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Winners and losers -the five main options for Airbnb laws

Roads Minister Duncan Gay, with MP Mark Coure, announced completion of the King Georges Road Interchange upgrade. Picture: John Veage Photo: John VeageFigures show Australian Airbnb hosts to make less than half of what they chargeAirbnb’s latest Friendly Buildings Program could help anti-holiday letting campaigners in NSWAirbnb to push business in China by doubling its investment

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Despite the fact the search for new legislation on holiday lets was sparked by massive fines threatened against free-standing house owners letting rooms on Airbnb, it’s apartment blocks that are the main battleground for proposed short-term letting laws.

In a nutshell, many people who bought or rented apartments to establish a home don’t see why they should tolerate their buildings being turned into de facto hotels.

On the other hand, some owners and renters don’t see why they shouldn’t have the same rights as free-standing house residents to do exactly as they wish with the property they have paid for.

The stakes are high. The areas where most tourists want to stay are also the parts of Sydney with the highest proportion of apartment blocks.

That’s why online agency Airbnb has pumped up its efforts, including advertising on TV, online and in print, to persuade NSW MPs that they are a benign and beneficial presence in the Sydney property market whose access to strata units should be increased rather than restricted.

What’s actually going to be presented to Parliament next month is anyone’s guess. But this has very little to do with the highly publicised “party flats” that can be dealt with in strata law anyway, or holiday houses in coastal resort towns that deserved their own separate inquiry.

So here are the most likely possibilities, the first three of which, our spies tell us, have been actively considered by government ministers. 1. The Coure option

The proposal:

The public inquiry chaired by MP Mark Coure recommended that holiday lets should be complying developments (not restricted by residential-only zoning) and that this should apply to apartments and houses equally.

In the case of strata blocks, that would invalidate any by-laws that restrict short-stay lets by supporting local zoning (the only legally enforceable by-laws they can have on holiday lets).

However, undefined additional powers for apartment owners corporations to deal with badly behaved hosts and guests, and an unspecified limit on the number of nights a year homes could be let, are both proposed.

The winners:

Airbnb and its hosts, as well as foreign or interstate travellers who would for the first time get access to some of Sydney’s best-run and best-located buildings.

The losers:

Apartment residents who thought they were buying or renting a residential home, who would have to pay higher levies for additional wear and tear as well as expending time and effort to check the number of nights apartments were let and then pursue miscreants.

The worst-case scenario:

The people who have built communities in some of our best buildings sell up and move out while the going’s good, leaving the buildings to deteriorate in the hands of opportunist investors.

A secret war could break out – and already has in some buildings – where committees cut off access to communal facilities such as pools, parking and gyms on dubious security grounds, forcing holiday lets out of their blocks.

Tenants could find that they are on nine-month leases (or 365 days minus the as-yet undefined holiday let limit) so that short-stay letting hosts can move them out and maximise their income in the high season around Christmas, then move medium-term tenants back in when the tourists are gone. 2. The super by-law

The proposal:

One of the reasons given by the Coure report for not differentiating between houses and apartments is a clause in our strata laws – Section 139 (2) – that prevents owners corporations from interfering with “dealing” with apartments, in terms of leases or sales.

However, another law was brought after the report was tabled, allowing 75 per cent of owners to force the other 25 per cent to sell. What value “not interfering with dealing” now?

With that in mind, there’s a view that a “super by-law”, like the collective sale rules, requiring the support of 75 per cent of all owners (rather than just those voting at a meeting) could be an acceptable compromise.

There might also be provisions for a “friends and family” allowance so that house-sits and home-swaps wouldn’t be affected.

The winners:

Owners and residents in exceptionally well-run buildings where they are organised and involved, have a strong sense of community and could galvanise the required 75 per cent of all owners.

The losers:

Airbnb and other online rental agencies, and their high-rolling hosts, who would be kept out of the very best buildings. However, anti-holiday let residents in buildings with a high number of investors or apathetic owners would also lose as they could never organise 75 per cent of all owners to say no.

The worst-case scenario:

A select elite of better-run buildings would be immune from the spread of short-stay letting while investors snapped up enough apartments in vulnerable buildings in good locations to block efforts to limit holiday lets. 3. The regular by-law

The proposal:

Some strata insiders take the view that section 139 (2) should be scrapped or greatly modified, allowing owners to vote on issues such as short-stay letting by the same methods they are allowed to establish other by-laws, such as limits on the number of people allowed to stay in apartments (another legal anomaly).

Again, there would be a “friends and family” allowance and owners corporations would be able to allow holiday letting, if they wanted, but on their own terms which would be set out in the by-laws.

This would not require 75 per cent of all owners to pass – just 75 per cent of those attending a general meeting in person or by proxy. In theory a handful of owners in a largely apathetic building could pass this and, likewise, a relatively small group of determined pro or anti-Airbnb owners could block the specific by-laws.

The winners:

Residents in buildings where a large majority of actively engaged owners wanted to limit or completely ban short-stay lets.

