Posts page

Using YouTube

Having just published my latest book using two self-publishing services (instead of paying a printer huge sums of cash in the hope of selling them) I wanted to share how smooth and effortless I found the whole process.

Digging deep for YouTube

Well this is a first for me – doing a piece to camera to talk about the options for people wanting to self-publish their book.

Having just published my latest book using two self-publishing services (instead of paying a printer huge sums of cash in the hope of selling them) I wanted to share how smooth and effortless I found the whole process.

The two firms I used were CreateSpace.com and IngramSpark.com and the hardest part of the process was navigating the tax declaration system (If I were living in the US I’m sure it would have been easier).

Then setting up the system to pay me via my NZ bank account also caused a minor hiccup… But nothing too arduous.

Then it was a case of uploading my files so CreateSpace / Amazon could list my Podcasting Made Easy book on the site and IngramSpark would service the bricks and mortar retail sector.

Now, when someone orders my book one of these two firms will print it and deliver it. Then my share of the cash goes into my account.

 

Disable comments, Viber contact button and a new audio player

Find out how to disable comments in WordPress, add an audio player, embed Viber and build a profile to promote your music career.

Disable comments, Disable XML-RPC Pingback, Remove Comments

WordPress began life as a platform for bloggers, but over time it has become a far more flexible CMS.

However, offering people the chance to comment on posts in a strong feature of the the CMS, but is not something everybody needs.

Many of you might want to prevent viewers from having the option to leave comments, and for you the Disable comments plugin from WebCrafticwill be ideal.

This plugin allows administrators to globally disable comments on any post type (posts, pages, attachments, etc.) so that these settings cannot be overridden for individual posts. It also removes all comment-related fields from edit and quick-edit screens. On multisite installations, it can be used to disable comments on the entire network.
Additionally, comment-related items can be removed from the Dashboard, Widgets, the Admin Menu and the Admin Bar.

VIBER

Viber is really starting to make headway now after its launch about 4 years ago.

Viber Contact Button for WordPress – WP Viber Contact Button Lite

It is an alternative to Skype, and while it works well for messaging, sharing photos and video, and voice over IP calling, there’s still plenty of room for this app to grow.

If you use Viver you’ll be interested to see there is a new Viber plugin – Viber Contact Button.

This cross browser compatible WordPress Plugin allows you to easily create chat via Viber in WordPress.

You can select from multiple color effects, color options and animation effects.
This is advertised as the Lite version of the plugin which indicates a paid for version is available.

DJ PLAYER

I’m always keeping my eye out for new audio players so DJ Player caught my eye this week.

DJ Player

This is a fully responsive music player with tracklist. It supports mp3, ogg, mpeg file formats and you can add a file as an external link. The tracklist can include unlimited number of tracks.

ArtistPress

If you are a musician then ArtistPress will be of interest.

ArtistPress

This plugin will help you to easily create an artist profile page including photo, bio and contact information.

You can create a list of upcoming events or shows that includes Google Maps integration to provide event locations and driving directions.
You can also create photo galleries to show off your work or highlights photographs from your shows.

The plugin is available now, but still under development.
When development is complete, ArtistPress Pro will add playlist functionality allowing you to publish up to 5 playlists on your site using a simple shortcode. It will also add a social sharing tool for the some of the leading social media services, including Facebook, Twitter, and Behance.

 

 

Which WordPress quiz plugin is right for you?

This week I have been playing with a few quiz plugins to add a bit of visitor interactivity for visitors to me website www.thepleasuredome.co

I found Quiz Cat  to be pretty basic, but that also means it is easy to use. Great if you are not bothered that you can’t change many of the colours so the quiz matches or blends in with the branding of your site.

Quiz Cat – WordPress Quiz Plugin

Quiz Cat offered a refund as it would not work with the theme I was using, namely On Air 2, a paid-for radio station theme.

So Quiz Cat is pretty basic, functional and will be fine for most people. But the front end design is not that sexy looking.

HD Quiz is pretty flexible, again, and like Quiz Cat there is very fast support that provided solutions to the issues I was facing – namely there was a conflict between HD Quiz and Quiz Cat – easily solved by deleting the Quiz Cat plugin.

HD Quiz

HD Quiz is a very easy-to-use plugin to create an unlimited number of quizzes and embed them onto any page or post. HD Quiz is equally perfect for building strong professional based questionnaires or fun Buzzfeed style quizzes.
I am using it on my site ThePleasuredome.co for an 80s music quiz.

WP Quiz

Best Quiz Plugin for WordPress: WP Quiz

You can create an unlimited number of Quizzes with the WP Quiz plugin, and each quiz is going to be responsive. So, your visitors can take part even from their mobile handsets as well as their tablets.
You can have the entire quiz on a single page or stretch is across multiple pages if there are too many questions.
You can enable the Quiz to scroll automatically to the next question.
Unlike Quiz Cat, with the WP Quiz Plugin, you can change the background color to match that of your theme.
A progress bar is displayed for your visitors to help them know their Quiz status. You can change the color of the progress bar.

53 – Lightweight Contact Form

In This week’s WordPress podcast I look at a lightweight contact form, a chat app and a plagiarism checker.

Lightweight Contact Form

Lightweight Contact Form is claimed by is authors to be the lightest contact form for WordPress. This plugin is designed for the fastest pagespeed. So, there is no settings page, no CSS stylesheet, and no extra files.

If all you need is a simple contact form to take messages from site visitors, and fast page speed is your priority, this minimal contact form is for you.

Although this form is lightweight and simple, it blocks Spam, and has both client-side and server-side validation.

FluentChat – Live Chat for WordPress

FluentChat is a dedicated WordPress plugin offering a free live chat option for your website.

You can have unlimited operators, unlimited messages, unlimited live chats, and unlimited archives.

You can view all the chat archives in the back-end and let visitors receive the chat logs in their inbox. This option can be disabled on the settings page.

When none of your operators are logged in, you can show a contact form, asking their Name, Email, and Comment.

WG Plagiarism Checker Pro

Check plagiarism of your wordpress post with the click of a button. So when people add content to your site you can check if it has be used elsewhere and check to see if you are breaching copyright.

The first 50 checks are free, then you need to pay with prices starting US$5 for 1000 queries.

52 – Feature a podcast in your sidebar via RSS

This week I have a great bundle of plugins to share in WordPress Tips & Tricks.

First off, if you are a podcaster and want to feature your latest podcast in a sidebar along with your iTunes artwork then Podcast Player Widget will do the job.

This week I have a great bundle of plugins to share in WordPress Tips & Tricks.

First off, if you are a podcaster and want to feature your latest podcast in a sidebar along with your iTunes artwork then Podcast Player Widget will do the job.

This is a podcast feed widget that displays the iTunes set image for the episode and uses the default WordPress audio player.

This is ideal for the sidebar of a podcaster’s website or for any WordPress site owner who wants to feature a podcast in their sidebar – WordPress Tips & Tricks would be a great edition to any website 🙂

Easy Instagram Feed

Instagram feed is a plugin to show your Instagram stories on your posts, pages or in a widget.

There’s no need to find Instagram access token, all you need do is enter the Instagram username.

The plugin is responsive and search engine crawlable. It is also customisable so you can get it to match the colours of your website.

Publishing conditions

Have you every published a post and then realised you forgot to select the category?

Publishing conditions helps make sure you don’t publish your post before all your ducks are in a row.

Out of the box it makes sure you do not publish under the Uncategorized category and forces you to add at least one tag.

Just by the by, I normally rename Uncategorised to a name I do want.

Floating Video Plugin

Put a video on your site and as people scroll the page the video disappears off the screen out of sight.

However, with the Floating Video Plugin your video remains on the screen all the time.

It works with ogg and mp4 files as well as YouTube.

This plugin creates an effect such as that seen on the websites of CNN, Daily Mail, and the new material design version of YouTube.

The video is inserted using a shortcode.

Finally….
Hello Phil

WordPress admins will have seen the Hello Dolly plugin that comes with every installation of the CMS.
If you activate it you will see a son quote from Louise Armstrong.

Now, fans of Phil Collins get their own plugin with Hello Phil which shows random lines from the song In The Air Tonight.

Create a blank page in WordPress and add new skins to the default audio player

Find out how to create a blank page in WordPress with no header, footer or sidebar, plus I look at two audio players, one that will also work for streaming audio (for internet radio stations). Learn how to create a blank page, make it into a popup window and add an audio player to it.

Every now and then you may need to create a blank page in WordPress.

I had just such an occasion last week. The issue I had to overcome was creating a popup window that would feature a streaming audio player for a radio station.

In this case, the normal Modal popup window was not suitable as I wanted the popup page to be moved anywhere on the screen and to remain if the user clicked away the station’s website altogether, and have the player working in the background.

This is not the first time I have needed to do this, and previously I had created an HTML page in Dreamweaver, added the audio player embed code and uploaded it to a folder via FTP. For the record I used AudioIgniter.

But last week two things stopped me doing what I have normally done in these situations.

1)      The owner of the site didn’t have their FTP details to hand and needed the popup window urgently
2)      We had settled on using Audio Igniter as the audio player and so needed to place its shortcode on a WordPress page for it to work.

So, I needed to create a blank WordPress page that did not feature a header, footer or widget sidebar.

At first blush this still required access to the site’s folders via FTP – to access a Page I had created, open it in  Dreamweaver and strip out all the code I did not want.

But could there be a plugin that could create the blank page I needed? I mean, the number of times anyone would need a blank page must be quite small.

Thankfully there is just such a plugin. It’s called Blank Slate  – although Blank Page would be more accurate.

The Blank Slate plugin creates a blank page so only the content of the page is displayed. Header and footer are totally empty.

You create a blank page by installing and activating the Blank Slate plugin, creating a new page and on the right hand side selecting Blank Slate under the Template option.

You can then add the content you want. With the page saved I used its URL in my popup code.

Blank Slate has 6,000 active installs and 10 five star reviews (11 now).

This is the  plugin that you never knew you needed and it works flawlessly.

This worked so well I even used it on one of my sites: www.CoolNights.co.uk.

However, you can’t create a blank page and then delete the Blank Slate plugin – if you do, your blank page will no longer be blank.

