Cheap tricks to boost the value of your home

Man doing DIY

Tired houses are a yawn for their occupants and potential buyers when the time comes to sell. We look at some of the simpler ways you can add value and give your home a new lease on life, without turning yours upside down.

Lighten up

Natural light not only makes rooms brighter and appear larger, studies have shown it can make us feel calmer, happier and be more productive. What’s more, daylight is one of the best value additions you can make to your home. For around $800, a skylight or solar tube will light up a small, dim room or hall. Let light into larger spaces by adding a larger skylight, widening windows, replacing a solid door with a glass-paned one or, to really open things up, knocking down a wall. Tearing down walls is obviously the more extreme option but not necessarily as expensive as you might think. Firstly, if it’s not a load-bearing wall (get a licensed builder to check) you could do most of the hard yakka yourself. If the wall is brick or helping hold up your roof, get a professional to remove it. Taking down an average room wall costs around $2,000, but additional structural supports, such as beams, could double that. Even if you do have to fork out extra, you’ll be getting plenty of bang for your buck all day, every day. You’ll be glad you saw the light!

Clear that clutter

Clean, clear spaces in a home are highly sought – perhaps as an antidote for our busy, crowded schedules. Storage is king, but don’t rush to install built-in wardrobes or build a bigger garage. Get ruthless with your clutter, first. Go room to room, cupboard to cupboard, drawer to drawer deciding what should be ditched, donated or doted on. A great rule of thumb for clothes and household items is if you haven’t used it (or seen it) for two years, it’s time to toss it. If, after paring down, you still feel you need extra storage, consider organising the garage. Where once we strewed bikes, tools and boxes of Elton John LPs around our parked cars, garages are now sporting hooks and nooks to clear floor space and keep excess stuff in a most orderly fashion. Hangers and racks to get things off the ground are sold at hardware stores from $20 upwards. Or you can spend $1,000s with a garage fit-out specialist to create a whole new room with maximum storage (and still space for the car).

Lay of the land

No longer just a slab of lawn out front and back, the yard and garden have morphed into our outdoor rooms. If like many of us, you’re not blessed with an eye for design and a green thumb, it’s well worth paying a landscape designer up to $2,000 to scope the layout and specify what plants or structures should go where. You may even save considerably on the design fee – if you don’t mind being a bit of a guinea pig – by getting a referral for a final-year landscape student from a TAFE college. Look to remove trees or other foliage that block light, fix any broken fences or gates, cut back on expansive lawns that need mowing by paving or decking the area instead and create privacy with suitable trees or fencing.

Full frontal

Yes, first impressions really do count! Front doors have never made a grander statement, so consider what your current one is saying about you. If it’s humdrum, look at widening the entrance and fitting it with double doors or one of the new wider, chunkier front doors. Frame your front door with something that says “welcome”, be it a stylish plant in a pot, a tasteful sculpture or a neat path trimmed symmetrically with ground cover plants. You may find your money is best spent even further out front with a driveway make-over. For around $10,000 you can get an old concrete driveway smoothed and stencil-sprayed.

Your own canvas

Perhaps the cheapest and least intrusive way to transform an interior is to repaint. Dark rooms can be made bigger and brighter with the right, light hue, while bland homes can make a bold statement with a striking feature wall. The best thing about painting (or perhaps it’s the worst) is that most of us can tackle at least a wall or two, leaving us with just the cost of paint, rollers, drop-cloths and brushes. Those who don’t have the patience or time will pay up to about $8,000 for a professional to paint an average size home. Whether you go DIY or hire a pro, you should consider spending an hour and about $200 with a colour consultant. They will come to you and, with a designer’s eye, recommend palettes for your various rooms. They generally have preferred painters but, providing you pay for the colourist’s time, they usually don’t mind if you hire someone else or get stuck in yourself.

Touch base

Once you have decided on your action plan, touch base with your broker about how your mortgage is looking and what finance options are available for your proposed renovations. Be they big or small, your broker is more than happy to talk to you about all the options on the table.

