be very profitable, many investors make costly mistakes, according to property educator Jennie Brown. Brown says a common mistake is not being clear about the desired outcome.

"Many property investors are not clear on what they really want to achieve," she says. "Most want to make money; they want to travel, go to exotic places. Others may want to leave a legacy for their children, quit their job and replace it with an income to live the life they've dreamed of."


House prices growing

House prices just keep getting better, according to a report released this week by the Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA).

The Mortgage Choice Real Estate Market Facts report for the June quarter 2010 shows that median house prices increased 3.2 per cent to $533,243. The major contributors were Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

With the exception of Perth and Hobart, all Australian capital cities recorded increases in median house prices over the quarter. Sydney, Melbourne and Darwin recorded the highest increases in prices while the lowest were recorded in Hobart, Adelaide and Brisbane.
REIA President David Airey remarked that although house price growth slowed over the year, the growth rate is well above the annual average.

"Compared to the same quarter of last year, house prices increased across all Australian capital cities, with growth rates ranging from 8.9 per cent to 26.5 per cent", Mr Airey said.

"Melbourne recorded the largest increase whilst Perth recorded the smallest growth."

Mortgage Choice Senior Corporate Affairs Manager, Kristy Sheppard said that despite reticence from a number of potential buyers, auction clearance rates remained fairly high on average over the June quarter, with the prestige market slowing and the more affordable areas picking up pace.

"As we move into spring this continues to be the case", she added.

"We have also seen some positive results in the form of our Mortgage Choice 2010 Refinancers Survey, which posed questions to 1,028 Australians who refinanced their home loan in the last year."

The survey found that 68 per cent of respondents who refinanced saw their interest rate drop upon doing so and, of these, almost one quarter (23 per cent) were now saving more than $300 per month.

Close to nine in every 10 (88 per cent) were saving more than $50 per month.

Rents for three bedroom houses remained unchanged in most capital cities over the June quarter, with the exception of Brisbane, Hobart and Darwin.

Over the year, house rents increased in all capital cities, with the greatest increases evident in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

"We can expect a healthy property market for the rest of the year, with an increase in activity in the medium and long term," concluded Mr Airey.

Builder sentiment takes a dive

Builder sentiment dropped in the September quarter, according to a recent survey released by Master Builders Australia.

The latest National Survey of Building and Construction shows that this drop in sentiment corresponds with declining expectations for building industry activity.

Master Builders Australia Chief Economist, Peter Jones, said that builders are becoming increasingly concerned about the outlook as government stimulus programs begin to wind down.

"Builders expect overall industry activity to be lower over the next six months relative to the past six months", Jones said.

"They are much more circumspect about their own future business activity, see their profits deteriorating over the next six months and expect to reduce their workforce in the period ahead."

Green buildings: local and global

Buildings consume between 30-40 per cent of global energy, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. There is no single larger global contributor - and thereby potential reducer - of carbon than the building sector.

This is the main message in a new report from the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) launched to coincide with World Green Building Week (20-24 September 2010).

The building sector directly employs 5-10 per cent of the workforce in most countries.
Tackling Global Climate Change, Meeting Local Priorities highlights how green buildings can play a valuable role in meeting local needs worldwide, including in areas hit by natural disasters, as well as providing the most cost-effective way of tackling climate change.

"In the past some thought we could only address environmental concerns when the going was good and that 'green' had to take a back seat to economic growth when times got challenging," notes Jane Henley, Chief Executive Officer of the WorldGBC.

"This report shows that to be a false choice. We have a growing evidence base of international examples in which homes, buildings and communities are addressing pressing local needs and reducing carbon emissions at the same time."

Green buildings can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 35 per cent - and in some cases can be carbon neutral. They can also reduce waste output by 70 per cent, water usage by 40 per cent, and energy usage between 30-50 per cent - in some cases producing energy that can be sent back to the grid.

"Buildings are simply the most cost-effective way of reducing carbon emissions and policy-makers around the world must recognise this at the upcoming international negotiations at COP16 in Mexico," Jane Henley says.