Another audio player worth a look

Another player that is working very well is mb.miniAudioPlayer.

This plug-in let you transform any MP3 file uploaded inside a post / page into a  small HTML5 audio player with volume control, seeking control, title bar, rewind button, mute button and play button (of course).

See an example at www.SteveHart.co.uk

Highly recommended.

Here is the code I use to create a popup window (Ignore square brackets [ ] )

[ <a href=”javascript:void(0)” onclick=”window.open(‘https://www.YOUR POP UP PAGE .html’, ‘newWin’,’width=500,height=240′)”><img src=”https://YOUR IMAGE URL .png” alt=”pop up window” width=”200″ height=”84″ class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-160″></a> ]

Adjust width and height sizes to your liking.

 

Let’s speed up your WordPress website

This week I am looking at ways in which you can serve up your WordPress website faster to your viewers. It involves basic house-keeping, optimization and two plugins that I talk you through how to use.

This week I am looking at ways in which you can serve up your WordPress website faster to your viewers.

But there is a warning first;  there is an element of risk when adding any plugin to a website, so while you should always act with caution – by backing up your website and database at regular intervals and just prior to adding a plugin – it is especially important when adding plugins that can modify your WordPress database (which we will be covering in this podcast).

So tread carefully and review any plugin you want to install before pressing the button. Ideally  you have a test WordPress website that you can play with so you don’t risk pulling down your live site.

Now, every time someone visits your website a ton of work goes on in the background to send your website pages, posts, words, photos and layout instructions to the viewers’ screen.

This operation can suck up a lot of  processing resources and can mean a lot of data is sent across the web – every time a person visits your site.

Processing time can be sluggish due to the number of plugins  you have installed, as well as the file sizes of any images, audio and videos embedded on your  site.  And given people won’t wait 5 seconds for a website to load  the need for speed is imperative.

If you have never given this any thought before you can start by asking a friend who doesn’t normally visit your site to take a look to see if it loads fast for them. Remember that the vast majority of people use their phones to look at websites today.

You can also use any one of a number of page load speed test sites  such as the one run by Google (https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/)

Enter your website’s URL and see how fast your site loads. Hopefully you’ll get a pass mark. If not, read on (or play the podcast).

There are some basic things you can do to speed up your site, among them is to ensure any images on your site are optimized for web delivery – that means the file sizes need to be as small as possible, and the images themselves not one pixel larger than you need them to be.

These images include your site’s logo, header image and all the photos. If any images are larger than a few hundred kilobytes, then they are likely too large.

Plenty of imaging apps have web export features that you should be using, but Smush Image Compression and Optimization may be worth a whirl [https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-smushit/ ]. Take it from me, nearly every website I visit has images that are far larger than they need to be, and this is down to user error, and the loader not spending time optimizing their images for web delivery.

If you have audio files look to see if they can be made smaller. This can be done by making them mono (halving the size of an MP3), the bit rate for speech files should be 80k – 96k and if they feature lots of music use 128k stereo. Do the same for video – optimize, optimize, optimize.

With your site and its contents as teeny weeny as can be, your next stop is your WordPress database.

WP Optimise [ https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-optimize/ ] – there’s that word again –  is one of a number of plugins that will remove a lot (all?)  of unnecessary data from a bloated  database. This not only speeds up your site, but will likely reduce the amount of space your database requires on your server – which may or may not be an issue for you.

If you have just installed your WordPress site there may not be much fat to trim, but if it’s older than a few months then you may have built up some database flab that can be deleted.

You might also want to contact your hosting company to ensure it has optimized its servers with technology such as GZip Compression. My host had not activated this following my site’s transfer to newer servers it had installed.

Next we come to site caching. Caching involves a plugin making static HTML versions of your pages and posts and delivering these lightweight versions to you site’s visitors.

There  are dozens of web cache plugins around, and like database plugins, they need to be installed with caution and configured only after you understand what you are doing – read the instructions and tread carefully.

Cache Enabler [ https://wordpress.org/plugins/cache-enabler/ ]  is one option for you and WP Super Cache [https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-super-cache/ ] is monster cache plugin with more than 1 million active installations.

Listen to the podcast for a step-by-step guide to using two of the plugins mentioned.

OK, that’s it for this week’s WordPress Tips & Tricks podcast. Next week……

Please do share the podcast among friends and colleagues across social media and give us 5 stars on iTunes.

If you have any recommendations on plugins or ideas to speed up websites, then do share.

Minimal maintenance page and a sidebar for Twenty Seventeen

This week, three new WordPress plugins to provide a sidebar for the Twenty Seventeen theme, a light-weight maintenance page plugin and Buttonizer – a cool call to action button.



WordPress Tips and Tricks

Looking for a quick way to have a maintenance page?

Easy Minimal Maintenance is an easy way to display a maintenance page while editing or building your site.

You can easily enable/disable, change header colour and text and you can use your own template (if you are so inclined).

Light and easy to use, this plugin will ad a holding page to your site while you beaver away in the background.

Want a front page sidebar in Twenty Seventeen?

The Twenty Seventeen theme is really awesome, but unfortunately it has no way to display a sidebar on pages.

This tiny plugin will add the Blog Sidebar to all the pages, including the front page. You don’t have to touch a single line of code, and it works for Twenty Seventeen child themes too.

For best results; Install, activate, then go to Customize > Theme Options and set Page Layout to One Column.

If you want your page sidebar to differ from your post sidebar, try Content Aware Sidebars . This plugin will let you show and hide widget areas based on a wide range of conditions you select – giving you complete control over your sidebar.

Content Aware Sidebars even allows you to combine conditions. This means that you can display a custom sidebar on all posts in Category X written by author Y. You could feature the author’s photo and short bio.

Buttonizer

From making a simple call to action button, to a navigation button to open Facebook messenger, Buttonizer is a new way to give add a little panache to your WordPress site.

With the Buttonizer it’s possible to add buttons to a select number of pages with “page rules”, decide for each button if it shows on mobile and/or desktop, style your button with your own icons & colors, add social sharing buttons, Show the button on opening hours and make use of many more rules.

And the beauty of all: All actions are hidden in one button. The moment a visitor clicks on your Floating Action Button it will pop all specific buttons you’ve set for that page. Track each single button in Google Analytics so you can see which actions your visitors prefer.

Podcasting book!

My book Podcasting Made Easy is due for release 30 September 2017. This book is for people who have no experience in broadcasting or podcasting and who want a step by step guide to hosting their own podcast without spending a penny more than you need.

 

 

Why we need a universal basic income

The country’s beneficiary system could be scrapped if everyone was given enough money to live on by the government. That’s the pitch of Lowell Manning, president of Basic Income NZ.

The feature below was written by Steve Hart and first appeared in the NZ Herald during September 2015.

In addition to the feature below, you may be interested in my audio reports on pay disparity (recorded in 2014 for the Steve Hart Radio Show).

Part 1: London with Deborah Hargreaves of the High Pay Centre (April 2014)

Part 2: New Zealand with Paul Barber, policy advisor NZ Council of Christian Services (April 2014)

 

Campaign for a universal basic income

The country’s beneficiary system could be scrapped if everyone was given enough money to live on by the government. That’s the pitch of Lowell Manning of Basic Income NZ.

He advocates giving every man, woman, and child a no-obligation weekly payment – plus something toward the cost of housing – that could give them real choice about how they spend their lives.

Lowell manning or Basic Income NZ.
Lowell Manning of Basic Income NZ.

For example, he says a starving artist need not push trolleys at a supermarket to make ends meet, they’d have the money to follow their passion and develop their skills knowing the basics are covered.

The concept of giving people enough tax-free money to pay their bills and take part in society isn’t new – it can be traced back more than a century to philosopher Bertrand Russell’s 1918 book Roads to Freedom.

While the idea gained some popularity in the 1980s, Manning says it was the 2008 recession and the Occupy / One per cent movement that caused people – including some governments – to look at the idea more seriously.



One reason for the renewed interest is that as companies rely on more automation, such as robots on factory floors and self-service checkouts at supermarkets, there will increasingly be fewer jobs. And with some people having less to spend, they stop being an active consumer of the products made by the robots.

Manning says about 12 per cent of the money earned by the country (GDP) is spent on unemployment, welfare benefits, and superannuation etc. Manning reckons the funding for a full basic income scheme is somewhere in the region of 24 per cent of GDP.

“The shortfall will need to come from other sources, such as an increased tax rate on earned income. It means those in work won’t be much better off, but there is a whole range of benefits that come from a basic income over above any physical increase in the money people get.

“It will empower people without work and change the system we currently have, from one of punishment and reward, to one that’s based on worth and dignity.

“There is a fundamental disconnect between work, income and welfare. And that has occurred over the last 40 years, but the difference now is that the entire system is based upon maintaining a substantial level of unemployment to keep wages and incomes down.”

Manning says that disconnect is because labour is no longer essential for production. Companies, he says, have the choice between investing capital in machines or people.

But, given enough money to get by, will people bother to even look for a job or turn up for the one they have?

“It is a deep rooted thing…people want to participate in society,” says Manning. “There will always be a small proportion who choose not to, but with a basic income it will still be worthwhile going out to work. And you’ll have a huge choice around the types of things you do because you are no longer tied to the wage offered by employers. You can go off and do your own thing.”

He says trials of the system have taken place in Namibia. It saw productivity go up, but work participation decreased because people have the money to work fewer hours each week.

“And that’s simply because you want to go to work, you don’t have to go to work.”

In Holland, a trial of a basic income scheme in Utrecht – where people were given €900 (NZ$1600) a week – is to be expanded into neighbouring Tilburg.

“Under my plan you can get rid of WINZ altogether, you wont need it,” says Manning. “Think about the empowerment that will create for people. It will give a huge boost to people’s self-esteem.”

Contact Form 7 finder

If you use Contact Form 7 and have a few contact forms spread across your WordPress site in Posts and Pages then you have probably had trouble knowing which form to correct – I know I have.

If you use Contact Form 7 and have a few contact forms spread across your WordPress site in Posts and Pages then you have probably had trouble knowing which form to correct – I know I have.

But now there is Contact Form 7 – Show Page.