Common cents – 50 savvy ways to save

couple using computer

Saving can be simple when you know how. Yes, sacrifice is needed to get ahead but you can also be frugal without being a total scrooge. Follow our 50 tips to sneak more savings into your life.

    1. Talk to me to see if you can save on one of your biggest outlays – your home loan.
    2. Switch all your household lights to energy-efficient globes.
    3. Sell old smart phones on eBay or Gumtree – families with tweens often want second-hand tech vs expensive new. An old iPhone could get you $200 on eBay.
    4. Bag your fruit and vegies at fresh food markets instead of supermarkets.
    5. Review your broadband and mobile plans – do you really need all that data?
    6. Book holidays for off-peak or shoulder periods. Even better, save on accommodation costs by using a holiday housesitting website such as mindahome.com.au or housesitters.com.au
    7. MYO breakfast and lunch on work days.
    8. Freeze your credit card. Stick it in a glass of water in the freezer – you’ll need to thaw it to use it, by which time the impulse buy will have passed.
    9. Shop around for better deals on your car, home and health insurances. Time-consuming maybe, but there are big savings to be made.
    10. Love gigs and shows? Sign up to ticket agency and music venue email alerts to keep informed of two-for-one and ticket discount deals.
    11. Try replacing expensive dishwasher tablets with a mix of two tablespoons of Borax combined with two tablespoons of bicarb soda. It’ll clean your dishes and the machine.
    12. Split bulk-buy meat with buddies.
    13. Make sure your dentist, optometrist and physio are among your health fund’s preferred providers.
    14. If flying domestically, save with early morning or late evening flights on weekends or midday flights Monday to Friday.
    15. Take advantage of free community events such as festivals, outdoor fitness classes and open-air movies.
    16. Cancel your cable TV and subscribe to a more affordable streaming service.
    17. Run your dishwasher and pool filter during off-peak energy periods, e.g. after 10pm or before 6am.
    18. Make an agreement that you and your partner won’t spend more than $100 without checking with the other first.
    19. Book your beauty appointments (waxing, pedicure etc) at a training college.
    20. Make a grocery list and stick to it to save on impulse buying (and don’t shop hungry!).
    21. Eat in, but head outside with a picnic blanket to make it a bit special.
    22. Check you’re not paying extra for monthly car and home insurance payments.
    23. Organise a fashion or book swap with friends and co-workers.
    24. Flush less – we use 6 to 18 litres of water every time.
    25. Cook bigger batches of discounted meat and seasonal produce and freeze meals.
    26. Unplug unused appliances and save on standby energy.
    27. Pay your mortgage fortnightly instead of monthly.
    28. The ‘op’ in op shop stands for opportunity – you never know what you might find.
    29. Enjoy a movie night at home with friends.
    30. Grow salad greens and herbs – easy to grow and manage in pots.
    31. Pay your bills on time to avoid penalties.
    32. Give homemade gifts: biscuits, granola, pasta sauce, chutney, jam, cards.
    33. Don’t discount the savings from shopper dockets.
    34. Book quality, three-star hotels for overnight stays – you just need a comfy bed.
    35. Wash and groom your own dog.
    36. Turn your next dinner party into a pot luck.
    37. Say yes to freebies and rewards and create a free email account just to receive deals.
    38. Join the refill revolution with your own water bottle – save money and the environment.
    39. Find a GP that bulk bills.
    40. Dissolve four teaspoons of bicarb soda in one litre of water to clean kitchen and bathroom surfaces.
    41. Buy loose fruit and vegies – snow peas, green beans, spuds – instead of pre-packed.
    42. Never buy a new car.
    43. Give favours instead of gifts – babysitting, mowing, cleaning, painting, car detailing, gardening etc.
    44. Check out your local library for free activities, especially for kids.
    45. Take advantage of sales on staples – laundry powder, shampoo, toilet paper etc. – and buy in bulk.
    46. Tap into any workplace perks e.g. discounts on health insurance, gym memberships, entertainment, accommodation.
    47. Consolidate your credit cards into one low-interest card.
    48. Snuggle under a blanket instead of jacking up the heater.
    49. Plan your meals around supermarket specials.
    50. Exercise without a gym – there are loads of online workouts to help you cancel that membership. Or better still, go for a walk. The dog will love you for it!