Tony Arnel, Chairman of both the WorldGBC and the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) says the report provides a timely message of what proactive government and private sector initiatives can do to harness the potential of green buildings to deliver important social, economic and environmental benefits for people around the world.

The report brings together case studies from across four world regions and provides evidence of how green buildings have been used effectively to meet local needs, while cutting carbon, including:

Disaster recovery:

The recovery effort following disaster is a crucial time. It is an opportunity for communities to be at the heart of planning, creating homes and buildings that meet social and economic needs, enhance quality of life and also contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The report shows how green building councils have worked with local NGOs to do just this, for example in Australia through the 'Build it Back Green' program following wildfires that destroyed thousands of homes and killed over 100 people in Victoria; and in the USA where, after Hurricane Katrina, the USGBC brought local communities together with experts in urban planning, waste and water management, engineering and architecture to play an active part in lower carbon reconstruction after the floods.

Job creation and local economy:

The financial crisis and ensuing recession has hit some countries harder than others and countries have responded in different ways to the challenge. But a common theme is the extent to which construction and refurbishment of existing buildings has been recognised as an important way of stimulating local economies.

South Africa is using the Kyoto Protocol's 'Clean Development Mechanism' (CDM), in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, to retrofit 2300 homes in an established low-income housing area.

Energy efficiency measures include insulated ceilings, energy-efficient light bulbs and solar water heaters. Not only does this reduce energy use and carbon, but the revenue from the CDM is used to fund a trust to employ and train local residents.

In Bogotá Colombia, one of the largest residential projects in the country, Green City, is a mixed-use project that supports the generation of economic activities and jobs for residents and surrounding areas. In the first stage the investment in infrastructure will rise to USD$30.2 million, create 21,000 direct and indirect jobs, and offer public facilities for the community.

Affordable housing and fuel poverty:

In both developed and developing countries, there is often a shortage of affordable, secure and healthy homes, particularly for low income or vulnerable people. Developing new or refurbished greener homes can offer benefits to both residents and the environment.

In Europe, the 'Pay As You Save' idea is rising up on the agenda. The UK Green Building Council has campaigned for the introduction of an innovative financial mechanism that allows homeowners or landlords to access finance to improve the energy efficiency of a property, with the capital repaid over a long period of time from the savings on energy bills. The greatly reduced energy bills mean the resident is better off immediately, despite having to repay the initial cost of the refurbishment. The UK government will introduce legislation to enable this policy in November 2010.

Similarly, the Romanian GBC is working with several banks to develop new financial products that could boost the retrofitting of green buildings in Romania along similar lines.

The full report is available for download from the WorldGBC website.

Ride to Work Day

This month Aussies everywhere get a chance to join the commuter revolution on Ride to Work Day 13 October 2010.

Whether you ride to work to save money, do something good for the environment or for your health it's important that you make your ride count and register online at the Ride to Work website. Every registration helps improve bike facilities across Australia.

This could be the start of something wonderful!

Five home security basics

These days home security has become increasingly important to prevent theft, break in, or even personal injury. When planning home security there are a few simple things you can do to protect your home, even before you spend any big money.

Lock the garage and shed

Garden sheds or garages present thieves with the tools they need to break in to your home. For example, a ladder left lying around the garden will not only offer a thief something they can sell, it also gives them the perfect tool to break into your home. Therefore, ensure your garden shed or garage is locked when not in use with a case-hardened padlock or high grade chain. This will also help to secure items such as lawn mowers, bicycles, surfboards or garden tools.

Fit sensor lights

Sensor lights on the outside of your house can work as a wonderful deterrent. Sensor lights are activated when something moves across their path, so any burglar who is considering breaking in to your home should be discouraged by the possibility of exposure. Sensor lights can be wired to your electrical mains, or they can be powered using an extension lead running from inside the house. Obviously the former option is preferable. When setting up sensor lights, make sure they are not so sensitive that the family pet will set them off.

