Thursday, January 27, 2011

Latest Property News from Ted Hanson

Friday 28 January 2011
Honey, I shrunk the yard ... but it's still the great outdoors

THE Australian backyard is an ingrained part of our culture. We cling to our patch of earth: in the green and terracotta suburbs, the dirt-brown bush and the bluestone bricks of the city.

Read the full article

1.
Less work on housing

The value of work done on building new homes dropped in the September quarter last year, according to figures released this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

It is, nevertheless, an improvement on work done a year ago.

New residential building work done fell by 6.3 per cent to $9,917.2m in the September 2010 quarter, driven by a 9 per cent drop in detached houses. Work completed on major alterations and additions turned in a flat result over the same period.

In the September 2010 quarter, seasonally adjusted new residential building work done fell by 0.9 per cent in New South Wales, 4.8 per cent in Victoria, 16.5 per cent in Queensland, 1 per cent in South Australia and 1.8 per cent in Western Australia.

New residential work done was effectively flat in Tasmania and rose by 14.4 per cent in the Australian Capital Territory. In original terms new residential work done fell by 13.1 per cent in the Northern Territory to be down by 15 per cent when compared to the September 2009 quarter.

Over the year to September quarter 2010, the (seasonally adjusted) value of work done on new residential building rose 5.9 per cent and 8.0 per cent on alterations and additions.

2.
Not happy, planners

Australia has been found sadly lacking in affordable housing by an international survey that annually assesses housing affordability in 325 urban markets around the world.

The 7th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey found that Australia is the "most severely unaffordable country" and Sydney is the second least affordable city.

For housing markets to rate as "affordable", housing should not exceed three times gross annual household income (the Median Multiple).

Housing markets are rated as "affordable" at or below 3 times gross annual household income (Median Multiple), "moderately unaffordable" at or below 4 times income, "seriously unaffordable" at or below 5 times income and above 5, rated "severely unaffordable".

Hong Kong was found to have the most unaffordable housing of the 325 urban markets surveyed, with prices at 11.4 times household income, followed by Sydney at 9.6 and Vancouver at 9.5.

Of the countries surveyed, Australia (32 urban markets) has the most intense housing stress with housing prices at 6.1 times household incomes, followed by New Zealand (8) at 5.3 times, United Kingdom (33) at 5.2, Ireland (4) at 4.0, Canada (35) 3.4 and the United States (211) with overall the most affordable housing at 3.0 times gross annual household incomes.

27 of the 32 Australian housing markets are severely unaffordable, with the remaining 5 seriously unaffordable.

Survey author Hugh Pavletich of Performance Urban Planning said that wherever the "affordability threshold" is breached, it indicates local political impediments to the provision of affordable housing that need to be dealt with.

"For metropolitan areas to rate as "affordable" and ensure that housing bubbles are not triggered, housing prices should not exceed 3.0 times gross annual household earnings", Pavlevitch said.

"To allow this to occur, new starter housing of an acceptable quality to the purchasers, with associated commercial and industrial development, must be allowed to be provided on the urban fringes at 2.5 times the gross annual median household income of that urban market."

He added that the critically important Development Ratios for the cost of this new fringe starter housing should be 17-23% serviced lot, with the balance being the actual housing construction.

"The fringe is the only supply/inflation vent of an urban market", Pavlevitch concluded.

3.
Green tax breaks a winner

The Australian Government's new Tax Breaks for Green Buildings program will improve the energy efficiency of buildings, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the nation's shift to sustainability, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) said this week.

GBCA Executive Director, Robin Mellon welcomed the incentive to retrofit existing buildings, saying that buildings are one of the fastest, most cost-effective and most attainable opportunities for climate change abatement and mitigation.

The Australian Government has released a consultation paper calling for industry feedback on the proposed scheme. From 1 July 2011, it is proposed that businesses that invest in eligible assets or capital works to improve the energy efficiency of their existing buildings would be eligible to apply for a one-off bonus tax deduction of 50 percent of the cost of these improvements.

