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The gadget meant to run my heating has a mind of its own!

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the gadget meant to run my heating has a mind of its own
Hot and cold: Laura’s had trouble with her app

Hot and cold: Laura’s had trouble with her app

Hot and cold: Laura’s had trouble with her app

It’s got a mind of its own.’ That’s what I find myself saying about our home ‘smart’ thermostat. So much so that I’ve nicknamed it Hal after the malfunctioning computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which controls a spacecraft and tries to kill its crew. 

Together with Amazon’s Alexa interrupting our family chat, it’s starting to feel like there are as many gadgets thinking for themselves in my home as there are people. Not that I’m worried that Hal is intelligent enough to terminate me given it is sometimes incapable of carrying out its primary function – to manage room temperature. More dumb than smart. 

My version of Hal is Cosy, a product manufactured by Geo. It is one of many revolutionary bits of tech aiming to drag traditional, clunky home heating systems into the modern age. 

They allow us to manage home boilers via a smartphone app and set when the heating comes on and off. In theory anyway. I got mine ‘free’ with an energy deal I took out five years ago. But it now seems troubled. 

I have fiddled with timings and temperature settings via the app, but it is determined to dance to its own tune. As a result, the heating suddenly fired up on one of the hottest days of the year when no one was home. It then failed to come on one morning when the temperature plummeted. 

And I’ve even had to jiggle cables connecting the hub to the internet just so I can log in to the app. 

The market for smart thermostats is expanding. Products include Hive from British Gas, Google Nest, Tado, Honeywell and Drayton Wiser. 

When they work, they are a godsend. Homes are heated effortlessly at precisely the times you want. And if you’re not at home, the heating will switch off or you can adjust it remotely. But snags can be exasperating and it seems I’m not alone in my frustrations. 

Hive has a swarm of disgruntled customers launching stinging attacks on the performance of both the product and the company’s customer service. 

They say errors have led to tropical temperatures in the middle of the night – or no heating when it’s most needed. Yet advertising suggests customers can save £120 a year by ‘never heating an empty home’. 

Hive has an online community forum for customers to engage with each other. One unhappy customer posted a review last year, triggering thousands of responses from similarly troubled users. Complaints were still being added to the same thread in the last few days. 

The Mail on Sunday has contacted some of the forum’s contributors. 

Among them is retired electronics engineer Jim Penman, 65, from Edinburgh. He claims Hive worked well initially but its performance faltered when the company introduced ‘intelligent’ thermostatic radiator valves – known as TRVs – early last year. 

These are designed for heating specific rooms at different times. But Jim, and others, report frequently having to ‘recalibrate’ them – in other words reset them. 

He says: ‘It’s impossible to test everything with a new product and there can be teething troubles – most people expect that.

‘But people on the Hive forum are complaining for three reasons. First, this has been going on for longer than a year and faults are numerous. Second, valves need to be recalibrated when Hive issues an update, which takes up to four hours and the heating needs to be switched on. 

‘Finally, the valves call for heat when they’re not supposed to – often in the middle of the night.’ 

Jim has contacted customer services but never received the technical help he needed and says getting through to someone who knows the system better than he does is like ‘pulling teeth’. 

‘Customer services is diabolical,’ adds Jim. ‘I’ve ditched the system and now use a rival. The complete lack of interest from Hive is what really upsets me.’

Another customer, called Andrew, is scathing. He says: ‘These TRVs are the most troublesome pieces of tripe I’ve ever used. 

‘Perpetual recalibration, not reacting to the schedule, so slow to react that the idea of controlling room temperatures without giving an hour or more notice is a farce… just terrible.’ 

Meanwhile, Mike, 68, from Manchester, says: ‘It’s been 18 months and I still have radiators that do not get warm within 30 minutes when the heating is on.’ He says customer services suggested setting the heating to come on earlier, despite the fact this would cost more money. Another suggestion was to boost the heating from the app, rather than relying on an automatic schedule. 

Mike adds: ‘The idea of smart heating is that you set it and it works, not that you set your alarm early to do it manually.’ 