This plugin will help you by showing the post/page name where Contact Forms are used with a link to view or edit that post or page. For the widget case, it will tell you whether the current form is used in the widget or not.



So no more changing the wrong contact form – yipee!

In this edition of WordPress Tips and Tricks I also look at Play, a plugin that speaks the text on your page. Ideal for sites aimed at those who can’t read or who have difficulty with their eyes.

And if you need to crop lots of image quickly and intelligently, the Image Focus plugin may be worth a spin.

With Image Focus you can instead crop your image by focal point. You select the most important part of your images. And Image Focus will create a crop with your focal point as much in the center as possible.

Roger Moore – Goodbye Mr Bond

Roger Moore has entertained me since I was a child and being a Bond fan anyway, I was as pleased as punch to see him take on the role. he was a gentleman, a top chap, and an all-round nice guy.

Goodbye, Mr Bond

I was thinking about actor Sir Roger Moore just last week while travelling on the bus. I remembered him playing James Bond of course and saying in an interview that he blinked every time he pulled the trigger of a prop gun when shooting a villain. This made it hard for movie directors to get the money shot (excuse the pun) of Bond taking out a baddy.

Then I recalled that he was against animal cruelty – including fox hunting – and had volunteered to help children’s charity Unicef. He seemed a jolly good chap in my book.

So it was sad to hear he died this week aged 89. Not a bad innings.



My first memory of Roger Moore was as TV’s The Saint. The show was a hit in the 1960s, and as a child I watched in awe as his character Simon Templar got the girl and beat the baddy every Sunday night. He was always one step ahead of occasional character inspector Claude (Ivor Dean), who added some comedic moments to the show.

The car Roger drove in later episodes of The Saint was a cool sporty number surprisingly produced by Volvo. Who’d of thought! The most boring car company in the world used to make sports cars.

The Volvo P1800 coupe used in the show was white, had been made in 1962 and had the TV number plate ST1. The car was rediscovered in the 1990s rotting away in a farmer’s yard, but an enthusiastic chap restored it during the course of 16 years.

In 1971 Roger became one half of The Persuaders with actor Tony Curtis (Danny Wilde).  Roger (Brett Sinclair) played a well-heeled toff.  Wilde drove a Ferrari Dino 246GT while our eyebrow-raising action hero  sat behind the wheel of a yellow Aston Martin DBS. I know which one I prefer.

The Persuaders was a great show for a pre-teen, it was like The Saint on steroids. Foreign locations, car chases and the then novelty of a wise-cracking Yank  as a foil to the reserved Brit.

But we mustn’t forget the music, for the show introduced me to the work of John Barry. He wrote the show’s theme tune which had a strong synth bass line – just brilliant. From the moment I heard it I knew I wanted a synth.

John Barry went on to arrange the iconic James Bond theme for the first Bond film.  The tune was written by Monty Norman (as established by two court cases, and he’ll sue anyone who says differently).  The dum dee dee dum tune has been used in almost all the Bond films.

Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond was in the brilliant Live and Let Die (1973),  he was the oldest actor (45) to have played the British spy.

James: There seems to be some mistake. My name is…

Mr. Big: Names is for tombstones, baby!

With any reboot of a film series – Moore was essentially replacing the popular Sean Connery – this Bond movie had it all in spades. Great cars, girls (Jane Seymour), locations, a brilliant score, opening song by Paul McCartney, and gadgets galore.

Who doesn’t remember the gas bullet that inflated one baddy to twice the size of Bond’s ego. Or the spinning bezel on Bond’s Rolex watch that cut through rope and also featured a powerful electronic magnet (aren’t we supposed to keep magnets away from watches?).

James: You see, sir, by pulling out this button, it turns the watch into a hyper-intensified magnetic field. Powerful enough to even deflect the path of a bullet – at long range.

M: I feel very tempted to test that theory right now!

Having seen the watch a friend and I spent hours pulling apart my broken diver’s watch and trying to figure out how to fit a high-torque motor and battery into the casing of the watch and turn the bezel into a buzzsaw.

There was no hope, we gave up and years later I learned the bezel spun thanks compressed air – which meant the watch wasn’t on Bond’s wrist when it cut through rope. It’s all props and make-believe. The  watch was sold at auction in 2015 for US$365,000 (and it doesn’t even keep time).

It is worth noting though that Bond is first seen in the film with a new fangled digital watch with a red LED display.

Roger Moore did brilliantly as Bond in Live and Let Die, and he would  have joined the franchise at its outset (instead of Sean Connery) had he not been tied to the TV shows.

He played Bond more times than any other actor, but his spy movies were a mixed bag. Octopussy must be the worst of all Bond movies – the franchise had really lost its way at this point and Roger Moore’s light-hearted take on the Bond character was wearing thin.

Roger Moore in a promotional photo for Live and Let Die.

Among his best Bond outings are: Live and Let Die (just an exciting ride, particularly on the bus), The Spy Who Loved Me (brilliant opening gambit, Jaws, and underwater car), and For Your Eyes Only (fewer gadgets and more grit – but the teen skater was silly).

Among the misses are Moonraker (just too fanciful – even for Bond), Octopussy (I have no words…paper thin plot), and A View to a Kill (Grace Jones is a villain, yeah na). And sitting in the middle, The Man With the Golden Gun – can’t decide if it is a hit or a miss.

Roger Moore had a good run playing Bond, but lacked the look of a hardened killer. But no one has played Bond like Roger Moore, and if there is any criticism of his portrayal of the British spy, we must also look to the script writers and movie directors.

Moore of course appeared in dozens of movies, and another one that comes to mind saw him fight his double. The movie, The Man Who Haunted Himself, is a forgotten psychological thriller from 1970 that’s well worth hunting down.

Roger Moore has entertained me since I was a child and being a Bond fan anyway, I was as pleased as punch to see him take on the role of my favourite spy.

It was disappointing that he made some movies in South Africa during Apartheid  – but when you’re in demand its best to take the work while you can when you work in the entertainment industry. But other than that, he was an actor of the old school, seeking publicity only when it was needed.

A gentleman, a top chap, and an all-round nice guy.

Cheers Roger, take it easy in double O heaven.

Roger Moore: 14 October 1927 – 23 May 2017.

Going hyperlocal really works for radio

If you want advertisers to help support your internet radio station then they will likely be the shops and businesses down the street, not across the water, or even in the next town.

A while back I wrote that just because an internet radio station can be heard around the world, it doesn’t mean the owner should try and take on the whole planet, or try to cater for everyone.

In essence, the basis of my post was that so-called local commercial FM stations had widened their remit to cater for even larger geographical areas – often via acquisition – and that the people they were originally licensed to serve were being left behind.

The local radio DJ often isn’t a local, the station itself may be based in the next county, and newsroom staff are often unable to report on what is going on down the road. This has created a gap in the market.

Why Hyperlocal Matters was a call to action for all internet radio broadcasters to forget the world and concentrate on their backyard. To serve the local community.

Because if you want advertisers to help support your internet radio station then they will likely be the shops and businesses down the street, not across the water, or even in the next town.

Well, one UK-based internet broadcaster has followed my advice and connected with businesses and listeners on their doorstep. He is focusing on the local area and reporting on local sports fixtures and news – both on the air and on the station’s website.

I don’t want to mention the owner or the station’s name today, because the broadcaster is in a growth phase and I don’t want to jinx it for them.

However, in just a few months, by changing the station’s name to reflect the area they broadcast from, by pitching themselves as the new voice of the local area, by meeting with business people in the town and connecting with local people they are already talking about moving to broadcasting via DAB within a year or two – support for the station is that strong.

It’s a great story, and one I’d like to explore further in future posts.

If you run an internet radio station and are struggling to make headway, stop thinking your audience is global. It is local. You are the new local radio station for your suburb, village or town.

Go hyperlocal and connect with the locals.

Why the Electro Voice RE 27D is a brilliant microphone

The first thing I noticed as I spoke was that the RE-27 gently enhanced the lower tones of my voice while delivering a crisp top end – the middle was full of beef.

A long time ago in a far away land I enjoyed time working in radio – it was my passion (still is). And like most people looking for a career in broadcasting back then, I joined my local hospital radio station to get experience and learn the trade.

Not only did I love sitting in front of the microphone, I relished using  all the gear. All analogue of course back then. Big mixers, turntables, jingle cart machines, and reel to reel tape decks. Heaven.

Over the course of a few years I went from hospital radio to Radio Top Shop, to community radio and then eventually got to sit in the studio of a commercial station and did news at a local BBC station.

It was then I came across one of the best broadcast microphones in the world – the Electro-Voice RE-20. At the time you’d be hard pushed to find a radio studio without one, and I’m certain they are still used in plenty of studios today.

Of course it wasn’t long until I had my own little studio at home, but the RE-20 would have been a bit of an indulgence. So a much cheaper microphone would have to suffice. All that old studio gear is of course long gone (wish I had kept hold of my reel to reel though…). What followed was a change of career that had nothing to do with broadcasting.

Podcasting

Fast forward 25 years to 2012 and my ‘radio itch’ had to be scratched – I had ignored it for too long. I decided to start podcasting about the New Zealand sharemarket as I was editing an investment magazine at the time.

Launching the podcast was really an excuse to sit behind the mic, but this time I would send my voice to the world as a weekly MP3.

OK, I needed a microphone; no worries I had a good one from my short stint as an independent documentary maker; a Sennheiser ME66.

Trouble was that in a small room at home with no acoustic tiles or soundproofing the microphone picked up the birds tweeting outside as well as my voice reverberating around the room. It was just too sensitive for the location (great mic though).

And being a shotgun microphone it was also a little impractical as it was so along. I needed a dynamic microphone that was less sensitive and smaller.

The RE-20 flashed through my mind, again I thought it was overkill and couldn’t justify the cost for what was essentially a 5-minute podcast once a week.

Shure SM58

I opted for a Shure SM58 instead. Widely used by stage performers the microphone was OK, but is designed to be yelled into, so not ideal for conversational speech.

It also has a slightly dull response on the top end (treble), so rather than leave the mic controls on the mixer flat, I upped the top end gain to compensate. Despite it not being ideal, I do recommend it to any bedroom podcaster who’s just setting out.