"It's also vital that federal and state governments widen their focus beyond energy efficiency", Mr Mellon said.

"Sustainability is about more than just energy efficiency, and encompasses greenhouse gas emissions, water, waste, indoor environment quality and many other factors", he added.

The GBCA is currently developing a Green Star rating tool that can assess the sustainability of existing buildings, including management, transport, indoor environment quality, land use and ecology, emissions, materials and innovation. The tool is expected to be launched in 2012.

4.
Five ideas for a summer makeover

Whether you are planning to sell your house or just want to give it a fresh look, there is no doubting the power of a "lick of paint", so we've found five quick makeovers you can do before the end of summer.

According the Paint Quality Institute (PQI), applying a little top-quality acrylic water-based paint can transform your home quickly and easily without costing the earth.

"Paint is an easy way to transform the exterior of your home,' said Mike Beresford, manager of PQI.

"All it takes is a bit of imagination and you can have a lot of fun while value-adding."

Here are five suggestions from the Paint Institute for a `quick fix' makeover that will change the look and feel of your house in no time at all.

Idea #1: Paint an accent wall

Consider painting just one wall or section of a wall in a different colour. An accent wall
will add visual interest without the expense of a full repaint.

Idea #2: Paint the fence

A fence is a little like the picture frame around a painting. If it is old and decrepit or the wrong colour it can detract from the visual presentation. Painting your fence in a colour that complements your home adds to the overall presentation.

Idea #3: Paint window frames and trim

Another option is to leave the external wall colour but paint your window frames and trim in a different, contrasting colour. This can produce a dramatic change to the look of your home, especially if the walls are painted in a neutral colour.

Idea #4: Paint the front door

First impressions are lasting impressions! A fresh coat of paint to the front door will make a favourable impression on your visitors and is a great investment if you are thinking of selling!

Idea #5: Paint architectural details

Even if you don't have to paint your home's exterior for maintenance, painting just the architectural details can improve its appearance. Painting shutters, pergolas, veranda trim and posts in colours that contrast with the walls is an inexpensive way to give your home a lift.

Whichever exterior home painting project you choose, Mike Beresford suggests it pays to choose top quality, acrylic water-based paints made by a reputable manufacturer.

"These paints have superior `hiding' capability, they are moisture and mildew resistant, are often self priming and offer tremendous durability, so your paint job will continue to look great for years to come," he says.

For more ideas on painting, check out the PQI websites at www.paintquality.com.au.

5.
What a rubbish hotel

What's the trashiest hotel you've ever stayed at? Here's one that can probably top it, and all in the name of raising environmental awareness.

Made with twelve tonnes of trash taken from beaches around Europe, the Corona Extra Save the Beach Hotel opened its doors in Madrid recently, for a short time only.

The hotel could be visited every day between 11 am and 7 pm, and ten people selected by a raffle were accommodated each night in the five double rooms of the hotel. Not exactly a luxury hotel, but it did offer a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, drawing attention to what our holidays could be like in the future if we do not take care of our beaches and continue to discard thousands of tonnes of trash each year.

6.
Positively glowing

Human eyes are adept at adjusting to dark surroundings, but even the smallest amount of light in the dark can make a world of difference.

When it comes to navigating our own house we sometimes lose our bearings with the lights out, and that's designer Jeong-Sun Park's Knob Light's time to shine. The light bulb-come-door-knob has an inbuilt generator that stores energy as the door is used throughout the day, leaving it luminous in the dark.

Apart from saving a potential bump in the night and providing direction in the case of an emergency, the knob can also serve as a nightlight in children's rooms.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Latest Property News from Ted Hanson

Friday 21 January 2011
Australia Day Celebrations & Illawarra Aquathon

Celebrate Australia Day 2011 in Wollongong!

Australia Day celebrations will be full of staged entertainment, roving entertainment, stalls, amusement rides & a spectacular fireworks display.

