Monday, 30 April 2012

Cut your mortgage costs

You would be forgiven for thinking that right now your mortgage is the one thing you don't have to worry about. While the cost of everything else is going through the roof, there's every likelihood that your mortgage costs are lower than they have been for years.

However, neglecting your mortgage now would mean missing a golden opportunity to cut your mortgage costs dramatically over the long term.
There are a few things you can do right now to save yourself money in the long run.

1. Fix

While rates are so low - and with the experts predicting they will remain that way for some time to come - it's tempting to stick to a variable rate mortgage and get the lowest rate possible.

However, it's worth bearing in mind that these same predictions mean the price of fixed rate mortgages has fallen too. Nationwide and the Post Office recently joined the rush to cut their fixed rates, and many deals are now below 4%. First Direct, for example, offers borrowers with a 35% deposit a 3.99% rate.

If you can fix for five years then there's every chance that you will find yourself on rock bottom rates when the economy begins to turn a corner and rates start rising again. Of course, there's always the risk that rates will take more than five years to rise again, in which case you will have fund yourself paying over the odds. However, the commentators are not predicting a full five years of economic gloom.

2. Shop around

Mortgage rates have been at long-term lows for such a long time that many people are now sitting on their lender's SVR. In recent weeks, however, those have started to inch up, so it pays to look around.

You can even get rates under 4% for 90% mortgages now, and if you have a more sizeable chunk of equity you can easily pay less than 3%. With some SVRs well over 5% it may be worth the hassle of remortgaging.

3. Overpay

Of course this is easier said than done, and some mortgages don't allow it. However, if you have the flexibility to overpay then this is a golden opportunity. If you can find a way to squeeze a bit more life from your household budget, the savings are remarkable.

If, for example, you have a £100,000 mortgage at 6%, overpaying by £100 a month could save you almost £27,000 and wipe six years off your mortgage. There's little doubt that your mortgage costs £100 less than it did before the credit crunch, so in theory it should be possible to make the most of this opportunity.

4. Plan for change

Overpaying or switching to a fixed rate mortgage have the added benefit that they protect you when interest rates eventually rise again.

You don't have to take either of these approaches, but it's worth avoiding the crime of complacency. At some point in the future interest rates will rise again. While you have time and space to think about it, you need to make a plan for how you will cope.

Where will you find the extra money? Will you need to change mortgages? Should you do it in advance? Will you be able to afford the mortgage at all? Is a more drastic solution worth considering - like moving or bringing in a lodger?

For every mortgage problem there is a solution, it's just that it's hard to find when you leave it to a moment of crisis. So while rates are so low it pays to plan ahead, so you have something in the pipeline for when rates rise again.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Beginner's guide to self-employment

With the economy sliding back towards recession, many jobs are at risk. The number of Britons becoming self-employed is expected to rise as a result.

If being your own boss appeals to you, check out this guide to improve your chances of being successfully self-employed. 

Controlling your cash 
When you become self-employed, you must let Revenue & Customs know within three months. Otherwise you risk a fine.

Once you are registered as self-employed, you will almost certainly need to start paying Class 2 NI contributions, which are £2.50 a week.

Even though you will not pay any income tax in the first year, it is also crucial to set aside at least an hour each week to do your accounts and to start saving up for your first tax bill.

Accountants recommend saving around a third of any profits over and above the current personal allowance of £7,457.

You do not necessarily need to pay an accountant to manage you affairs, although you may wish to invest in some easy-to-use accounting software such as that available at Accountz for £99.

Working from home 
There are both pros and cons to working from home. It can, for example, prove hard to concentrate, which is why it is a good idea to have a separate room or area to work in.

If you are likely to have a lot of visits from clients or will be using your home primarily as an office, you should also look into whether you need planning permission to set your business up. Contact your local authority for more details about this.

Finally, get in touch with your home insurer to find out if you need to alter your policy and whether you need business insurance, which offers various types of cover including public liability and employers' liability. The latter is obligatory if you plan to take on staff.

Registering for VAT 
If you expect to have a turnover of at least £73,000, then the current rules state that you must also register for VAT.

However, even if your turnover is less than this amount, some people feel that it is worth registering to look more professional if your clients are businesses.

If your clients are going to be consumers, on the other hand, you should avoid registering if possible as it will only serve to push your prices up by 20%.

Whatever field you are in, the success of your business depends to a large extent on potential clients finding out about it. So it is vital to get your marketing right.

