Renting in the North is a Sustainable Option for Most

This guest post is brought to you by property expert, Christopher Watkin, who has more than 20 years experience in the industry.

Inflation, as calculated by the Government’s Consumer Prices Index, rose by 0.3% over the last 12 months.

The question is: what does this mean for tenants living north of London?

Back in November, the Office of National Statistics stated average wages only rose by 1.8% year on year, so when adjusted for inflation, people are 1.5% better off in ‘real’ terms.

But how does this shape up for tenants who are paying rent?

Region 2015 rent increase 2014 rent increase 2013 rent increase Rent increase since 2005
North East 0.9pc 0.3pc 0.4pc 16.1pc
North West 1.0pc 0.6pc 0.4pc 12.4pc
East Midlands 2.4pc 1.3pc 1.0pc 15.0pc
West Midlands 1.8pc 1.3pc 1.0pc 15.1pc
Yorkshire/Humber 1.3pc 0.4pc 0.6pc 18.6pc

As you can see, the regions north of London show that tenants are in the most secure rental properties in the UK given that their rent increases often equate to less than the 1.5% ‘real terms’ increase in wealth they experience through inflation and salary increases. It is worth noting that the East and West Midlands have rents that increased beyond that rate, as experienced everywhere south of London (the East had a 3.0% rent increase, for example).

Today we are seeing a slow reversion back towards to a tenant majority in the UK. The question is, will the percentage of tenants in the North go up in the coming years, or down? The figures suggest that rents are growing but, critically, not as much as incomes, leaving some degree of choice for prospective buyers.

For now, the sustainable option is to remain a tenant – you save yourself the stress of saving and buying, you get to keep that extra wage increase for yourself, and there are no guarantees that you will be better off in the long run if you do end up buying.

Expect the proportion of renters in the North to go in one direction in the coming years – up.

Keeping Your Tenant Happy

Most serious landlords will tell you that a great tenant is better than a great rent – you can forge a positive, professional relationship
that goes beyond a simple “rent collection” scheme.

handshakeHaving a great tenant means you have mutual trust, innate knowledge of each other’s circumstances and the security of a long-term deal.

So, how do you get a tenant onside? And, more importantly, how do you keep them there? Here’s a list of ways to make a happy tenant.


Letting and renting is a transaction that revolves around one key material – money. The best way to get your tenants to love you is to minimise rents, don’t charge extortionate fees, don’t have too many renewal fees, and help them reclaim as much of their deposit money as possible.

If you put the accumulation of wealth over a tenant’s personal happiness, you will be unlikely to keep a tenant for much longer than one tenancy period. However, by using monetary aspects of a tenancy to show you see your tenants as more than a cash cow, you will start nurturing a deeper relationship with the tenants.

Small Print

Tenants will be horrified to hear that they need to let you come into the property whenever you feel like it, especially if you’ve hidden this fact in the small print of their tenancy agreement.

If there are significant features of a tenancy that you feel are ‘game-changers’, discuss them with the tenants, preferably in person. You will avoid giving them a nasty surprise further down the line.


Nothing says “I don’t care” better than silence, in any walk of life. Tenants’ peace of mind will be guaranteed if you are always available for phone calls and emails. It will also help instil a sense of urgency in your dealings with the tenant – if you’re available to contact, it also means you are more likely to repairs should they be needed.

Furthermore, take the time out of your day to contact tenants. Once a month is enough, but let them know you are thinking about them, and want to respond to any problems they’re having.


If you maintain your property to the requisite standards, you will help attract like-minded tenants. By demonstrating a sense of pride for your own property, tenants will be compelled to look after it, too. Ensure the property is in mint condition before a tenancy starts and watch how much more likely it is to stay that way while it is being let.


Let tenants know how the property behaves when they move in. Do some of the stairs creek? Does the bathroom need regular maintenance? By letting your tenants in on your property’s personality, they’ll feel more at home.tools_free

Furthermore, let them know what you expect of them. This may be the tenants’ home, but it is still your property.

If there is a no-smoking policy, tell them. If they are expected to keep the noise down, tell them.

Tenants will respect you and the property more if they know what standards they are expected to meet from day one.


