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Live event: ask your questions about property & mortgages – 2pm 5/8/21

Our Which? Money experts Stephen Maunder and Ian Aikman were live on Which? Conversation. Check the comments for their answers to your questions.

The latest in our series of live events saw us joined by Which? Money experts Stephen Maunder and Ian Aikman to answer your questions on property and mortgages.

Stephen is Which?’s senior property writer, while Ian is a senior writer for Which? Money working on editorial coverage of the ongoing cladding and building safety crisis.

The event took place in the comments with replies appearing as text – it was not a live stream/Zoom meeting.

📄 Live property and mortgages Q&A

🗓 2pm Thursday 5 August 2021


Thank you to everyone who left a question – you can take a look through the answers in the comments.

Geoffrey Atherton says:
30 July 2021

I am a joint tenant with my partner. Can a force a sale without her agreement ?

Geoffrey – If you cannot wait until the live event on 5 August, if you put “can a joint tenant force a sale without the other tenant’s agreement” into your browser you will see a number of articles that explain how it can be done legally and effectively depending on the particular circumstances. Otherwise, the Which? experts are probably worth waiting for and if you are interested in taking their formal legal advice through the Which? Legal Service it might also be cheaper.

Hi Geoffrey,

Thanks for your question.

Conducting a sale without the agreement of both parties in a joint tenancy can be complicated. If one party refuses to sell (or refuses to let the other buy them out), then the party who wants to sell may need to take legal action.

They may ultimately need to apply to a court under the Trusts of Land Appointment of Trustees Act (TOLATA), but will first need to get evidence on the value of the other party’s share, taking into account any mortgages and outstanding charges. Before taking such steps, it’s best to seek advice from an expert in this area, such as a solicitor who specialises in cohabitation disputes.

Em says:
30 July 2021

I would like to hear what action Which? is taking to challenge age discrimination in the mortgage market.

Adults of any age should be able to secure a mortgage to help finance a property move or re-mortgage on the same general terms. Yet most lenders impose an arbitrary age limit, irrespective of the prospective borrower’s income – often supported by guaranteed pensions – assets or outgoings. And those that do lend may not offer the best rates.

An older borrow is perhaps more likely to die – but so do young borrowers. Otherwise how do lenders justify the requirement to pay for mortage protection cover? And most morgages never run to term, as circumstances often require a house move at some point.

The whole system is corrupt and forces some older people into unsuitable and expensive equity release schemes, when all they really need is the same fair, flexible and impartial access to finance for home improvements or relocation available to younger people. The situation is particularly difficult and discriminatory for joint tentants, where only one of the owners is caught by an age limit.

I entirely agree, Em. In many cases, older people are looking for a mortgage with a much lower loan-to-value ratio against the property. That is the ultimate safeguard of the lender’s exposure. Although it is tempting to think so, I don’t believe there is any greater potential hardship or detriment in foreclosure for older rather than younger borrowers so justifying any discrimination on such putative grounds does not seem fair.

Taking nothing away from the above rail against age discrimination, it worries me generically that so many older people are having to take out mortgages at all.

It’s not always out of necessity. Many middle-aged and older people have mortgages on second homes or buy to let. With property rising and the current poor interest rates I can see the attraction.

Em says:
30 July 2021

There is also the issue of separation or divorce in later life. Couples often stay together for the sake of the family. Once children have flown the nest, why should couples be forced to live together or sell the matrimonial home, simply because they are “too old” to take out a mortgage?

Hi Em,

Thanks for your question.

I understand your frustrations. Looking at our data, it’s certainly common for lenders to put limits on the maximum age an applicant can be at the projected end of their mortgage term.

Most of the market-leading deals at the moment use maximum age limits of 75, though a handful do allow applicants to be 80 or 85 at the end of the mortgage term. Some building societies are more flexible over limits, as they are more likely to manually underwrite applications, making ‘computer says no’ rejections less likely.

This isn’t a topic we’ve looked into recently, but I’ll feed your comments back to my editor as a possible topic to investigate in the future.

I own a property which has 2 man hole covers in the garden. Both of these are now under concrete, one under the patio at the back and one under the drive at the front. Will this be a problem when I sell the house? (I did ask a solicitor, who wasn’t very helpful – just said that some manhole covers do get buried!)

Assuming these give access to foul water drains which can get blocked, problems would arise in trying to clear the blockage. Access covers, in my experience, are embodied in any new surface; some are framed to accept patio and driveway materials.

Glenda – It could be a problem when you come to sell the house if the buyer has a comprehensive survey and tries to trace the route of all the soil and waste outlets to check that they are clear and free-running.