Hive has 1.5million customers of which 28,000 use TRVs. The company claims a high satisfaction rate but admits around 1,000 customers have been impacted adversely by a software update, meaning their TRVs are stuck on one setting. 

It says: ‘We’re resolving this as a priority and it will be fully fixed in the next few weeks. Customers who contact us will be advised on how to reset the TRV straightaway and we will be posting this advice on our community pages.’ 

Hive has also hired extra staff to address long waiting times for anyone who calls customer services. It adds: ‘Customers can use our social media channels, online chat or call centre support to access help – and we recently trained 300 additional employees to improve call waiting times, with calls now answered in 60 seconds.’ 

Meanwhile, I’m warned daily in my West Midlands home by my Cosy display of a ‘switch error’ or ‘link error’. Maybe Hal is having a breakdown. 

The heating at least comes on and can be controlled manually. So, I limp on, randomly pressing buttons and moving the thermostat around the house to force the boiler to wake up.

 In fairness, I could contact Geo for assistance – I did once and found them helpful. I’m now told Cosy is no longer being marketed and that new products will be launched soon. 

Last week, Geo told me: ‘If there are problems with Cosy, we have a help section on our website and a team of knowledgeable customer service staff to directly answer customer questions.’ 

Fine. But I only want ‘fit and forget’ gadgets – and that means a Hal that behaves itself.

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Motor dealers to offer and average of 7% off new cars this month to recoup lockdown 2 losses

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motor dealers to offer and average of 7 off new cars this month to recoup lockdown 2 losses

Car dealers in England are set to offer big discounts on popular mainstream models this month as they reopen their doors from today following the second national lockdown.

With showrooms forced to revert to online sales and click-and-collect services over the last month, UK car registrations look on course to only just break 1.5 million units in 2020 – down from 2.3 million last year.

With the pandemic pounding car sales in 2020, there will be a real drive in December for manufacturers to shift as many new cars as possible to bulk out end-of-year figures. As a result, market research suggests dealerships will offer average discounts of almost 7 per cent on new 70-plate models.

Dealers readied for December sales: The biggest saving available is on the £27,085 VW Passat 1.5 TSI SE Nav 4dr petrol, with 22.3% off - or £5,833

Dealers readied for December sales: The biggest saving available is on the £27,085 VW Passat 1.5 TSI SE Nav 4dr petrol, with 22.3% off - or £5,833

Dealers readied for December sales: The biggest saving available is on the £27,085 VW Passat 1.5 TSI SE Nav 4dr petrol, with 22.3% off – or £5,833

Britain’s biggest new car discounts for December have been revealed by What Car? as part of its Target Price mystery shopper analysis.

It has calculated that the average discount in December will be 6.6 per cent, which equates to a cash saving on average of £2,726.

However, there are some cars that will be subject to more substantial reductions than others.

The biggest and most impressive deal is more than a fifth off the price of a new petrol-powered Volkswagen family car. 

The VW Passat saloon in ‘SE Nav’ specification with a 1.5-litre TSI engine is available with a 22.3 per cent cash saving from dealers.

And it’s not the only model that sales staff will strike a deal on.

The second most sizable saving is on the VW Touran MPV with the 1.5-litre TSI EVO petrol engine in SE Family trim. It usually retails at £30,105, though in December buyers can save up to 19.5%, cutting £5,621 off the asking price

The second most sizable saving is on the VW Touran MPV with the 1.5-litre TSI EVO petrol engine in SE Family trim. It usually retails at £30,105, though in December buyers can save up to 19.5%, cutting £5,621 off the asking price

The second most sizable saving is on the VW Touran MPV with the 1.5-litre TSI EVO petrol engine in SE Family trim. It usually retails at £30,105, though in December buyers can save up to 19.5%, cutting £5,621 off the asking price

Drivers can get a discount of 17.8% on the Nissan Micra 1.0 IG-T 100 N-Tec 5dr.  It normally retails at £17,265, though you could save up to £3,035 this month

Drivers can get a discount of 17.8% on the Nissan Micra 1.0 IG-T 100 N-Tec 5dr.  It normally retails at £17,265, though you could save up to £3,035 this month