Alternatively, pro-holiday let owners who were able to muster enough votes to block any limit or ban.

The losers:

Holiday letting landlords, Airbnb, Stayz and other online agencies in buildings where they are not wanted. But also permanent residents in residential buildings where there is no strong sense of community or where the strata committee is dominated by absentee investors.

Residential tenants, especially, could suffer if by-laws were written to allow unfettered holiday letting, as studies have shown that rents rise faster in areas where holiday lets are more common.

The worst-case scenario:

For permanent residents, if investors rushed through laissez-faire bylaws that would then be difficult to undo as it only takes 25 per cent of votes at a meeting to block by-law changes.

For holiday letting landlords, obviously, if short-stay lets were banned completely from their buildings. 4. The strata exemption

The proposal:

Parliament could pass the Coure proposals, but with the specific exclusion of whole homes in strata schemes. In other words, if you are in a residential-only building you could only let a room in your flat, not the whole apartment, to short-stay guests.

Houses, however, would be free to be let partly or in their entirety, regardless of the zoning, with limits on the number of nights set by the council.

Now, if you believe the Airbnb mantra that they are all about ordinary people letting a room in their homes, then you’d think they would embrace this whole-heartedly.

But they and we know that almost two-thirds of their lets are for whole homes and, in their most popular city areas, that means apartments.

The winners:

Permanent residents in apartment buildings, including those who want to be part of genuine Airbnb home-sharing but not to let their whole flat.

The losers:

Airbnb, Stayz, the other online agencies, and their hosts, who make most of their money from the large numbers of apartments that are let as whole homes.

The worst-case scenario:

Strata committees would be constantly having to check that the room lets weren’t actually for the whole apartment. But they are doing that anyway so it’s not a huge issue. 5. The ‘do nothing’ option

The proposal:

There is a sense around the Airbnb issue that this may be a solution in search of a problem. Generally speaking, in buildings where the majority of owners don’t want short-stay letting, they are able to exclude it. In other buildings where it is tolerated, they seem to be able to manage it.

Deal with room lets in houses and there really isn’t much of a problem – apart from the hemorrhaging of rental accommodation into the short-stay letting market. The answer to that problem certainly isn’t to open the floodgates to unfettered holiday rentals

So the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” principle may well apply here and you have to wonder how much harm would be done if the government decided to defer or dump the Coure report. The Liberals catch-phrase is, after all, “let the market decide”. Maybe they should.

The winners:

Everybody, to some extent. Short-stay letting is increasing anyway but buildings that don’t want it are able to keep it out.

House dwelling MPs who can’t see what all the fuss is about as there are no votes in it in their constituencies.

The losers:

The online agencies that desperately want increased access to our best inner-city apartment blocks – which, ironically, are those best equipped to keep them out.

The wannabe hosts who have bought apartments in buildings that ban holiday lets in the hope that the law would change in their favour.

And tenants who find they are competing with overseas holidaymakers who are paying twice the going rate to stay in flats that would otherwise be residential.

The worst-case scenario:

No change to the law could see whole buildings turned into de facto hotels as permanent residents moved out to better-managed schemes.

With fewer owners and long-term tenants living there, standards would drop very far, very quickly and the spectre of hostel fires, over-crowding and high-rise slums could come back to haunt us.

Jimmy Thomson writes the Flat Chat column in the Sydney Morning Herald and edits the advice website flat-chat苏州美甲学校苏州美甲学校论坛.

Trainer Greg Bennett gets last shot at home for Country Championships finale

The weather aligned, now it’s just up to the starsfor Greg Bennett as he chases a fitting finale on his home trackon Sunday.

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LATE PUSH: Popular Scone horseman Greg Bennett will take up the position of Aquis Farm’s director of racehorse development after day one of The Championships at Randwick April 1. Picture: Jenny Evans

Bennett, best-known for breaking in three-time Melbourne Cup winner Makybe Diva, has three runners in the Country Championships wild card qualifier, which was moved, with the rest of Muswellbrook’s program, to Scone on Friday because of the rain-affected track.It is the last chance to secure a place in the $400,000 Country Championshipsfinal at Randwick on April 1, the final day of Bennett’s training career before he moves to Aquis Farm in Queensland.

Bennett thought he had his last home meeting as a trainer last Tuesday.

“It’s good for everyone and it’s great for me because, like I just said to my wife and daughter, it’s gives me another meeting at Scone,” Bennett said.

Bennett,whowon the final last year with Clearly Innocent,has All Summer Long, Sassaby and Invienna in the qualifier, where the top two progress.He admitted to having a soft spot for race favourite All Summer Long, which was scratched from the 2016final because of injury and was a close thirdin the Scone qualifier this year.

“He’s probably the top one I’d like to get through, because of what happened last year,” he said. “Getting so close and missing out, but they all have reasons for me wanting them to be there.”

“I’ve got a great group of owners with him and a great but different crew with Invienna, who are all great people and friends.

“Sassaby, the owners and breeders are theHewitts fromDenman, and it would give me alot of pleasure knowing I’ve got him into the final for them if that happens.