Everybody likes an incentive. Inform tenants that they can paint a room in a colour of their choosing by signing a new lease, or offer to pay for a professional carpet cleaner if they pay their rent early for three months, for example. By turning the maintenance of the property into a reward-system, tenants will be focussed on winning their prizes and act accordingly!

Also, don’t forget to send Christmas cards. If you’re feeling extra generous, send birthday cards and a small present, too. A bottle of wine when you hand over the keys won’t go amiss, either. All these things will let your tenants know that you are more than a rent collector!

Use Letting Agents

Independent landlords can sometimes struggle to stay on top of their tenancies, especially if they plan on having day-to-day involvements with their properties.

Employing a letting agent can take some of the load off your mind, and you can even choose how much of the tenancy you want to control, and how much you leave to the agent.

If you want to keep providing an excellent service to your tenants, but do not have the time, please contact your local Whitegates office today to see how we can help you manage your portfolio.

In a Nutshell – April 2016

LV wants no stamp duty for pensioners

Financial services provider LV has urged the government to remove stamp duty charges for pensioners.

LV say that stamp duty will scare the older generation from downsizing in later life while they try to fund their retirement, but moving now comes with a typical stamp duty bill of around £4,600.

monopoly houses money

The thinking behind the claim is that pensioners want to free up some cash by investing in property, which means that their larger, vacated properties would come onto the market for younger buyers and families – freeing up stamp duty revenue on those properties that would otherwise have not been made available.

An LV survey found that 34pc of those reaching retirement age are planning on using their home to provide them with extra cash during retirement, while only 22pc of current retirees are currently doing the same.

LV found that 64pc of pensioners were residing in a house with at least three bedrooms, while 77pc live on their own or in a couple, which means that a lot of spare accommodation space is going to waste.

LV argues that cutting stamp duty for those who want to downsize will help younger people onto the housing ladder.

UK Inflation up

UK inflation rose to 0.5pc in March, according to the Office for National Statistics.

It is the highest rate since December 2014, but still well below the Bank of England’s target of 2pc.

The Bank of England expects inflation to stay below 1pc for the rest of 2016.

Under the Retail Prices Index, inflation was 1.6pc in March up from 1.3pc in February.

Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said that this will not affect interest rates.

“Inflation rose more than expected but the overall trend remains weak, and places little pressure on the MPC.”

Buy-to-Let Mortgage Rates Down

Buy-to-let mortgage rates are at a record low.

Moneyfacts says that rates have fallen dramatically since 2011.


The average two-year fixed rate buy-to-let mortgage fell from 5.21% in April 2011 to 3.32% this month, and a five-year fixed rate fell from 6.24% to 4% today.

The drop to record lows have been due to April 2015’s pension reforms and been pushed down in the last two weeks as a result of the Stamp Duty levy.

Ian Wilson, CEO at Martin & Co, said: “People are looking for income but they can’t find it. Buy-to-let property remains a two-pronged source of income, with rental income and capital gains.”

Charlotte Nelson works at Moneyfacts. She said, “Savings rates are currently so poor that many are looking elsewhere to fund their retirement, so lenders have tried to capitalise on this new pool of cash by offering some of the best rates the buy-to-let sector has ever seen.”

New Study – Higher Supply won’t mean Lower Prices

A new study has suggested that it isn’t house prices that will be most impacted by an increasing supply, but mortgage payments.

Dr Alla Koblyakova of the real estate economics and investment research group at Nottingham Trent University said that mortgage repayments will worsen “the ratio between an individual’s mortgage payments and their income” by 9pc for every 1pc increase in housing supply.

This is because mortgage lenders will relax their lending criteria once supply increases – and they will give away mortgages too large for the income levels of the average borrower.

Dr Koblyakova studied 1,700 mortgage holders from 2010-2014 and found that homes in the UK were “seriously unaffordable” last year. The house price to income ratio was 4.6 nationally, where 3 is the maximum ratio for ‘affordable’. The ratio in Greater London was 8.5.

Dr Koblyakova said that increasing the length of mortgages, to reduce monthly repayment amounts, would make owning a property much more affordable for lower earners.

He said: “Even if government policy helps to deliver the 250,000 or so homes needed in England (and 300,000 in the UK as a whole) over the next decade, 90 per cent or more of the housing stock that will exist in 2025 has already been built, and is being lived in by somebody. Government measures that nudge towards better use of the current stock could contribute materially to the supply-demand picture.”

