Real estate traps exposed

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    You’ve dreamed of it for years, you’ve forsaken summer holidays for the chance to put just a little more away, because you want the chance to build your own second base in foreign climes – a dream holiday home that’s all your own, or a rental property that you just can’t help coming back to.

    And so, you’re ready to sign on the dotted line but, a very friendly word of advice – beware.

    Take the case of a Spanish building firm, which shall remain nameless, who were responsible for a litany of property crimes, according to Judith, 38, from Birmingham, who bought what she thought was to be the holiday home of her dreams in Alicante, Spain, in 2007.

    She told Together: “Most of the homes built in the area were built on bedrock, with plenty of concrete laid down, but our company used concrete panels, which were welded together at certain points! If, like we did, you decide to investigate around and under your property, what an eye-opener! Sewerage pipes held up with string, piles and piles of builders’ rubbish, including sardine tins and beer bottles. There has always been water under our house, which has had to be drained out on numerous occasions in the past – around five years ago, the owners of the building at the bottom of the hill took the company (which also built our property) to court over subsidence – they won

    their case (we heard) but the company put in an appeal and it is still pending. And, in our area of the complex, the last houses on the right hand side all have their steps/walls coming away from the house, and ours look very likely to follow suit!”

    And Carol, 42, from Devon, may not even be able to get into her property or see her hard- earned cash again: “I am one of several people to have purchased an apartment on a complex in Yalikavak, Turkey, without ever having been able to acquire the title deeds. We have now been informed the builder has gone into liquidation, owing money on these properties, which are to be put up for auction in the near future. So where does that leave me, exactly?” Such cases tend to highlight incompetence and simple bad luck, rather than outright chicanery, but beware – there are more than enough fraudsters to go round. Holiday rentals sites appear to be prime targets for deception. If you are you planning to book a villa or cottage this summer, be very aware that numerous parties have been defrauded of thousands of euros, either as victims of completely fictitious property listings, or legitimate property listings being hijacked and emails intercepted. In addition, those paying money by cheque or bank transfer should be aware of the lack of consumer protection that exists when booking a holiday cottage – the UK’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has recently warned that fake villas and apartments accounted for a third of total holiday fraud losses.

    John, 36, who lives in Torquay, lost more than £3,600 when he booked and paid for a large cottage in Dorset he found on a holiday rentals website. “I had previous, complaint-free experience of the company, so I completed the online inquiry form as usual, requesting if the house in question was available for Easter,” he said. “All relevant details, such as name of the owner, telephone number, mobile number and a space for email contact by email were all provided.”

    He thus sent an email through the (seemingly secure) rentals site to what he believed to be the owner of the property, then received confirmation that the house was available, and was further informed that if the full bill was paid up front, he would receive a discount. “Everything seemed fine. A contract using the owner’s name and various other forms were sent through to me asking for payment to be made to the owner’s accountant,” he added. So, he made the full transfer from his bank to a Lloyds TSB account in London. After a promised confirmation email failed to arrive, and follow-up emails that he sent brought no reply he contacted the owners, and was horrified to discover “that they had absolutely no record of the booking or my money transfer, and they were genuinely shocked, as they had let the house frequently in the past with no problems”. The rentals company was sympathetic, but this was precious little consolation to him, as the company has declared that they are taking no responsibility, claiming that the owners’ email must have been hacked and it was therefore not their fault.

    “They do not appear to be in the slightest bit interested in finding out what happened, despite it being their website that was used and abused, and that one of their customers is now out of pocket to the tune of £3,600,” he said, angrily.

    Of course, such cases highlight the worst that can happen, and more often than not holiday purchases and rentals go without a hitch, under the auspices of immaculately professional providers. But it does no harm to keep a fair- weather eye on exactly what is being promised, how it will be delivered, and who has the absolute final say. Get in touch with everyone in the chain – and make sure you are absolutely sure before you sign or pay anything at all.