Drivers can get a discount of 17.8% on the Nissan Micra 1.0 IG-T 100 N-Tec 5dr.  It normally retails at £17,265, though you could save up to £3,035 this month

The Seat Arona is a versatile compact SUV. In the 1.0 TSI 110 FR [EZ] spec, it's economical too. In December. motorists can save 16.9% on the £22,035 asking price, which equates to £3,677

The Seat Arona is a versatile compact SUV. In the 1.0 TSI 110 FR [EZ] spec, it's economical too. In December. motorists can save 16.9% on the £22,035 asking price, which equates to £3,677

The Seat Arona is a versatile compact SUV. In the 1.0 TSI 110 FR [EZ] spec, it’s economical too. In December. motorists can save 16.9% on the £22,035 asking price, which equates to £3,677

The Seat Arona SUV can be had with 16.9 per cent slashed off the retail price, while the in-demand Mercedes A-Class – one of Britain’s best-selling new cars this year – is being discounted by more than 11 per cent by dealers.

Analysis of the Target Price mystery shopper data also revealed Smart, Seat and Nissan offer the largest discounts across their ranges. 

Smart was found to offer 12 per cent reductions on average across all its models, while Seat was found to discount its vehicles by 11.4 per cent and Nissan by 10 per cent. 

The biggest financial saving is on the BMW 5 Series - an amount of £6,695. That's due to a discount of 16.6% on the 520d MHT M Sport 4dr Step Auto, which normally costs £43,070

The biggest financial saving is on the BMW 5 Series - an amount of £6,695. That's due to a discount of 16.6% on the 520d MHT M Sport 4dr Step Auto, which normally costs £43,070

The biggest financial saving is on the BMW 5 Series – an amount of £6,695. That’s due to a discount of 16.6% on the 520d MHT M Sport 4dr Step Auto, which normally costs £43,070

The Peugeot 108 1.0 72 Active 5dr is an affordable supermini, costing £13,185. This month, sales staff will shave up to 16.5% off the RRP, a saving of £2,023

The Peugeot 108 1.0 72 Active 5dr is an affordable supermini, costing £13,185. This month, sales staff will shave up to 16.5% off the RRP, a saving of £2,023

The Peugeot 108 1.0 72 Active 5dr is an affordable supermini, costing £13,185. This month, sales staff will shave up to 16.5% off the RRP, a saving of £2,023

Vauxhall's Grandland X, in 1.6 Hybrid SE Nav 5dr Auto, trim also makes the top 12 best deals on mainstream models. The RRP is  £36,700, though a 15.6% saving in December cuts that by £5,618

Vauxhall's Grandland X, in 1.6 Hybrid SE Nav 5dr Auto, trim also makes the top 12 best deals on mainstream models. The RRP is  £36,700, though a 15.6% saving in December cuts that by £5,618

Vauxhall’s Grandland X, in 1.6 Hybrid SE Nav 5dr Auto, trim also makes the top 12 best deals on mainstream models. The RRP is  £36,700, though a 15.6% saving in December cuts that by £5,618

The Renault Kadjar is the sister car to the Nissan Qashqai and is subject to big savings. The 1.3 TCE GT Line 5dr usually costs £27,695. In December, buyers should be able to get a discount of 15.3%, or £4,084

The Renault Kadjar is the sister car to the Nissan Qashqai and is subject to big savings. The 1.3 TCE GT Line 5dr usually costs £27,695. In December, buyers should be able to get a discount of 15.3%, or £4,084

The Renault Kadjar is the sister car to the Nissan Qashqai and is subject to big savings. The 1.3 TCE GT Line 5dr usually costs £27,695. In December, buyers should be able to get a discount of 15.3%, or £4,084

Premium names, including BMW, Audi and Mercedes, are among the most-discounted brands, with savings of 8.1 per cent, 7.2 per cent and 6.6 per cent, respectively. 

Steve Huntingford, editor of What Car?, said: ‘With the second lockdown lifting, we’ve found the average new car discount is 6.6 per cent, but with dealers looking to shift stock following a month of closures, there are some great deals to be had.