In most house purchases these days it is standard practice for the buyer’s conveyancer to obtain a detailed utilities plan of the property showing the routing of all mains services including surface water drainage and foul water sewerage and marking the position of inspection chambers or other access points that were required under the building regulations at the time of construction or for later works, so it will be clear to the buyer that there are buried inspection chambers under the drive and under the patio. This would become apparent before exchange of contracts so the buyer could withdraw from the purchase or use the information to renegotiate it.

The inspection chambers usually give access to places where a number of drainage branches join before the outfall to the main sewer, where new connections have been made after the house was originally built, or where [in a combined drainage scheme] one sewer connects a number of properties so that each section can be rodded-out or pumped-out if necessary without flooding other sections further along.

While it would be recommended that you do expose and reinstate the access points with new covers, nowadays it is possible [but not necessarily cheap] to undertake CCTV surveys of the drains from the nearest point where a camera can be inserted. This would avoid having to excavate the inspection chamber in order to see if there is any blockages or tree root penetration. It is also possible to evacuate the drain with a powerful suction hose and tanker or with a motorised corkscrew-like device that can break down a blockage, but that also depends on the proximity of an access point which could be in the public highway or in someone else’s property and incur a cost for approval and/or the employment of a specified contractor.

The access point under the drive is most likely to be the most important one since it is probably the foul water drain connecting into the public sewer. The one under the patio is more likely [but not necessarily] to be for surface water drainage joining together the outfalls from the roofline downpipes to enable them to discharge into a soakaway in the garden; these tend to suffer less from blockages as they are frequently flushed by heavy volumes of rainwater from the roof; however, moss, leaves or other debris in the gutters can build up and prevent the outflow. The inspection chamber is often the best place from which to remove such material so has an important function.

To avoid problems during your occupation it is important to check on the condition of drains to make sure they are flowing freely. It is best to take care over what goes down the toilets and sinks; non-paper wipes, grease and food residues are particular items to keep out of the system but powders and thick liquids can also coagulate. If any problems do arise caustic soda can be used in solution to clear the outlet but it is hazardous stuff and the instructions must be followed strictly.

Em says:
31 July 2021

Unfortunately, blockages, the intrusion of tree roots and obstructions resulting from breakages do not just occur in the immediate vicinity of a convenient inspection chamber. Whilst the manhole covers may all be nicely accessible, the soil pipes are still buried under earth, gravel, paving, concrete, tarmac and so on, that might need to be excavated to effect a repair.

In my house, two of the soil pipes run across the entire width of the building, under the foundations and are covered by concrete blindings and hardcore. The floors are suspended timber chipboard, glued and screwed to the joists. Some are tiled. The odd manhole covered by gravel chippings, a paving slab or even concrete would be the least of my worries, if a soil pipe needed repair, replacement or could not be unblocked from either of the accessible ends.

So, in my view, it is always useful to know where the sewers run. As long as some of the manhole covers and, more importantly, gulley traps remain accessible, then those are sufficient to know if and roughly where there is a problem, before sewage starts backing up into the house.

I have managed to keep my drains running freely with the aid of a pressure washer drain cleaner hose. I can usually work the hose down a gulley trap or vent stack without the bother of lifting all the manhole covers.

Inspection covers allow you to find how far a blockage extends. The usual blockage, in my experience, is caused by inappropriate materials being flushed into the system. My set of drain rods pushed down the nearest inspection chamber to the blockage deals with those. Not a pleasant job. I have not used a home pressure washer hose but presume that would need to be pushed through the pipes close to the blockage to have any effect? Like drain rods that would best be done from the nearest manhole. So I think losing local access to the pipes by covering inspection covers is a mistake.

Good advice, Em. It certainly pays to take care of your drains.

It should not be assumed that modern properties are immune from drainage problems because the drains are formed in long lengths of plastic pipework. In a previous house built in 1984 the drains ran along from the back of our house past four more before reaching the public sewer picking up connections from the intermediate houses along the way. Occasionally sewage would back up and start to emerge from around the inspection covers preventing our wastes from emptying. I had a set of rods that could extend for about sixty metres so I would be able to clear the blockage by pushing and turning the rods to dislodge the obstruction — I could tell which house was responsible by checking the number of rods used before resistance was encountered; it seemed to happen after a neighbour’s family with their babies came to stay.

An earlier house built in 1902 had excellent 6″ diameter drains and never caused a problem until a very dry summer in the late 1990’s caused the heavy London clay subsoil to dry out causing disturbance of the drains; tree roots seeking moisture started to penetrate the joints between the drain pipes leading to failure and also to subsidence of the rear of the property. Luckily most of the cost of the remedial work was covered by the building insurers and one of the very good things that they carried out was to line the original pipes out to the public highway with a continuous fabric membrane so that any future rupture would not necessarily allow sewage to leak out or tree roots to creep in.