“But it’s not going to be easy with Alliterate there and Cliffy Bashford’s [Ever So Natural]going well, and Rod Northam’s [After All That] closed out well in our race, so there’s a very good string of horses in it.”

Bennett said Scone had copped lessrain than Muswellbrook and the switch of track would help all horses produce their best.

“The good thing is I’d say [Scone track manager] Bernie [Evans] would have the track up to a soft 7 now,” he said.

“Any rain between now and Sunday will make it heavy, but a Scone heavy is a lot better than a Muswellbrook heavy.

“And the bigger track will suit more horses, particularly any that have drawn wide. That 1280m start at Muswellbrook can be tricky if you draw wide, whereas at Scone, with the longer run into the turn and the big, sweeping track, it’s not as much a disadvantage.

“All three of mine will go forward, althoughSassaby and Invienna will probably be closer to the leader than All Summer Long.”

He said he had no regrets about his decision to take up the director of racehourse development at Aquis as his training career came to a close.

He said he going back to where it all began for him, in horse breaking and pre-training, and he was genuinely looking forward to working with thegreat crew and roster of horse flesh at Aquis.

DECLAN CLAUSEN: Expenses outcry just more ‘lazy politics’

A lie travels the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes, as the old saying goes.It is time that the truth caught up with the councillor expensesdebate.

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Liberal Councillor Lisa Tierney recently made a dramatic resignation from council alleging that reports of councillors bullying staff were not being investigated. Council’s CEO has since confirmed that no allegations had been made by staff. In fact, the Lord Mayor was applauded by Council staff at a recent workforce meeting for her handling of the proposed amalgamation with Port Stephens.

Liberal councillors also took aim at the Lord Mayor’s use of a childcare allowance while representing our City at an event. An award for gross hypocrisy must go to former councillor Tierney who used more than three times the mayor’s amount for childcare, despite only attending 60per cent of council meetings.

Rather than champion women in local government, Cr Tierney was happy to bill ratepayers almost $800 for childcare and then let her conservative colleague’s deride the Lord Mayor for using far less.

In NSW the average Councillor is a white man in his 60s. Sadly, only 27 per centof councillors, and 16 per centof senior council staff are women. Councils work best when they reflect their communities, which is why a childcare policy was introduced some years ago to help encourage working parents stand for election, and is accessible to both mums and dads.

Liberal councillor Brad Luke is a frequent critic of councillor expenses, particularly for overseas travel. Despite this, Cr Luke has been one of the largest users of travel entitlements, charging ratepayers a $5,790 for his trips. Cr Luke also had the largest expenses bill of any ward Councillor during this term running up an expenses tab of almost $23,000.

But it is easy politics for the Liberals to bag out politicians travelling overseas for their work, and ignore the tangible benefits that come as a result of this travel.

In 2015 Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes travelled with the Vice-Chancellor at short notice to Geneva for a twoday trip.

This trip was required to secure a unique three-party deal with the United Nations to establish a dedicated research centre in Newcastle; bringing jobs and investment to our city.

This UN research centre focuses on disaster recovery in the Asia Pacific region, and has led to a number of recent delegations from Pacific Island nations coming to Newcastle to meet with researchers.

While in town these delegations stay in local hotels, eat at local restaurants and contribute to the local economy. They build our research reputation, and help to develop the Hunter’s future ‘smart’ economy. Despite the rhetoric, the benefits of this twoday trip far outweigh the minor cost to the council.

It is lazy politics for Liberal councillors to huff and puff about expenses, while ignoring the real benefits of having active and engaged councillors, and showing no hesitation in claiming those expenses themselves.

Under Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes the council has the strongest budget position it has had in years, which has been achieved while doubling investment in local infrastructure and without closing any services.

If the Liberal councillors had a vision for our city they would be out sharing it with the community. Unfortunately all they have is smear and double standards.

Declan Clausen is Labor Councillor on Newcastle City Council.

IAN KIRKWOOD: Penalty rate cuts not the only threat to job security.

FIGHTING FOR JOB SECURITY: Workers concerned about job security at an anti-privatisation rally organised last month by the Public Service Association.LAST month’s Fair Work Commission decision on Sunday penalty rates for hospitality and fast food workers createda national debate.

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Thefederal government and employer groups applauded it in the name of workplace flexibility, whileunions and the Labor opposition opposedit as an erosion of the basic Australian pay model built up over decades of struggle.

But if we are looking for a real model of wage erosion, I suggest we need go no further than the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which has been operating in Newcastle since 2013, and which is now being rolled out across the nation.

The NDIS is applauded by its supporters as providing choice and flexibility to the people with disability that it was set up to serve. This may well be the case, but flexibility –especially when it comes to employment –is a two-way street. Terms such as “flexibility” and “efficiency” have one meaning for employers, and a very different set of implications for workers, who may have very little in the way of “choice” when it comes to acceptingthese new “flexible” agreements.

The NDIS is based on state and territory governments giving up any major role in disability services by privatising their agencies, which then rely on client funding through the NDIS to survive.

