Personal Finance: Rolling change

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THE Stock Exchange is starting its campaign to get share investors used to the idea of a different way of dealing.

The archaic system of two-week or three-week dealing periods, followed by a single settlement day, will go. Instead, there will be a rolling settlement system, with trades due for settlement after 10 working days.

That is easy enough to understand. You can see that it makes sense for stockbrokers, who can spread their workload so that every day becomes a settlement day.

But there is much more to the change. Ten-day settlement is not the end of the run. The plan is to squeeze the interval down to five days next year and then to three.

The old ways of doing business by sending cheques or share certificates through the post can survive a 10-day timetable. So some brokers will continue to do things as they always have done.

But they should be treating the 10-day rolling settlement system - T+10 in the jargon - as a dress rehearsal for a new way.

This will mean investors allowing their brokers to hold their certificates. They will not just physically hold the paper - they will register the certificates in a nominee name under their control.

This is probably already familiar to many investors who give their brokers or advisers discretionary management of their portfolios. But it will have to become the norm.

Crest, the paperless trading system, will reinforce the change and make the notion of ''holding' shares that only exist on computer seem even more remote. On the other side, it will be impossible to pay for shares in the old way. Either the money will have to be sitting in an account to which the broker has access, or trades will have to rely on existing shares as security.

Ordinary credit cards cannot be used for Stock Exchange dealing, but Switch and Delta debit cards can be used, and this seems the cleanest option.

But brokers will want to encourage their clients to deal, so they may be willing to offer competitive savings rates that make an attractive parking place for cash.

Brutally, private investors do not have much say in this transformation, which is geared to the smoother working of the market for the institutions. Let's hope that the change engenders a wave of competition and that investors are not hemmed in too tightly.

THE HOUSE market is still dismally flat. Sellers despair of any interest and buyers cannot find the bargains they expect.

One estate agent, Glentree Estates, has a refreshing attitude. It has some charming cottages in Hampstead Garden Suburb to sell. It claims to be marketing these properties at 5 to 10 per cent below a realistic price. This generates a flurry of offers.

The potential buyers are then asked to put in their best offer by a certain date, and, says the estate agent, this competitive atmosphere results in a price even above the one they first thought of.

In one instance, a three-bedroom cottage was marketed at 'offers in the region of pounds 115,000'. The final price was pounds 121,516. Those extra odd pounds are the sign of a buyer who is really keen to purchase and doesn't want to be thwarted by someone with a round-numbers mentality.

It takes at least two buyers to create a bidding flurry. These tactics will not work when sellers are not prepared, or are unable, to accept a reasonable price because of negative equity. They also will not succeed where the property is defective or unattractive.

But the come-on of what seems like a cheap deal is just the right way to tempt buyers. Once tempted over the doorstep, they will stretch to get the home they really want.

LONDON TRANSPORT has its Baker Street office for lost property. The Post Office has Belfast for stray letters. But British Rail, it seems, has every station in the land as a potential depot for items lost by travellers.

It's maddening. As someone who has managed to lose two treasured but nearly valueless things on trains this week, I can't believe there isn't a way of manning offices or telephones to provide a speedy tracking service for lost objects - perhaps a premium phone line so those who want to hunt for their lost belongings would pay for the service.