Although older houses often have much shallower foundations than modern properties they were often constructed to very good standards and have stood the test of time, even Victorian terraced properties built on steep hillsides have survived well in many areas. Bombing in the 1940’s did most damage but the repair work was usually done to a high standard.

Em says:
31 July 2021

The nozzle on a pressure washer hose has a forward facing jet to clear blockages in advance of the hose. But is also has several retro jets around the base of the nozzle. It is these that drive the hoze forwards and also do most of the work to loosen and free the blockage, once a small passage has been worked through by the forward jet. My hose will clear a run of about 15 metres at a time. I’ve no chance of getting that far with drain rods, especially with the angle required by some of the deeper inspection chambers.

A few tugs on the hose and several passes along the pipe is about all the effort that it requires. I can retrieve several trowel-fulls of gravel from the kitchen soil pipe via the gully P-trap, by allowing the hose to snake forward under its own steam, and then draw the gravel back that is being washed towards me by the retro jets. I finally use a wet and dry vacuum to suck the gravel out of the trap, followed by several hours of cleaning and disinfecting the vacuum.

It’s not a paticularly pleasant job, but a lot nicer that withdrawing compacted materials with drain rods, as most of the nastier detritus gets flushed away in situ by the hose. Although I’ve recently bought some stainless steel grates to replace the plastic ones that allow the gravel to drop fall in in the first place. Task 71 on the list of things that need doing.

I agree it is not a great idea to have access points buried, but sometimes having a level path or patio is more important for safety reasons. I’m not sure many people would pay to have a manhole cover raised to the correct level to be set flush with hard paving, and they are pretty ugly. Set in a gravel or chip bark path, a steel manhole cover is a trip and slip hazard, whatever you do.

I always got a sense of satisfaction from rodding the drains. Putting on the protective clothing, getting the rods out and fitting* them together, flushing everything with copious amounts of water, and sanitising everything with Jeyes Fluid and its potent aroma! What’s not to like?

* I had to substitute this word for “screwing” because of the intervention of the profanity filter. Comment now orthodoxly sanitised.

Much like Naked Gun 2 1/2 swimming in the sewage outlet.
You must just remember to rotate the rods in the right direction when pushing them down the pipe if you have the claw on the end, otherwise they will unscr*w and you are then in the deep doodoos.

Absolutely right, Malcolm . . . and keep turning in the same direction as you withdraw the rods.

Another thought for the day is that even the most mundane of manual operations requires a degree of intelligence.

Just an example of a manhole tray cover carrying the surface material. Other examples are available.

Hi Glenda.

Thanks for your question.

This is a tricky one. In terms of reedying the issue, I bow to the greater knowledge of other readers, who have left some excellent comments in the thread.

Regarding selling the house, I fear this is something that could be raised by either the buyer’s solicitor or surveyor – which in a worst case scenario could result in the buyer getting cold feet about the purchase. With that in mind, it may be worth getting a second opinion from another solicitor (as your first enquiries weren’t successful) or by speaking to the RPSA or RICS to see if you can get advice from a surveyor who has experience with these types of issues.

Thank you so much for your help and to the other helpful readers for their advice. Much appreciated.

PJ says:
30 July 2021

Age discrimination again. I wish to purchase a retirement property before selling my current home however both the Halifax & Nationwide will only lend against my pension and will not take savings into account. My savings are tied in fixed rate bonds, are there any Mortgage lenders that will take collateral against savings bonds at a sensible interest rate and deposit of 25%?

Em says:
30 July 2021

@PJ That sounds like you need a bridging loan, not a mortgage.

I’d also assume those bonds must be long-term fixed rate, not negotiable (cannot be sold) and paying far more than a typical mortgage rate after taxation. Otherwise, why not cash in the bonds and put that towards your equity in a retirement property?

Note you will have to pay an additional 3% Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT), as you will own two properties. You can claim that back, provided you sell your first property within 36 months, which again suggests a bridging loan may be more appropriate.

Also, if you were hoping to secure a fixed rate, rather than the more expensive standard variable rate mortgage, there are penalties for early redemption (typically 5%), so a short term mortgage to help you buy a second property along with the extra SDLT could exceed the loss of interest/penalties for cashing in the bonds.

I would be interested to see what Which? advise, but they probably would need more information about your plans and holdings to give anything more than a theoretical answer.

Hi PJ,

Thanks for your question.

Sorry to hear about the issues you’re facing. I’ve responded in part on this topic to Em’s question above.

