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Whose coat of arms?

In November we moved into an 18th-century cottage which has a coat of arms carved into a beam. We are curious to find out more about the history of the arms. Where do we start?

F Blythe, Warwickshire

Start with the College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street, London, EC4V 4BT, tel: 0171-248 2762. The college holds records of all English coats of arms from the 16th century to the present day.

The consultants (called Heralds) use a system of cross referencing to find the name and status of the family and can say when the coat of arms was first granted and the sovereign who granted it. There is a fee, which depends on the complexity of the search and the time taken.

Initially, you can send either a photo or rubbing of the arms to the Officer in Waiting at the above address. The college will then contact you with an estimate of the cost.

Unkind Miras cut

A friend says Miras is to be reduced in April. Can you tell me what effect this will have on my mortgage payments?

I Bethal, Salford

The Government announced in the July 1997 Budget that the tax relief on mortgage interest payments was to be reduced to 10 per cent from 15 per cent in April this year. Miras, which stands for Mortgage Interest Relief At Source, is allowed on the first pounds 30,000 of your mortgage.

To calculate how the change in Miras will affect you, use the following formula:

pounds 30,000 (maximum Miras allowance) times annual mortgage rate = annual interest

Annual interest divided by 12 = monthly interest

Monthly interest times 15% = Miras relief before April

Monthly interest times 10% = Miras relief from April

If you have a mortgage of pounds 50,000 and an interest rate of 8.7 per cent, you will pay pounds 10.88 a month extra.

There has been speculation that the Government will eventually phase out tax relief on mortgages. Some observers believe this may coincide with a lower starting rate for income tax of 10 pence, which would cushion the impact. But we will have to wait and see.

Flying freehold risk

We want to buy our first home and we have found a house which is ideally located but has been empty for some time. The estate agent has said that we may have problems as the property has a "flying freehold". What does this mean and how will it affect us?

J Hanson, Chorley, Lancs

This is where part of the property overlaps a neighbouring property. The main concern is that this may create problems if there aren't adequate agreements for maintenance and access. Flying freehold is usually found in older properties.

Some lenders may be unwilling to accept a property with a substantial amount of flying freehold as security. The valuer's view on the effect on the marketability of a property will be considered. If the amount of flying freehold is relatively small, the lender may accept the risk.

However, you may be required to take out an indemnity policy which would cover the lender against any problems. I suggest you approach a number of lenders for their views.

George Wise is managing director of NatWest UK Mortgage Services.

Send your queries on practical property issues to: Home Truths, 'Independent on Sunday', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax: 0171-293 2043; e-mail: