Tanya Powley

Forget the Bank of Mum and Dad. First-time buyers have found a new way to raise the extra money they need to finance the deposit for their first home: selling make-up from cosmetics company Avon.

The door-to-door makeup sales firm, for whom Hollywood actress Reese Witherspoon advertises their products, says it has seen a “huge growth” of new recruits who cite saving for their first property as a reason to join Avon and supplement their income.

Tanya Powley

You may not have paid much attention before to what the Liberal Democrats’ policies on tax consist of but now that they’ve taken a surprise lead in the polls it’s worth knowing exactly what they have proposed and how it might affect you. If a hung parliament is the outcome of the upcoming general election then the Lib Dems’ manifesto will be all the more significant.

Tanya Powley

While currency fluctuations have benefited international buyers purchasing property in the UK, the same cannot be said for UK residents who own overseas holiday homes.

The depreciation of the sterling against all the world’s major currencies has seen the cost of owning a property abroad spiral upwards for UK second home owners.

Tanya Powley

So the Budget has brought a smile to the faces of first-time buyers across the UK with the news that from tomorrow, there will be no stamp duty for purchases of property up to £250,000 for the next two years.

But while Chancellor Alistair Darling was a bearer of good news to one part of the market, he also brought bad news to wealthy property buyers by announcing a new stamp duty band of 5 per cent for property costing £1m and over.

This change doesn’t start immediately – it comes into effect from 6 April 2011. No doubt the market will see a rush of property purchases before the higher stamp duty band comes into effect – part of the Government’s plan we assume.

The property and mortgage industry has welcomed the first-time buyer stamp duty relief after months of calling for an extension of the stamp duty holiday for property purchases between the value of £125,000 and £175,000 which came to an end last December.

According to figures from the Land Registry, about 78 per cent of property transactions in England and Wales would fall below a £250,000 stamp duty threshold. This of course varies significantly across the country from 93 per cent in the north-east of England to 48 per cent in London and 68 per cent in the south-east.

Figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders show that about 91 per cent of first-time buyers bought property worth less than £250,000 in 2009 and that these buyers accounted for about 35 per cent of the total market.

However, many in the industry believe the government should have reformed the stamp duty structure rather than just introduce a new higher stamp duty band.

Melanie Bien of Savills Private Finance says:

Raising the top rate to 5 per cent over £1 million to fund this tax break simply underlines just how unfair the stamp duty system is because it is not tiered. A root and branch reform to make it fairer remains long overdue. It is at the top end of the market where the majority of transactions have been taking place, supporting the housing market. This may make homeowners think twice before moving.

What’s your view on the changes to stamp duty?

Tanya Powley

Reward schemes have proved to be increasingly popular with consumers, from gaining additional points at your weekly supermarket shop to cashback offers from the credit card you use to buy your shopping.

But a new first has happened in the rewards scheme market. Consumers can now accrue points when they buy a new mortgage or insurance policy after Countrywide, the property services group, today launched the industry’s first rewards scheme for mortgage customers.

Tanya Powley

Building societies are at it again. Just a week or so after Skipton Building Society outraged the market by breaking its guarantee to customers and hiking its standard variable rate (SVR) from 3.5 per cent to 4.95 per cent, another three building societies have followed suit.

Last week, Nationwide Building Society announced its subsidiary brands – The Mortgage Works (TMW) and UCB Homeloans – will increase its SVRs from 1 February.

And now Norwich & Peterborough and Holmesdale Building Society have also confirmed they will be increasing their SVRs.

N&P is increasing its by 0.5 per cent to 5.35 per cent and comes into effect today. Holmesdale’s SVR rose by 0.35 per cent to 4.89 per cent on 1 February. The changes affect both new and existing customers.

Tanya Powley

Homeowners were given good news today as Nationwide Building Society revealed in its latest house price index that property values had surged 1.2 per cent in January, showing a year-on-year gain of 8.6 per cent.

The lender also helped buoy the market by stating: “Unless there is a fall in property values in February, annual house price inflation is likely to move into double-digit territory next month for the first time since May 2007.”

But before you crack open a bottle of champagne and get drunk on the excitement that this month’s housing data will set a precedent for the rest of 2010, it’s worth looking at a few of the comments from the experts out there.

Tanya Powley

The huge spike in inflation has been the talk of the week. Official figures showed this week that consumer price inflation had jumped to 2.9 per cent in December from 1.9 per cent the month before – the highest single month rise on record.

This has prompted many experts to warn that borrowers’ low interest rate holiday is likely to come to an end sooner than expected.

But these warnings may have come a tad too early.

Swap rates – which are used to set fixed-rate mortgage prices – dropped yesterday back down to pre-inflation report levels suggesting the panic over inflation has subsided.

Tanya Powley

There’s no doubt that investors will be happy with the recovery in the sharemarkets over the past 9 months but has the time come to take some profits?

Mark Harris, head of funds of funds at Henderson New Star, certainly thinks it might be.

He says:

“Investor optimism has begrudgingly increased as credit and equity markets have extended their gains. In particular, investors’ optimism towards most emerging markets and Asian equity markets, has pushed valuations to levels where nearly all the good news is now “priced in”. Whilst these are attractive long term structural stories, we feel because the good news is priced in they maybe at risk of correction in 2010.”

Tanya Powley

It seems it’s not just the average Joe that should be thinking about what their New Year’s resolutions will be for the coming year. After a tumultuous couple of years, it is the financial sector that also needs to adopt some positive resolutions and stick to them.

According to research from consumer group Which? released on Friday, over three-quarters of people believe that rebuilding consumer trust should be a New Year’s resolution for banks.

The figure isn’t surprising. With the financial sector and banks particularly being blamed for the onset of the credit crunch, there’s no wonder the public feels this way.

The FT’s Money blog is a forum for the latest news and insights from the UK’s personal finance scene. Matthew Vincent, the editor of FT Money and his team of reporters will upload their views and insights on what’s happening in the industry and how this affects people’s finances.

This blog is no longer active but it remains open as an archive.

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Lucy Warwick-Ching is the FT’s new Money Online Editor and has been a UK Companies reporter covering tobacco, pubs and leisure companies as well as the deputy editor on House and Home.

Matthew Vincent is the FT’s Personal Finance Editor and was previously the editor of Investors Chronicle, where he also devised the award-winning online video The Market Programme, and produced the BBC-FT standalone magazine ‘How to be Better Off’. He presents the weekly FT Money Show audio podcast, and previously worked on the BBC TV programmes Short Change and Pound for Pound.

Alice Ross is deputy personal finance editor of FT Money. She specialises in pensions, investments and investment trusts. Alice joined FT Money in April 2008 - prior to that she was deputy editor at Money Management magazine.

Ellen Kelleher has been a personal finance reporter in the UK for close to four years. Before arriving in London, she worked in the FT's New York bureau where she covered the insurance sector.

Steve Lodge is a personal finance reporter on FT Money specialising in savings.

Josephine Cumbo has written about all aspects of personal finance but currently specialises in insurance. She also covered company news for FT.com. Prior to working at the FT she was a news reporter for the ABC.

Tanya Powley is a personal finance reporter on FT Money specialising in mortgages and the housing market. Tanya joined FT Money in November 2009 after working in Australia covering personal finance for the Australian Financial Review and its sister magazine Asset. Prior to that, Tanya wrote about mortgages for UK trade newspaper Money Marketing.

Jonathan Eley is editor of Investors Chronicle, and has been with the title for ten years. Before that he worked for newswires and trade journals in London, New York and Hong Kong.