By now I was recording two weekly podcasts and a one-hour music show for community radio stations. The home studio was starting to take shape, and I needed to trade up.

AudioTechnica

I swapped something I didn’t need for an AudioTechnica AT20. Like the Sennheiser it is a phantom powered 48v condenser microphone, but was a few steps up from the SM58, it was small, and delivered a more refined and crisper sound.

It was good – but my satisfaction waned as time went on. To use it well you really had to make sure you spoke toward it correctly – you couldn’t turn away. Putting a windshield on it to reduce pops and plosives reduced the top end response. It was a good mic, but had its limitations/restrictions.

Electro Voice

My dream mic, the RE-20 was nagging me. Go on buy me. I started doing my research and discovered that while the RE-20 is still made, the newer and more expensive RE-27 would likely suit me better (of course it would).

Frankly, I preferred the dull finish of the RE-20’s body than the cheaper looking polished silver of the 27. I can’t fathom why Electro-Voice went for a bright silver finish. But I knew it was the new model I needed due to its higher gain and response profile (yes, I compared the specs).

I’d also need a nice new swivel mount too, the one I had was as cheap as chips and the support springs made a twanging noise whenever it was moved. It was also white and I wanted a black one.

Well, I am now the proud owner of a new RE-27, suspension shock mount and a wonderful microphone swivel arm that is smooth to move, silent, gorgeous and black.

With it all installed and plugged in I popped on my headphones and turned up the mic’s volume control on the mixer. There was silence so I checked my headphone gain control – it was at 7.

I looked at the mic, took a quiet breath and spoke. The sound of my voice punched through the silence with pure unadulterated clarity. Another lesson, some microphones create unwanted noise – hiss and light static – the RE-27 does not.

The first thing I noticed as I spoke was that the RE-27 gently enhanced the lower tones of my voice while delivering a crisp top end – the middle was full of beef.

I hurriedly made a podcast and once that was finished I played it back through my studio monitors. Technically it sounded pretty good.

Next I opened the previous edition of the podcast to compare the two recordings. A week ago I was moderately happy with the AT20’s performance, but up against the RE-27 there was no comparison.

The AT20 sounded dull and cheap (which of course it is at US$99 against the 27 at US$499). Shoot, I’ve just spent 500 bucks on a microphone! What was I thinking?

Bottom line, the RE-27 performs brilliantly and it will likely last a good few years. Not only is the audio from the 27 beyond my expectations, I feel very happy and comfortable sitting in front of it.

I can speak without worrying about creating breath pops, and that means I can relax and sound natural. The RE-27 gives me confidence. It is my new friend.

I just wish it wasn’t that cheap looking colour. However, a black foam windscreen takes my mind off the silver shine when I’m using it.

How to record great video

The lower prices of everything digital means almost anyone can own an HD video camera. That’s great news, because videoing stuff can be great fun. However, some camera owners confuse technical standards with their ability to record good, clean, usable footage that is suitable for public consumption.

The lower prices of everything digital means almost anyone can own an HD video camera. That’s great news, because videoing stuff can be great fun. However, some camera owners confuse technical standards with their ability to record good, clean, usable footage that is suitable for public consumption.

A colleague tells me this week he has just finished a “painful” 4 minute promo for a company whose MD shot the video himself, using his [reluctant] staff as presenters.

They didn’t use a tele-prompter, so each member of staff is seen with their eyes flicking off camera  to read the next line of their presentation.

The MD didn’t have the option to plug in a separate microphone, so the camera’s built-in mic was used. Built-in microphones are designed to pick up everything, and this one performed as expected. This meant the background ambient noise was – in places – louder than the speaker’s voice.

A professional would have plugged in a mic and clipped it to the presenter – so only the voice is recorded.

Some of the video was shot in a big room that caused sound to reverberate and echo, other shots were in the street where traffic noise drowned out what the ‘presenters’ were saying.

There’s an old rule that goes along the lines that a viewer will watch almost any quality video picture, but if they can’t clearly hear or understand what is being said, they will switch off. Yes, audio is more important than the picture.

My friend’s client hoped he could use software to clean up the audio [ever tried removing room reverb? It’s impossible], and assumed the video editing software could remove the dark shadows over some people’s faces.

Yes, modern software can do an awful lot to improve audio and video, but the cost of the hours spent doing this – because there is no quick fix unlike in TV shows such as CSI – would have been better spent hiring a pro camera operator with the gear needed.

Get it in the can, is the general rule. Fixing bad footage up later is always expensive and full of compromises.

On his way to delivering the finished DVD to his client, my friend says it occurred to him that the cost of dental equipment has come down in price so much that he could start drilling his family’s teeth – and save money.

“It’s no different to Joe-Blow buying a camera and thinking they can shoot quality footage,” he reasons. “Why wouldn’t I do my kid’s teeth – I’d save a fortune?”

And just a quich word about smartphone video. Please, turn it sideways so it looks like your widescreen TV – and THEN press the record button. Please let me know if you’d like to join the campaign against vertical video.

If you want to shoot your own video, and you only have access to a domestic camera with a built-in mic…

  • Find a quiet place to record, really listen for the background sounds and consider that they will be recorded.
  • Place the camera as close to the presenter as possible, because you need the mic to pick up what they are saying nice and clearly.
  • Look for shadows over their face and body – they will move as the sun goes around.
  • Use a tripod for super-steady shooting.
  • Don’t press-gang staff into appearing in your company video – their reluctance will show in their face and eyes.

Feel free to link, but no copying or republishing without written permission from the author. Copyright Steve Hart.

Dreaming of my 1973 Opel Manta

My new car was a million miles away from the one it replaced. Chalk and cheese you might say.

A sports car, metallic blue, two doors, 1.9ltr engine and it stuck to the road like glue at any speed. It accelerated to the urban speed limit in a trice and powered along  motorways without breaking into a sweat. And the sound from the engine? Imagine the roar of a lion blended with the sweet breath of angels on steroids.

It was 1982 and I had just ditched a rusting Hillman Hunter estate for a 1973 Opel Manta A series coupe. I was 22, and going places,

Turns out the 4 cylinder engine was an odd one, an Opel Cam-In-Head (CIH). According to Wiki, its name derives from the location of the camshaft which was a compromise between an overhead valve and an overhead cam layout. It was an evolutionary dead-end and not adapted for other engines used by the carmaker.

My friend Andy helped me find the Manta. There was no internet back then of course, so he led me to car yard after car yard across the county of Essex in the UK.

But over a few weeks I didn’t see anything that felt right. The cars were too normal, too rusty, too large, too small, too thirsty, too much to insure, or the wrong colour – even though I had no particular colour in mind. I didn’t want to be seen driving a boring car; it was the 80s and I was choosing life.

A Capri? Nice, but everyone had one. A Pontiac TransAm? They were quite popular, but too flashy for my style.

A Pontiac TransAm, with extra relish for the Knightrider TV show.

Eventually we came across a typical Arthur Daley-style used car dealership. Having been to every other showroom, there were few places left to explore and I think even Andy might have wondered what he had taken on in offering to help me. (No good turn goes unpunished).

We arrived at Arthur’s about 6pm. And there it was. A gleaming Manta. I’d never seen anything like it.

This car looked a bit like a shortened Ford Capri, had a pointed nose, aluminum wheels, and round rear lights like those on a Ferrari.

The round tail lights of the A series Opel Manta.

 

Just one careful owner my son, all the rest were idiots. Actor George Cole playing dodgy car dealer Arthur Daley in TV’s Minder.

 

It looked pristine, impeccable interior, manual transmission. And unlike my old Hillman Hunter, I was told the Manta’s heater worked. And it had a brand new MoT certificate.

But there’s no way I could afford this. I mean, look at it! It’s glorious.

Why are you even showing this beautiful car to me?

How much have you got to spend my boy?

I have exactly 1800 pounds.

That’s exactly how much this car is.

Where do I sign?

An Opel Manta A series, 1973, exactly like the one I owned in the 1980s.

I felt like the man about town driving home. Then the wheels came off. I kid you not.

I was reversing into a spot outside Andy’s house a few days after buying it when the steering suddenly felt funny. I stopped, got out and couldn’t help but notice one of my front wheels was horizontal. Literally 10 minutes earlier I had been gunning down the A127!

Andy called the dodgy dealer and he sent a recovery truck to collect it. Arthur reckoned I had bumped up the kerb causing something to break, but that wasn’t the case at all. I treated the car like a golden goddess made of porcelain.

After some argy bargy, including me calling the police over a possible dodgy MoT ticket, Arthur agreed to fix it and I got a call to say it was ready.

Oh dear.

The recovery vehicle chap had dented the nose of my pride and joy. But Arthur turned his back as I pointed to the damage. But, but, but…

Driving the Manta was a dream though. Sometimes shifting up to fourth was a struggle if I wanted to stay below the urban speed limit of 30MPH.

On the motorway it was glorious and seemed to have unlimited power. Road handling was solid, which is why it did so well in rallies at the time.

Working nights as a DJ I’d often drive home at around 3am and regularly saw a police car following me. I mentioned it to Andy in passing one day and he roared with laughter.

Apparently, just for a grin, he had told some mates with blue uniforms that I was a ‘wheelman’ — a get away driver for criminals. The police stopped following me and I was never pulled over.

One night I was cruising home along the London Road and there was just one other car some distance behind me. The traffic lights turned amber and I came to a smooth stop as they turned red.

Moments later the other car went through the red. I sat still, listening to Madonna on Laser 558, and then out of the shadows crept a police car. What a magic feeling that was as I swept by the driver blowing into a plastic bag.

One embarrassing thing happened though. I arrived late for my show at a radio station one Sunday afternoon. Pulled up, jumped out the car, engine still running, and locked the door as I shut it.

So while I did my show the police were called, broke into my car — without causing any damage like true pros — and turned the engine off.

The Manta also got my wife and I to our honeymoon destination. Neighbours tied tin cans to the bumper and decorated it with ‘just married’ signs. Andy also used it to ferry a friend’s bride to the church.

One day though the engine started playing up. It wouldn’t idle steady, seemed to have a huge flat spot when accelerating and just wasn’t running smooth at all.

