Vir­ginia creeper is tak­ing over my home; my let­ting agent won’t pass on ref­er­ences; and cash­ing in on a home-re­ver­sion plan

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Property Clinic -

BRICKS&MOR­TAR

QAAA Vir­ginia creeper has climbed up the back of our three-storey house, reach­ing as high as the roof. I have had con­flict­ing ad­vice about how much dam­age it could do (lift­ing tiles, dam­ag­ing paint and mor­tar, or none at all). Some­one told me it is only ivy you have to worry about. What is the an­swer? I be­lieve the creeper helps to in­su­late the house, as well as be­ing at­trac­tive, so I would like to keep it if I can.

David Snell writes: Ivy ( Hed­era) is detri­men­tal to a house be­cause it clings by means of root-like ten­drils that seek out and ex­ploit any cracks, ex­pand­ing into them. Once es­tab­lished, it is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to re­move and the dam­age to brick­work and to slates and tiles may be ir­re­versible. Vir­ginia creeper ( Partheno­cis­sus), on the other hand, clings on to walls and roofs by means of lit­tle suck­ers; when seen up close, they look like geckos’ feet. Th­ese don’t harm the build­ing, but they do cling on quite fast. If the wall is ren­dered and needs paint­ing from time to time, this can present dif­fi­cul­ties. There is one other point, and that is that the creeper does pro­vide a lad­der for all sorts of ver­min to en­ter the house. Be that as it may, it is glo­ri­ous, which is why I have it on sev­eral of the walls of my own home. But I do re­strict its growth; each year, I trim it away from the win­dows and I al­low it no fur­ther than the eaves of my bun­ga­low, train­ing it back down­wards and along where nec­es­sary. My feel­ings are that it makes a house look like a ruin when al­lowed free rein over the roof.

David Snell is con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor to Home­build­ing & Ren­o­vat­ing mag­a­zine and au­thor of Build­ing Your Own Home, avail­able at £25 plus p&p from 0870 155 7222. QThe

let­ting agent han­dling my two flats re­fuses to give me copies of the ten­ants’ ref­er­ences, cit­ing the Data Pro­tec­tion Act (DPA). Surely this does not ap­ply to an agency ar­range­ment? My un­der­stand­ing is that all in­for­ma­tion ob­tained on be­half of the land­lord is his in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty; he needs it to make the com­mer­cial de­ci­sion about whether to ac­cept the ap­pli­cants as ten­ants. I am also wor­ried that with­out copies of the ref­er­ences my Ten­ancy Dis­putes Le­gal Costs In­sur­ance and Rent Guar­an­tee In­sur­ance could be in­val­i­dated. Can you clar­ify the data pro­tec­tion rules? David Flem­ing writes: The Data Pro­tec­tion Act sets out a num­ber of prin­ci­ples re­quir­ing those who gather per­sonal in­for­ma­tion on peo­ple to safe­guard it in dif­fer­ent ways. One of th­ese prin­ci­ples is that data can only be col­lected for a le­git­i­mate pur­pose and can­not be re­leased with­out the per­son’s con­sent. The In­for­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner’s Of­fice gives guid­ance on the very ques­tion you ask; it says that a let­ting agent can pass on a ref­er­ence as long as, when re­quest­ing it, they make it clear to the ten­ant and ref­eree that this will hap­pen. The let­ting agent, of course,

POINTSOFLA­W

MONEYMATTE­RS

acts for you and should have an­tic­i­pated that you would want the in­for­ma­tion. I would cer­tainly ad­vise any land­lord to con­sider it be­fore agree­ing to a let­ting. Ac­cord­ingly, you should ask the agent to get the nec­es­sary con­sents and to en­sure that in all fu­ture let­tings they make it clear to ten­ants and ref­er­ees that the data will be passed on to you.

David Flem­ing is head of prop­erty lit­i­ga­tion at William Heath & Co. QAre

there any con­se­quences to bear in mind if I raise sub­stan­tial eq­uity in my prop­erty through a home-re­ver­sion plan and hand the cash on to mem­bers of my fam­ily? I would ex­pect to re­tain only a small share of my prop­erty so that on death or on en­ter­ing care when the prop­erty would be sold — and as­sum­ing that I live for more than seven years — I would avoid in­her­i­tance tax on the share al­ready given away. Are the tax im­pli­ca­tions any dif­fer­ent if I spend the money on lux­ury hol­i­days and other things for my fam­ily in­stead?