Finding the right name for your business is hugely important and you will have more chance of attracting customers - and internet users - if you keep both it and any website simple and to the point.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Mobile phones: 'Still no evidence of harm to health'

There are 80 million mobile phones in the UK

There is still no evidence mobile phones harm human health, says a major safety review for the UK's Health Protection Agency (HPA).
Scientists looked at hundreds of studies of mobile exposure and found no conclusive links to cancer risk, brain function or infertility.
However, they said monitoring should continue because little was known about long-term effects.
The HPA said children should still avoid excessive use of mobiles.
It is the biggest ever review of the evidence surrounding the safety of mobile phones.
There are now an estimated 80 million mobiles in the UK, and because of TV and radio broadcasting, Wi-Fi, and other technological developments, the study said exposure to low-level radio frequency fields was almost universal and continuous.
A group of experts working for the HPA looked at all significant research into the effects of low-level radio frequency.
'Relatively reassuring'
They concluded that people who were not exposed above UK guideline levels did not experience any detectable symptoms.
That included people who reported being sensitive to radio frequency.
They also said there was no evidence that exposure caused brain tumours, other types of cancer, or harm to fertility or cardiovascular health.
But they said very little was known about risks beyond five years, because most people did not use mobile phones until the late 1990s.
Prof Anthony Swerdlow, who chaired the review group, said it was important to continue monitoring research.
"Even though it's relatively reassuring, I also think it's important that we keep an eye on the rates of brain tumours and other cancers," he said.
"One can't know what the long-term consequences are of something that has been around for only a short period."
There has been speculation about the health effects of using mobile phones for years.
The HPA conducted a previous review in 2003, which also concluded that there was no evidence of harm. But there is now far more research into the subject.
Advice on children
The experts said more work was needed on the effect of radio frequency fields on brain activity, and on the possible association with behavioural problems in children.
They also called for more investigation into the effects of new technology which emits radio frequency, such as smart meters in homes and airport security scanners.
The HPA said it was not changing its advice about mobile phone use by children.
"As this is a relatively new technology, the HPA will continue to advise a precautionary approach," said Dr John Cooper, director of the HPA's centre for radiation, chemical and environmental hazards.
"The HPA recommends that excessive use of mobile phones by children should be discouraged."

Monday, 23 April 2012

Men set to live as long as women, figures show

                                 Men could be living as long as women

The gap between male and female life expectancy is closing and men could catch up by 2030, according to an adviser for the Office for National Statistics.
Prof Les Mayhew said the difference between the sexes peaked at nearly six years in the 1970s.
Life expectancy is going up all round, but the rates for men are increasing faster.
Plummeting smoking rates in men are thought to explain a lot of the change.
Prof Mayhew, a professor of statistics at Cass Business School, analysed life expectancy data in England and Wales. He was working out how long 30-year-olds could expect to live.
Heart disease
His findings show men languishing far behind for decades, but now starting to get closer to women. If current trends continue, Prof Mayhew predicts, both sexes could, on average, be living to the age of 87 in 2030.
Graph of life expectancies
He said: "What's interesting at the moment is that in the last 20 years or so, male life expectancy at 30 has jumped by about six years and if it jumps by the same amount in the next 20 years it will converge with female life expectancy."
The reason could be down to men living a healthier lifestyle. "One of the main reasons, I think, is the trend in the prevalence of smoking. Smoking took off after 1920 in the male population and at its high about 80% of males smoked.
           Fewer male smokers may be boosting overall life expectancy
"This was reflected in more divergence in the life expectancy, so by the time you get to about 1970 it was at its peak - the difference in life expectancy was about 5.7 years."
Other factors are thought to be safer, more office-based, jobs. Millions of men used to work in hazardous occupations such as coal mining. Healthcare has meant more men live longer as well. People with heart disease, which is more common in men, can expect to live much longer than they did a few decades ago.
By contrast, women started smoking later than men. Rates of lung cancer are still increasing in women, but are falling fast in men.
A boy and a girl born on the same day will still not have the same life expectancies, as the study looked only at people who had already reached 30. Boys are more likely to die in their first year of life and are more likely to take up dangerous sports or be involved in fatal accidents.
It means that women could still have the edge for some time to come.
Global pattern
Prof David Leon, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "In virtually all countries in the world, women do have a slight advantage."
However, he said the gap was definitely closing in some countries.
Countries with lower levels of life expectancy, such as in sub-Saharan Africa, showed very little difference between the genders. This was due to the prevalence of infectious diseases which "are not picky about men and women", he said.
In countries that had defeated most infectious diseases, such as in Eastern Europe, "there is a much bigger difference, mostly dominated by lifestyle factors".
At one point in the 1990s, the gap between life expectancies in Russia reached 13 years. Prof Leon said it was an "absolutely massive" difference in a "very gendered society".
In his third class of countries, such as the UK, the gap in life expectancies is starting to narrow.
He said: "Men are getting a bit better behaved and women are adopting male life expectancies."

