Consumer Champion: How to save money when you're doing up your home
Two pieces of research dropped recently showing DIY has taken off with a bang. Whether it's the improved economy, or tightened Central Bank deposit rules for trader- uppers, more people are deciding to stay put and do up their own house instead.
The TCU Loan Index, supplied by one of the country's biggest credit unions, Tullamore, shows 23pc of loans issued in 2014 were for home improvements, the average loan being €15,400.
Credit unions are a great way to borrow for this kind of thing. Not only do they offer lower interest rates than banks (at 9.5pc in TCU's case), but many offer even more attractive rates if the loans are covered by shares (5.95pc).
Separately, KBCs survey into what inspires people to make over their homes, found that TV shows topped the list, with RTE's Dermot Bannon proving to be home renovation hero in a quarter of cases. I love Dermot, but I reckon you'd want to double your window budget if you follow his designs!
A total of 32pc of people who are undertaking works plan to spend over €5,000 doing so, so it's worth remembering that the Government's Home Renovation Initiative (HRI) is still operating until the end of this year - see the table for the kind of works that are allowed under the scheme - you may be surprised at what's included. The way it works is that the VAT element of the bill is returned to you, that's 13.5pc as long as you spend between €4,405 and €30,000 before VAT. You must be up to date with your property tax, use registered, tax compliant tradespeople and the tax is repaid to you over two years.
Here's an example:
Spend on new kitchen: €6,300
€6,300 x 13.5pc = €850.
Return to you: €35.44 per month over 24 months.
The works must be carried out before year end and you'll have to register, as will the contractor, on the Revenue's Website www.revenue.ie, using your Local Property Tax reference number.
When choosing a contractor for anything, but especially building works, make sure you do your homework. I found great tips on www.pickapro.ie which include:
1. Write down your 'wish list' asking all family members to contribute.
It gives contractors a clear idea of what you want and why. If you're going to question ideas, now is the time.
2. Think about timing.
Will the contractor be 'working around you' or while you are away from the house? It will be dusty, dirty and cold as its going on - are you sure you can live with this?
3. Do your research -
Go online to Pinterest, Youtube and design sites, get photos, ask friends for advice or perhaps consider asking a professional like an interior designer for advice.
4. Agree your budget with some 'wiggle room'.
Accept it will most likely over-run, but knowing in advance what the spend is will help you make decisions as you go.
5. Do you need a professional to oversee the work?
If it's a big extension to your home for example, a project manager may be needed.
6. Ask for recommendations from people who have had similar work done.
Most people are happy to let you look around their house after a lovely new kitchen or loft has been fitted.
7. If your spend is going to be over €5,000 it's a good idea to get three written quotes.
Most contractors are happy to quote for free, but don't automatically take the cheapest - ask to talk to a satisfied customer. Ask for your contractor's insurance certificate. If you're applying for relief under the HRI scheme, the contractor MUST be registered.
8. Maintain communication throughout the work.
Fixing something after completion is messy and expensive. If you're not happy say so immediately.
9. Agree stage payments
So you're not paying out upfront.
10. Finally, if things go awry, talk to the builder
If you have a written quote of exactly what was agreed, this is your starting point. If he is unwilling to fix it, you can apply to the Small Claims Court for amounts up to €2,000 for a fee of €25. The National Guild of Master Craftsmen has a complaints service (www.nationalguild.ie) and advice on choosing a builder.
Leap cards can help on strike day
You couldn't make it up. The planned two-hour bus strike in Dublin takes place next Friday week, May 1 - a bank holiday weekend, the kick off to the summer tourist season and, ironically, International Workers' Day.
Well done, drivers. It's likely to cost €3m in lost city revenue not to mention chaos for commuters.
The workers are protesting against the proposed privatisation of 10pc of bus routes. Commuters will have to suck it up from 11am to 1pm on the day and make do, although Dublin Bus unions have threatened to engage full-day actions also.
So what to do? Bear in mind that those with Leap cards can use them across Luas, DART and commuter rail services, so that may help find alternative transport on the day.
Although the DART normally has a 'swap' policy with bus tickets during inclement weather and some other issues, Irish Rail tells me that it doesn't apply during periods of industrial dispute, which is a pity, particularly if the action becomes prolonged.
Talks are ongoing to try and prevent the action, but for now it looks like Dublin travellers, shoppers and tourists are the big losers.
Customers find costly wrinkles in online offer for free skin cream trial
Complaints about a company called Renuvue selling “perfect skin” face creams online match others I’ve received about diet pills. Both involve a “free trial” with credit card details for “post and packaging”, only for hundreds of euro to be charged.
Based outside the EU, there’s little comeback, but the small print gives permission for it unless items are returned within 14 days. The European Consumer Centre has been notified, but really, all such offers are best avoided as they’re rarely what they’re cracked up to be.