Use good quality door & window locks

When starting down the home security path, good quality door and window looks are an essential starting point. You may also consider fitting a wire mesh security screen door to front and rear doors. This way you can still let breezes flow through your home whilst remaining secure.

Be aware of cheap imitations. When security is at stake, it can often be better to bite the bullet and buy the best quality available. Steel roll down shutters can also be fitted to windows.

Clear the line of sight

Overgrown branches, thick bushes, large trees and high fences all provide thieves with the perfect cover from the street and give them all the time they need to open a door lock or window. To help protect your home, clear the line of sight from the street to doors and windows.

Engrave your valuables

Items such as digital cameras, televisions or stereo systems should be engraved with their unique serial number. Keep a record of all serial numbers in a secure location, preferably outside your home (e.g. a bank security deposit box). Your local police should be able to advise you on the best way to store serial numbers. If you have a lot of valuable jewelry, consider locking it in a bank security deposit box, or at least take a photo of each valuable item with a description and ask your solicitor to keep a copy of this information for you.

The arts go marching one by one

Remember those ant-farms from your childhood? The formicariums (enclosed ant colonies) seem to make their way in and out of our lives, providing a fascinating, albeit brief, study of another life-form.

In a modern and elegant twist, FRAMEicariums have taken the ant farm concept and given it a makeover by way of salvaged picture frames and colour-coordinated schemes of sand. The contemporary design is likely to suit adults and children alike, with natural art that is constantly changing.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Latest Property News from Ted Hanson

Friday 24 September 2010
Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk

Less than 2 hours from Sydney, The Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk is one of the regions newest attractions. Nestled amongst temperate rainforest, the Treetop Walk takes you along the picturesque Illawarra escarpment and offers inspiring views from Bass Point in the South to Bundeena in the North.

Attraction features:

500 metres long at an average height of 25 metres
'Knights Tower' at a height of 45 metres
280km/hr wind speed design
Cantilevers can hold a maximum weight of 28 tonne or 800 wombats!!
The Treetop Walk holds an average of 400kg/m2

1. Strong upswing in dwelling starts

National dwelling commencements rose again in the June quarter as the effect of previously low interest rates and government stimulus measures continues to flow through into the work pipeline, according to figures released this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The total number of dwelling units commenced in the June quarter 2010, seasonally adjusted, rose by 0.8 per cent to 44,899 to be up by 43.8 per cent on the June quarter 2009.

The number of private new houses commenced fell by 3.9 per cent to 27,154, up 18.8 per cent from the corresponding quarter a year ago.

Commencements of other dwellings, the category that includes apartments, rose by 11.5 per cent in the June quarter to be up 74.7 per cent on the June quarter 2009 figure.

The number of public sector dwellings was up 3.9 per cent in June to be up 397.2 per cent on the same quarter a year ago.

Peter Jones, Chief Economist for peak building and construction industry association Master Builders Australia, remarked that the fourth consecutive quarterly increase confirms a recovery of residential building after five years of insufficient activity.

"This year's bounce-back in dwelling commencements has offset the ratchet down in activity that occurred in the previous year in the wake of the global financial crisis", Jones said.

Jones did suggest, however, that questions remain over the durability of the upturn, with forward indicators already signalling a tapering-off in activity.

"A period of interest rate stability from the Reserve Bank will now be critical to ensure the upswing in the interest-rate-sensitive residential building sector can become entrenched."

"Australia needs a long and strong housing upturn to overcome a massive shortfall in dwellings that has developed", Jones said.

"Three or four years building 200,000 plus dwellings per annum is needed to not only meet the demands of a growing population, but to make inroads into the massive deficit of housing that has accrued through a long phase of under-building", he concluded.

Planners back Green Star Communities

Sustainable communities were given a green light this week, with a decision by industry bodies to set standards and benchmarks for their development.

The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) have signed a memorandum of understanding which will see both organisations work together on the development and delivery of the Green Star Communities rating tool.