I had it serviced, but the issue returned within days. I bought a Webber carburetor but the accelerator linkage on the new carb wasn’t where it should have been, but with a bit of bending, twisting and bodging I got the cable to connect.

I can’t tell you how many lost Sundays were spent fiddling with the engine, and mechanics — the people who should know about these things — were unable to fathom the problem. I was now throwing good money after bad.

No matter; it was drivable, reliable, It just didn’t perform as designed.

My partner and I went everywhere in it across the UK. And despite it not working brilliantly, my Opel Manta always started and never left me high and dry — it always got us home.

A few years later the end came. Reversing into a supermarket car park next to a trolley pen I opened my door to look as I reversed — it was freezing, raining, dark, and I couldn’t see what I was reversing into. My door was bent backwards when it hit a bollard and the panel creased. Oh well.

A friend bought it off me for £350 and the hunt started for a replacement. I am so embarrassed by what I bought next I can’t mention it here.

But 33 years on from saying farewell to the car I enjoyed driving the most, I am looking to own one again.

The Opel Manta is a classic now — which is a strange thing to discover. It also means I am old and possibly having a mid-life crisis.

Truth be told, I have been keeping my eye out for an Opel Manta for the past 10 years without any success. So I may have to import one from Blighty.

All photos used have been pulled from the net.

Fukushima radiation disaster in Japan

Anti-nuclear campaigner Harvey wasserman talks to Steve Hart about the Fukushima nuclear powerplant disaster. The interview was recorded in March 2014.

In 2014 I hosted a weekly one hour news show.

The audio file above is an excerpt from a radio show recorded in March 2014 where I talk about the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan with David Wasserman.

The Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster happened on March 11, 2011. The plant suffered a catastrophic failure due to an earthquake and a tsunami.

About 38 miles inland from the plant lies the commercial city of Koriyama, where some of the smallest children have no experience of playing outside – fear of radiation has kept them indoors.

According to the Japanese authorities [as at March 2014], 15,884 people had died, 2,636 were still officially missing and the remains of 98 were yet to be identified.

At the the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the radioactive water that has accumulated remains the biggest problem hampering the clean-up.

As of March 5 2014, 436,000 tons of contaminated water was being stored in vast tanks. Tepco, the nuclear plant’s owner, is clearing land to make space for more. But an additional 400 tons of radioactive water is generated every day. This is being poured into the ocean.

Japanese authorities claim that a processing system is able to remove 62 radioactive contaminants from 750 tons of water every day.

Scientists involved in the Tepco plant say it will be at least four decades before the reactors are rendered safe, decontamination work is completed and the tens of thousands of people who used to live in the exclusion zone around the plant can return. Some believe that time-frame is optimistic.

Among them is Harvey Wasserman is a life-long activist who speaks, writes and organizes widely on energy, the environment, history, drug war, election protection and grassroots politics.
He teaches history and cultural & ethnic diversity at two central Ohio colleges.

Harvey marched at his first demonstration in 1962, helping to de-segregate a roller rink in Columbus. He briefly met Dr. Martin Luther King on the Meredith March for civil rights in Grenada, Mississippi, in 1966.
As a student editor at the University of Michigan Daily, his 1966 editorial “The Use of Marijuana: It Should be Legal” went global on the wire services.

Active in the movement against the war in Vietnam, Harvey marched on the Pentagon in 1967 and the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968. He helped found the legendary anti-war Liberation News Service, which which the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation tried (unsuccessfully) to destroy. He then helped found the communal organic Montague Farm in Massachusetts, a pioneer in a new generation’s movement against chemical farming.

In 1973 Harvey coined the phrase “No Nukes” and helped found the global grassroots movement against atomic energy, for which he has spoken throughout the US, Asia and Europe.

In 1982 Harvey co-wrote (with Norman Solomon, Bob Alvarez & Eleanor Walters) KILLING OUR OWN: THE DISASTER OF AMERICA’S EXPERIENCE WITH ATOMIC ENERGY, documenting that people died at Three Mile Island.

In 2004 Harvey and Bob Fitrakis broke many of the major stories on the theft of the 2004 presidential election in Ohio. Called “the Woodward and Bernstein” of election protection by Rev. Jackson Jackson, Bob and Harvey have published six books on the American art of vote counting and curtailment.

In 2007 Harvey joined with Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash to form NukeFree.org as part of a successful national grassroots campaign to stop $50 billion in loan guarantees to build new reactors.

He writes regularly for a wide internet readership through   Ecowatchsolartopia.orgfreepress.org and nukefree.org, which he edits.

SOLARTOPIA! is performed by Pete Seeger, Dar Williams, David Bernz and the Rivertown Kids’ Choir.

It was filmed and recorded (in one take) in the Jeff Haynes studio in Beacon, NY on October 24, 2009.

Pete, David Bernz and Harvey Wasserman composed this anthem for Wasserman’s futuristic vision of a green-powered, socially-just Earth free of fossil fuels and atomic energy.

Harvey describes his vision in his book, “SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, A.D. 2030.”

Bernz’s brilliant chorus takes us from Adam and Eve to Three Mile Island and BP’s Gulf spill, invoking a time that must come when humankind will once again be powered by the wind and sun.

Shot by Dan Keller, the video is subtitled so all can sing along – and many do when it’s played in public! The song appears on Pete’s “Tomorrow’s Children” album from Appleseed Records.

Smart meters – still waiting for the benefit

I think it was 2012 that I received a letter from my electricity provider telling me the ‘good news’ that I was to have a smart meter fitted to my home.

Thankfully, I had already done my research and had already decided I didn’t want one. And at this point I expect someone to yell out that I am a “left wing conspiracy theorist”. Well, I might be, it just depends on your politics and who – in the end – is deemed to be correct.

You see I am a bit old fashioned, and if something appears to be working well I say leave it alone. I came to this way of life in the 1990s when I ‘played’ once too often with the operating system of my Apple Mac.

I dug such a hole for myself that I had to wipe the hard drive and start again. I was one of those people who would fiddle to see what happened next.

Like I did when I was 11 and pulled apart my uncle’s reel to reel tape machine until I had nothing but an empty wooden box and a million parts on my bedroom floor. I put all the parts back in the box and closed the lid – hoping no one would ever want to play a tape ever again.

So, back to the smart meter. The power firm wasn’t having any of it when I said I did not want one. They insisted I must have it because my meter’s validity was to expire in 2015.

Getting nowhere fast with the nice call centre staff I wrote an email to the firm. Still the letters came to confirm the installation date.

That was then I saw that a small firm from Tauranga was doing the installation. Mmmm.

I wrote to its managing director and said I’d hold them responsible should the smart meter cause me any problems – such as catching fire, health issues, or sudden huge power bills (I don’t believe they are totally reliable for measuring energy usage).

Within hours of sending the emailed letter I was offered a replacement analogue meter. The man at the installation firm said it would be cheaper. Analogue meters cost $15, while smart meters were $70 (I’m certain the power firm’s shareholders would be interested in that).

And to the point of this post. The power firm tried one last pitch before conceding I could  refuse their smart meter. I was told that if I didn’t have a smart meter that I would not benefit from the company’s special offers for cut price power.

Well, it’s been 4 years and I have yet to hear of any special deals offered to people with smart meters.

I have to say that I still feel good about not having a smart meter on my bedroom wall. And unlike some people, my power bills have not shot through the roof.

It is not compulsory to have a smart meter installed – no matter what anyone or any company says. It is after all your home, and all the power firm needs to do is measure your power usage. An older style (modern) analogue meter will do that.

And before you are offered an opt-out form to sign – for anything – watch this.

 

Imprisoning immigrants is big business

According to the makers if this 30-minute documentary, the detention of migrants has become a multi-billion dollar industry in which “immigrants are sold to the highest bidder and traded like mere products”.

Brave New Films says the Corrections Corporation of America, The Geo Group, and the Management and Training Corporation run more than 200 facilities across North America.

These facilities feature 150,000 bed spaces and rake in a total profit of close to five billion dollars a year.

Because these detention centres are paid based on the number of people held behind bars,  it is claimed there is little to no incentive to speed up the legal processes and let the detainees leave the facility.

Easy way to manage and replace featured images

If you need to set a default Featured Image for your posts, or want to change all the featured images in a particularly category in a trice, then this is the plugin for you.

If you need to set a default Featured Image for your posts, or want to change all the featured images in a particularly category in a trice, then this is the plugin for you.

Quick Featured Images in the Swiss Army knife for managing featured images in your WordPress website.

This plugin helps you bulk managing featured images, setting automatic default featured images to save your time.
1.    It sets, replaces and removes featured images for hundreds of posts and pages in one go. You can run it over all contents or let it work only to desired contents by using flexible filters.
2.    It displays assigned features images in an additional sortable image column in lists of posts, pages and custom post types if they support thumbnails. So you get a quick overview about used thumbnails of all posts and pages.
3.    It enables you to define presets for automatic default featured images for future posts as many as you need. You can set accurate rules based on post properties.

Please subscribe to the WordPress Tips & Tricks podcast on iTunes.

Special report – Shocking news from the ANZ and the Reserve Bank

Shocking news from the CEO of New Zealand’s ANZ bank David Hisco where he essentially warns of the New Zealand housing bubble bursting.

This is a Property Podcast special.

Shocking news from the CEO of New Zealand’s ANZ bank David Hisco where he essentially warns of the New Zealand housing bubble bursting.

Within minutes of seeing this, I am sent a press release from the Reserve Bank with more dire warnings about the economy and real estate.

Hisco’s comment, 21 July 2016 is below, and the Reserve Bank warning is below Hisco’s piece.

David Hisco is the CEO of ANZ New Zealand, the country’s biggest bank.

Auckland house prices and the New Zealand dollar are over-cooked.

Having been in banking since 1980 I have seen this movie before. The ending is pretty much the same – sometimes a little plot twist, but usually messy.

This one has some different characters involved. Record low interest rates in New Zealand, 40 houses being built a day in Auckland yet the city needing 60, deflation in some of our trading partners, political turmoil in Britain, Australia and the US, some banks in Europe in trouble; the list goes on.

In the quick snack media world we live, sadly many are making decisions based on the last headline or quote rather than research and facts. Here is a fact: property markets can and do go backwards.

Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Grant Spencer says the solution to Auckland’s housing problem is a team game and that not all the heavy lifting can be done by them. He’s right. Spencer has also suggested immigration policy needs to be looked at. Our creaking infrastructure might do with a period of catch up.

The Leader of the Opposition says we need to build more homes faster. That makes sense, too, if we have the resources and approvals to do it.

The Auckland Council says we need a unitary plan that allows us to build up and out. That’s logical but unpalatable to a vocal few.

The Prime Minister recently told the Reserve Bank to get on with tightening loan to value ratio (LVR) rules. Part of the delay in it happening may be the Reserve Bank demonstrating that it won’t be told what to do by politicians.

Record low interest rates have played their part in this problem. But, because New Zealanders aren’t good savers banks have had to borrow from offshore to fund this rapid expansion in housing lending. And this funding supply is not endless unless banks want to pay higher prices for it. I doubt banks can keep lending at the current huge volumes anyway.

SO HOW DO WE SOLVE THIS PROBLEM?

At ANZ it’s not uncommon to find ourselves in complicated situations where different parts of the business have a solution to a problem. Breaking the impasse requires collaboration, leaving egos at the door, and a willingness to move from your previously held position and try something different. Most of all, it requires the fortitude to make a recommendation that everyone can live with (versus 100 percent agrees with). Then, like with all good strategies, it requires military like precision in its implementation.

Finance Minister Bill English recently told an ANZ post-Budget breakfast that the

Auckland housing market was overheated and that some investors would end up losing money.

That may be true but New Zealand’s issues go beyond housing. The strong Kiwi dollar, while great if you’re heading overseas on holiday, is impacting our exporters. It’s not helping with the recovery of the dairy industry. It also makes NZ tourism, one of our largest industries, far less attractive for overseas tourists.

The softness in the Australian economy, coupled with the fundamental changes they are going through with the end of the mining boom, makes our largest trading partner vulnerable. With the possibility of parity between the New Zealand and Australian dollars how long before they start buying their goods from cheaper sources?

There are storm clouds on the horizon for sure and when they break who knows what will happen.

One thing is certain, if employers start laying off staff because exports to an uncertain world are dropping, those people won’t be able to afford their mortgages and when that happens they will sell their houses. If unemployment rises and the dollar drops, overseas investors will cash in their chips and sell, most probably in a stampede.

The Baby Boomers who have become property investors in recent years based on shallow deposits will soon realise what I’m already seeing – more and more rental properties where owners either can’t find a tenant, or the rent can’t cover the mortgage. Salaries and wages have hardly changed whilst house prices have risen – this can’t continue so it’s a matter of when, not if, the market adjusts.

Eventually, landlords will realise that getting a measly yield is not worth it, nor is leaving a property empty, and they will try to sell and take any possible capital gain. Nobody knows where the top of the market is but, as they say, nobody ever went broke taking a profit.

The solution probably lies in pulling many levers which will no doubt trigger other consequences. But things we can do right now include:

Heavily increase LVR limits for property investors. The Reserve Bank wants most property investors around the country to have 40 percent deposits in future. We think they should go harder and ask for 60 percent. Almost half of house sales in Auckland are to property investors. Taking them out of the market will be unpopular amongst investors but it may end up doing them a favour. Of course this would mean less business for us banks but right now the solution calls for everyone to adjust.

Weaken the New Zealand dollar. The Reserve Bank should look to weaken the dollar, making our export industries more competitive. That’s good for employment and our balance of trade in the long run. The Reserve Bank in Australia are already examining unconventional measures to do this. The longer our dollar is out of step with the rest of the world we will slowly drift towards being uncompetitive. Rising unemployment and rising house prices can’t co-exist.

Voluntary tightening of lending criteria by banks. Since the GFC banks have been more conservative than ever on lending. But the current situation will see ANZ implement even tougher criteria for investment loans as house price inflation spreads from Auckland to other regions.

Review immigration policies. Immigration has been great for New Zealand. We are a harmonious, diverse and inclusive society. But Auckland’s housing, roads, public transport and schools are struggling to cope. Let’s have an honest and sensible debate about immigration using facts rather than prejudice to see if we should push the pause button.

Have a strong focus on infrastructure build, particularly in the growth regions. We always seem to play catch up in this country relying on bureaucratic formula to work out demand. There are smart ways to fund infrastructure that can spread cost across the generations if we choose to go that way.

New Zealand is a great country and we’ve come out of the Global Financial Crisis well compared with many. But logic tells me things cannot continue to run this hot.

Low interest rates give borrowers the best chance to repay their debt and that is what they should do, not use them as a chance to borrow to the max.

Now is the time for New Zealand to navigate carefully if it wants to remain as one of the world’s better performing economies.

ENDS

Reserve Bank releases economic update (21 July 2016)

Prospects for growth in the global economy have diminished despite very stimulatory monetary policy and low oil prices. Significant downside risks remain. Financial market volatility increased following the UK referendum and long-term interest rates have fallen.

Domestic growth is expected to remain supported by strong inward migration, construction activity, tourism, and accommodative monetary policy. However, low dairy prices are depressing incomes in the dairy sector and weighing on farm spending and investment.

There continue to be many uncertainties around the outlook. Internationally, these relate to the prospects for global growth and commodity prices, the fragility of global financial markets, and political risks. Domestic uncertainties relate to inflation expectations and the potential for continued high net immigration, ongoing pressures in the housing market, and the high New Zealand dollar exchange rate.

The trade-weighted exchange rate is 6 percent higher than assumed in the June Statement, and is notably higher than in the alternative scenario presented in that Statement. The high exchange rate is adding further pressure to the dairy and manufacturing sectors and, together with weak global inflation, is holding down tradable goods inflation. This makes it difficult for the Bank to meet its inflation objective. A decline in the exchange rate is needed.

House price inflation remains excessive and has become more broad-based across the regions, adding to concerns about financial stability. The Bank is currently consulting on stronger macro-prudential measures aimed at mitigating risks to financial stability from the current boom in house prices.

Annual CPI inflation was 0.4 percent in the year to June 2016. Headline inflation is being held below the target band by continuing negative tradables inflation. Long-term inflation expectations are well-anchored at 2 percent, but short-term inflation expectations remain low.

Despite rising capacity pressures and some recent increase in fuel prices, the stronger exchange rate implies that the outlook for inflation has weakened since the June Statement.

Monetary policy will continue to be accommodative. At this stage it seems likely that further policy easing will be required to ensure that future average inflation settles near the middle of the target range. We will continue to watch closely the emerging economic data.

Auckland home shortage bites hard

When I got home the other night I found a note from a real estate agent saying she had buyers for properties in my street.

As any Auckland house-hunter can testify, there are slim pickings at the moment — it’s something I mentioned a few months back when the trend started to emerge. But the shortage of houses for sale has become a lot worse, leaving wannabe buyers starved of choice and at least some real estate agents scratching around for something to sell.

When I got home the other night I found a note from a real estate agent saying she had buyers for properties in my street.

As any Auckland house-hunter can testify, there are slim pickings at the moment — it’s something I mentioned a few months back when the trend started to emerge. But the shortage of houses for sale has become a lot worse, leaving wannabe buyers starved of choice and at least some real estate agents scratching around for something to sell.

Industry players tell us that homeowners with a view to selling are sitting tight. It could be they don’t want to go to market seeing there is so little to buy, or they are waiting for the spring surge and hoping for a higher price.

Higher LVR

The Reserve Bank’s Graeme Wheeler is raising the loan-to-value requirement for property investors  to 40 per cent  from September 1, but expects the banks to adopt  the change  right away.

The new rule will apply across the country and loans to construct new dwellings  will continue to be exempt.

Wheeler says:  “A severe fall in house prices could have major implications for the functioning of the banking system and cause long-lasting damage to households and the broader economy.

“We expect banks to observe the spirit of the new restrictions in the lead-up to the new policy taking effect.”

It’s looking likely the Reserve Bank will reduce the OCR to 2 per cent on  August 11.

Median values up

According to the Real Estate Institute the national median value of a home is $500,000. In Auckland it’s $821,000, Northland  $360,000 and in Central Otago Lakes it’s a hair over $730,000.

REINZ’s Bryan Thomson says: “Although there is much discussion about the housing market and increasing new build supply, the fact remains that the vast majority of the supply comes from the sale of existing properties.”

There will be no quick fix to the housing issue. As Finance Minister Bill English said earlier this year, it “will take 10 to 15 years to sort out”.

Crisis

Over at property data firm CoreLogic, its head of research, Jonno Ingerson, says pressure has been increasing on the Government to admit there is a “housing crisis”.

He writes that the Government has countered  with claims it has a “comprehensive plan” which includes increasing housing supply, especially in Auckland, and working with the Auckland Council.

He says: “That helps to tackle supply but they have also talked about the need to constrain demand. Demand can come in the form of more people entering the country/Auckland, or it can come in the form of more people having access to mortgage finance.”

Bold plan needed to solve Auckland housing crisis

The Property Council has welcomed Labour’s plan to build 100,000 affordable houses over 10 years and sees it as a game-changer in alleviating the housing affordability crisis.

Under the opposition party’s plan, half the homes will be built in Auckland and

Worker working on the roof of a house under construction
Labour plans to build 100,000 new affordable homes over 10 years if it wins the 2017 general election.

The Property Council has welcomed Labour’s plan to build 100,000 affordable houses over 10 years and sees it as a game-changer in alleviating the  housing affordability crisis.

Under the opposition party’s  plan, half the homes will be built in Auckland and sell for up to $600,000. But the plan relies on the party forming a Government in 2017.

Alex Voutratzis, the Property Council’s director of policy and advocacy says: “In Auckland, we have a housing affordability crisis and this is because we are not building enough houses to accommodate a rapidly growing population.

“We are seeing the results of the housing deficit across Auckland, with people living in sub-standard houses, garages and cars.”
Voutratzis says the country needs a bold  approach to housing affordability to create healthy, positive and sustainable communities.

Immigration
This week I take my hat off to Grant Spencer, deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank.

The job of the RBNZ is to prevent inflation getting out of hand, while having just the right amount of economic growth to keep the economy bouncing along. Housing, is not its primary concern.