In protests about the NSW privatisation, the Coalition state government attacked the Public Service Association for supposedly putting the demands of workers ahead of the needs of people with disability. The union argued that the NDIS was ushering in a new era of casualisation in the disability workforce. With the NDIS prepared to pay agencies just $42 an hour for most of their care services, the PSA saysthe agencies handling the work that was previously done by state government departments will have to cut pay rates to survive.

But at least one private agency, HireUp, says it has found a way to provide disability services for just $35.50 an hour.

HireUp was founded by a brother and sister, Jordan and Laura O’Reilly, whose brother, Shane, died from complications associated with his cerebral palsy, in 2011.

Hireup describes itself as “an online platform revolutionising the way Australians with disability find, hire and manage their own support workers”.

It’s had positive coverage in the national media, and like Uber and any number of other sector “disrupters”, its basic business model involves putting people with disability together with carers, and taking a cut from the service provided. HireUp says it offers everything from“help around the house” to “high needs specialist support”. Its standard rate for support work is $35.50 an hour, with $29.20 (including superannuation) going to the worker. Information on its website says this is above the relevant award, and in conversation with the Newcastle Herald, the company said it was able to pay for the various insurances and other costs, plus run its office and make a profit, out of the $6.30 an hour it would take from the cake.

While such an arrangement may well be advantageous for the person seeking disability services –and I do not doubt that HireUp was started with the best of intentions -it puts a lot of pressure back on the worker. From my permanently employed position, it strikes me as a digital version of the old waterfront “bull ring”, where wharfies would vie against each other for a day’s labour.

And if takes off in the disability sector, how long will it be before other industries looking to cut costs start looking at similar models? In the name of flexibility, of course.

Turnbull rejects Abbott call for subsidy to keep Hazelwood open

Calls for an extraordinary government intervention to keep the ailing Hazelwood coal power plant open have been rejected by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who said its closure would not affect electricity security.

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Former prime minister Tony Abbott and the Australian Industry Group have separately suggested the 53-year-old plant – which is due to shut next week and faces hundreds of millions of dollars in WorkSafe orders – may need to be kept in operation due to concerns over whether there would be enough electricity to meet peak demand during summer.

In an opinion piece for News Corp, Mr Abbott said taxpayers should subsidise Hazelwood to keep it alive until Mr Turnbull’s proposed $2 billion expansion of the Snowy Hydro scheme comes online sometime next decade.

“If we want secure and affordable power supplies, we can’t lose the ones we currently have even if they involve burning coal,” Mr Abbott wrote.

Mr Turnbull said Hazelwood’s closure was a commercial decision taken by its majority owner, French giant Engie, and there was more than enough generation capacity to cover its loss.

“It has been slated for closure for many, many years. The company has decided to close it because the cost of making it safe – the cost of paying for the long-deferred maintenance and to meet work safety requirements – runs into many hundreds of millions of dollars, even to keep it operating after June 30,” he said.

It followed the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), which runs the National Electricity Market, releasing an unusually strongly-worded statement rejecting the need for government intervention.

Released after the operator gave an update to the federal cabinet energy sub-committee on Thursday night, the statement said the closure of Hazelwood “would not compromise the security of the Victoria electricity system nor the broader National Electricity Market next summer”.

“There are power generation resources available in Victoria and the [national market] that currently are not operating at all or to their full capacity that can be made available to replace the power currently supplied by Hazelwood,” it said.

Hazelwood is Australia’s dirtiest and oldest coal plant, run on dated technology. It can provide up to a quarter of Victoria’s electricity generation but usually runs at less than full capacity.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox has earlier called on governments to consider intervening to keep it open, warning its 60,000 members were not convinced that the risks faced by energy users during demand peaks next summer would be effectively managed.

“In the absence of convincing and appropriately sequenced alternative strategies, the state and federal governments should remain open to finding an 11th hour solution to keeping Hazelwood operating in some form,” Mr Willox said.

Industry observers said it was unlikely the group thought Hazelwood could be kept open, but was using its closure to illustrate what it sees as the severity of the situation, and hoping to prompt government action.

He said the group appreciated propping up Hazelwood would be a costly step, not least because the plant is run down and would require expensive upgrades.

“These costs need to be weighed, and fast, against the current status of efforts to secure our grid and the risks if those efforts fail … We need urgent action, and all options should be on the table,” Mr Willox said.

The Australian Industry Group is part of an unlikely coalition, spanning business, welfare and environment organisations, calling for the introduction of an emissions intensity scheme – a form of carbon trading – as part of a national policy to encourage investment in new power plants while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The government has rejected any form of carbon trading.

Hazelwood will be the 10th coal plant across the national market to shut this decade, but Victoria has more than 2000 megawatts of fast-response gas-fired power stations designed for use at peak times operating at about 5 per cent of capacity across the past two years. There has also been a rush of investment in renewable energy in recent months.

Engie’s Australian chief, Alex Keisser, told the ABC’s Radio National it was too late to save the plant, and speculation it could stay open was hurting workers.