In terms of your specific question about lenders who will take collateral against savings bonds, I’m afraid our mortgage data doesn’t go to granular enough detail on this. With this in mind, I’d advise you speak to an independent mortgage broker, who will be able to pinpoint which lenders may consider this kind of application.

I remember (30 years ago, probably different system now) taking a distinct dislike to the Oyez form that solicitors get vendors to fill in. I was selling a property as co-executor for a friend who left us way too young, and many of the questions I found impossible to answer – but my own solicitor would not take evasive answers. One in particular was concerning where pipes run – would I do a drawing of where pipes run…

I answered that if this was a genuine enquiry of a potential buyer they could meet me – or send a representative to meet me – on site – and I would go through with them what I knew. Ending with “…. and if it is not, please answer me why you have asked for something so detailed so soon”. Needless to say no answer.

Luckily most built-up parts of the country are now covered by detailed and extensive mapping by specialist firms with access to the data and records of the utility companies and local authorities so they can produce digital maps centred on any property showing all sorts of interesting features, including, for a previous property in Norfolk, the underground pipelines that were installed in the lead up to and through the Second World War to supply aviation fuel to all the aerodromes dotted around the county. A new housing estate was built across the area but I noticed that the layout left an undeveloped space along the course of a pipeline and there were marker plates in place to identify it so no-one would start digging and burst the pipe.

Courtney says:
31 July 2021

Lifetime mortgage and commission paid. Why is this more than a normal mortgage.

Hi Courtney,

Lifetime mortgages have become more common in the last few years, and rates have been falling. As you rightly point out, however, they’re still significantly more expensive than ‘traditional’ mortgages, reflecting how they’re still relatively niche products offered by relatively few providers.

There are some other alternatives out there, such as retirement interest-only mortgages (https://www.which.co.uk/money/mortgages-and-property/mortgages/types-of-mortgage/retirement-interest-only-mortgages-explained-a9z9k0h9lbfy).

We strongly recommend taking independent advice before taking out any kind of equity release or later-life borrowing product.

I live in a flat near Canary Wharf. External wall reports have been produced, which are full of detailed evidence showing samples being taken from the walls, but which contain no evidence of the samples being tested. The reports state that that the walls contain combustible material, and a consequent B2 rating, without any evidence.

Last month, the management company implemented a waking watch at a cost of around £40k per week pending the installation of a new fire alarm system. My share will be around £80 per week. Leaseholders have discovered that the director of the company supplying the waking watch is the twin brother of a senior manager in the management company. The management company is one of the largest in the UK.

What can leaseholders do to stop this waking watch or at least avoid being stung for the costs of it?

@NFH, sorry to hear about this situation and the added expenditure for you. It sounds like there’s a lot going on here. Are you able to let us know more details about your building? It’d be great to follow up by email if you’d be okay with that?

The building is 9 floors and is above the 18-metre height threshold. It has no cladding, but painted rendering, behind which there is allegedly combustible insulation. And yes, I’m happy to follow up by e-mail.

Thanks for this. We’ll definitely be in touch. What I’d say for now on the waking watch, in case anyone else reading is in a similar situation, is sadly there’s nothing to stop a managing agent from passing the costs of a waking watch onto leaseholders. Your best bet is to get that fire alarm system installed as soon as you can and hope it removes the need for them. If you haven’t already, many affected leaseholders have found it useful to band together with others in their building to put pressure on their managing agents.

I do wonder how the cost of waking watchers can be justified. I presume there are 500 flats to monitor with 3 shifts each doing 5 days. Has anyone asked for justification of the cost?

There are a few hundred flats, yes. They “work” 12-hour shifts at minimum wage, with a nice profit on top for the brother of the management company’s senior manager.

Thought this would be an interesting one from an earlier conversation by @lorraine

“The sale of my flat fell through because although we had an esw1 the lender said it was 0% mortgage able as the balconies need work. This was last year and I wondered if new legislation means that this is no longer the case?”

Thanks Chirag. @lorraine, I’d refer you to my above answer to Sal’s question. The one about RICS. At the moment, the government has made an announcement but that isn’t reflected in lenders’ approaches yet.

Another comment from from @zoecrosse,

“I cannot remortgage I was refused and management company say they do not need to provide ESW1 because building is only four floors and drawing plans show the cladding is not a fire hazard – what to do now? “

@zoecrosse, this is a really difficult situation. I’d say your best bet is to talk to other leaseholders in the building and see if they’re having similar issues. You could then team up to ask the management company again. If that doesn’t work, you could try writing to your local MP to see if they’re able to help. We’ve heard from leaseholders who found this to be a useful approach.