Specialty asset finance lender joins AFG panel

AFG Head office

AFG has expanded its panel with the addition of specialty asset finance lender Australian Motorcycle & Marine Finance (AMMF) to the AFG Business platform.

AFG Head of Sales & Distribution Chris Slater announced the addition in a message to brokers this week. “When a client looks to their broker for finance, they are looking for options. When a broker chooses an aggregator, they expect their aggregator to offer a lender panel that responds to customer needs and provides those options.”

“The addition of AMMF’s commercial products to the AFG Business platform delivers on that commitment,” he said.

AMMF has a broad range of asset finance options to meet customer needs. “As Australian small businesses come out of COVID-19 imposed hibernation, access to competitive finance is vital to assist them to get back on the road to recovery.”

“Some of the assets AMMF will fund include motorbikes; bike and boat trailers; all-terrain vehicles; power products such as ride-on mowers and generators, and marine pleasure craft. They also fund commercial marine equipment including engines as stand alone.”

Commenting on the announcement Marty Bear, AMMF National Manager Australia and New Zealand – Broker, said: “AMMF is a specialist lender for leisure goods in both the Commercial and

Consumer markets. We are really pleased to be welcomed on to the AFG panel and look forward to working closely with such a great aggregator as AFG and its broker network.”

“The AFG Business platform takes the legwork out of commercial lending by matching transactions and customers to a lender’s credit requirements,” said Chris. “We are very pleased to welcome AMMF to the AFGB Platform and their consumer products to the AFG Asset Finance panel.”

AMMF products are available to AFG brokers from today.

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RBA’s cash rate for June unchanged at 0.25%

The cash rate decision for June has been announced by the RBA with the rate unchanged at 0.25%.

The Bank withstood calls for further reductions, with some commentators suggesting negative interest rates remain a future possibility.

Whilst the RBA will be mindful of concerns around the rising value of the Australian dollar and its impact on exports, reductions in property prices and uncertainty around employment post JobKeeper, it stuck by its view that a rate of .25% is an appropriate floor.

If the COVID-19 crisis is affecting your financial situation, please get in touch so an AFG broker can formulate a plan to manage your loan repayments during these unprecedented times.

An AFG broker can help review your situation to ensure you have the right loan for your circumstances, by drawing on a wide panel of lenders offering loans with great features, low fees and competitive interest rates.

If you’d like to chat about the best way to manage your mortgage as the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, please get in touch with an AFG broker.

AFG training and events pivot during COVID-19

AFG Head office

As the COVID-19 crisis began to unfold, AFG’s Learning and Development (L&D) and Events programs switched direction to meet the vital learning and development requirements of the AFG broker network.

Supporting brokers with up to date information and ensuring they can maintain their professional development requirements in a virtual world – including attaining CPD points – has been vital, according to AFG Head of Sales and Distribution Chris Slater. “From the moment the crisis hit, we have made sure our focus was on supporting our brokers. They have been at the forefront of the massive financial impacts the pandemic has had, and their customers have needed support through this time.”

“Australia continues to perform an enviable job of flattening the curve, but it is impossible to say when things will return to normal, and indeed elements of what we have experienced since the lockdown commenced may even become our new normal.”

AFG has redesigned its L&D program with a focus on informative, timely and relevant content. “We are seeing exceptional numbers taking advantage of our program, with the strong uptake of our virtual sessions demonstrating how much our brokers appreciate this content during this uncertain period.”