According to the GBCA's Chief Executive, Romilly Madew, this MoU confirms Green Star Communities as a project of national significance.

"This MoU is particularly momentous, as best practice planning is vital if we are to deliver communities that are liveable, sustainable and adaptable", Ms Madew said.

According to the Acting Chief Executive Officer of PIA, Kirsty Kelly, the MoU is a clear signal that planners are committed to sustainable communities.

"Members of PIA will play an important role in the success of Green Star Communities by contributing urban, environmental and social planning information that will help establish best practice standards in the tool," Ms Kelly said.

The Green Star Communities project continues to build momentum, with a number of instrumental sponsorships and partnerships announced in the previous few weeks, including an MoU with every single state government land organisation in Australia.

"Working closely with PIA will enable us to establish planning benchmarks that not only protect our natural environment, but also support the development of liveable, prosperous, dynamic and connected places for generations to come," Ms Madew added.

The Green Star Communities project is being led by the GBCA in conjunction with partner, VicUrban, and supported by principal project sponsor, Rock Development Group, together with other sponsors Grocon, Brisbane City Council, Barangaroo Delivery Authority, Lend Lease, Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, Brookfield Multiplex, Aurecon, University of Melbourne, Stockland, Sustainability Victoria, City of Sydney, Mirvac and BlueScope Steel.

Every government land organisation (GLO) in Australia has also agreed to theMoU and will participate in the tool development. The GLOs are: Landcom (NSW); Landcorp (WA); VicUrban (VIC); Land Management Corporation (SA); Land Development Agency (ACT); Urban Land Development Authority (QLD); Hunter Development Corporation (NSW) and Land Development Corporation (NT).

Boom goes west

Australia's fastest-growing region is no longer the Gold Coast but the Western edge of Melbourne, according to researcher KPMG.

Analysis by KPMG demographer, Bernard Salt, shows that the municipalities of Wyndham and Melton added 18,000 new residents over the 12 months to June 2009, as compared with 17,000 added to the Gold Coast.

"This extraordinary growth in Melbourne's West has come out of the blue," says Mr Salt.

"Just ten years earlier this region was attracting approximately 4,000 new residents per year, but is now attracting more people than the Gold Coast."

Mr Salt says housing affordability may be a key driver of growth in the West. The area has also attracted corporate growth, such as manufacturing and head offices, and has been a focus of major infrastructure spending including road and rail links.

The report shows that the region's demographics are changing, with `kids and grandparents on the up'.

"Over the last 20 years most growth in Melbourne's West has been in the `family' stage of the life cycle (between 30 and 55).

"However, over the next 20 years there will be a surge in the under-20 population underpinning demand for schools and sporting facilities", Mr Salt says, adding that a surge in the grandparent population (aged 60-80) will mean more demand for leisure facilities, health care, wellness centres and a focus on value.

Bushies want clean energy, too

The idea that city people are more eager than country people for the large-scale development of clean energy has been de-bunked, according to a new poll released this week.

Commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), the Auspoll survey of 1,500 people showed rural Australians are more likely to support large-scale clean energy than their city counterparts.

The poll found 85% of rural respondents and 82% of urban respondents want the government to "make clean energy cheaper quicker, through large scale development of solar, geothermal and wind power in urban and regional Australia".

"These results may surprise some people, but they send a clear message to the new minority government that whether they live in the city or the country, Australians overwhelmingly want government leadership to promote clean energy", ACF climate change campaigner Phil Freeman said.

"The new parliament should introduce incentives that give large scale renewable energy a major boost, so we can have big solar plants, wave power and geothermal power, all linked to a renewable-friendly electricity grid.

"Putting a price on pollution would unlock enormous investment potential for clean energy and new sustainable enterprises in regional Australia.

"On the other hand, regional and farming communities will be badly affected by extreme weather, water shortages and drought if we ignore climate change", Mr Freeman warned.