He said the plant was old, unsafe and uneconomic, and said Australia needed a bipartisan climate and energy policy.

Mr Turnbull said the government’s thoughts were with Hazelwood’s workers and the people of Morwell, where the plant is based, and said the government was providing support to help the community.

“It’s a very big disruption in their lives,” he said.

Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said AEMO had assured the state that it was responding to market demands and there would not be energy shortfalls in Victoria.

Environment Victoria chief executive Mark Wakeham said: “The lack of coherent national policy on energy and climate change is now damaging business confidence and investment across the economy.”

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Home renovations that give you the most bang for your buck

There are two types of renovators: those creating a dream home for themselves, and those doing up a property to maximise its value.

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When Melbourne couple Nicholas and Emily Tait started renovating their Victorian cottage in Brunswick in September 2015, they were clear this was not going to be their dream home.

“We didn’t want to overcapitalise on the renovation,” Emily says. “We had to walk that line where you want everything in your own home but have to scale it down, a little bit of luxury but not our dream house.”

A smart renovation that pulls the right emotional levers with tenants or buyers can improve the value of a property significantly. There are also tax benefits for investors because they can claim depreciation.

On the flip side, poorly thought-out modifications can sink enormous sums at bank-breaking speeds – money that will never be seen again.

So how do you get it right? Experts say the Midas touch comes with a mix of picking the right property in the first place, knowing what your market likes and expects, and a bit of discipline to keep things on the middle road. Start with the right house

The Taits got off to a good start when Nicholas bought a two-bedroom workers’ cottage in dire need of a face lift, back in 2004.

The house hadn’t seen any updates for 30 years. There were dark brown timber cupboards and an old ceramic sink in the kitchen. A hot water heater took up about half of the bathroom and there was a makeshift shack in the backyard.

“It was bits of timber and tin he found at the tip I think, and that was our laundry,” says Nicholas.

Picking a period home in an up-and-coming suburb was a good choice. Richard Wakelin, director of Melbourne-based Wakelin Property Advisory, says Victorian and Edwardian homes along with some from the 1930s and ’40s are now mostly immune to the highs and lows of housing fads.

“They are timeless in their style,” Wakelin says.

He adds the value of the land owing to its location is hugely important and will drive up the value of everything else you do.

The house should have an outer shell you are mostly happy with because adding new external walls is expensive. Wakelin suggests buying someone else’s improvements when it comes to “invisible” elements like new stumps, wiring, plumbing and roofing.

“At the end of the day buyers and tenants don’t value those elements,” Wakelin says. “You really need to make sure your funds aren’t chewed up on fixing the invisible things.” The little things

Nicholas rented out the Brunswick property for a while; he says it was “basic but livable”. He built up equity and used that to make other investments, and along the way met Emily.

By 2015 the couple decided they were comfortable enough with their financial position to renovate the cottage.

They started by getting realistic about how much the project would cost. They had a vague figure in their minds of $70,000 that they wanted to spend, but discussions and quotes from builders and architects brought this to a more realistic $150,000.

The renovations added skylights, an outdoor deck with bifolds and ducted heating and cooling.

Perhaps the smartest additions were rethinking existing structures. A pantry built into a large fireplace added extra storage. An outdoor studio to replace the shack doubled as a laundry and a home office, and also meant they could use the existing laundry plumbing.

A minor change of layout created a straight walk from the front door to the kitchen and allowed a larger couch in the loungeroom.

“We only moved one doorway to make the house flow right down the hallway,” Emily says. “Really everything else we kept the same.”

Wakelin says the best bang for your buck comes from the least expensive cosmetic changes such as new carpets, polished floorboards, repainting inside walls in neutral colours, and replacing the cupboard doors and benchtops in the kitchen.

He adds that if you are going to spend money on extending at the rear for a deck and living area, don’t short-change yourself. Make it a good size.

“If you’re able to create emotional appeal, that can create extra or sizeable premiums,” he says. Know your market

Greville Pabst, executive chairman of WBP Property Group and judge on TV show The Block, says it’s important to know your demographic and what is now expected as standard in most properties.

“So often the floor plan doesn’t work, it’s not functional and that really impacts whether the property is going to be sold or which tenant wants to rent it.”

Common problems include not placing the living and kitchen areas – where people spend the most time – on the northern side of the building that gets the sun, having the kitchen tucked away in a separate room, or having a bathroom that comes off the kitchen, not the hallway.

Bathrooms should be at or near the centre of the house so it isn’t far for a middle-of-the-night trip from any bedroom. And a second ensuite bathroom is expected these days.

Kitchens, bathrooms and outdoor living areas sell houses, Pabst says, and shine with some good tapware and cabinetry. And with the rise of flexible work arrangements and work-at-home entrepreneurs, a study carries a lot of appeal and doesn’t take up much extra space. It can be used for storage if not needed.

“Without a study what tends to happen is you set up on the kitchen table, and that’s not really desirable,” Pabst says.