Source: This is Money

Tax Changes for 2016

Here is a round-up of the key tax changes taking place in the new tax year running from April 2016.

Lower Landlord ‘Wear and Tear’ Allowance

Landlords can now only claim tax back on money actually spent on replacing furniture and other household items, not the traditional 10pc. The government thinks this change will encourage landlords to improve conditions for tenants by renovating their rental properties more regularly.


Capital Gains Tax down

Investors selling assets now pay less tax on equity. High rate taxpayers now pay 20pc down from 28pc and non-higher rate taxpayers will pay 10pc down from 18pc.

Unfortunately, landlords won’t benefit from the capital gains tax. They have had an 8pc surcharge put on the 8pc reduction, wiping out their tax gain.

Savers Rewarded

Savers have been given an upper limit of £1,000 for all savings before they are taxed, and those on a higher rate are getting a tax-free allowance of £500pa.

A basic rate taxpayer with £50,000 in the bank and earning 1.5pc in interest would usually have paid £150 tax on a £750 annual return – this year, they keep all of it. Meanwhile, a higher rate taxpayer will pay £100 on a previous tax of £300.


State Pension Changes

The government now offers a flat rate payment of up to £155.65 a week for those reaching state pension age. However, the rate you get depends on how long you’ve been making national insurance contributions.

Rent-a-Room allowance increases

Homeowners who let out one of their rooms now have a maximum earning threshold of £7,500 before they get taxed – the equivalent of £144 a week without it being taxed as income.

Pension Lifetime Allowance fallsfall

An individual can only put £1m into their pension pot, down from £1.25m. Investments bigger than that will be taxed at 25pc or 55pc when additional money is withdrawn as a lump sum.

Anyone expecting a pension income of £43,478 a year could now breach the new limits.

Personal Allowance up

You can now earn £11,000pa before you pay any tax, and you may now earn £43,000pa before paying the higher rate tax of 40pc.

Non-EU workers must earn more to stay

Skilled workers from outside the EU will have to earn £35,000 a year before they can settle in the UK permanently if they have lived in the UK for less than 10 years. However, if their profession is short-skilled then this new criteria will not apply.

The Property Development Checklist: Is Your Property Venture Feasible?

This guest blog is brought to you by Affirmative Finance, a leading finance house in property development finance and bridging loans.

Property development can be a very rewarding venture for any property owner today. The financial rewards can be extremely gratifying, and seeing a completed project can be greatly satisfying too. However, it is also an investment that can create upheaval and stress if it is not handled with enough organisation, care and attention.

This property development checklist highlights the main areas that you need to follow as a property developer, in order for your projects to flourish. So whether your development is large or small, complicated or seemingly simple, always bear in mind the following key steps for success:

planning_permission_blueprintConsider the Area

All good property developers understand the demographics, economy and real estate market in the area they invest in. When considering local demographics, try asking questions such as, “With increasing divorce rates and long life expectancy, which type of person would buy property here?”

You should also consider the local economy: if businesses are starting up here, it is probably an up-and-coming place to build. It is also a must to ask local estate agents what the market is like, how much property sells for and who buys in the area.

Be Mindful of Legalities and Planning

When planning your project, ensure that you ask the following important question:

  • “Are any specialist permissions required?”
  • “Is planning permission needed?”
  • “Is building control necessary?”
  • “Are permitted development rights available?”

By asking these initial questions, issues can be dealt with immediately rather than mid-way through the project and at much greater expense.

Your solicitor should also check the title to your property. This is to make sure that there are no restrictive clauses or covenants that could stop you from carrying out your intended development work.

Have Suitable Finance in Place

Property development requires substantial financial support. Be sure you can cover all potential costs and overheads during your project.calculator_numbers_statistics_free

Many developers continue to work, managing smaller ventures during evenings and weekends. Others also decide to invest inheritance or gifted assets into their property development. Short-term loans and bridging finance can also help to secure developments and cover overheads while the building is underway.

Look Into Local Utilities

Checking building utilities and local water supplies is highly important. Be sure that utility pipes and water supplies do not affect the area where the property will be built or converted. Piping, public mains or drains close to the property could prevent or significantly restrict your planned work. However, also be sure to understand where you will connect to the local utilities and if needed look at obtaining the necessary rights to work on third party land.