Goldilocks caught red-handed

Sleeping on the job rarely pays off, but perhaps more so when you're a burglar and the job is the house you're looting.

In what local news sources have referred to as the `goldilocks incident', residents in Malaysia returned home to find their living room in a mess and a man napping on a couch upstairs, the BBC reports.

The burglar, who had snatched over AU$3000 in watches and jewelry, woke up and escaped through a window. After a brief chase, police apprehended the man.

Real property or personal property?

When selling or buying your home, make sure you understand exactly what is being sold along with it.

The general rule is, if it is attached to the structure or the ground, it is real property and stays with the house. But this can be confusing.

So if you want to make sure an item remains in the house list it specifically in the contract. It's better to do this than "assume" anything, and of course, if you have any questions about inclusions seek confirmation from your legal representative.

Friday, September 3, 2010

House prices up 0.4% in July

RP Data predicts little growth for the remainder of 2010

Australian house prices grew by a seasonally adjusted 0.4% during July, following on from a 1% fall in June, according to the latest RP Data-Rismark figures.

The research found that in the July quarter, national city dwelling values were down 0.8% with a median dwelling price of $465,000. However, prices over the year were up by 9.7%.

Darwin performed the strongest in the three months to July, with values up 1.1%, while Brisbane and Perth both recorded a 2.5% fall.

Sydney values rose by 0.3% during the quarter, with Melbourne values falling by 1.1%. Adelaide prices rose by 0.2% and Hobart prices also fell by 2.4%.

RP Data research director Tim Lawless said in a statement the result shows the housing market is recording a soft landing, following a boom over the past 18 months.

"In the period between end 2008 and March 2010, Australian home values rose by 16.3%. Yet monthly growth rates have declined consistently since the start of the year," he said.

"RP Data and Rismark expect to see the market track sideways over the second half of the year. There is the possibility of modest gains if mortgage rates remain in check and economic conditions improve."

Rismark International managing director Christopher Joye also said in a statement the figures dispel the myth that housing prices would begin to fall.

"Australia's housing market appears to have gravitated back to a no-to-very low growth trajectory, as we forecast."

"Looking forward, I would expect to see the major banks pushing housing credit growth a little harder as profitability gains – driven by reduced impairment provisions across their business lending books – dissipate."

This comment comes as a number of banking institutions, including Westpac, BankWest and non-bank lender Yellow Brick Road, have introduced a number of measures in order to attract first home buyers.

"Australian housing credit growth has been running at record low levels, and has experienced a downward trend since 2006. An increase in credit growth back to reasonable single-digit rates will provide further support to the market in the next 12 months."

Source Patrick Stafford Smart Company

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Latest Property News from Ted Hanson

Friday 03 September 2010
Fathers' Day this Sunday...

Dad....... A childs prospective.

4 years: My Daddy can do anything!
7 years: My Dad knows a lot...a whole lot.
8 years: My father does not know quite everything.
12 years: Oh well, naturally Father does not know that either.
14 years: Oh, Father? He is hopelessly old-fashioned.
21 years: Oh, that man-he is out of date!
25 years: He knows a little bit about it, but not much.
30 years: I must find out what Dad thinks about it.
35 years: Before we decide, we will get Dad's idea first.
50 years: What would Dad have thought about that?
60 years: My Dad knew literally everything!
65 years: I wish I could talk it over with Dad once more.

We hope all the dads out there have a wonderful day!

More homes approved in July

Building Approvals posted their first increase in four months in July, according to figures released this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The 2.3 per cent increase in building approvals in July 2010 was driven by a 6.5 per cent lift in `other dwellings' such as apartments, townhouses etc. Detached house approvals were flat for the month.

Over the three months to July 2010 total building approvals were down by 11 per cent reflecting a 17 per cent fall in other dwellings and a decline of 8 per cent for detached houses.

Building approvals increased in six out of eight states and territories in July 2010.