“Since restrictions commenced, we have had more than 10,000 registrations for our myriad of webinars and virtual sessions. Whether it be keeping them up to date with the market, the lenders and what they are offering or support for the shifting circumstances of their customers, we are reacting in real-time to support our brokers and their clients,” said Chris.

Another big focus has been on increasing the volume of professional development courses available to brokers on AFG’s LEARN platform. “We now have 500 courses available to brokers. In April alone, AFG brokers have completed around 12,769 courses and achieved 7146 CPD hours.”

The volume of content posted to AFG’s online broker portal has also risen significantly, with rolling COVID-19 updates on Government, lender, health and wellbeing, industry and AFG policy changes and announcements.

“We quickly developed a dedicated wiki on our HELP portal to assist brokers in finding the right information at the right time. Brokers have moved rapidly to using this as a source of truth during COVID-19 with over 10,000 views in under two months,” he said.

AFG’s adapted L&D and event program includes an interactive Q&A COVID-19 focused weekly webinar, with full access every week to the AFG executive team, lender partners and industry experts, each delivering responsive content to the developing situation together with BAU content.

Recent guests have included:

  • Kate Carnell, Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, speaking about the ways COVID circumstances have been impacting small business and the Government support available.
  • Real estate leaders John McGrath, Founder and Executive Director of McGrath Real Estate, John Percudani, CEO of Realmark and Andrew McCann, Managing Director of Jellis Craig on the impact of COVID on the Australian residential and commercial property market.
  • Michelle Maynard, Partner of Carbon, speaking about ATO concessions for business, stimulus package options for businesses, cashflow boost payments and details of the Government’s JobKeeper scheme.

“After many requests from non-AFG brokers and industry partners, we have also decided to open these webinars up to the entire industry. Any broker or industry professional can register via our social media pages or our website” said Chris.

“We are also working closely with our lender and industry partners to deliver tailored content via virtual sessions. These have included partner-hosted webinars in both the residential and commercial space, with tailored content focusing on COVID-19 updates and critical BAU information.”

The live webinars are recorded and posted to AFG’s Learning Management System platform for ongoing broker access on demand. In April alone, the team delivered 12 different webinars and virtual sessions with 5706 attendees.

“At a state level our Sales Managers and Partnership Managers are hosting interactive training sessions, forums and virtual coffee meeting programs with smaller groups of local brokers meeting online with their peers and hearing from lender and industry partners as guest presenters,” he said. “We have also redesigned our customary face-to-face lender accreditation sessions to become virtual sessions.”

AFG is currently finalising plans for a lender and industry partner professional development event which will be deployed as a virtual session in coming months.

“During times of extreme change, adjusting the way that we deliver learning and development to support our brokers is of paramount importance,” concluded Chris.

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The simple SEO steps to get you started

co-workers using computer

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is all about helping people find your site as easily as possible. Essentially, we are trying to do what we can to work with the Google algorithm. The algorithm is the way that Google programs their search functionality and it decides whether you appear on the first page or not. There are lots of easy ways to make sure that your website is as accessible as possible for Google and, just as importantly, for your customers and visitors!

Be real, natural, and write for people, not optimisation.

Google are smart. They have evolved their search algorithm (the machine that decides what results to show in a Google search) to punish businesses who try to ‘stuff’ their websites with too many keywords. Your SEO aim can be easily summarised in one sentence; write content for your audience, the way they speak, about what you are good at and what you know. Share what you do well and explain why you do so.

Your keywords.

Take a step back and look at your business and the way you plan to attract customers to decide which keywords you want to focus on. Think about what people would be typing into Google to find you. Try to think at a deeper level about what questions people would type here. What are the problems or frustrations that you would solve for them?

The technical bits: Page titles and headings, in-links, alt-tags, XML sitemaps and URL structure.