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Breast surgeons back withdrawal of 'lunchtime boob job' jab

So-called 'lunchtime boob jobs' were believed to be less invasive than other augmentation procedures.

Plastic surgeons in the UK have welcomed the decision to discontinue a treatment used in breast enhancements.
Macrolane, an injectable filler used for "lunchtime boob jobs", is to be withdrawn for such purposes this week.
A survey by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) found that 25% of its members noticed patient complications from the filler.
Experts warn it could affect breast cancer screenings but manufacturer Q-Med said there was a lack of consensus.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said Macrolane could effect mammogram readings and make diagnosis more difficult.
A spokesman said there were no safety concerns with the product itself, and it could still be used for other purposes such as "augmenting body contour" and correcting soft tissue defects.
'Caution urged'
"If women have been injected with Macrolane and subsequently had a mammogram, they should contact their GP to see if they need to be referred for further screening," he added.
A "lunchtime boob job" enhances breast size by injecting filler such as Macrolane and does not require the use of implants.
It was believed to be much less invasive than other breast augmentation procedures.
In 2009, more than 1,000 women in the UK opted for this treatment, according to BAAPS figures.
BAAPS president Fazel Fatah said: "Any treatment can only be considered safe once it is known what long-term effect it has on cancer screening as this can affect such a high proportion of women.
"We have urged caution in the past against the use of fillers in the breast, especially when there is a lack of peer-reviewed results from controlled clinical trials."
Mr Fatah added that BAAPS had previously expressed concerns regarding lump formation and capsular contracture - the hardening of breast tissue around the implant - arising from the use of Macrolane.
A spokesman for Q-Med, which makes the product in Sweden, said all breast augmentation procedures, including those involving Macrolane, could interfere with mammograms.
"At present, there is a lack of consensus amongst radiologists regarding radiology examination of breasts treated with Macrolane," he said.
He said the decision to discontinue the product for breast enhancements followed consultation with regulatory authorities.
Earlier this year, silicone breast implants manufactured by French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) caused an international health scare when it was discovered that they have a high risk of rupturing in the body.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

'Blind' mice eyesight treated with transplanted cells

Lead researcher, Prof Robin Ali , explains the behaviour of blind mice in the water maze test. Video filmed and produced by UCL and Moorfields Hospital

British scientists have restored the sight of blind mice by transplanting light-sensitive photoreceptor cells into their eyes.
The work is a step towards a new treatment for patients with degenerative eye diseases.
Scientists at University College London Institute of Ophthalmology injected cells from young healthy mice directly into the retinas of adult mice that had night-blindness.
The findings are published in Nature.
The cells transplanted were immature rod-photoreceptor cells, which are especially important for seeing in the dark.
After four to six weeks up to one in six of the transplanted cells had formed the connections needed to transmit visual information to the brain.
Hidden platform
The researchers tested the vision of the treated mice in a dimly-lit water maze.
Those mice with transplanted rod cells were able to see a visual cue to find a hidden platform to enable them to get out of the water. This was in contrast to untreated mice who found the platform only by chance after lengthy exploration of the maze.
Prof Robin Ali, at UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital, who led the research said: "We've shown for the first time that transplanted photoreceptor cells can integrate successfully with the existing retinal circuitry and truly improve vision.
"We're hopeful that we will soon be able to replicate this success with photoreceptors derived from embryonic stem cells and eventually to develop human trials."
Prof Ali said the behavioural maze test was "ultimate proof" that a significant amount of vision had been restored in the treated mice.
But although the results appear promising, there are still many steps to go before such a treatment might be suitable for patients.
There are two types of photoreceptor in the eye - rods and cones. It has so far proved harder to transplant cone photoreceptors - which are crucial for human sight and tasks like reading.
The scientists also plan to experiment with photoreceptors derived from embryonic stem cells. Prof Ali said such cell lines already exist but the question is how efficiently they can transplant them.
EyeThe findings could have implications for treating humans
Loss of photoreceptors is the cause of blindness in many human eye diseases including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), retinitis pigmentosa and diabetes-related blindness.
But many more animal studies will be needed before such a technique would be tried with humans.
'Great encouragement'
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Royal Society the British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society, Alcon Research Institute and The Miller's Trust.
Dr Rob Buckle, head of regenerative medicine at the MRC said: "This is a landmark study that will inform future research across a wide range of fields including vision research, neuroscience and regenerative medicine.
"It provides clear evidence of functional recovery in the damage eye through cell transplantation, providing great encouragement for the development of stem cell therapies to address the many debilitating eye conditions that affect millions worldwide."
There are already a number of research programmes aiming to treat blindness using cell transplants.
Last year, the same research group were given the go-ahead to carry out Europe's first clinical trial involving human embryonic stem cells at Moorfields Eye Hospital.
That study involves patients with Stargardt's disease, one of the main causes of blindness in young people. Early results suggest the technique is safe but reliable results will take several years.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Nissan unveils new yellow cab for NYC