Air conditioning is a must in most homes, particularly after this year’s extreme hot weather. Fancy kitchen appliances and sound systems appeal in wealthier suburbs but may not bring in what you paid for them in other areas. The same applies to swimming pools.

Careful placement of lighting and the effect it creates is often overlooked, he says.

Green technologies like installing solar panels or LED lighting can help you save money if you are living there for a while, but unfortunately the market probably won’t pay more for them, Pabst says. Talk to an architect

Architect Peter Georgiez of Archicentre sees and cringes at housing mistakes every day.

One pet hate is the slap-dash use of paint or other sealants on surfaces that need to breathe like traditional render or bricks. It leads to a “never-ending cycle of ugliness” as the owner patches and re-patches the bubbling paint or cracks, Georgiez says.

And consider distraction as a strategy when doing up dated-looking buildings like walk-ups from the ’60s or ’70s, rather than covering everything in texture coat. Fixed shade devices, well-designed eaves and landscaping can make it clear a building belongs to the 21st century.

“Sometimes it’s about allowing the building to remain true and confident rather than making it look like an old tart,” Georgiez says. Wait for the money

For the most part, the Taits’ discipline paid off. Their renovation was finished on-budget in September last year, albeit with a time blowout of about nine months.

The couple had moved in with Nicholas’ parents in September 2015 for what they thought would be three months, but it turned into 12 months.

Time will tell how much their efforts were worth. Understand the tax situation

If you want to try your hand at house flipping, there is more than just the renovation at hand that you need to worry about. How the property is taxed will play a major role in whether you come out ahead.

The first big hit is stamp duty, which needs to be covered on every purchase before you can break even. But how much capital gains tax you pay is also a major consideration, says Mark Chapman, tax communications director at H&R Block Tax Accountants.

The best way to avoid the CGT trap is to live in the house while you renovate, he says, and take advantage of the CGT exemption for main residences. The sale will then be tax free.

But living in a building site isn’t for everyone, particularly those with families. If you don’t want to live there you can simply hold it for at least 12 months and claim the 50 per cent CGT discount.

“That means that you have to balance quick turnover with a higher tax bill,” Chapman says. “Also, try not to flip more than one house at a time. If you do, you could be treated as a property developer.”

You would then be subject to income tax on the profits of your development instead of CGT, he says, but would be able to offset the renovation costs, cost of borrowings and any other “cost of business” you incur.

Jacqui Lambie reminds us that democracy isn’t supposed to be neat

IN praise of crossbenchers.

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In the Senate on Wednesday night –in that maroon chamber of federal Parliament where elected representativesare supposed to represent their states, but where party politics rules -there was a wonderful dose of reality on full display.

It was messy, there were tears,outrageand put-downs, but it actually sounded and felt like democracy. The outrage was real. It wasn’t the confected rage of major party politicians scoring the kind of scripted political pointsthat drivesane people to distractionand disconnection.

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie spoke –and cried –about what it’s like to be a member of that much-derided group in society, single mothers.

And other senators were forced to listen.

Lambie injected some real-time, real-life messagesinto debate about the Turnbull government’s proposed $1.3 billion welfare cuts which, until she rose to speak at about 9.30pm, had been fairly standard political fare.

Labor’s attacks went something like this, and I’m quoting directly from the debate: “This bill fits neatly into the Liberal agenda. It is about making the poor poorer and the rich richer –textbook Liberal ideology. They all know it. It is in their DNA. It is the founding principle of Liberal philosophy. It is arrogant. It is out of touch.”

Then it was the Liberals’ turn andagain, this is a direct quote: “Well, colleagues, what a cynical and petulant display we have seen from the Australian Labor Party tonight. They have mustered filibustering, talking it out, trying to keep us here as late as possible so they can demonstrate to their unions that they have at least put up a fight.…to go down kicking and screaming in true Labor Party style.”

Lambie started her speech at 9.27pm. She outlined her understanding of what the government wasproposing –a three-year indexation freeze on most working age allowances and the single parent payment, and a two-year indexation freeze on family tax benefits.

She threw in the kinds of figures that other MPs had already quoted –the family tax benefit freeze will impact almost 600,000 families on the maximum rate, where household income is less than $52,000.

She produced examples of the kinds of freezes and cuts the government isn’t proposing, such as a financial transactions tax on Australia’s highest high-frequency share traders.

“In the four years it will take to raise almost $2 billion from families who need it most, a modest financial transactions tax on Australia’s highest high-frequency share traders could raise four times that amount,” she said.

The speeches went on through the night and into the early hours. There were more political attacks, more references from Labor back to the Abbott government’s shocker 2014 budget; more attacks by Coalition MPs on previous Labor government budget blow-ups, and then Jacqui Lambie spoke again.

“I want you to know that’s what it’s like to be at the bottom of the crap pile through no fault of our own, for many of us. For you to take that money off people, you have no idea how bloody tough it is,” she said.

“Every little cent counts to those people. What you are doing is shameful, and if you really realised the damage that you are continually doing tothat part of society, you would stop doing it.”

Lambie was a single mother for seven years, raising two children.