Don’t underestimate how effective it can be to use your target keywords in all elements of your page or article. Consistency is key and, if the keywords naturally belong there, your page will rank higher in a search.  These are all elements that you can do yourself when updating your website if you’re a bit tech-savvy. If you aren’t comfortable doing this yourself, there are plenty of virtual assistants who do these things well!

Think about your domain name.

The best time to do this is before you buy it! It’s never too late to look at a new domain, though. The reasons you may want to do this include:

  1. If your domain is too similar to your competitors’
  2. If your domain is similar or the same as a very popular brand, movie, person or another topic that gets searched a lot
  3. If your domain makes you sound like you do something else (ie. using the word security when your business is not in that industry)
  4. If your domain is too long and hard to remember
  5. If you have changed your business name

It’s important to consider the SEO implications of changing your domain name. If you have a high level of trust and your Google results are very high, it may take a few months to get back to this position with a new domain.

Fresh content.

You should be updating your website regularly. Add new content to your newsfeed and update your product and services pages as your business evolves. Your website should give an accurate picture of the way your business changes and grows. If your focus changes, update your website. If you have a special offer on, update your website. When your staff change, update your website. If Google was looking at a history of website changes they should be able to see how your business has changed and grown. This honest reflection in your website will help your SEO a lot.

RBA cash rate remains unchanged at 0.25%

Reserve bank of australia sign

The cash rate decision for May has been announced by the RBA with the rate unchanged at 0.25%.

The Bank has previously signaled it considers the current rate to be the floor, with many analysts predicting it will remain at this level for some time as the economy recovers from the impacts of COVID-19.

If the COVID-19 crisis is affecting your financial situation, please get in touch so we can formulate a plan to manage your loan repayments during these unprecedented times.

Since the RBA announced a .25% emergency cut on 19th March reducing rates to their current level, many lenders have adjusted their own rates.

An AFG broker can help review your situation to ensure you have the right loan for your circumstances, by drawing on a wide panel of lenders offering loans with great features, low fees and competitive interest rates.

If you’d like to chat about the best way to manage your mortgage as the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, please get in touch with an AFG broker.

AFG welcomes Granite Home Loans to panel

AFG Head office

Australian Finance Group is today announcing the addition of a new lender onto the AFG panel. Granite Home Loans will join the panel with a new Self-Managed Super Fund (SMSF) product, making AFG’s one of the broadest residential lender panels in the Australian mortgage market.

Head of Sales & Distribution, Chris Slater engaged Granite Home Loans after seeking the feedback of AFG’s brokers. “We invited a core group of brokers from across the country to join an information session with Bridget Sakr and Yianni Socratous from Granite to see if there was interest.”

“Our brokers were clear they wanted AFG to continue building the panel and provide more options, so we are very pleased to be adding Granite’s SMSF product to the platform,” said Chris.

“In addition, AFG has a relationship with Bridget that goes back a long way and it’s great to be working with her again.”

“We’re extremely excited to be bringing our first product to the AFG Panel. Being a full service lender, I co-founded Granite to develop innovative products and processes to meet the needs of today’s borrowers and brokers.” Bridget said.

“We pride ourselves on service, offering a commitment to AFG brokers of 48 hour first touch, including a full assessment and issuing a tailored indicative offer. We’re soon launching a new Equity Keeper refi product to our partners, and look forward to re-releasing our No LMI Professional product to AFG when the market returns to some normality. Thanks to the team at AFG for the seamless onboarding, and I’m excited to be working closely with Mark and Chris again, and appreciate their ongoing support.”

“Delivering competition to the lending market is vital and has been central to AFG’s strategy since inception more than 25 years ago,” said Chris. “The addition of Granite to the panel confirms AFG’s commitment to expand the options available to customers of AFG brokers in the SMSF space.”

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Protecting your business against cybercrime

Cyber Security image

Originally published on labs.afgonline.com.au on April 7, 2020

As a mortgage broker, you know how to take simple precautions to protect your business against crime when you’re not in the office. All you have to do is make sure the windows are latched, the doors are locked, the alarm is on and the insurance is up to date.