Moreover, if local drains or building utilities are not up to scratch, they could prove very costly to repair. Therefore, it is always important to bear these issues in mind when finalising your budget.

Check the Property Is Stable

Employ a property surveyor to check that everything is safe, stable and secure. Poor brickwork, severe damp and rotten joists are all problems you should be aware of.

Floors should also be inspected closely. Poor-quality floorboards showing signs of damp should be replaced as soon as possible. In addition to this, windows should also receive your attention. Understanding the quality of the glass and surrounding wood will help you develop the property effectively.

Ensure Your Changes Are Practicalsurveyor_expert_workman_planning_free

Making just minor improvements to a property can make all the difference. Overhauling the decor can add a lot of value to a building.

When changing the function of a building, always check that this is possible first. For example, is it possible to obtain planning permission for the project? Will the associated costs make the project feasible?

Finally, to put all of your plans into practice you should consider including in your team: a quantity surveyor, an architect, an engineer, a project manager, and an estate agent to sell the final build.

Going Forward

Reading this article may lead you to have concerns about your future property development projects. It may seem as though hurdles could appear at any point, whether it be at the planning stage or when considering local utilities.

However, each part of this checklist has been created to help novice developers grow and ultimately succeed. You should always remember: with careful planning and diligence at every step, your project could bring in significant profits and create a building that many will enjoy for years to come.

If you are currently developing properties within your portfolio, or would like some advice for the future, please contact your local Whitegates office today.

Disclaimer: Guest blog posts on the Whitegates blog are written by external companies.Whitegates do not endorse the products or services of these companies. 

Even Starter Homes are Unaffordable

Four in five local councils do not believe that discounted starter homes should qualify as affordable housing.

Just 7pc think starter homes will address the need for affordable homes in their area.


A survey by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) also showed that, of 105 local councils, 59pc said that the need for affordable housing was severe, and 87pc said that starter homes wouldn’t adequately meet demand and need.

79pc said they did not think affordable housing should be classified as such.

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive at the TCPA, said:

“This survey highlights that [starter home initiatives] will only help some people get a first step on the housing ladder. We need a strategy that provides decent housing for everyone in society, including those most in need.”

What Does this Mean to the Private Rental Sector?

Supply is having a huge impact on the property market as a whole, driving rents up and giving landlords a choice of tenants in most circumstances.

Affordable housing is one of the government’s main points of contention, and it has promised to build 1m new homes by the end of its tenure in 2020.

This survey (in addition to a report compiled by the House of Lords’ National Policy) paints a different picture – housebuilding is behind target, and those that are being built are not strictly affordable for those in the most desperate need for a home.

Furthermore, yet another report, this time by the Local Government Association, says that the offered 20pc discounts for starter homes would help just 45pc of constituents in England afford a property, and these will be limited to the North East, North West and East Midlands.

Therefore, we can assume that it will be especially difficult to buy south of London, plus those at the bottom of the earning ladder are becoming increasingly squeezed out of the housing picture. Landlords could do worse than investing to let in the South, plus also with small houses in the North, to accommodate households who will not benefit from a discounted rate for their first-time property.

Budget 2016 – a Review

After two consecutive government statements that directly affected the property industry, landlords and agents would have been forgiven some fear in the build-up to George Osborne’s Budget.

The result was typically unsurprising. The Chancellor focused his attentions on future generations, saving methods and, bizarrely, a sugar tax on drinks manufacturers.

But he did have some significant announcements that were of interest to those interested in property.

April’s stamp duty levy was confirmed, but with the added curveball that landlords with large portfolios of over 15 properties will not be exempt from the surcharge, even though it had been speculated that they would avoid it.

The Stamp Duty surcharge has also been applied to the commercial property sector, including the ‘slice’ system introduced last year.

However, the timeframe for those selling their original property has been extended. If you have bought a second home with the express intention of selling the first, you will pay the stamp duty levy but will have 36 months to sell your original home and claim a stamp duty refund, as opposed to the originally speculated 18 months.

Mr Osborne also says that the money collected from the stamp duty levy will go towards community housing trust projects.