Seasonally adjusted, the number of building approvals increased by 12.1 per cent in Victoria, 9.7 per cent in New South Wales, 8.2 per cent in South Australia, and 4.5 per cent in Tasmania.

Approvals fell by 18.3 per cent in Queensland and were down by 4.9 per cent in Western Australia.

In trend terms, approvals increased by 13.4 per cent in the Northern Territory and by 2 per cent in the Australian Capital Territory.

Oldies stay put

The vast majority of older Australians are living in three-bedroom homes on large suburban lots, which is more than they need or even use, according to new research.

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) found 84 per cent of homes occupied by older Australians aged 55 and over would be considered too big by international occupancy standards.

AHURI executive director Dr Ian Winter said that despite statistics that indicate their homes are too big, more than 90 per cent of older Australians say they want to remain in their own homes with the support of professional services.

`Most older Australians don't believe they're languishing in homes that are too large", Dr winter said.

"Their clear perception is that their homes are of a suitable size and are well utilised with extra rooms given over to hosting permanent residents, visiting friends and family, home offices and hobbies."

The national study of 1604 older home owners found that while most people would prefer to remain in their own homes; 63 per cent were prepared to consider entering a retirement village in the event of developing a disability or increased need for assistance, whilst 56 per cent were prepared to enter a development for seniors in such circumstances.

Only 18 per cent would consider living in their children's homes.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Bruce Judd from the University of New South Wales said
most older Australians want to have a home that can be easily modified at low-cost to meet their needs, or a universally designed home that did not need to be modified. They are less keen on moving to a retirement village, a seniors' development or moving in with their children. However, for those needing to move to more appropriately designed housing, having a choice of options available is also important.

`Many older Australians are nervous about retirement villages citing lifestyle issues, cramped living quarters, bad experiences reported by others and concern about the cost', Professor Judd said.

Dr Winter observed that older Australians would need to be supported to make changes before their abilities decline.

`We need to provide attractive and diverse housing options for older people within their neighbourhoods, and eliminate financial disincentives to moving such as stamp duties', Dr Winter said

"But because people prefer to stay where they are, there's a strong case to be made for regulating housing design to make it age friendly right from the start to eliminate, or at least minimise, the need to make modifications later', he said.

`Obviously this doesn't come without some extra cost initially but more age friendly housing and urban design will ultimately benefit all Australians by addressing some of the wide variations in the quality of design in different neighbourhoods around the country', he added.

New home building surges

The recovery in new home building is starting to flow through to real building activity, the Housing Industry Association announced this week.

Figures released this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that new residential building work done rose by 7.7 per cent in the June 2010 quarter.

HIA Senior Economist, Andrew Harvey, said that the `impressive outcome' has been expected for some time.

"Work in the pipeline has been accumulating in recent quarters but until today has not been reflected in actual work done," Andrew Harvey said.

"Excluding alterations and additions, new residential building is up 8.7 per cent in the June quarter 2010, which is the fastest rate of growth since the September quarter 2001."

The volume of work done on major alterations and additions rose for a fourth consecutive quarter in June 2010, up by 1.8 per cent, although the rate of growth has slowed relative to earlier quarters.

"The surge in building activity is on the back of the earlier fiscal stimulus and low interest rates, but tells us little about whether the recovery in residential building will be sustained in the longer term now that the stimulus has been largely withdrawn", Mr Harvey said.

"In the short term the building outlook is promising with around $27 billion worth of total residential building in the pipeline, which is the highest level since September 2008."

In the June 2010 quarter, seasonally adjusted new residential work done increased by 7.5 per cent in New South Wales, 8.9 per cent in Victoria, 4.6 per cent in South Australia, 0.2 per cent in Tasmania, 11.5 per cent in Queensland, 5.3 per cent in Western Australia, and 7.2 per cent in the Australian Capital Territory.

In original terms new residential work done was 12 per cent higher in the Northern Territory compared to the June quarter of last year.

Creating an outdoor living area

Spring has sprung and many home sellers are starting to think about putting their home on the market. The question is, what will attract the most buyers in the shortest amount of time?

