Leave the city and find your perfect country home with our top tips


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

The View Towards Arnside Viaduct and the Lake District from Arnside Knot, Cumbria, UK

Property expert Jane Hamilton shares her tips on finding a home in the country

LOCKDOWN has seen a surge of buyers planning new lives in the country with more space, bigger gardens and cleaner air.

For almost 20 years, BBC daytime hit Escape To The Country has helped people drawn to rural settings make the move.

If you plan to do the same, the show’s host Jules Hudson – author of The Escape To The Country Handbook – has some tips.

Be clear about where you want to go and why. A fleeting romance with a region is not enough. When rules allow, take on a holiday let for a couple of months while you get to know the local market.

Don’t search at the top end of your budget. Your new home will most likely need investment, so make sure you have cash left over. Take off at least ten per cent for repairs, plus the cost of stamp duty, moving and other fees.

 Land is expensive. Acres of green space might be at the top of your wish-list but what would you do with it? Be realistic.

Want outbuildings? Consider building your own. If you plan to boost your income with buildings you let out to holidaymakers, building from scratch might be easier than finding everything you need right away. But be sure you gain the right permissions.

View as many properties as you can. Be open-minded. If you avoid listed buildings, you might miss out on some of the most characterful properties on the market.

What’s the perfect country house? One you want so much you embrace its imperfections . . . just like the perfect partner!

Judge Rinder

 Judge Rinder’s answers do not constitute legal advice and are not a substitute for obtaining independent legal advice

Q) I HAVE lived in my ex-local authority flat for 33 years. I bought it in 1987 and it is now all paid for.

It is in a block of eight storeys and has a communal landing on every floor. The block has only ever been decorated once in 33 years, which was approximately six years ago.

The communal walls are damaged and the floors are dirty and in poor condition.

I’m trying to sell my property and have had a few viewings. Most of the feedback I have received is that the flat is lovely but buyers don’t like the communal areas.

I’ve asked if I could get the same paint and do some patching up and make it more presentable but they say only the council can carry out the work.

Do I have any rights?

Nigel, London

I want to redecorate my council block’s communal area to sell my flat

A) This situation often arises in blocks of flats which are rented by council tenants alongside private owners.

Because, whereas you as an owner are liable to pay for your share of the work, the local authority are financially responsible for their tenants.

You could (and should) form a residents’ association with everybody in the block and place pressure on the council to do this work – especially because it sounds to me that the flats are not safe.

In the meantime, you cannot just patch up the work yourself, despite how frustrating this all is.

You need permission from the council. Write to the head of housing, making clear what you want to do and the materials you intend to use.

Say that the council’s failure is preventing you from selling your home and that unless they give you a date to do the work themselves, you will be carrying out the work you set out in your letter yourself.

But do NOT do the work without their consent because you could end up in serious hot water.

Q) I have been trying to get a refund for a holiday which was cancelled by the tour operator on March 23.

I have phoned numerous times and keep being told I am on the refund list, but still no sign of any cash. I know that things are taking longer at the moment because of the virus situation but this is getting ridiculous. It has been 11 weeks.

I have phoned again today but still am no further forward regarding when this refund will be forthcoming.

What can I do?

Anne, Sheffield

A) Ordinarily you would be entitled to a refund for your holiday within 14 days.

The problem is that many travel firms are taking their time over handing money back to customers because they know that there is hardly any legal pressure that customers can place on them during lockdown.

The good news is that you have a clear and unequivocal promise that the money will be returned to you, which the holiday company can’t back away from now.

Your best bet is to email the head of the firm, along with their head of customer affairs, reminding them that they are in clear breach of their legal obligation to issue a refund in time – and that unless this is dealt with as agreed and the money returned in ten days, you will be taking legal action.

This should nudge them along.

Mel Hunter, Reader’s champion

Readers’ champion on fighting for your rights Mel Hunter

Q) I WAS due to travel to South Africa with nine other members of my family on a package holiday with Virgin Holidays but it was cancelled due to Covid-19.

I immediately contacted Virgin to request a refund and the holiday was confirmed cancelled on March 23, with a full refund promised.

I was told I would receive it within 45 days. But that date passed and I got an email instead asking if I wanted a voucher or to rebook and advising it would take some time for a refund.

I am now really concerned, as I am waiting to get back more than £25,000.

Most of our party are key workers and I have been very ill with Covid so unable to deal with this. I am really worried I will not get my money back and this is not helping my recovery.

Geraldine McLeish, Birmingham

A) Because of the large sum involved and the fact you had been too ill to deal with this, I wanted to be sure you were on Virgin’s radar.

The company monitored your case for me as it worked its way through the system and you eventuall got the money back – ten weeks after the holiday was cancelled and eight weeks after you were due to travel. You were understandably relieved.

The situation is changing all the time but as things stand today, Virgin Holidays has cancelled all trips up to July 19, 2020, automatically providing a voucher for travel before the end of next year.

Refunds are available but Virgin admits they’re taking up to four months to process.

A spokesman confirmed: “Customers can amend or cancel bookings online via Manage My Booking and our phone advisers will call them back to discuss their options, including a refund.

“Holidays booked up to September 30 can also be moved to another date if customers choose.

“We would ask that customers only contact us by phone if their booked travel date is within the next 14 days and refer first to the online forms. We’re very grateful for our customers’ continued patience.”

A view of Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

Q) I’D be grateful for any help getting a £203 PPI ­payout I am owed by Lloyds.

The bank agreed in February I was owed the money but initially sent me a cheque in my maiden name, which was no use.

After Lloyds cancelled this, I was promised a transfer to my bank account in my married name.

Vicki Ovens, Bristol

A) Lloyds confirmed you were owed just over £200 for mis-sold payment protection insurance but the first cheque came through in the wrong name.

But with me on the case, the bank discovered that your request to stop that cheque and issue a new payment had not been put into action.

And the lender has since moved quickly to put things right.

A spokesperson for Lloyds said: “We are sorry we didn’t get things right first time for Mrs Ovens.

“We have now processed the PPI refund payment and included an additional £100 to apologise for the inconvenience caused.”

Blue sells

GIVE your home the blues if you want to make money.

Painting your front door blue adds £4,000 to a property’s value, says sellhousefast.uk.

Plain wood is the least valuable, lowering a property’s value by an average of £700. Psychologist Lee Chambers said: “Our eyes are drawn to entrance points, so a front door is one of the first things we notice.

“Blue is seen as a productive colour and is often used in office environments for this reason.”