More Information

1.
Housing finance posts modest growth
Loans for owner-occupied housing increased in November 2010 for the sixth consecutive month, according to figures released this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The number of commitments (in trend terms) rose for the purchase of established dwellings (1.1 per cent), the purchase of new dwellings (2.3 per cent) and construction of dwellings (0.7 per cent).

In seasonally adjusted terms, the total value of dwelling finance commitments excluding alterations and additions rose 1.2 per cent.

The trend estimate for the value of owner-occupied housing commitments rose 1.1 per cent, while investment housing commitments fell 0.5 per cent.

Seasonally adjusted figures for November show that the total number of owner-occupier loans increased by 3.3 per cent in New South Wales, by 2.2 per cent in Victoria, 1.6 per cent in Queensland, 2.3 per cent in South Australia, 2.2 per cent in Western Australia, 7.4 per cent in the Northern Territory and 3.7 per cent in the Australian Capital Territory. Loans fell by 1.9 per cent in Tasmania.

2.
Land sales hit rock

Land sales volumes are the lowest they have been in a decade and prices are rising, according to the latest residential land report from the Housing Industry Association and analytics provider rpdata.com.

The HIA-rpdata.com Residential Land Report shows the volume of land sales fell sharply in the September 2010 quarter to be down 57 per cent on the same quarter in 2009.

Meanwhile, the median value of land in Australia grew 2.8 per cent in the September 2010 quarter to $186,629. Over the year to September 2010, the median value is up 5.2 per cent.

Residential land value in capital cities grew 5.3 per cent over the year to the September 2010 quarter while land value for Australia's regional areas grew 4.4 per cent over the same period.

RPdata.com senior research analyst Cameron Kusher said that the escalating cost of land was not only impacting the affordability of new homes but also that of existing housing product.

"When the median price of a block of land in Sydney is $269,000 it's easy to see why affordability is spiralling out of control", Mr Kusher said.

"When you add on top of the land cost: professional fees, government charges and the actual cost of constructing a home it's no surprise that many Australians are forced to remain in the rental market, paying off others' mortgages.

"When an adult working full-time is earning an average of $1,310/week ($68,120 pa) and is looking at a median purchase cost for land in a capital city of between $145,000 (Hobart) and $269,000 (Sydney) there is clearly a disconnect.

"People looking to purchase the land on which to build a house are paying between two and four times their annual wage just to secure the land", he concluded.

3.
Wild weather warning: check your policy

As the damages bill from recent extreme weather in Queensland, northern NSW and Victoria reaches billions of dollars and continues to increase, affected householders are left wondering just what their insurance will cover. Was this a flood, or stormwater run-off?

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) this week warned that not all insurance policies will cover policyholders for this type of flood event and that policyholders should contact their insurer for clarification.

"All claims received by the general insurance industry will be assessed on a case-by-case basis taking into account the nature of the damage sustained and the terms and conditions of each insurance policy", ICA Chief Executive Rob Whelan said.

"Flood insurance products are widely available in QLD and have been for a number of years," he added.

A report by consumer advocacy group Choice into home and contents insurance found that while rainwater run off is covered by almost all policies, cover for flash flooding is only offered by around two thirds of policies.

Flooding that occurs when it hasn't rained in your area such as when a river overflows due to heavy rain upstream -- is only covered by about 50 per cent of insurers, the report showed.

Flooding now makes up almost one-third of all insurance pay-outs related to natural disasters, according to the ICA.

Choice found that if you are living in one of 170,000 homes in Australia considered to be in a high flood-risk area you may experience some difficulty getting flood cover and may be charged a surcharge which can range from 30 per cent up to 1000 per cent of your premium.

While many policies do include coverage for rainwater run off, this may not include flash flooding.

It was also found that insurers also use different definitions and exclusions for floods. Some cover you against flash flooding after heavy rain if it was caused by a man-made waterway but not if it was caused by a water catchment system, such as a creek flowing behind your house.