New York City's next generation of yellow cabs will be minivans featuring sliding doors, antibacterial seats, air bags in the back and outlets to charge mobile phones. City officials unveiled the "Taxi of Tomorrow," manufactured by Nissan Motor Co., at the New York International Auto Show on Tuesday. The vehicle, on display to the public from Friday to April 15, was engineered to be durable enough to handle the city's 10,000 km of pothole-riddled streets, according to Nissan officials.

Priced at $29,700, the vehicle will include a transparent roof, fuel-efficient engine, no-hump floors, 25 cm more legroom than a Crown Victoria and more luggage space than most current cabs, according to the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission. They're scheduled to hit New York City's streets by fall 2013."Not only do we get to provide a better experience for its residents and visitors, we get the opportunity to show our brand and product in the most exciting showroom in the world," Carlos Ghosn, chief executive officer of Nissan and Renault SA, said at a Manhattan news conference attended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg late Tuesday.
Nissan expects the cab to be a significant vehicle because of the exposure it will receive as the core NYC taxi, though it won't necessarily be a massive seller in overall units, said Tim Gallagher, a company spokesman.
The city's fleet now consists of 16 models built by nine manufacturers, dominated by Ford Motor Co.'s discontinued Crown Victoria. By 2018, Nissan's NV200 minivan, now sold as a delivery vehicle in Japan and Europe, will be the only cab in the city's fleet and New York City is the only established market for the cabs so far.
The vehicles will be produced in Mexico and fitted for taxi use by American workers, city officials said last May when they chose Nissan over Ford and Turkey's Karsan Otomotiv Sanayi & Ticaret AS.
It is the first New York taxi to be crash-tested with the partition between driver and passengers installed, Mayor Bloomberg said. The sliding doors will protect riders from risking getting clipped by passing traffic, he said.
"This taxi was designed from the inside out and the result is the safest, most comfortable, most passenger-friendly cab to ever ride our streets," Bloomberg said. "For the first time our city will have a cab designed for those who matter most - the passengers and drivers."
The contract is expected to generate $1 billion in revenue for Nissan over the contract's 10 years.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Dad's Pregnancy Diary: Pains, trains and automobiles

It couldn't last...with just over two months to go our relatively peaceful household has descended into chaos, even before the baby arrives. First our two-year old fell ill with a bad virus, then I got it too and then my wife's mother, who travelled up to our house to help, got it worst of all.

This left my now quite heavily pregnant wife as the only person in our home not unwell and scurrying around trying to tend to everyone else.

Then I hit 40, alarming enough, and promptly did my back in on the very day. Now neither of the adults in the house is able to bend down easily, meaning our two-year-old is having to pick anything up that falls to the floor. About time, I say!

Meanwhile my wife is still struggling to work amid the horrors of trying to get a seat on the train.
I thought it was an old cliche that men didn't give up their seats to pregnant women. But it appears that it's still somewhat true.

Despite her 'baby on board' badge my wife says that it's usually only other women who ever offer her a place to sit when she's standing there looking like she's smuggled a ball out of the local bowling alley.

Her theory is not so much that men are simply selfish, but that, in their morning daze, most of them are only primed to notice women who 'are very obviously worth eyeing up'!

I think this is actually much more plausible than the other theory, only ever put about by men, that they're too embarrassed to relinquish their seat in case the female in question is overweight rather than pregnant.

In my experience acts of obvious chivalry are pretty much always appreciated by the opposite sex and it really is worth the infinitesimally small chance of ending up red-faced to save a pregnant woman from suffering in silence.

