'Gloom lifting' for family budgets

The pressure on household finances has eased to its weakest levels in three years, in a sign that the "gloom is lifting", a report has found.

Hopes that families' budgets may be entering "a period of relative calm", came from a renewed increase in people's take-home pay as well as a perception that the rise in living costs is easing, according to financial information company Markit, which compiled the research.
Some 9% of people surveyed said their finances improved in May, while almost 28% said that they worsened. The overall reading of the latest monthly survey into people's finances was 40.4, marking the slowest deterioration in household finances since May 2010.

A reading above 50 signals that people's overall finances are getting better and one below 50 shows a decline. While 40.4 is still a negative reading, it is a sharp improvement on a reading of 37.7 in April, signalling that the squeeze on finances eased "substantially" over the month, Markit said.

Households were also the least downbeat about their financial outlook for the next 12 months than they had been since September last year. The study recorded the biggest improvement to levels of income from employment in three years, which was mainly driven by people working in finance and business services and the IT and telecoms sector. Manufacturing employees also saw relatively strong levels of pay growth.

Meanwhile, households reported that the squeeze on their cash availability eased significantly, with the slowest decline in spending power seen in around two and-a-half years. Markit said its research recorded the most marked decrease in inflation perceptions since May 2009.

All income groups saw the pressure on their budgets ease over the month, but people with incomes of between £15,000-£23,000 saw the biggest turnaround, Markit said.

London and Yorkshire and the Humber were the least downbeat regions, while those living in the East Midlands were the most pessimistic.

Tim Moore, senior economist at Markit and author of the report, said: "May's survey is a clear indication that the gloom is lifting over household finances."

10 top ways to add value to your home
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'Gloom lifting' for family budgets

Of course with all these things, the value it adds depends on the property you have to start with, and the kinds of improvements you make, but Which? estimates the cost of a new kitchen at £8,000 and HSBC calculates the added value to your property at £4,500 - which is a clear loss.

This has been done by 41% of people in the last three years, and 29% of people plan it in the next three. It's cheaper than a kitchen, and Which? estimates the cost at £3,000. This is roughly the same value that HSBC says it will add to your property - so you'll break-even.

It may be difficult, but getting your property ready for sale means depersonalising it. 

Clutter can distract viewers and more than half (60%) of the property valuers who took part in the 2012 HSBC Home Improvement Survey said that the number one way to increase a property's chance of selling quickly, and for a good price, was to de-clutter.

This has been installed by 31% of us in the last three years, and 15% plan it in the next three. Installing central heating is a disruptive job, and according to WhatPrice it will cost you around £3,235. However, this is the first of the top ten to actually pay off. Property expert Phil Spencer says it will add £5,000 to the value.

A quick splash of paint can work wonders on tired-looking walls, and sticking to neutral tones is the safest bet.

Keeping the colour scheme simple, fresh and inviting will help potential buyers to see themselves living in your home.

Some 18% have added one in the last three years, and 30% will in the next three. This is another huge job, but with more people struggling to move and deciding to improve instead, it's increasingly popular. The amount it costs will depend on an enormous number of things, from the area you have to work with, to the size of the extension. However, assuming you add a single room you could spend around £20,000. HSBC estimates it will add around £15,500 to the value of the property, so you are unlikely to gain as much as you spend.

According to Halifax valuers, loft conversions - which require lofts with a roof height of at least 2.4 metres - are a good way to increase the potential sale price of your home.

Be sure to stick to your budget, though. The average loft conversion will cost between £10,000 and £30,000, while HSBC's figures show that they typically add £20,876 to the value of a property.

Putting in new windows adds around £5,265 to the value of the average property and can reap big rewards when it comes to energy efficiency.

It is, however, sensible to ensure that your new windows are in line with the style of your property to maximise the added value - particularly as putting them in can set you back about £5,000.

Off road parking or a garage can be especially advantageous in areas where parked cars line both sides on the street.

Nationwide's figures show that adding a garage, which can cost anything between £8,000 and £25,000, can increase the value of your property by 11%.

Outside space is just as important as inside - especially when people are seeing your home for the first time.

While 63% of the HSBC survey expert respondents said that repainting or varnishing a front door would make a difference, only 23% of homeowners recognised this. Peter Dockar at HSBC said: "It is often the smaller jobs like painting the front door that can make all the difference when looking for a sale."
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