‘With savings of more than 20 per cent available on some of the country’s most popular models it shows how keen retailers are to get customers back into showrooms, and underlines why buyers must do their research before they buy in order to ensure that they are getting a fair deal.’

Another car with large discounts in December is the Seat Ateca. The 1.0 TSI 115 Ecomotive SE 5dr usually retails for £23,670, though a 14.6% saving is the equivalent of pocketing £3,406

Another car with large discounts in December is the Seat Ateca. The 1.0 TSI 115 Ecomotive SE 5dr usually retails for £23,670, though a 14.6% saving is the equivalent of pocketing £3,406

Another car with large discounts in December is the Seat Ateca. The 1.0 TSI 115 Ecomotive SE 5dr usually retails for £23,670, though a 14.6% saving is the equivalent of pocketing £3,406

How about a deal on an electric city runaround? Smart's Fortwo Coupe 60kW EQ Passion Advanced 17kWh 2dr Auto [22kWCh] has 13.9% off the £20,550 RRP, which is £2,812

How about a deal on an electric city runaround? Smart's Fortwo Coupe 60kW EQ Passion Advanced 17kWh 2dr Auto [22kWCh] has 13.9% off the £20,550 RRP, which is £2,812

How about a deal on an electric city runaround? Smart’s Fortwo Coupe 60kW EQ Passion Advanced 17kWh 2dr Auto [22kWCh] has 13.9% off the £20,550 RRP, which is £2,812

For wind-in-your-hair driving, you can save 13% on the Mini Convertible with the 2.0-litre Cooper S engine in Classic II trim. That's £3,258 off the £26,255 asking price

For wind-in-your-hair driving, you can save 13% on the Mini Convertible with the 2.0-litre Cooper S engine in Classic II trim. That's £3,258 off the £26,255 asking price

For wind-in-your-hair driving, you can save 13% on the Mini Convertible with the 2.0-litre Cooper S engine in Classic II trim. That’s £3,258 off the £26,255 asking price

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class has been one of the best-selling new cars of 2020. In desirable A180 Sport trim - usually £25,255 - drivers can save 11.2%, or £2,715

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class has been one of the best-selling new cars of 2020. In desirable A180 Sport trim - usually £25,255 - drivers can save 11.2%, or £2,715

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class has been one of the best-selling new cars of 2020. In desirable A180 Sport trim – usually £25,255 – drivers can save 11.2%, or £2,715

Registrations on course to hit a 38-year low in 2020

Despite market-wide deals on offer, car registrations are on course to hit a 38-year low in 2020 after showrooms in England were forced to bolt their doors to customers for the second time this year from today.

Latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders showed that new vehicle sales slipped by a mere 1.6 per cent in October, suggesting some stability was returning to the market.

However, the second wave of lockdown measures in England – requiring showrooms to shut down from 5 November – is likely to be a hammer blow to the sector, with the trade body projecting it will knock a further 100,000 registrations off the books by the end of December with full-year sales falling to their lowest level since 1982.

As of mid-October, the industry had been expecting to register about 1.66 million new cars in 2020.

However, the second lockdown has seen market forecasts projected down by a further 100,000 units to 1.56 million.

This would equate to a total year-on-year decline of around 750,000 registrations and a £22.5 billion loss in turnover for the UK motor sector.

It also means that 2020 is now on course to be the weakest year for the industry since 1982.

November passenger vehicle registrations are due to be revealed by the SMMT in the coming days.

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How to build a nest egg: The ultimate guide to growing your money 

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how to build a nest egg the ultimate guide to growing your money

The nation has saved more than ever this year, yet interest rates have never been so low. 

New Bank of England figures show a staggering amount of money – £215 billion – is now sitting in current accounts paying no interest at all.

There is also around £844 billion languishing in easy-access savings accounts paying as little as 0.01 per cent or just 10p on every £1,000.

Investing at 65+

Investing at 65+

Investing at 30+

Investing at 30+

Age appropriate: Investors should take care to match their portfolio to the stage of the life – taking fewer risks the younger they are

Last week Money Mail launched our beginner’s guide to investing, to help you beat miserly savings rates and inflation.