So when Prime Minister John Key told the RBNZ to get on and do something about house price inflation last week,   Spencer   suggested that  Key’s Government reduce immigration numbers. In other words, we can’t fix the housing supply issue overnight, so let’s manage the demand for housing.

During the past three years 160,000 people have moved to New Zealand — half settling in Auckland — putting pressure on infrastructure, housing, schools and health services.

According to research by the University of Otago, in 2013 there were more than 41,000 people living in severely overcrowded houses,  sleeping in cars or on the streets.

The Auckland City Mission and the Salvation Army have called for a national inquiry into homelessness. Last week, the Government said there was no need, maintaining it had a plan to deal with it.

Hamilton rising
Property valuation firm Quotable Value says home values across Hamilton City rose 29 per cent in the year to June. The average value there is $492,403.

The firm  says values in the surrounding districts are also rising, with Waikato values up by 26.4 per cent year on year.

QV valuer Stephen Hare says:  “We are continuing to see high levels of activity and demand at the lower value end of the market, in the price bracket of $400,000 to $600,000, from first home buyers and investors.”

$1bn loan won’t solve Auckland’s housing crisis

For a man who routinely says that throwing money at problems is not the answer, Prime Minister John Key’s $1 billion offer to help solve the country’s housing crisis is a huge U-turn.

For a man who routinely says that throwing money at problems is not the answer, Prime Minister John Key’s $1 billion offer to help solve the country’s housing crisis is a huge U-turn.

Key told TV3 news on May 16 that: “Throwing more money at Auckland’s housing crisis isn’t the answer and freeing up land supply is.”

But he has now offered an interest-free $1 billion loan to local councils to pay for infrastructure such as roads and utilities to pave the way for new housing developments.

However, the offer is late, it’s no where near enough money and will increase the rates of any council that accepts the loan. Not one cent will be used to build homes.

It’s not really interest-free money of course because the Government is borrowing it from somewhere. The piper will need to be paid.

Land snatchers

The other week I mentioned that developers were sitting on land because rising values mean they make more money doing nothing than building much-needed homes.

This week Housing Minister Nick Smith says he may compulsorily purchase land from land-bankers.

We are living in interesting times when the party of free enterprise, business and self-determination talks about snatching people’s property. A dictator would have done this years ago, but things run a bit slower in a democracy.

Look north

Northland is the new hot spot for home buyers according to realestate.co.nz.

The firm’s CEO Brendon Skipper says interest in the Auckland property market has dropped with average asking prices having risen last month to more than $888,000.

He says the number of users searching Auckland houses “for sale” fell by more than 19 per cent compared to the same time last year.

“It could be a turning point for Auckland,” says Skipper. “With prices now at an all-time high, they’re almost out of reach for the average income earner, with first-home buyers the hardest hit.”

He says hot spots in Northland are Waipu, Whangarei Heads, Paihia and Tutukaka.

“Whangarei Heads is the suburb to watch,” he says, with searches for property in the district on realestate.co.nz up 42 per cent on a year ago.

“The message seems to be getting through that with the shortage of listings and the speed with which properties are selling. It’s a sellers’ market.”

Damp Wellington

One in eight houses for sale in the capital is thought to have major maintenance problems with more than half being dangerously damp, according to Dr Nigel Isaacs of Victoria University.

Researchers analysed a random sample of 70 building reports spanning 12 years that were carried out by home inspection firm Buildsure Associates.

Dr Isaacs, a senior lecturer in Victoria’s School of Architecture, says one in eight houses has major maintenance problems that exceed general wear and tear.

Common problems include asbestos, corrosion, timber decay, [faulty] electrics and wall moisture. Isaacs says the problems are commonly seen in stand-alone timber housing.

How banks create money out of thin air, lend it out and charge you interest

It’s a common misconception that banks use their savers’ money when making loans to people such as you and I to buy something we don’t have the cash for.
In reality, the money we borrow is created by the banks out of thin air at the time it is borrowed.

need-bank-account-1

Why it’s time to change money

It’s a common misconception that banks use their savers’ money when making loans to people such as you and I to buy something we don’t have the cash for. In reality, the money we borrow is created by the banks out of thin air at the time it is borrowed.

They can do this under our Reserve Bank’s rules. When you take out a loan, the bank simply types the loan amount into its computer and adds the credit to your account. I know, you want to call me a liar to my face.

When the loan is (eventually) repaid the original loan amount is deleted from the bank’s computer, and the bank keeps the interest (doubles and triples all-round).

The system is called credit creation or risk based lending and is based on the perceived risk the bank takes lending out this money.

But don’t take my word for it. Consider this from the Bank of England publication Money Creation in the Modern Economy: “Whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money.”

Now, lending on housing is low risk so banks only need to hold about 8 per cent of the money they lend in mortgages. If a bank lends you $500,000, it only needs to have $40,000 in its vault. What a wizard wheeze this is.

Lending to businesses and helping job creation, research and development, is a riskier undertaking, so the banks hold more than 20 per cent of the money they lend in reserve. One only has to look at the housing market to see which types of loan banks prefer to make.

Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the London Financial Times, said in 2014: “Why should we let such a social creation [money] be handed over to profit-seeking private enterprises?”

It’s a good question, and one that is increasingly being asked — but by only a few fool-hardy politicians.

According to the Reserve Bank the amount of money we the people owe the High Street banks is $233 billion dollars — and that’s just the household debt. As a nation we are spending 163 per cent of our disposable income. We are living on debt.

Sad to say that under the current system the debt can never be paid off. Even if we all tried really, really hard.

Here’s why. Think of our economy as a bathtub. Money is introduced into the bathtub as loans by the banks. Money leaves the bathtub when repayments are made. For our economy to grow, more money (debt) must go into the bath than leaves.

If all the debt could be paid off the bath would be empty and none of us would have any money — because apart from our notes and coins — money is debt.

Those looking to reform the monetary system say that instead of banks having the power to create interest-bearing debt, the Reserve Bank should issue our money debt-free.

Now, before you choke on your tea and spill it over your credit card statement showing 20 per cent interest, consider this; the Reserve Bank already has the power to create money because it produces our notes and coins.

This cash makes up 3 per cent of our money supply and the rest is digital debt created by private banks. All the Reserve Bank has to do to bring itself into the 21st century, buy a computer, and create the debt-free digital money we need.

And to keep money creation well out of the way of politician – because  we all know they couldn’t  be trusted with such awesome power –  a new independent body would have autonomy to manage the money supply as it sees fit.

This does not mean there would be no more interest bearing debt. Banks could still lend money — but not a cent more than is in their vault. This will stop rising house prices.

They could also continue to provide chequing and savings accounts, offer foreign exchange and sell insurance. They just won’t have a license to create money out of thin air.

Under this system, once the bank loans are repaid the money can be lent out again.

The government could use the interest-free money the Reserve Bank creates for infrastructure projects, roading, social  housing, schools and hospitals.

People would be put to work building the things we need (without having to raise taxes or rob Peter to pay Paul).

To find out more see https://www.positivemoney.org.nz/

Ticking time bomb of interest-only home loans

Statistics from the Reserve Bank show more people are opting for an interest-only loan when buying a home.
In January, 30 per cent of loans to owner-occupiers were interest-only, but by May it had drifted up to 33 per cent.
An interest-only loan will typically have lower repayments than a principal and interest loan — because repayments only cover the interest. The downside is that payments do not reduce the amount borrowed by a single cent.

Woman with financial problems

Statistics from the Reserve Bank show  more people are opting for an interest-only loan when buying a home.
In January, 30 per cent of loans to owner-occupiers were interest-only, but by May it had drifted up to 33 per cent.
An interest-only loan will typically have lower repayments than a principal and interest loan — because repayments only cover the interest. The downside is that payments do not reduce the amount borrowed by a single cent.
All can be well until one of two things happen. Interest rates go up or the interest-only period ends and the borrower is forced into a principal and interest loan — which can add hundreds of dollars to monthly repayments and deliver a payment shock.
Borrowers on a tight budget risk not being able to make these higher payments, causing all sorts of financial stresses.
If you opted for an interest-only loan to buy your home, keep an eye on when the agreement ends and what repayments will cost if it is converted to a principal and interest loan.
Interest-only loans are popular with property investors as interest payments are tax deductible. But there is a risk if they are used to buy a home you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. According to the RBNZ, 28 per cent of all mortgages are interest-only.
Gone south
We learned this week  the Transport Agency has decided against a heavy rail link between Auckland CBD and the country’s largest airport. Although a light rail system is apparently being considered. Woopdee-do!
This is so short-sighted because a rail network out to the South Auckland airport would not only serve travellers, but anyone working there, as well as people living along its route working in the city. Think of the hundreds of cars it would take off the Southern Motorway.
A light rail system simply won’t be fast enough to move enough people efficiently, it will just trundle along like something out of Thomas The Tank Engine, a toy-town solution for the engine room of the country.
A world-class city with the severe congestion we face every day on the roads needs a world-class train network.
And what’s currently on offer falls well short of what we need.
Apartments
Apartment building is ramping up according to property firm CBRE. It says in 2013, less than 500 new Auckland apartments were planned but that figure jumped to 1000 during 2015. It says that up to 2500 new units could be completed this year, and that next year 4000 units are planned.
Interest rates
The ASB has raised its floating mortgage rate by 10 basis points, taking it to 5.65 per cent. The bank has not said why it raised its rate, but there are no apparent reasons — even taking Brexit into account.  KiwiBank’s floating rate is 5.45 per cent.
Among the better fixed-rate deals include ASB’s and BNZ’s 4.19 per cent for two years.
Famous home
If you are into real estate trivia, then you might be interested to know that the Philadelphia home where Oscar-winning actress Grace Kelly grew up is on the market for US$1 million (NZ$1.41 million). The home was built in 1935 and is an historical landmark.

Standards for P tests needed and solar panel owners are penalized

When police were alerted to half a tonne of methamphetamine on a beach last week it highlighted the problem New Zealand has with illegal drugs such as P.
It seems the drug is so widespread that anyone seriously contemplating buying a home needs to have it tested for P contamination — even if the property looks pristine.