If you look at the history of the Australian government since Federation, it wouldn’t take long to work out that as a group, single mothers have been under-represented at a political level. One day I might just do a search to work out how under-represented, but my guess is that you’d have some fingers over if you counted single mother MPs using two hands.

By and large our laws have been made by men from middle-class backgrounds or higher, who might have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but whose lived experience has not included being left with children to raise.

Their lived experience is not like Jacqui Lambie’s and other women whohave struggled to survive with children on their own, where criticisms of single mothers and the way their children are perceivedfailto acknowledge the reality of the situation –that they’re still there, trying.

In the Senate on Wednesday Lambie spoke for single-parentfamilies, and all disadvantaged families. It wasn’t polite, but it was real. She took potshots alright.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann tried to argue that because it was an indexation freeze “no family will actually receiveless as a result of the changes that are before us today”.

His careful comment that families would receive the same level of payment, provoked an angry response from Lambie.

“You are taking money off them. I don’t give a stuff which way you look at it. Freeze is taking money off them. That is going on. That is the truth. Please don’t spin it,” she said.

Her speech wasn’t so much an attack on what was proposed but a cry on behalf of the people who would bear the consequences –and there’s a big difference.

Senate crossbenchers are a derided group, described as unruly, unrepresentative, uncoordinated andunpredictable. The election of so many in 2016 was seen as one of Malcolm Turnbull’s gravest strategic failures.

I don’t think amajority of Australians agree. We need more speeches like Jacqui Lambie’s –raw,passionate and possibly embarrassing for some of those who were there, but a voice for many, nevertheless.

If it looks like a housing bubble…

ABS house price data ‘a clear sign threats in Sydney and Melbourne steadily rising’Market View: Is there really a housing bubble crisis in Melbourne?Sydney house prices ‘to fall 5 per cent over next two years’, according to BIS Oxford Economics

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I didn’t think it was possible for there to be more focus on the Australian housing market than in 2016, but the last couple of weeks have proved me wrong.

ABS figures revealed that in the December quarter, across the eight major Australian cities, house prices rose 8.9% and apartment prices rose 4%. Those are stunning figures, particularly on the back of the huge rises of recent years.

This prompted renewed discussion about whether prices constituted a bubble. Many players weighed in, but former Liberal Party leader John Hewson put it most succinctly, saying on ABC’s Lateline: “I think it’s a crisis, it is a bubble. I know people are hesitant in saying that, it is a bubble.”

In one sense it doesn’t really matter whether there is a housing bubble or not. Once buyers start believing there is and think it will burst, they have every incentive to wait to purchase.

That dries up liquidity in the property market and sellers who need to sell are forced to take a steep discount. That justifies the buyers’ belief that prices are going to fall. And that, simply put, is how a bubble bursts.

Are we at that point yet? It’s hard to say, but given that a former Liberal Party leader, the ASIC chairperson, and the Secretary to the Treasury (among others) have said so recently, there is reason to think we might get there.

The most recent board minutes revealed the RBA was somewhat focused on housing as well. The minutes stated: “Over recent months, conditions appeared to have strengthened in Sydney and had remained strong in Melbourne; these cities had continued to record brisk growth in housing prices, and auction clearance rates had remained high. Housing loan approvals and credit growth had picked up for investors, primarily in New South Wales and Victoria” and that this “continued to suggest that there had been a build-up of risks associated with the housing market.”

The minutes also noted a number of positive developments, from the terms of trade to the strength of our trading partners to business sentiment. The notable exception was the labour market which continued to confound understanding. The RBA noted that the key implication was that: “Domestic wage pressures remained subdued and household income growth had been low, which, if it were to persist, would have implications for consumption growth and the risks posed by the level of household debt.”

It is difficult to assess the future path of the cash rate. The economy looks like it might be strengthening, and if business investment were finally to rebound, there would be a case for a rate rise. But with a weak labour market, a rise in rates would put the squeeze on those heavily indebted households.

This could, in turn, detonate the property market. The nightmare scenario is that it has a big enough effect on bank balance sheets that they contract lending significantly, further hurting the property market.

This is the delicate tightrope the RBA is trying to walk.

The run-up in prices has put further focus on housing affordability. The Coalition have suggested they will announce a series of measures to address it in the budget. They are rumoured to be considering schemes like allowing first home buyers to access their superannuation – which is a very bad idea. It is another policy that fuels the demand side without addressing supply.

I have said numerous times – including in my McKell Institute plan – that demand-side excesses such as negative gearing need to be curbed and the supply side needs to be encouraged.

The housing package might be the most interesting thing to look out for in the federal budget on May 9.

Vital Signs is a weekly economic wrap from UNSW economics professor and Harvard PhD Richard Holden (@profholden). Vital Signs aims to contextualise weekly economic events and cut through the noise of the data affecting global economies.

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Brumbies flyer Speight strikes twice to sink Waratahs in Sydney

ACT Brumbies winger Henry Speight struck twice to prove the difference against NSW Waratahs on Saturday night as the Fijian flyer returns to his devastating best.