And the new figures show why savers should seriously consider investing to get a fair return on their hard-earned nest eggs.

It is vital to ensure you have a savings safety net in an easy-access account in case of an emergency. 

But if you have more saved up and do not need to touch it for at least five years, investing is likely to be worthwhile.

This week we will explain how to build an investment portfolio to suit you and your goals.

Younger investors should be looking for big long-term rewards

Younger investors should be looking for big long-term rewards

Younger investors should be looking for big long-term rewards

The first rule of thumb is not to put all your eggs in one basket. Your money should be spread across a range of investments so that it can weather any storm. 

Data shows that the best-performing sector usually changes from one year to the next, so investors who narrow their focus risk missing out.

Figuring funds

The easiest way to invest in the markets is through funds. Investment funds spread your money across dozens of different assets – from stocks and shares to more cautious options such as bonds and gold.

The most common funds are those that focus mainly on stocks and shares — or ‘equities’ as they are usually known.

Though funds come in all shapes and sizes, equity funds are genuinely regarded as a medium-risk option and will be a mainstay of most portfolios.

It is best to invest in funds through an established investment platform such as Charles Stanley Direct or AJ Bell’s Youinvest. 

But before you can start to pick the right portfolio, you need to understand the different types of funds — and which ones will work best for you.

Man vs machine

When it comes to understanding how funds work, it’s worth knowing the difference between active and passive funds. 

Active funds have a specialist manager, tasked with picking those investments likely to perform well and avoiding those that are not.

This is particularly useful when there is a sudden change in markets, as the fund manager can try to limit the damage by pivoting towards better-performing assets.

Active funds have a specialist manager, tasked with picking investments, while 'passive' funds often automatically track a particular index, such as the FTSE 100

Active funds have a specialist manager, tasked with picking investments, while 'passive' funds often automatically track a particular index, such as the FTSE 100

Active funds have a specialist manager, tasked with picking investments, while ‘passive’ funds often automatically track a particular index, such as the FTSE 100

Active funds typically charge higher annual fees (usually around 1 per cent) to pay management costs.

On the other hand, ‘passive’ funds often automatically track a particular index, such as the FTSE 100, with your capital rising (or falling) in line with that market.

With lower fees, tracker funds are a popular option for novice investors. But in a bad market, they won’t fare well.

Growth/income?

Another important distinction is between growth funds and income funds.

Typically, growth funds focus on assets that will acquire more value within a longer timeframe (three years minimum), whereas income funds aim to provide slow and steady growth from the offset.

While it’s common for investors to hold both types of funds (although not always an even split), growth funds are typically regarded as less suitable for low-risk investors. 

Investors focusing on growth funds should be prepared to see their capital decline in the short term if that means enjoying bigger rewards further down the line.

Over the past five years, UK growth funds have delivered an average return of around 24 per cent – double the return of the average income fund.

Going global

Funds can also target a certain part of the world. When choosing funds, you might want to think about your own outlook for the global economy.

If you are bullish about China’s return to growth, or you expect the UK economy to roar back thanks to a vaccine, you can pick a fund focused on those markets.

If you are bullish about China's return to growth, or you expect the UK economy to roar back thanks to a vaccine, you can pick a fund focused on those markets

If you are bullish about China's return to growth, or you expect the UK economy to roar back thanks to a vaccine, you can pick a fund focused on those markets

If you are bullish about China’s return to growth, or you expect the UK economy to roar back thanks to a vaccine, you can pick a fund focused on those markets

One of the big themes for investors this year has been the strong performance of U.S.-focused funds, many of which have invested heavily in surging tech stocks such as Amazon and Netflix.

Baillie Gifford’s American Fund – which invests heavily in big tech – has doubled investors’ money within a year, making it the star performer of 2020. 

As you might expect, it is consistently featured in the lists of most-purchased funds for British investors. But will its success hold up?

Focused options

First-time investors should pay attention to the type of companies targeted by a particular fund.

A fund with ‘large cap’ in its name is primarily focused on established ‘blue chip’ companies with high valuations and steady balance sheets. 

