THE Consumer Crew are here to solve your problems.
Mel Hunter will take on readers’ consumer issues, Jane Hamilton will give you the best advice for buying your dream home, and Judge Rinder will tackle your legal woes.
Jane Hamilton, property expert
How to buy as prices rocket
HOUSE prices have leapt to a record high, rising at the fastest rate in 17 years.
The average property is now worth £266,000, up 13.2 per cent in a year.
So if you’re looking to buy, how can you make it more affordable?
Try our top tips to get your foot on the property ladder . . .
1) Buy a place that needs work: But factor in the costs. Structural issues are pricier to fix than decorating and updating, so pick only a project you can handle.
2) Look for “motivated vendor”, “offers considered” or “no chain”: This is estate agent code for a seller desperate to shift their property quickly
3) Search outside your original area: Can’t afford to live where you want to? Try the “ripple area” next door. Moving a stop or two along a train line or to the next town may be much cheaper.
4) Consider shared ownership: If you’re on a tight budget, this can be a way to own your own home. But there are pitfalls. Find out more at bit.ly/3gg2NTL.
5) Buy ex-council: Former local authority homes are usually spacious and come to the market priced up to 20 per cent lower than other property. But if you’re buying one of these, do check who owns the freehold and sets the service charge, as you may be hit with hefty bills.
6) Buy small, then extend: Buying a house smaller than you really want but with room to extend means you can add value later. But before you commit, check if you would be likely to get planning permission.
Buy of the week
LIVE the Cheshire lifestyle for less. This stylish three-bedroom mews house in sought-after Nantwich is on the market for £220,000.
Details at onthemarket.com/details/10788587.
Don’t wait about
SEEN a good mortgage deal? Then grab it quick.
Moneyfacts says the average shelf life of a mortgage offer has dropped to just 21 days, the lowest ever.
But choice is improving, with 4,660 different products on the market.
Moneyfacts’ Eleanor Williams confirmed: “Borrowers considering their mortgage options may find that products have a limited period when they are available.”
Deal of the week
TALK about fringe benefits – this trendy tassle cushion, 40cm by 40cm, will update any sofa or bed. Just £5 in stores at Poundland.
SAVE: £5 on similar styles elsewhere
Judge Rinder, legal expert
‘‘Protected tree on my street is a hazard but how can I get owner to trim dangerous branches?’’
Q) A NEIGHBOUR in the next street has an oak tree at the bottom of their garden on the boundary with my next-door neighbour.
A large branch hangs over my garage, shed and garden and I’ve asked the tree’s owners about getting it trimmed, but was told they can’t do anything as it has a protection order on it.
Our local council says any work done on the tree has to have planning permission, and that the order has been in place since 1986 and that the owner is liable for the tree.
I believe the tree is a hazard. It has many dead branches and in bad weather, lots of bits fall off, some pretty large. I have found dents in my shed roof and am concerned about a branch falling on me or my family.
My question is, can the owners of the tree be legally forced to get it trimmed?
A) When a tree is protected by one of these orders, its owner (in this case your neighbour) is not allowed to chop it down, uproot it, or even prune branches unless they have written consent from their local authority.
You need to write to your neighbour, the council and your ward representative making very clear that the tree is causing a hazard to your property. At this point they will all be on legal notice of the risk and should, at the very least, come to inspect the tree and cut it back in order to make it safe.
If you get no response from anyone, you may be able to put legal pressure on your neighbour and the local authority who are ultimately legally responsible for sorting this out.
Q) HAVE recently had central heating put into my property under the Government- backed boiler replacement scheme.
The company that did the work left the house in a mess, with no tidying up, made holes where they shouldn’t be and left a water leak stain on a freshly painted ceiling and hand prints and marks on the walls.
I contacted the company’s head office and was asked to send pics of all the problems. I also sent them a quote from a local decorator and said I’d like compensation.
It took the engineers ten days to come back to the property to check the radiator where the water leak had appeared, after making arrangements with me and not turning up several times.
They were just totally unprofessional and my other complaints about the mess and damage have been ignored. What should I do next?
A) The company was under a legal duty to ensure the work was completed to a professional standard.
It is without question liable for any damage to your property that you can prove it caused and for any unreasonable cleaning costs due to its shoddy work.
So far you’ve done the right thing by collecting as much evidence of its negligence as possible.
The next step is to find out who its managing director is and email them directly making clear that unless it fixes the damage it caused and pays for its unacceptable mess, you will take it to the small claims court – and warn others about its work. It seems to me you have a very strong case, so be tough.
Q) I BOUGHT a mobility scooter from a Yorkshire firm last September. It cost £1,350 but I’ve used it just once, doing four miles.
The scooter has a year’s warranty but it’s just six months for the battery. That is faulty and now nothing works. The company wants to charge me £95 just to look at it because I live in Scotland.
A) Selling separate warranties for the scooter and battery sounds like unlawfully issuing a warranty for a car covering everything but the gear box.
Here, the issue may not be the wording of the warranty but how far you live from the repair centre.
Check the T&Cs of the battery warranty. If time is up on that, even though you may have a legal argument that it should not be excluded from the scooter’s 12-month cover, this may be an uphill struggle. It would probably be less hassle to pay the £95.
Still, write to the head of the scooter company making clear how angry and upset you are. A decent letter can often do the trick in cases like this.
Mel Hunter, reader’s champion
Hols refund runaround
Q) WHEN my booking at a Parkdean Resort was cancelled, I was offered a full refund or a voucher for 125 per cent of the holiday’s value. I chose the latter.
I rebooked for May, but after my son had a heart attack, I called Parkdean to discuss moving my booking. I was told I couldn’t and would have to use my cancellation insurance.
I followed all the advice I was given but was then told I couldn’t have a refund and must rebook – which is what I’d wanted to start with.
But they will take £95 – a £20 cancellation fee and £75 admin. I think it would be fair to give me those fees in vouchers but I can’t get through.
A) You were given the runaround, spending your lunchtimes as an NHS worker on the phone.
Parkdean agreed with me that a refund was fair and paid back the £618 cost, plus a voucher of £172 as a gesture of goodwill.
A spokesperson said: “As soon as we were made aware of this issue, we contacted Ms Cox to apologise and provide her with a full refund.”
Q) LAST year we arranged a golfing holiday to Prague, flying with easyJet.
With the holiday cancelled due to Covid, we rearranged for 2021 and used easyJet’s voucher scheme. Now easyJet says this year’s flights are cancelled – but it will not refund the money, as it was paid for by voucher.
The holiday is going ahead so I booked flights with BA – but I am £1,600 out of pocket.
A) Looking forward to this golf trip, Covid and easyJet landed you in the rough. You tried to do the right thing by the airline by using its voucher scheme but ended up losing out.
After I flagged your experience to easyJet, you got a full refund. This was in line with a change in policy giving customers who pay using vouchers the option of a refund.
EasyJet said: “We are sorry a refund was not offered when Mr Jenvey called us and have refreshed our agents of the change in policy. We have been in touch with him to process his refund.”
Q) I HAD an ISA with Halifax and over the years it dwindled as I took money out. For several years, the balance stayed just under £100, so I decided to close the account. Halifax agreed to send a cheque – but the money never came and no one can tell me where it’s gone.
John, West Lothian
A) After your money did a vanishing act, I got on to Halifax, which admitted “human error” had led to the loss of your money. The bank paid it back to you, along with an extra £50.
Halifax said: “We’re sorry we made an error when closing Mr Dunn’s ISA account. The closing balance of the account has now been paid to him, alongside an additional payment to acknowledge the inconvenience caused.”
Source: The Sun