It seems homebuyers these days aren't just interested in new kitchens and bathrooms, as outdoor living space has become a higher priority. Indeed, the majority of new homes are now being designed to include balconies, verandahs or a purpose-built outdoor living area.

So, what makes a good outdoor living area?

Quite simply, it's a place to sit, eat and spend time with family and friends. In fact, many people say outdoor living spaces promote family unity (perhaps this is because they are out of sight of the television?), offer a safe area for children to play and create a sense of `retreat' without going anywhere.

This means you'll need a dining table, comfortable chairs, outdoor cooking facilities, lighting and, most importantly, shade from the hot summer sun.

To set up a basic outdoor area you'll probably need to spend somewhere in the vicinity of $5,000. If you want to go `all the way' and include luxury facilities like a swimming pool or spa and expensive landscaping, the price will increase by several thousands (or even tens of thousands) of dollars.

Outdoor features are very important for buyers in all price ranges. A recent survey showed buyers in the $450,000-$700,000 range rated rear decks, patios, exterior lighting and good landscaping as "must haves."

A screened rear porch is preferred by both groups; a fenced yard was a strong preference as well. And when it comes to lawn sprinklers, the group in the lower price bracket "strongly preferred" while the upper group considered them a "must have."

In addition, a well designed outdoor living space can greatly expand the useable space within a home and perhaps even add to the value of the property.

So, with spring upon us, what do you need to do to get your outdoor living area ready for those long, lazy summer afternoons with friends?

Dust Off Winter

Outdoor furniture is often placed in storage or exposed to the elements so cleaning before summer is recommended. The best way to do this is with a mild soap and water mix that will remove dirt, pollens or salt water. It might also be a good idea to apply a coat of clear varnish or wax to help protect furniture during warmer months.

Assess Your Needs

If you have just created a new outdoor living area or purchased a home with an outdoor living space you may need new outdoor furniture. Before you hit the shops, think carefully about what you need and how you and your family like to spend their time. For example, do you often have friends around to eat and therefore require a dining table, or do you prefer to laze away the hours on a sun lounge?

Also, think about the space you need to fill. Nothing looks stranger than incorrectly sized furniture. There are so many varieties of outdoor furniture you will most certainly be able to find what you're looking for. Just make sure you hunt around for the best price!

Think about colour

Many outdoor areas can benefit from an infusion of colour. Choose your favourite colour and incorporate this in to cushion designs, lanterns or even landscaping. Alternatively, look for inspiration in home design magazines or retail outlets. If you're still stuck, you might consider calling in an interior design expert who can help you decide on style and décor. They may even help you shop for your chosen furniture.

Consider outlook

When setting up an outdoor area, consider the outlook. Make sure the focus of the living area is on an area that will create a sense of calm and relaxation. This may be a water feature, swimming pool, or trees and shrubs. If your outdoor living area has a blank wall on one side, consider painting the wall in a bright feature colour. Or use the space to grow climbing plants or vegetables.

The sports car he always wanted

With Fathers' Day this Sunday, we have a wheelbarrow full of presents in mind that dad could use, but why go functional when you could go completely extravagant?

From the manufacturers of the Porsche Boxster and Cayman, the Garia Luxury Golf Car won't just give dad the `pimpest' ride on the golf course, but on the neighbourhood streets also.

Built to the highest automotive standards with Formula 1-inspired front suspension and aluminum profiles made by the same company that supplies to Aston Martin, Jaguar and Volvo, the Garia is also street legal (for streets with 50km/h limits), so Dad can ride all the way from the garage onto the course and back.

Flush with memorabilia

John Lennon wasn't a king, but his former throne has fetched a princely sum at auction.

The collector with the winning bid paid AU$16,435 for the deceased Beatle's porcelain toilet, BBC.UK reported recently. Lennon, who gave the toilet to a builder to use as a pot plant, is said to have used it himself between 1969 and 1972.