Mind you, my only contribution to my wife's woes at the moment seems to be offer up the occasional foot massage for her sore feet. Of course they're very rare – well I have my back to think of don't I?

Talking of transport, I've suddenly realised that our little car is probably too small to accommodate a two-year-old who is already the size of most four-year-olds and three more of us.

Our deluxe baby car seat from the first time around was ridiculously expensive (we won't be making those sort of rookie financial blunders again) and is so elaborate that it won't fit behind the driver's seat when it's pushed back.

After shelling out on a garden office, so I can continue working from home and make way for junior's new bedroom, we simply can't afford a new motor so we'll just have to cope somehow.
Though I won't be following my dad's solution of simply putting the youngest child loose in the boot, albeit when he was about seven. Somehow, on long journeys to the South of France in the 1980s, that seemed OK.

And it did, actually, prove very useful, especially when on one holiday the suitcase fell off the roof rack. My little brother was perfectly placed to alert my father to the fact that it was now lying in the ditch about 500 yards back.

As far as preparations for the birth go, it's got to the stage where I've had to warn the people I work for that I might disappear into the dark recesses of a maternity ward soon and suddenly.
In my experience male colleagues are actually very understanding in this respect.

If they have children they remember the sweaty palmed nervousness at the thought of getting their partners to the delivery room in time. If they haven't got kids then they are so freaked out by the very thought of having to get into discussions about labour and all that "women's stuff" that they'd almost agree to anything.

Oh, and as for the baby? He's on the move too. We're not quite sure whether he's simply shuffling about in an awkward way, embarrassed by our increasingly odd behaviour, or just getting himself into the right position for birth.

If he's anything like his older brother he's bedding down for a long innings thinking: "I'll just stay here for a bit until things calm down."

You can catch up on previous dad's pregnancy diaries here.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Walking could be a useful tool in treating depression

                                                   Mild exercise for mild depression?

Something as simple as going for a brisk stroll could play an important role in fighting depression, according to researchers in Scotland.
Vigorous exercise has already been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression, but the effect of less strenuous activities was unclear.
A study in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity showed walking had a "large effect" on depression.
One in 10 people may have depression at some point in their lives.
The condition can be treated with drugs, but exercise is commonly prescribed by doctors for mild symptoms.
Researchers at the University of Stirling scoured academic studies to find data on one of the mildest forms of exercise - walking.
They found eight studies, on a total of 341 patients, which fitted the bill.
The report's authors showed "walking was an effective intervention for depression" and had an effect similar to other more vigorous forms of exercise.

They said: "Walking has the advantages of being easily undertaken by most people, incurring little or no financial cost and being relatively easy to incorporate into daily living."
However, they cautioned that much more research needed to be done. There are still questions over how long, how fast and whether walking should take place indoors or outdoors.
Prof Adrian Taylor, who studies the effects of exercise on depression, addiction and stress at the University of Exeter, told the BBC: "The beauty of walking is that everybody does it."
He added: "There are benefits for a mental-health condition like depression."
How any form of exercise helps with depression is unclear. Prof Taylor said there were ideas about exercise being a distraction from worries, giving a sense of control and releasing "feel-good" hormones.
The mental-health charity Mind said its own research found that spending time outdoors helped people's mental health.
Its chief executive, Paul Farmer, said: "To get the most from outdoor activities it's important to find a type of exercise you love and can stick at. Try different things, be it walking, cycling, gardening or even open-water swimming.
"Exercising with others can have even greater impact, as it provides an opportunity to strengthen social networks, talk through problems with others or simply laugh and enjoy a break from family and work. So ask a friend to join you."

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Ambulance staff 'can speed up stroke treatment'