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Speight has now scored four tries in four games this season and is the leading try-scorer in the Australian conference alongside Queensland Reds winger Eto Nabuli.

Speight missed most of last year in pursuit of a Rio Olympic Games dream and admitted a frustrating 2016 campaign fuelled his hunger to come back and prove he is still one of the best outside backs in world rugby.

“I’m just happy to be back on the park and playing consistent footy, injuries last year put things in perspective so this year I wanted to come back and just enjoy playing again,” Speight said.

“It was a tough tussle out there and I think our forwards set up a good platform for us backs and it’s always a bonus to get a few tries. I’m pretty happy.

“It’s good to start off on the front foot and take confidence out of each game and build, it also helps playing week-in, week-out.

“Last year there were a few disappointments and setbacks but it just made me want to come back bigger and better and put in a big performance this year.”

The most spectacular of Speight’s tries this season came on Saturday night when the Fijian speedster combined with young gun Joe Powell with the scores locked at 7-7 in the second half.

Speight called for his scrum-half to dink it over the ruck as he flew through and collected the ball before chipping-and-chasing on his non-preferred foot to score.

“It was a tight contest and I called the kick so it was either I made something out of it or the forwards would be riding me hard,” Speight said.

“I couldn’t put it on my right foot so I backed my left and ran for my life and scooted over. The bounce of the ball can be really cruel at times so I’m just thankful it came off.

“When you call those plays you have to really try and make the most of them because in a tough contest like that those opportunities may only come once, so you have to capitalise.”

The victory keeps the Brumbies at the top of the Australian conference and marks nine straight wins against Aussie opposition.

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said Speight is back to his best and attributed the “very satisfying win” to the Wallaby winger’s individual brilliance on the back of a strong scrum.

“It was a disjointed year for him last year. He didn’t really get a block of training under his belt for sevens or 15s which made things difficult,” Larkham said.

“All the Wallaby guys came back in really good spirits and he’s been leading the way in terms of our training with his energy and enthusiasm and obviously with his performances.”

Speight has backed the young Brumbies side to put in another winning performance when they host for the Highlanders at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night.

“Seeing some of the young fellas play out of their skin and show what they’re capable of has been really good. Us older guys are on our toes because of these younger fellas and there’s a good vibe at the club at the moment,” Speight said.

“The Highlanders are a great attacking team with a lot of quality players across the park, so we’ll enjoy this win but the most important things is not to get too carried away because come next week it’s going to be a different beast again.”

SUPER RUGBY ROUND FIVE

Saturday: ACT Brumbies v Otago Highlanders at Canberra Stadium, 7.45pm. Tickets from Ticketek.

Basketball: New-look Hunters out to bounce back in grand-final rematch with Illawarra

ON BOARD: Kelsey Moss will add depth to the Hunters after missing the defending champion’s season-opening loss to the Sydney Comets. Picture: Dean Osland

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BOTH teams will field drastically different line-ups when Newcastle Hunters host Illawarra Hawks at Broadmeadow on Saturday night in a rematch between the 2016 Waratah Basketball League women’s grand finalists.

Newcastle rallied from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Illawarra 55-50 in the title decider at Terrigal last August to win their first Waratah women’s championship.

That triumph capped a remarkable season in which the Hunters lost just one game – to Illawarra in Wollongong.

Both sides have undergone significant roster changes since then and will go into this game, scheduled for a 7pm tip-off, after suffering losses in their season-openers last Saturday.

Newcastle went down 54-48 to Sydney at Alexandria, after cutting a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to two with three minutes remaining, and Bankstown bounced the Hawks 83-52 at the Snakepit.

The Hunters and Hawks provided four members of the Waratah Basketball League All-Star Five last season – Sophie Kleeman and Shannon Novosel (Newcastle) and Renae Garlepp and Rachel Lisch (Illawarra) – but all four players have pursued other career options.

“Both teams have had a considerable turnover of personnel since the grand final,” Hunters coach Mark Gledson said.

“It’s a grand final rematch, and it’s a battle between the steel city rivals, so we’re looking forward to it and to our first home game of the season.

“Even though steel production has waned in both areas, the steel displayed on the court hasn’t, and there is always something special about Newcastle versus Illawarra.”

Gledson said the Hunters would welcome back Cassie Pentney and Kelsey Moss after they missed round one.

After a bye last weekend, the Hunters men will return to action against leaders Sydney (2-0) at Alexandria on Saturday night before backing up against Illawarra at Broadmeadow at 3pm on Sunday.

Newcastle (1-2) will try to bounce back from their 84-59 loss to Hills Hornets a fortnight ago but coach Darren Nichols concedes they will have to be at their absolute best because he rates unbeaten Sydney (2-0) as one of the title favourites.

“They’ve had two big wins over Maitland (102-79) and Manly (105-77), who are running second and fifth on the ladder, and we’re coming off a heavy loss to Hills so we’re well aware how tough it’s going to be if we don’t turn up ready to play,” Nichols said.