Generally speaking, if your property is located within an area that has been classed as "flood prone", your insurance policy will not cover you for flooding. If your property is not in a flood prone area, you may or may not be covered for `flash' flooding, depending on the insurance policy you hold.

If you're not sure if your property is in a flood prone area, contact your local council.

As always, the golden rule is if you don't know, ask! Phone your insurance company and ask them exactly what you're covered for and under what circumstances.

4.
City of the future

We like to see people who don't just talk the walk, but live it. It seems Masdar is a whole city of people who do just that.

An emerging global hub for renewable energy and clean technologies, the Arabian city offers a fertile environment to inspire innovation, creativity and growth in the areas of future energy and sustainable technologies. Basically, it is the place where best practice in sustainable urban planning and development is being developed, tested and deployed.

Construction of Masdar City began in February 2008, and since then:

  • The residential units use 54 per cent less water and 51 per cent less electricity than the UAE norm
  • Low-carbon concrete design mixes were developed to reduce the carbon footprint
  • The application of active and passive orientation, design and specification has led to a 55 per cent reduction in buildings' external heat gains.
  • Up to 30 per cent of their electricity demand is provided by rooftop photovoltaic panels
  • 75 per cent of the buildings' hot water is provided by rooftop thermal collectors
  • Cutting-edge pilot projects have been implemented in the areas of geothermal energy; solar thermal absorption chillers; greywater treatment; personal rapid transit; smart appliances and smart grid
5.
How to find north

When you're looking for a new home it is important to know how the movement of the sun through the day will affect your living space. If you have an i-Phone, you would probably use its Compass app, but you can also locate north using an analog watch and the sun.

Simply hold your watch parallel to the ground and line up twelve with the sun. Exactly half way between the hour hand and twelve is approximately north. Try it and see! (In the Northern Hemisphere, you would point the hour hand in the direction of the sun.)

6.
Beyond the looking glass

There is often more to life than we see; perhaps that's why we keep looking for it. Catching things from the corner of our eye, allowing our gaze to linger on inanimate objects for longer than perhaps we should, or checking our periphery in the mirror.

Glimpse gives us just that, a glimpse through a door to a room that isn't there. The cleverly designed wall mirror is tall, thin and designed to give the appearance of a slightly opened door, thus creating an eerie peek to a doppelganger of your room through a solid wall.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Latest Property News from Ted Hanson

Friday 14 January 2011
Property or shares?

It is one of the perennial questions of investing - shares or property? Both asset classes have their positives and negatives, their supporters and detractors. Over the very long term, it seems likely that Australian shares have provided better returns than property.

Read the full article

1.
Dwelling approvals down again
After a surprise lift the previous month, approvals for new homes dropped again in November according to data released this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The figures show that the total number of dwellings approved fell 4.2 per cent in November 2010, in seasonally adjusted terms, after rising 8.3 per cent in October.

Victoria (3.1 per cent), Queensland (3.3 per cent) and Western Australia (7.1 per cent) recorded more dwelling approvals this month while New South Wales (-13.4 per cent) and South Australia (-2.7 per cent) recorded fewer dwelling approvals in seasonally adjusted terms.

Private sector houses approved fell 1.7 per cent with falls in New South Wales (-4.9 per cent) and Victoria (-2.8 per cent) while Queensland (4.1 per cent) and Western Australia (0.9 per cent) rose. South Australia remained steady.

The value of total building approved fell 3.5 per cent in November in seasonally adjusted terms. The value of total residential building fell by 5.9 per cent while non-residential building rose by 1.4 per cent.

2.
Homes could take year to dry out

Flooded homes in Queensland could take up to twelve months to dry out, building advisors have warned this week.

While the initial devastation is painfully clear, homeowners are being urged by Archicentre to be aware of the less-obvious effects of sustained water damage on insulation and the structural integrity of their homes.