This may be combined with geography. A ‘U.S. large cap’ fund, for example, would invest in the biggest firms on the New York Stock Exchange – the S&P 500. 

Though most investors will spread their money across several different types of fund, it is worth noting that certain groups are considered riskier than others. 

This is particularly true for ’emerging market’ funds – or anything focused on ‘small cap’ companies.

Some specialist funds are focused on specific sectors rather than geography.

Healthcare funds have emerged as a popular choice for investors seeking ‘recession-proof’ funds. 

Safe bet? Healthcare funds have emerged as a popular choice for investors seeking 'recession-proof' funds

Safe bet? Healthcare funds have emerged as a popular choice for investors seeking 'recession-proof' funds

Safe bet? Healthcare funds have emerged as a popular choice for investors seeking ‘recession-proof’ funds

This has held up this year, in the midst of both a recession and a global pandemic. A £10,000 investment in the Fidelity Global Health Care fund in 2015 would now be worth more than £17,000 – with a 7 per cent return this year.

Property funds, which invest in retail, industrial and office premises, have traditionally been popular with investors and pension funds. 

Though it has been a tricky year for property funds, analysts believe the fundamentals of the sector remain strong.

Choose wisely

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at investment service Hargreaves Lansdown, says new customers often worry too much about a ‘single right answer’ when picking funds. ‘It’s a bit like picking a holiday,’ she says. 

‘You have an idea of what you want — sun, beaches — so the aim is to pick something that has those characteristics.’

Choosing the right funds for you depends on both your preferred risk appetite and your investment timeline.

Savers who are looking to invest for less than five years should be particularly careful to avoid riskier funds, such as growth funds or emerging markets.

When it comes to making your choices, there are several resources to help. Funds publish verifiable information about their past performance, their overall strategy and which shares they hold.

Many big investment platforms, including Hargreaves Lansdown, publish lists of ‘best buy’ funds, ranking them by performance and cost. None of this serves as a guarantee of future performance but it’s useful nonetheless.

Diversity wins

If there is one piece of advice any investor will tell you, it is to diversify your portfolio.

The idea is quite simple: by spreading your money around, you are not risking everything on one outcome. 

While you need more than one fund (usually around ten), it is important to make sure they are not all focused on the same markets.

Diversify: While you need more than one fund (usually around ten), it is important to make sure they are not all focused on the same markets

Diversify: While you need more than one fund (usually around ten), it is important to make sure they are not all focused on the same markets

Diversify: While you need more than one fund (usually around ten), it is important to make sure they are not all focused on the same markets

But building a diverse portfolio will likely mean combining funds with other assets too, in line with your risk appetite.

More confident investors, particularly those with longer timeframes, often choose to buy shares directly in companies.

Shares are an inherently riskier option than funds, as there is nothing to mitigate your losses if the company falls in value.

Yet the returns can be much higher. Just look at the likes of Greggs and Games Workshop – both of which have doubled in value several times in ten years.

‘If you can invest for more than ten years, maximising the amount of your money in shares is more appropriate,’ says Rob Morgan, an investment analyst for Charles Stanley Direct.

Cutting risk

At the other end of the spectrum, lower-risk investors can look to buttress their portfolios with ‘safer’ options.

It is common to invest in high-quality bonds – essentially IOUs issued by governments looking to raise money. 

U.S. bonds, in particular, are well known for paying steady interest rates, and for increasing in value during an economic downturn.

Most investors don’t buy bonds directly but instead purchase specialist funds that spread their money across multiple options.

The average strategic bond fund has risen over 25 per cent in five years, making a £10,000 investment in 2015 worth around £12,500.

These are particularly popular with retired investors, who may well have the majority of their money in bonds (and only a small percentage in equity funds).

Another option is ‘absolute return’ funds, which combine a variety of safer options – including bonds, cash and gold — with the aim of always generating a return in any market.

The five-year return on the average absolute return fund is just under 8 per cent – making a £10,000 investment worth around £10,800. For ultra-cautious investors, this could make up around a quarter of your portfolio.

