Nonstarters: The Notice

If you notice this Notice, you’ll notice this Notice is not worth noticing.

Many Kickstarter failures blunder into the gutter on the back of inept pitches and underwhelming products. This one, however, featured a fairly slick video for a good-looking object that seemed to do its job very well.

That job, however, is not one that most people in a reasonable emotional state could want done.

The “Notice” faithfully transmits the silhouette-envelope-globe notification panel from Facebook onto a Zuckerberg-blue plastic box in front of your monitor, keeping you aware of pending messages, events and friend requests via red LED numbers and noises.

Are we really so damaged as a culture that we need to be reassured that something is happening on Facebook even in the furtive moments when we have other sites up on our screens?

Facebook already feels like an ogre with a rope, constantly yanking me in to look at its holiday photos. Why would I want to invite that ogre through the screen and into the physical world?

Life could only become more tense with this thing staring me in the face, huffing tinnily and quacking numbers in red light to remind me I should be online.

Yes, you can set a threshold below which it won’t bother you, but it will still be there: the ogre’s rope, looped around your attention span and ready to be tugged.

And the reward for funding? Your name moulded into the casing of every unit made. I’d rather have my name inscribed on Geneva-banned cluster munitions.

Luckily, the Notice only achieved $4,169 of its steep $20k goal, but that’s $4,169 too much for my confidence in consumer sanity. What’s next, an implant that clamps to the base of your skull and shunts Twitter directly into your visual cortex?

Probably.

The Notice. Photograph: Kickstarter

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.