Blood clots can block normal flow to the brain and cause stroke

Treating stroke in specialised ambulances en route to hospital is feasible and could boost the number of patients who receive life-saving therapy, experts believe.
Mobile stroke units can halve the time it takes a patient to get clot-busting drugs, a small German trial found.
The drugs only work if given within four and a half hours of stroke onset.
Since not all patients are suitable candidates, a rapid assessment is critical, The Lancet Neurology reports.
Clot-busting drugs (thrombolytics) can be effective if the stroke is caused by a blood clot (the cause in about 80% of cases), but not if it is due to a bleed.
The faster an eligible patient receives clot-busting treatment, the better their chances are of surviving and reducing long-term disability.
Brain scan
The latest trial, which involved 100 patients in Germany, found treatment decision times were reduced by equipping ambulance staff with the necessary tools, including CT scanners, to diagnose and manage stroke.
In the study, thrombolysis was given within 35 minutes, on average, for those patients treated by mobile stroke units. In comparison, those sent to hospital for treatment in the usual way waited 76 minutes.
Patient outcomes did not differ significantly between the two groups but the researchers point out that the study was not designed to evaluate this and that the number of patients involved in their trial was small. The follow up was also short - a week.
Experts say larger studies are needed to explore what impact earlier treatment will have on prognosis, and to confirm whether mobile stroke units would also work in other geographical regions, not just in urban areas with short journey distances.
Stroke is the third biggest cause of death in the UK and the largest single cause of severe disability. Each year more than 110,000 people in England will have a stroke, which costs the NHS over £2.8bn.
In 2007 the government set out a National Stroke Strategy to improve stroke services and recommended that patients with a suspected stroke should have a brain scan as soon as possible to determine if it was caused by a blocked artery or a burst blood vessel.
Only a minority of stroke patients reach hospital and undergo brain scanning within a few hours, which is necessary if these drugs are to be given.
But stroke care has been improving over recent years, audits show.
Nikki Hill of The Stroke Association said: "When a stroke strikes time lost is brain lost, meaning that getting urgent medical attention quickly is absolutely essential.
"Treating suspected stroke patients at the site of the emergency is an interesting development and it could help to speed up the whole treatment process for some patients.
"However, this research was conducted in an urban area of Germany, and so it's difficult to say whether the same method would work in the more rural areas of the UK. A lot more research is needed."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The results of this study are interesting, but we would need more evidence on whether mobile stroke units would be a clinical and cost effective addition to NHS stroke services.
"In some instances, it could be just as quick or quicker to get the patient to hospital in an ambulance as it would to get a mobile stroke unit to the patient."

Monday, 9 April 2012

Why does no-one want your house?

There's plenty of advice around for what to do to your house to appeal to potential buyers. But before you go repainting the spare room and buying new cupboard doors for the kitchen units, there's just the small matter of actually getting people in through the door.

And with buyers rarer than bargain rain tickets at the moment, the question of the day is how to drag them kicking and screaming to your door.

There are five vital steps to bringing the buyers in.

1. Choosing the right estate agent

There are a few things you need in an agent. They have to be popular with buyers. Are they in the right place geographically? Do they have a good reputation? Are they proactive in bringing buyers to their door? Do they advertise like mad and subscribe to all the right websites?

They also have to be good for you. Are they being reasonably straight with you? Can you trust them to work tirelessly on your behalf? Do they have enough on their books to make them appealing to buyers without having too many properties like yours which will leave you feeling like a needle in a haystack?

You don't have to like them. You don't have to be lifelong friends, but you need to feel in your gut that they're on your side and capable of doing what you need of them.

2. Getting the marketing right

This starts with the particulars. Take some time to read the sorts of things they put out to make sure they are up to snuff, then check what they write about your property. Have they taken the effort to highlight the most important things? Have they caught the vital benefits of the property and the area. If the details aren't up to scratch you have every right to demand more.

Then make sure you are getting a decent airing. Are you in their property magazine or newsletter? Are they advertising in the local press? Are you getting prominence on their website and other property websites? You need the full spectrum of coverage if you are to get buyers in this market.

3. Making an effort with the photos

This is partly down to you. Don't be shy about dressing your home like a show home. Clear everything out. Chuck the lot in the garage. Lose any furniture that makes the place look cluttered. A well dressed home is always accompanied by a garage or shed brimming to the rafters.

However, it's also down to the photographer. A good photographer will be able to make the place look twice as big, airy, fashionable and attractive than your home ever looked. Don't accept anything less.

4. Being demanding

It doesn't come naturally to most people. We're not used to being demanding and obnoxious. However, if something isn't right, you need to be clear about exactly what you expect and demand.

There's no point staggering along with substandard particulars and a lacklustre estate agent wondering why you don't have any viewers, when a bit of demanding behaviour can get you what you really need.

5. Setting the price

This is the tough bit. Setting the price can be affected by all sorts of things: your sentimental attachment to your home, how much it was worth when you bought it, how much your mortgage is for, how much it was worth five years ago. None of this makes the slightest bit of difference.

You need to find out what similar properties are going for, work out how much you want a sale, and price accordingly. If you want scores of viewings you need to be one of the cheapest on the block. There's no point overpricing your home and then wondering why it's so quiet.