Furthermore, corporation tax was a talking point. Last year, Mr Osborne announced that corporation tax would be reduced to 18pc by 2020 (it is currently 20pc). This year, the Chancellor cut corporation tax even further, to 17pc by 2020. This could be of interest to landlords, who can turn their portfolios into private businesses and pay corporation tax instead of landlord taxes (which are set to increase from next year onwards).

Capital Gains Tax was also a talking point. The Chancellor outlined plans to give properties a significant 8pc cut from the tax they pay (currently 28pc for higher rate payers and 18pc for basic rate). The only demographic excluded from the cut? Residential property, that will have an 8pc surcharge added on to the 8pc cut, wiping out the tax saving.

Mr Osborne also had big plans geographically. The Northern Powerhouse was a primary point of interest. The Chancellor stated he will target key Northern roads including the M62 and has approved a HS3 rail service between Manchester and Leeds. The implications of the Northern Powerhouse is that a lot of contractors and architects will be required to rent in the area while they complete their work, which means a minor boom of the rental sector in those areas most affected like Hull and Leeds.

Prospective buyers will have been somewhat reassured. The Government is increasing the tax-free personal allowance to £11,500 in April next year, plus the introduction of a tax-free ISA that matches £1 for every £4 saved. This means savers can invest £4,000 of their own money and have it boosted by a further £1,000 of government money, either for pension savings or a house purchase.

However, no attempt was made to explain or tackle the housing supply crisis. First Time Buyers may have been given a route to saving more money for a property, but that doesn’t mean that there will be any properties available to them!

Is Owning a Home as Unattainable for the Under 30s as they Believe?

This guest post is brought to you by property guru, Christopher Watkin, who has more than 20 years experience in the industry.

My parents bought their first house in the 1960s, and they were in their early twenties. This was befitting of the time, the average age for purchasing your first house in the 60s was 23.

Times changed. By the 70s that number had increased to 27, and it hit 28 in the 80s.

In 2016, however, twentysomethings predict they won’t own their own home until their mid-thirties, and some of them say they will never own at all. We applaud their pragmatism and knowledge of the market, but are things as doom and gloom as they appear?

I did some research.

The current average price paid for an apartment in Britain, according to the Land Registry, is £187,160, and a terraced house £143,839, meaning our first time buyer would need to save £7,190 as a deposit for the terraced (95% mortgages have been available to first time buyers since 2010) plus a couple of thousand for solicitors and survey costs. Rounding it up to £10,000, that isn’t unattainable.??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

The average full-time working male earns £570.40 a week. Women, £471.60 a week. A hopeful first-time buyer would need to save heavily for a year, maybe two depending on other expenses, before they were in a position to put down their first deposit.

And where are they going to live? A basic search on Rightmove showed in excess of 160 one-bed apartments for under £150,000 (albeit in the outer areas of London), so the properties are there, especially if the ‘competition’ have already convinced themselves that they won’t own a property in their lifetime.

I also read a report by Paragon Mortgages published in Autumn last year. 35% of tenants intended to stay renting, and 24% intended to buy a house in the future. 74% of respondents cited ‘unaffordability’ as the reason for wanting to rent.

However, in up to 90% of cases, mortgage payments to buy a property are cheaper than rent, it is just that renting is an easier game to get into – two month’s deposit is always going to be cheaper than 5-10% of a property’s value, so they choose to rent.

The question is, which is more important? The instant gratification of renting, or the long-term benefit of owning? The fact is, the youngsters of today are called “Generation Rent” for a reason. There are homes available, but they’re on the horizon, and there are financial benefits to owning a property, but they’re even further away in a generation of people who aren’t wealthy enough to take the necessary risks.

C Watkin Table

For that reason, despite the surprising affordability of starter homes for some, I expect the shift in attitude towards renting in the UK to remain steady for the next twenty years plus. With demand for British rental property unlikely to slow and newly formed households continuing to choose the rental market instead of purchasing a property, I also forecast that renting will continue to offer good value for money for tenants.


How Long a Term Should I Take My Mortgage Over?

This guest post is brought to you by the UK’s largest fee free mortgage adviser, London & Country.

Is a mortgage just for 25 years?

The traditional mortgage was seen as being a loan that would initially be taken
out over a 25 year term. In many cases that will still be true but, increasingly, the figures are showing that more borrowers are taking mortgages with a longer life span.mortgage_buyers

Homebuyers and in particular first time buyers have been opting for mortgages that will last for 30 years or more. In fact many lenders can offer mortgage terms of up to 35 years and some will even extend that to a maximum of 40 years.