Other bets

And what of those other items sometimes touted for their investment value, such as gold and expensive wine?

Though so-called ‘passion investments’ – classic cars and the like – are popular with collectors, they function outside of the stock exchange and are probably best left to the experts.

Gold and precious metals are not sold directly on the stock exchange but do have a recognised ‘price’. 

That price often rises when markets tumble, leading many to tout gold as a popular hedge strategy. This year, the price of gold surged nearly 40 per cent after the Covid crash.

Investors wanting to bring gold into their portfolio can look to specialist ETFs – exchange traded funds – which rise with the price of gold and silver.

Finally, it may also be worth keeping a small amount of your portfolio in a cash Isa, just to ensure you are well prepared for any unexpected expenditure.

moneymail@dailymail.co.uk

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Why doing up houses can be a flipping good idea

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why doing up houses can be a flipping good idea

For 17 years, the BBC’s Homes Under The Hammer has followed the travails of aspiring property developers, who buy unloved homes at auction before turning them into swish, lucrative real estate.

And while it might be a stretch to suggest daytime television is responsible for fuelling a housing trend, new figures show that so-called ‘home flipping’ has hit a 12-year high.

The art of ‘flipping’ is defined as buying, renovating and selling a property within 12 months. And it is a relatively quick way to make good cash.

A labour of love: Deborah and Paul Marshall flipped their fifth property in ten years last week - a three-bedroom home in Cottingham, East Yorkshire

A labour of love: Deborah and Paul Marshall flipped their fifth property in ten years last week - a three-bedroom home in Cottingham, East Yorkshire

A labour of love: Deborah and Paul Marshall flipped their fifth property in ten years last week – a three-bedroom home in Cottingham, East Yorkshire

The average profit this year is £40,955, a 26 per cent return, up from profits of £29,685 at 21 per cent in 2019, according to Hamptons International. 

But anyone hoping for a quick flip in today’s market will be met with long delays as conveyancers and surveyors struggle to cope with unprecedented demand.

So is now the right time to get involved? And does it work?

John Howard, who has bought and sold more than 3,500 properties in the UK, thinks it might be better to wait. He says buyers are currently paying top prices on the basis that the market will continue to grow.

‘I don’t think that will happen,’ he says. ‘My advice is let everyone else buy this year. Be patient. Doing one good deal is better than ten bad ones. The worst thing that can happen is you will still have your money next year.’

A rule of thumb for flippers is to aim for a minimum profit of 20 per cent. This is because plenty can go wrong, including underestimating renovation costs and short-term dips in the market.

For example, one might hope to buy a property at £200,000 and sell it at £300,000, factoring in costs of £50,000.

John says he is currently looking at 25 per cent to 30 per cent to give him a greater margin for error ahead of potential turbulence in 2021. To get a bigger discount, he is looking for properties in need of full refurb.

‘The more difficult and distressed it is, the less competition I have,’ he adds. ‘But to do that you need to know what you’re doing. The simple refurb and sell is what everyone else is looking for.’

Deborah Marshall says flipping houses has become an ‘obsession’ after she first started renovating rundown properties ten years ago.

The 47-year-old flipped her fifth property in ten years last week — a three-bedroom home in Cottingham, East Yorkshire.

She bought it with her husband Paul, 44, for £209,000 in November last year, but sold it for £300,000 – a £40,000 profit – via Purplebricks after spending £50,000 on renovation, fees and tax.

Deborah and Paul bought the property in Cottingham, East Yorkshire (pictured) for £209,000 in November last year, and sold it for £300,000 after spending £50,000

Deborah and Paul bought the property in Cottingham, East Yorkshire (pictured) for £209,000 in November last year, and sold it for £300,000 after spending £50,000

Deborah and Paul bought the property in Cottingham, East Yorkshire (pictured) for £209,000 in November last year, and sold it for £300,000 after spending £50,000

The property was a probate purchase and was badly run down, Deborah says. The couple restored its old features, including original panelling in the hallway and staircase, and fitted a new kitchen and bathroom.

Deborah used to work as a carer and is now studying to be a podiatrist, while Paul is a professional joiner. The couple do most of the work themselves and live in the homes while they are renovated.