Ian Agnew, Queensland State Manager of Archicentre said that flood damage can be quite extensive requiring all particle board cupboards, doors and plaster work to be totally replaced especially where water penetrates the house and insulation in walls becomes water logged.

"The size of the floods, the depth of the flood water and the time buildings could be underwater will mean home owners affected will need ongoing community and government support over a long period of time to restore their homes, businesses and community assets within townships". Mr Agnew said.

"It is important to recognise that flood damaged buildings could take over a year to dry out completely and the natural tendency for people to renovate and redecorate as quickly as possible can lead to mould growth and the work having to be repeated."

Mr Agnew added that the intensity of the flood will also have major structural implications
for affected homes and the structural integrity of attached decks, balconies or tank stands supporting full tanks of water weighing several tons.

"The underlying health issues associated with the floods and the disinfecting of homes should not only include interior surfaces but also should extend into the wall framing and sub-floor structure", Mr Agnew suggested.

Archicentre has prepared the following points to consider for flood damage clean-up:

1. Start at the roof. Remove the iron or tiles to allow the sun to shine in to help the drying out process.
2. Check for vermin - there could be rats or snakes in the roof space that have come into the building to escape the flood waters.
3. Remove any insulation that is water-damaged in the walls or ceilings.
4. Plasterboard will need replacing.
5. Solid furniture should be put somewhere to dry. Particle furniture will most likely be destroyed.
6. Clean everything down with a high-pressure hose.
7. New meter boxes will need to be fitted. All other electrical equipment must be checked and replaced where necessary.
8. Put old photos in a flat container of water with some detergent. The detergent will separate them. Once all else is done, take them out and let them dry. This won't work with ink-jet produced photos.
9. Following floods, large pools typically form under the house. These areas need to be re-graded to prevent long-term structural damage like rotted floor framing.
10. Be careful of power points and switches that collect mud and impurities. Ensure a licensed electrician checks these before reconnection of power and a licensed plumber for water or any gas appliances being reconnected.
11. Debris and rotting wood left from flood waters are an ideal food source for termites long term and a termite check by a professional pest inspector is also an important element of flood recovery.

3.
New homes not selling

New home sales faltered in November 2010 despite a lift in the apartment sector, the Housing Industry Association (HIA) announced this week.

The latest HIA/JELD-WEN New Home Sales Report, a survey of Australia's major residential builders, showed that the number of new homes sold eased by 0.2 per cent in November 2010 with detached house sales declining by 1.1 per cent. Sales of multi-units increased by 8.1 per cent last November.

Over the three months to November 2010 new home sales fell by 2 per cent to be 11 per cent lower when compared to the same three-month period in 2009.

Detached new house sales increased by 6.2 per cent in New South Wales and by 1.5 per cent in Western Australia in November 2010. Sales fell by 0.2 per cent in Victoria, 10.4 per cent in Queensland, and 0.8 per cent in South Australia.

HIA Chief Economist, Dr Harley Dale, said that new home building conditions weakened considerably over the second half of 2010 and activity looks set to decline across all states and territories in 2011.

"The risk of a sharp contraction in new home building in 2011 is exacerbated by the negative impact on households and small businesses of increases in borrowing costs and by the persistent lack of available credit for small and medium sized new home projects", Dale said.

"It would be a shot in the arm for confidence and activity in the residential sector to see the New Year kicked off by a re-engagement of housing policy reform by the Federal Government to address a range of supply side constraints including the credit squeeze.

"Furthermore, given that new housing is one of the most heavily and inequitably taxed industries in Australia it is essential that the upcoming taxation summit delivers bold and effective policy reform", he added.

4.
Fixed rate loans gain edge

Australians' demand for fixed rate home loans has increased to a 31-month high, according to loan approval figures from a leading mortgage broking firm.

Mortgage Choice customer data for December 2010 shows the year ended with a bang for fixed interest rates as appetite for fixed loans increased to a level not seen since May 2008.

