Why people hide their property debts; a fall in first-time buyers; and how to keep your home safe

The Home Front

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The Independent Online

Technically, this property (pictured) is a three bedroom detached house in Hertford Heath, Hertford, on at £795,000 with Hetheringtons. But it started life as a Victorian water tower (it's now Grade II listed) and the three spacious floors of Tower House are linked by a hugely impressive oak spiral staircase. Inside there's a distinctive industrial feel and its detached garage has an intriguing blue slate roof.

Hiding housing debt

Figures from Shelter suggest that one in six people have not told their family or partners the truth about the extent of their rent or mortgage problems. The report from the housing charity includes examples of people secretly taking out loans, selling possessions, and simply throwing away bills to keep their housing issues secret. Indeed, a quarter of the 4,000 people questioned in the YouGov poll said they lose sleep over paying housing bills and 17 per cent said stress of paying for housing had led to arguments with their other halves.

First-time buyers

Latest figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders shows that there were 25,900 loans to first-time buyers in November 2014, down 11 per cent on October and down three per cent on November 2013. The average first-time buyer borrowed 3.4 times their gross income, and the typical loan fell for the second consecutive time month-on-month to £124,822 in November, down from £125,800 in October. According to a separate report from the Office for National Statistics, in November 2014, prices paid by first-time buyers were 11 per cent higher on average than in November 2013.

2015: The home improvement year?

Making space for growing families is high on the agenda for most people's property resolutions in 2015, according to a poll from Ocean Finance which shows that: 54 per cent of homeowners are planning on making home improvements this year; 12 per cent are aiming to extend or convert a loft, garage or basement. More than a third said the reasons were largely due to grown-up children returning home.

Online estate agents

This week saw the launch of online estate agent price comparison site SellingUp.com which claims to be the first website that allows sellers to compare and browse leading online estate agents, their fixed fees and flexible services, and is the only one of its kind.

Scottish house prices

Property prices fell 0.1 per cent in November, according to figures from LSL Property Services, which estimates the average house price to be £164,607. The highest annual jump in prices was in Midlothian, up 10 per cent. "The immediate 'feel-good' factor following the referendum vote led to an artificially upbeat October," said Christine Campbell of Your Move, "but the dust is settling. Average house prices across Scotland dipped as normal business resumed. Overall, property values fell in over half of Scotland's local authority areas in November and annual house price growth in Scotland is lagging well below the pace being set across England and Wales."

Key under mat burglaries

Thousands of homeowners are being burgled with their own house keys, says a new report from LV= home insurance. Findings from police data via a Freedom of Information request show that more than 6,000 break-ins in 2014 involved the burglar using keys to enter the home. These were either stolen at an earlier date or found in a hiding place at the property, such as under a plant pot, doormat or garden gnome.

Rents rise

Rents rose by 3 per cent last year, according to figures out this morning, putting the average residential rent across England and Wales at £767. Rents are higher than a year ago in eight out of 10 regions in England and Wales. Top of the list is the east of England, with a 7.6 per cent annual increase, followed by the East Midlands ( 6.2 per cent) and then London ( 4.1 per cent).

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