They reinvest profits from one project into the next.

Deborah says that ‘the hardest thing about it’ is living on a building site. While working on their previous project, she had to use an outdoor sink during winter to wash the dishes, with no hot water. 

They have lived in houses for months without heating. Deborah adds: ‘People don’t appreciate what you go through. They just see the final product and think “Wow that’s brilliant”, but it’s a real hard slog. 

‘When you come in from work, you start work again. It’s not for the faint-hearted. But if you love it, you get better at it.

‘It’s a massive hobby, and as much as it is tiring, it’s completely enjoyable because it’s the end result that’s the buzz.’

Former DJ Mike Smith entered the property business in 2013, primarily as a lettings agent. This year he carried out his first ‘back-to-brick’ renovation in which he stripped out a property and started from scratch.

Mike bought a three-storey home in Sneinton, Nottingham, for £95,000 in January last year. He had to repair a hole in the roof, the electrics and plumbing before he could begin the redesign. 

Having spent around £80,000 fixing up the property, he put it up for auction and is now selling it as a buy-to-let for £250,000, with completion due on December 18.

Mike, 37, says the key to success is buying at the right price.

A rule of thumb for flippers is to aim for a minimum profit of 20 per cent. This is because plenty can go wrong, including underestimating renovation costs and short-term dips in the market

A rule of thumb for flippers is to aim for a minimum profit of 20 per cent. This is because plenty can go wrong, including underestimating renovation costs and short-term dips in the market

A rule of thumb for flippers is to aim for a minimum profit of 20 per cent. This is because plenty can go wrong, including underestimating renovation costs and short-term dips in the market

Nottingham is a growth area – average house prices have jumped by almost 10 per cent in the past 12 months to £226,877, according to Zoopla – and he believes the property was worth £25,000 more than he bought it for even in its sorry state.

‘It was on for £150,000 but a number of deals fell through and the vendor wanted shot of it,’ he adds. ‘It was pretty much derelict when I bought it. Some people will see a hole in the roof and see it as a risk. I saw it as an opportunity.’

Mike is one of many who believes flippers won’t be perturbed by market uncertainty if the price is right. 

So far this year, 2.5 per cent of homes sold in England and Wales have been flipped, which could equate to 23,000 transactions by the end of 2020, says Hamptons.

The estate agency says the spike in profits has been helped by a shift from flats to houses.

Just 5 per cent of flipped homes bought and sold since the market reopened in May were flats, down from 20 per cent in 2019.

Average house prices have also soared by 6.5 per cent since last year, according to Nationwide, as the stamp duty holiday fuels demand. Second-home buyers still have to pay a surcharge of 3 per cent.

The market is a mix of full-time developers, part-time hobbyists and cash home-buying firms that snap up dishevelled, cut-price properties.

The latter, who have been accused of preying on vulnerable homeowners, can give flippers a bad name. But property expert Henry Pryor says investing time and money into improving the nation’s housing stock is ‘demonstrably a good thing’.

He adds: ‘If you’re making £10,000 on a property, for a professional developer it’s probably not worth doing. 

‘A flipper is someone who has bought a rundown property and had probably as much fun as they’ve made profit in renovating it. This is almost a British holiday. It’s as popular as golf, football or fishing.’

It’s happening in Burnley more than anywhere else. The Lancashire town was named the flipping capital of England and Wales for the sixth year running. 

Around 8 per cent of homes sold there are flipped, of which 81 per cent were bought for £40,000 or less, under the threshold at which stamp duty is payable.

The North-East and North-West see high proportions of homes flipped because of lower house prices. It has been two years since anywhere in southern England made it into the top ten.

Colin Haslam, manager of Bridgfords estate agents in Burnley, says there is no sign of a slowdown. He adds that the town has benefited from council rules requiring that homes have to be up to scratch when sold, which has filtered out ‘cowboy’ investors.

‘The housing stock has definitely improved,’ he adds.

‘These aren’t speculators pushing up prices. I don’t see negative feedback because a town like Burnley needs investment.’

m.dilworth@dailymail.co.uk

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