For a third consecutive month, every state saw a lift in its uptake despite the continued rising cost of fixed rates.

Company spokesperson Kristy Sheppard remarked that Australian borrowers' demand for fixed term mortgages has reached a pace unseen for over two and a half years, at 15.2 per cent of our loan approvals in December, despite the cash rate being much lower now than back then.

"Fixed term loan approvals rose four percentage points over the month to more than double the six month average of 7.1 per cent and more than triple the 12-month average of 4.6 per cent", Ms Sheppard said.

"Much is being written about the cautious attitude of Australians and our latest data reflects that. Many mortgage holders are locking in the interest rate on part or all of their loan so (that) they can better control their ability to meet repayments.

"It's obvious that concerns about utility bills and other living cost hikes along with predicted rate rises for 2011 are having a noticeable effect on the purchase decisions of new borrowers.

"Home loan commitments are no exception."

However, standard variable rate loans continue to hold relatively steady as the favoured home loan type, at 32.9 per cent of approvals, followed by basic variable loans at 25.1 per cent and ongoing discount loans at 21.2 per cent.

The latter type of loan - where the interest rate is discounted over the entire loan term (most of these would be `professional package' loans) - experienced a significant rise of 4.3 percentage points in December. This also reflects the growing conservatism of new mortgage holders.

Line of credit home loans (often popular with investors) rose to 5.4 per cent of approvals from 3.8 per cent while introductory rate home loans accounted for only 0.3 per cent of all approvals in December.

Note: Mortgage Choice currently claims to write one in 25 new home loans in Australia, equating to over $10 billion in approvals per year, allowing it to provide insight into borrower preferences. The 18-year old firm has a loan book of over $40 billion.

5.
Home is where the runway is

If your favourite mode of transport is the family's Lear Jet, then you'll probably want to live at a residential airpark where you can land and park close to home.

There are around 500 residential airparks (also known as fly-in communities) across the United States, according to the Living With Your Plane organisation which produces a newsletter, annual directory of airparks and a library of floor plans for homes with airplane hangars.

6.
A day off

Eighties movie buffs take a deep breath and get ready to cut class, because the house from the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off is on the market.

The very same iconic abode housed Bueller's best friend Cameron's dad's Ferrari, up until the point that they tried to run the car in reverse to take off the Ks they'd accumulated over their adventures, and consequently watched the car plummet through the panoramic windows to the wilderness below.

The 5,300 square foot residence in Illinois offers four glass-cased bedrooms, three bathrooms and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking wilderness, the UK Daily Mail reports.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Latest Property News from Ted Hanson

Friday 07 January 2011
Change you can believe in

Whether galvanised by that shiny new treadmill under the tree, the trial gym membership in your Christmas stocking, or the flab you've packed on over the holidays, you're determined to get fit in 2011.

Full Article

1.
Housing shortage will underpin market

While the ratio of house prices to income has risen over the past decade, it has eased to below pre-GFC levels, according to the Housing Industry Association (HIA).

HIA Economics found that as of September 2010, Australia's house price to household income ratio was 4.1.

HIA Senior Economist Andrew Harvey said recently that in terms of the capital cities, the ratio is 4.2, while in Regional Australia the ratio is 4.1.

"This is in contrast to claims from some quarters that the ratio is more like six or seven", he commented.

Harvey noted that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently slashed its earlier view that Australian houses were overvalued by 25 per cent and while stating that prices could be 5 to 10 per cent higher than market value, it signaled that the Australian housing market will continue to be supported by fundamentals including strong population growth and high real incomes.

"HIA's work on underlying demand indicates that Australia continues to run large annual deficits between the underlying demand for dwellings and the completion of dwellings, so in the longer term Australia's housing market is underpinned by the immutable forces of insufficient supply and robust underlying demand", he said.

HIA's updated projections of the underlying demand for housing suggest that Australia built 22,000 too few dwellings in 2009/10, with a projected deficit of 16,800 dwellings in 2010/11 and 21,000 dwellings in 2011/12.

"In addition to the strong fundamentals in terms of housing supply and demand, Australia's housing market has already been correcting in terms of price movements and most Australian home owners can readily meet their debt servicing obligations", Mr Harvey added.

Looking forward, supply-side factors such as the increasing scarcity of land in the main urban centres in Australia will continue to play a major role in driving Australia's housing prices, a point also raised by the IMF.

"Governments at all levels need to increase their efforts to address these supply side issues as a matter of urgency," Harvey concluded.

2.
Councils stockpiling levies

Local councils across Sydney are sitting on almost $560 million in unspent infrastructure levies - and some earn more in interest than they spend, according to a recent audit conducted by the Property Council of Australia.

The investigation looked into Section 94 levies, based on local government financial statements for 2009-10. These infrastructure levies are built into the cost of new houses and collected on the promise they will be spent on essential infrastructure and community facilities.

NSW Executive Director Glenn Byres said the figures show a 12 per cent increase in unspent levies over the past 12 months - up from $499 million in 2008-09.

More than $193 million in Section 94 contributions were collected during 2009-10 - but only $168 million was spent.

Seven councils raised more in interest on unspent infrastructure levies in the past year than they spent - collectively earning $14.7 million but spending $8.9 million.

"Some councils do the right thing but there is a clear case for greater accountability in the collection and use of infrastructure levies," Mr Byres said.

"Some of the worst offenders have sought exemptions from the cap on Section 94 contributions and oppose development on the grounds of strained infrastructure.

"They would be better served by a regime that trims the amount councils can collect and then ensures it is spent effectively.

"The opportunity for fundamental reform of infrastructure levies was missed this year when the NSW Government lost its nerve on plans to overhaul them.

"Ultimately, we need structural reform of local government that includes larger councils with strict fiscal rules and in return, the abolition of rate capping."

Mr Byres suggested that solutions could include:

- Alternative financing methods like Growth Area Bonds - where governments fund infrastructure with a bond then repay it with the growth in property taxes generated by the investment
- `Use it or lose it' provisions when unspent money above set benchmarks is reallocated by the Local Government Grants Commission
- Stricter enforcement of caps on infrastructure levies and a greater role for IPART in scrutinising S94 plans.

KEY FACTS ARISING FROM S94 AUDIT

* The audit is sourced directly from the financial statements of councils for 2009-10. In other words, these are figures supplied by councils.
* The collective closing balance in S94 funds across 39 Sydney councils as at June 30th, 2010 was $559.181 million.
* The equivalent balance for the F2009 year was $499.555 million.
* The change represents a 12% increase in unspent S94 levies.
* Ku-ring-gai Council had the highest balance in unspent levies at $67.496 million.
* It is the second consecutive year Ku-ring-gai has had the highest balance - and it increased by 19.5% from $56.479 million.
* Seven councils collected more in interest on levies during 2009-10 than they spent on infrastructure.
* Sutherland Council collected $6.897 million in interest - but spent just $3.863 million.

3.
On a roll
A rolling stone may gather no moss, but does a rolling city gather occupants?

Time will tell, as the Swedish architecture office Jagnefalt Milton has won a Norwegian master plan competition with their idea to have buildings rolling through the city of Ă…ndalsnes on rails.

Putting pre-existing railroads back into use, along with adding a few new ones, the winning concept would use the base for new buildings that could be moved around depending on seasons and situations, freeing the stigma of being locked into a location. Among the proposed rolling buildings are a hotel, concert hall and public bath.

4.
10 top ways to make buyers hate your house

All homebuyers are looking for something different, but there is one thing that is common to them all - they'll usually turn around and walk back out your door if they notice one or more of these problems.

If you really want to sell your house, make sure it's free and clear of the top 10 things that discourage buyers.