But what about protecting your business against cybercrime now that most, if not all, of your sensitive information is stored online? Cybercrime is a growing threat in Australia, which costs our economy billions of dollars each year. And small businesses are being targeted by an increasing number of cybercrimes.

Even as we enter the COVID-19 crisis opportunities are still being found. The Australian Cyber Security Centre is continually updating its latest threat advice as it reports a significant increase in COVID-19 themed malicious cyber activity across Australia since early March 2020.  While we have taxi drivers moving into deliveries because there are far less passengers and Gin Distilleries producing hand sanitisers. Unfortunately, scammers are no different, they are also looking for opportunities.

What is Cybercrime 

At its most basic level, cybercrime involves stealing information and money via unauthorised access to computers and mobile devices, infecting computers with malware, online identity theft and fraud, online scams or cyber attacks on computer networks and websites.

Cybercrime isn’t just committed by bored teenage hackers or criminal gangs looking to make a quick buck. It can also be perpetrated by a number of sources such as former or current employees who accidentally or intentionally compromise online information.

Protecting your business against Cybercrime
If your business becomes a victim of cybercrime, the impact can be devastating and costly.

Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. And there are simple measures you can take to protect your business against cybercrime, such as making it a priority to:

  • Establish cyber security policies and procedures.
  • Introduce a cyber security incident response plan.
  • Train staff on your cyber security policies, procedures and incident response plan.
  • Turn on automatic updates for computer operating systems, software applications, malware protection and mobile devices.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication wherever possible.
  • Restrict administration privileges for staff members.
    Revoke accounts as soon as staff members leave your business.
  • Manage passwords and ensure they’re not being shared or reused.
  • Change passwords to long, hard-to-crack passphrases.
  • Use a password manager program to create and securely store passphrases.
  • Turn on network encryption and encrypt hard drives and data stored or sent online.
  • Backup your business data regularly and keep a physical backup stored offsite.
  • Foster a culture that understands and values cyber security.

Over the coming months, I’ll provide more information about the ever-evolving cyber security threats in Australia, together with tips to safeguard your business, clients and staff.

Using AFG analytics expertise to help the bushfire victims

Fire tender

Originally published on labs.afgonline.com.au on March 6, 2020

Like everyone in Australia, at AFG we were shocked and saddened by the devastating bushfires that burned across the country over the summer months. Whilst the fires are now finally out, there are many communities that face a long and challenging journey of rebuilding their homes and towns.

AFG continues to work on a number of initiatives to support our Brokers and Customers. This included the announcement in January of a $100,000 Bushfire Relief Fund consisting of $1000 fast response grants and a separate donation to the Mortgage and Finance Industry Bushfire Relief campaign supporting the Australian Red Cross. As an aggregator with a significant national footprint, we wanted to support our brokers, their customers and our AFG Home Loans customers who have been seriously injured or had property partially or completely destroyed by the recent bushfires.

To help target brokers and customers and encourage them to access the grant, we analysed where our brokers businesses are, their customers and the locations of our AFG Home Loans customers to understand who was in a bushfire impacted region. To achieve this, we sourced the real-time fire regions from the NSW, SA and VIC Regional Fire Services. We then had to geo-code our brokers and customers – something that we previously hadn’t had the need to do – and used the Geocoded National Address File (referred to as G-NAF, Australia’s authoritative, geocoded address file) to map addresses to a latitude/longitude coordinate. That allowed us to then accurately determine which brokers (including their customers) and AFG Home Loans customers were in directly impacted by the bushfires.

A sample of the output of the analysis is shown in the map of NSW below. At the time that the analysis was done (c. 14th January),  the yellow regions are where the fires were deemed as “under control” by the NSW Regional Fire Service. The circles show the number of brokers, brokers’ customers and AFG Home Loans customers that were impacted by the fires. The tool developed allowed our team to drill down into those areas and contact those affected.