 

Solar panel installation
Solar panel owners in Hawkes Bay are being asked to pay more for their power.

When police were alerted to half a tonne of methamphetamine on a beach last week it highlighted the problem New Zealand has with illegal drugs such as P.
It seems the drug is so widespread that anyone seriously contemplating buying a home  needs to have it tested for P contamination — even if the property looks pristine.
Unfortunately, there are no guidelines or rules that companies testing for drug contamination need to follow. Home buyers risk paying lots of money for potentially questionable test results and advice on making an infected home safe to live in.
Harcourts’ CEO Chris Kennedy wants the government to set standards for the methamphetamine-testing industry.
He says: “Testers and cleaners have differing views on the severity of contamination and the methods for decontamination.
“We need some standards put into place to protect consumers and the government needs to take the lead on this.”
Kennedy says that just as the leaky building problem has made hiring a qualified building inspector essential, the P scourge should make methamphetamine testing mandatory. Tests should be done before the contract is signed.
If a real estate agent knows a property is contaminated, they are required to tell you.
The blame game
The three-year Auckland Housing Accord, which ends in September, is falling short with a little more than 30,000 housing consents issued or sections created. The figure is well short of the 39,000 target, which Housing Minister Nick Smith says is unlikely to be met.
Smith appears to blame the slack performance on anything he can think to name, from shortages of labour and equipment to concrete firms wanting three weeks’ notice to pour a slab. The only thing he didn’t mention was the supply of structural steel.
Auckland needs 13,000 consents a year to match demand and in the full year to March there were 9566 consents (unfortunately, people can’t live in a “consent”).
Surely, with all these consents pouring in, someone could see what would happen next?
As for the 154 Special Housing Areas, where consents can be fast-tracked … just 1010 homes have so far been built. The reason? Land owners are making more money sitting on the land than developing it.
Meanwhile, more than 68,400 migrants entered the country in the year to May – breaking all records. Based on the current trend, Half of these will want to live in Auckland. Although Treasury says A quarter of arrivals are New Zealand citizens coming returning home.

Home loan warning
Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf is worried Aucklanders are taking on too much debt as a direct result of   high  property prices.

Speaking at the Committee for Auckland Group Summit he  said  Housing debt is   the largest component of  the  country’s $246 billion of household debt. On average households are spending 163% of  disposable income, the  figure is set to rise and  is already higher  than  that leading up to the GFC of 2008.

Treasury is  worried  that a drop in people’s income, perhaps due to job losses,  or a rise in interest rates – which I don’t think we will  see for another year or two –  may  cause  some  people  to struggle to meet mortgage repayments.

The risk is that if too many people find themselves backed in to a corner financially , repossessions will starts and house prices will fall – sending people into negative equity.

High house prices he says is also preventing people from moving to Auckland to find work. Wages have not risen anywhere near the rate or rents or house prices. High accommodation costs also impacts the government as  rent subsidies rise.

Crossed wires
I often wonder why the building code doesn’t include solar panels being fitted to new homes in suitable areas of the country.
With so much sunshine we could be among the greenest countries on the planet with homes generating a high percentage of the power they need.
We’d all benefit if it were part of the code, which has been changed before to include radical things such as double glazing and insulation.
But what’s this? In Hawkes Bay those with the foresight to invest in solar power  generation  are being penalised by lines firm Unison Networks. The firm — via some twisted logic — has figured that people with solar panels should pay more to be connected to the grid.
By this rationale, if I walk home tonight, Auckland Transport should charge me more the next time I catch a bus.
Next week, more lessons from the North Korean School of Business.

Banks make it tougher for foreign home buyers in New Zealand

Westpac led the charge last week by refusing to recognize the overseas income of foreign wanting a home loan.

Westpac led the charge last week by refusing to recognise the overseas income of foreign home-buyers wanting a loan. The ASB, ANZ and BNZ quickly followed suit. In broad terms, the change means people without New Zealand citizenship or permanent residency can’t rely on their foreign income when making a mortgage application.

Make no mistake, banks are answerable to their shareholders, need to make a profit, and will not be turning business away on a whim.

In reality the amount of business lost is negligible, and many foreign buyers pay with cash, but it’s great PR. Nevertheless, the Government’s banker may have scored a brownie point for being first off the rank.

In my view the banks have plenty to answer for when it comes to house price inflation.

Had the banks opted to lend a bit less, and restricted loans to four or five times a borrower’s annual income then we wouldn’t have such inflated house prices today.

Price drop

According to the Real Estate Institute, the median Auckland house price has dropped 0.9 per cent from $812,000 to $805,000 in the past month, but is up 7.9 per cent on a year ago.

Renting

If Prime Minister John Key is to be believed, Kiwis now prefer renting a home to owning one. I haven’t met a tenant who wouldn’t prefer to own a home, living as they do under the cloud of being given notice to leave and being unable to hang a picture on the wall without written permission.

I’m not sure where Mr Key got this idea from (perhaps he googled it) but, in an interview with RNZ, he claimed that reduced home ownership is a reflection of “societal changes” that include people getting married later and having children later. Or it could be that this change is a result of people spending longer saving their 20 per cent home deposit, and preferring to get settled before having children.

Interest rates

Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler woke from his slumber last week to announce no change to the OCR — which sits at 2.25 per cent. He’s now hibernating until August 11.

Meanwhile, the economy stumbles along with economists such as ASB’s Kim Mundy saying the “benign inflation outlook warrants further monetary easing”. In layman’s terms: the OCR should be cut.

Mundy is among those who expect Wheeler to cut the OCR to 2 per cent in August.

Auckland median house prices drop $10,000

Is the booming Auckland housing market about to run out of puff? It seems unlikely, but looking at figures released by Barfoot & Thompson one has to wonder.

Is the booming Auckland housing market about to run out of puff? It seems unlikely, but looking at figures released by Barfoot & Thompson one has to wonder.
According to the firm, the SuperCity’s median price for a home — a more accurate indicator than the average price — is down from $820,000 a month ago to $809,500 — a drop of 1.3 per cent. Despite this, the current Auckland median is still 7.9 per cent up on a year ago.
The lower median value is not the result of a lack of buyers, says Thompson.
“In the last two months, the number of sales has not influenced prices,” he says. “In May, turnover was high and in April turnover was low, yet for both months, prices remained relatively static or fell.”
Of all the 1306 properties sold by the firm during May, 464 changed hands for more than $1 million, and 185 sold for less than $500,000 — illustrating the dire need for lower-priced homes (if you can call half a million dollars low-priced or “affordable”).
Too many homes
Over at the BNZ, bank economist Tony Alexander says in his weekly newsletter that in two to three years from now some regions will have seen excess [home] construction compared with population growth, and that some developers and investors will suffer losses.
He says: “Auckland will plateau through the combined effects of prices simply being really, really high, mildly easing migration, higher annual supply growth, and possibly slightly higher interest rates from 2019.”
Instead of raising interest rates, he predicts the Reserve Bank will introduce more controls to reduce the supply of credit by increasing the deposit required by investors in Auckland and elsewhere, and he has a two-way bet on debt to income rules being introduced for new lending.
His advice to investors is to carry on buying — at least until 2018.  Alexander says buying in Nelson, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, and Auckland is fine. But if you look elsewhere, he says, then you need to check population growth assumptions.
Christchurch
Harcourts reports that average property prices in Christchurch hit a record high of $553,000 last month. The firm says the number of properties listed for sale has dropped, which may well be a seasonal issue.
Harcourt’s CEO Chris Kennedy says sales are constantly outstripping new listings. This lack of choice means prices will rise.
Free on Monday
Free with Monday’s Herald is our quarterly Property Report. As usual you’ll see what your home is worth thanks to the latest data from QV.co.nz. Leading figures from the real estate industry share their thoughts on the current state of play and where they think the Auckland market is heading.
There are features covering the trials and tribulations of house-hunting in Auckland, as well as the pitfalls of tapping into your home’s equity.
All that and much more in Monday’s Herald.
Interest rates
There are whispers of interest rates rising to more than 5 per cent come 2019. If it comes to pass, a five-year fixed rate mortgage below the predicted rate may pay dividends.
There are still a few options around. But making a meaningful forecast in these financially turbulent times is near impossible.

Demand for Auckland houses underestimated by 3000 properties

The Reserve Bank may have been underestimating the number of people moving to New Zealand, and therefore not correctly formulating the effect they are having on housing.

The Reserve Bank may have been underestimating the number of people moving to New Zealand, and therefore not correctly formulating the effect they are having on housing.
BNZ economist Tony Alexander has been looking through the RBNZ’s Financial Stability report and notes its reference to a net migration gain for Auckland in the year to March 2015 of about 30,000 people.
Alexander quite rightly points to data from Stats NZ which shows a net inflow to Auckland of 31,230 people — Not much different on the face of it. However, he says its ‘not applicable’ category shows a net gain of 15,500 people, of which he estimates 60 per cent would likely have settled in Auckland.
The implication is that the bubble heads at the Reserve Bank underestimated Auckland’s population growth by more than 9000 people — or around 3000 homes.
Alexander says: “Even at the most senior level of housing market analysis in this country, people are still under-estimating the rate of growth in demand for housing stock in Auckland.
“As realisation of this little bit of extra undercounting gets through to the Reserve Bank policymakers, the feeling of a need to get a new tool in place to hammer back down the rate of growth in home lending in our biggest city will grow.”
Meanwhile, National’s Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith says negotiations have concluded on three sites in Auckland for an estimated 740 new homes —  first mentioned in last year’s Budget.  It’s taken a full year just to get the land.
Smith expects the first of these homes to be available in 18 months’ time. It’s a good start, just 19,260 houses to go.
Test for meth
Harcourt’s CEO Chris Kennedy says some home buyers may be skipping an essential step during their due diligence — testing the home for P.
“When it comes to testing for P many buyers assume they can judge whether it has been affected by meth use,” he says. “So-called P houses can be found in any neighbourhood and can look as well cared for as any other house.”
Tell-tale signs of meth contamination can include strange smells, chemical stains around the kitchen sink, laundry tubs and toilets, as well as yellow-stained floors, walls and ceilings. Testing for meth can cost between $100 and $500, says Kennedy.