Mag­gie Flem­ing writes: Gifts to fam­ily mem­bers are Po­ten­tially Ex­empt Trans­fers (PETs) and will not be li­able to in­her­i­tance tax (IHT) pro­vided you live for seven years af­ter­wards. This ap­plies to cash and as­sets. In the case of a hol­i­day, how­ever, HMRC may take the view that the re­cip­i­ent should pay IHT

Aim­me­di­ately at the lower life­time rate of 20 per cent be­cause the value of his/her es­tate has not been in­creased by the gift.

With some gifts you do not have to wait seven years un­til they fall out of your es­tate. First of all, there is the an­nual ex­emp­tion; ev­ery­one can give away £3,000 per an­num with­out any IHT con­se­quences. The re­lief can be car­ried back one year so, if you did not use your al­lowance in 2007/08, you could give away £6,000 tax-free now. You can also give your spouse any amount of money taxfree; he/she could then use up their an­nual ex­emp­tion by pass­ing some on to fam­ily mem­bers.

You can also give away up to £250 per an­num to any num­ber of dif­fer­ent donees, and make ex­empt

THE MAR­KET

gifts to any­one who is get­ting mar­ried or en­ter­ing a civil part­ner­ship. A valu­able ex­emp­tion, of­ten over­looked, is that for “nor­mal ex­pen­di­ture out of in­come”. It may not ap­ply in your case, but if you do have spare in­come over and above your needs, you can make reg­u­lar pay­ments to fam­ily mem­bers with­out IHT con­se­quences.

Fi­nally, don’t for­get that IHT is only an is­sue if your es­tate on death, plus any trans­fers dur­ing the pre­vi­ous seven years, ex­ceeds the nil rate band — cur­rently £312,000. If your spouse pre-de­ceases you and does not use up his/her nil rate band, the re­main­der can now be added to yours. In many cases, this will dou­ble the nil-rate band avail­able on death.

Mag­gie Flem­ing is di­rec­tor of Isis Fi­nan­cial Plan­ners and a mem­ber of the Char­tered In­sti­tute of Tax­a­tion. QI

ac­cepted an of­fer on my house on the ba­sis that the buyer had a mort­gage agreed in prin­ci­ple. A few days later, the fi­nan­cial ad­viser at my es­tate agency rang to say he had found a bet­ter mort­gage for my buyer with a dif­fer­ent provider so an­other sur­vey would have to be car­ried out. The prob­lem is the new mort­gage is very pop­u­lar mid-credit crunch, so it is tak­ing longer than nor­mal to process. My sale and the pur­chase of my new house is be­ing de­layed be­cause the fi­nan­cial ad­viser in­ter­fered so that he could take a com­mis­sion. Is this fair prac­tice, given that I am pay­ing a big fee, too? Whose in­ter­ests is the firm serv­ing, mine or my buyer’s?

Lorna Vestey writes: In the good old days es­tate agents didn’t get in­volved with of­fer­ing fi­nan­cial ser­vices. Now, of course, most do and their staff are en­cour­aged to in­tro­duce mort­gage busi­ness, so con­flicts of in­ter­est can and do arise. While you are pay­ing his fees and are there­fore the client, the agent does also have a duty of care to the buyer, so it can be said that he has be­haved prop­erly in help­ing find that cheaper mort­gage. It is just un­for­tu­nate that cir­cum­stances have con­spired to de­lay the pro­cess­ing and, con­se­quently, both your trans­ac­tions. That will be no com­fort to you, and I sym­pa­thise.

I would write to the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor or se­nior part­ner, calmly lay­ing out the facts and point­ing out that you in­structed his firm in its pri­mary busi­ness and that you are very un­happy that your sale is be­ing ad­versely af­fected by the in­tro­duc­tion of fi­nan­cial ser­vices. The tail ap­pears to be wag­ging the dog. The de­lay has caused you stress and in­con­ve­nience and you there­fore look for­ward to hear­ing what re­duc­tion he will of­fer on the sale fee by way of com­pen­sa­tion.

Lorna Vestey is a for­mer part­ner of a bluechip Lon­don es­tate agency.

AOur ex­perts re­gret that they can­not an­swer read­ers’ let­ters per­son­ally. All cor­re­spon­dence should be sent to them at the ad­dress given above. We re­gret that we can­not ac­knowl­edge let­ters. Please keep them brief.

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