1. Odours

The way your house smells is the first thing any visitors notice and cigarette smoke, pets, mildew and last night's meal are the worst offenders.

Covering up the odours is often not enough - you need to eradicate them so that your house has a clean, fresh atmosphere. Shampoo the carpets and wash the curtains, cushion covers and bed linen. Open the windows and doors to allow plenty of ventilation.

Nevertheless, baking a cake on open day is always a good idea, as it has an instant "mmmm..." effect.

2. Dogs that meet you at the door

Dogs and open houses do not mix. Fido may frighten or annoy buyers, even if you know he is the sweetest animal around. Likewise, some people are allergic to cats and won't be charmed by your moggie lounging on the furniture.

If possible, remove pets while your house is open for inspection. Take your dog for a walk, keep the cat outside or in a carrier basket, put a cover over the bird-cage and get the kids to take the ferret to their friend's house for the day!

3. Dimly Lit Rooms

Few homebuyers in Australia are looking to live in a dark house. Besides that, they will want to be able to see what the house looks like "in the daylight". Make sure your house is shown to its best advantage by cleaning the windows and opening curtains and blinds.

Replace dim or broken light fittings and turn on lamps in the sitting room or bedrooms. You may consider repainting some rooms with light-reflecting colours or trimming trees that shadow the house.

4. Dirty Bathrooms

Dirty bathrooms are an instant turnoff. Scrub them, paint them, and replace some tiles if necessary. Matching (fluffy) towels, clean mirrors and a new shower curtain will make even the dingiest bathroom sparkle.

5. Clutter

Leaving your house untidy may make it look "lived in", but it's your stuff, not something the buyers will relate to. They need to be able to picture themselves in the space.

Remove the kids' toys, the newspapers you were reading and the clothes your teenager left on the floor, and replace them with a bowl of fruit or a vase of flowers - nothing else. Clear shelves and other surfaces to a minimum - just enough to make them look good, but not overwhelming.

6. Damp

Any dampness, mould or even damp smells in the house throw up a red flag to buyers.
If you have leaks, fix them. Mould on walls can be cleaned off with a mixture of bleach and detergent. Look for peeling paint in the bathroom as this indicates excessive moisture and lack of ventilation and signals future problems to the prospective owner.

7. Bugs

No-one wants to live with spiders, cockroaches, ants or any other type of insect that shouldn't be in the house. Get rid of them and any evidence that they've ever been there (such as spider webs). Ant piles in the lawn are also a deterrent, as they are indicative of a greater problem.

8. Unappealing frontage

Unless you were looking for a place to renovate, would you bother walking into a house that looked like a junkyard? Buyers won't expect to pay top dollar for a house with a messy yard, sagging doors or peeling paint. Clean up the yard, plant some flowers and fix the obvious signs of neglect on the exterior of the house.

9. Messy Gutters

Gutters with plants growing in them or rusty broken bits hanging down will make buyers wonder what other maintenance tasks have been neglected. Imagine how it will look if it rains on open day and your gutters overflow because you haven't cleaned them in years...

10. Sellers Who Hang Around

Go to the beach, have coffee with a friend, do some shopping - but be out of the house when it is open for inspection. Homebuyers feel awkward about opening cupboards and lingering for a really good look at the house if the seller is there. They will also ask more questions and clarify issues if they are talking to an agent rather than the owner.

5.
A handle on health

It's difficult to feel good about shaking hands with someone who has just been coughing into theirs, or to touch a door handle on a public lavatory after you've washed your hands. The bacteria and viruses our bodies deal with on a daily basis are often hard to avoid, so it's good to see an innovation that helps.

With the aim of preventing the spread of communicable diseases from hand to hand, designer Choi Bomi has developed Door Handle with Self-sterilisation. The door handle is home to a UV lamp that constantly sterilises itself while not being used; the moment someone pulls it down to open the door it switches off until it is released, and subsequently cleansed. As a result, it also emits a nice glow while the UV light is activated.