Halifax recently published figures to show that more than 25% of first time buyers took a mortgage with a 35 year term in 2015, an increase from 16% in 2007.

Why has the average mortgage term increased?

The main appeal of a longer term mortgage is the drop in the required monthly payment on a repayment mortgage. Tougher mortgage affordability rules in recent years are bound to have added to the take up of longer mortgages.

In addition, first time buyers may like the extra breathing space in their monthly budget, especially having had to save for a big deposit and all the other associated costs of buying a home.

Lower payments sound good but is there a downside?

There is a cost that comes with a longer term mortgage though.  Chipping away at the mortgage balance over a longer period, and therefore at a slower rate, means that more interest will be repayable over the life of the loan. In fact that can amount to tens of thousands of pounds more in interest.

The example below is based on a £150,000 repayment mortgage at 3% for the entire term and clearly shows how the monthly payment falls as the term increases but there’s also a dramatic increase in the total interest payable:

L&C Table

Can I change the mortgage term further down the line?calculator_maths_money_free

It therefore makes sense to keep reviewing the mortgage term and try to bring it down as personal circumstances change and improve. Alternatively, most mortgage deals will allow at least some overpayments to be made without charging an early repayment charge.

What does seem clear is that the definition of a ‘normal’ mortgage term is very definitely changing. With high house prices and tighter lending criteria it looks likely that the trend for longer term mortgages is set to continue.

We’ve teamed up with L&C Mortgages to offer you fee free mortgage advice, head to their website or telephone (0800 923 2045) one of their expert mortgage advisers today to look into your mortgage options.


Most buy-to-let mortgages are not regulated by the FCA

8 Buy-To-Let Top Tips

When investing in property, there are so many factors to think about to ensure that your buy-to-let venture is a success. Whether you are an experienced landlord, or letting a property for the first time, here are eight manageable steps to help you off to a flying start:

Target the Tenants

By choosing your tenant demographic before buying a property, you’ll find a property and an area to fit into, and what kind of property.

One Size Doesn’t Fit Allrent_tenants_viewing_couple_free

The majority of tenants want one or two-bedroom homes dependent on geography.

If you are becoming a landlord for the first time, or have a portfolio of only one or two properties, it makes sense to keep things simple by catering to this common need.

Experienced landlords can enjoy the benefits of HMOs, on the understanding that they are subject to more stringent legal and insurance requirements.

Stay Close to Work

Don’t buy a property just for your own benefit – this will be your tenants’ home. Therefore, play the statistics game. By purchasing a property close to, or in, an employment centre such as a university, hospital or city centre, you’ll be more able to attract tenants to your home.

But Avoid the Nightlife

If your tenants are going to be working in a town or city that has a recognised night life, simply compromise by finding a buy-to-let property on a public transport route, or at a ‘safe’ distance from the pubs, bars and clubs.

The Numbers Must Add Upmortgage_application_money_firsttimebuyer_free

Get a mortgage, even if you can afford to buy the property with cash. You can benefit from tax breaks, plus many buy-to-let lenders offer favourable rates –after all, you’ll be guaranteed a rental income once you’re ready.

As long as your rental income is above 125pc of the mortgage repayments, you’ll usually find an interested lender.

Take Your Time

If you want to invest but fear your time scales will fall foul of the new 3pc Stamp Duty surcharge that goes live in April, there’s no need to worry.

House prices may well fall after the pre-April rush. Counterbalanced against the surcharge, prices charged may not be significantly higher than expected.


The younger your tenants, the more likely they will want a property furnished for them. This means sofas, tables and white goods. However, if you are targeting tenant families, be wary that they may already have their own furniture – so don’t spend money that contradicts the circumstances of your tenants.

Letting Agents can be Trusted

If you are experienced and know your way around the legal complications and requirements of being a landlord, then it makes sense to save the money.

You may be put off by the fees and rates a letting agent will charge, but you will benefit immeasurably from the expertise and management skills of an agent.

Also, some fees are tax deductible, so you can claim them back at the end of the tax year.

If your portfolio will benefit from a helping hand, please contact your local Whitegates branch today.