People freezing and sweating in newly built homes

April 29 2012 by Ellen Roseman

Karen Somerville heads a non-profit housing organization that receives more complaints about faulty heating and cooling system than any other issue. Here’s her guest post.

Far too many homeowners from different parts of Ontario are freezing and sweating in their newly built homes! Clearly, this is unacceptable.

The problems have been highlighted by the media (Toronto Star, W-Five on CTV and Holmes on Homes on HGTV). Yet, the problems persist.

Government officials often don’t help consumers – their accountabilities seem vague or non-existent. Different levels of government point at each other as the source of the problem, leaving homeowners to fend for themselves.

There are good builders and when mistakes happen, good builders take responsibility and fix them properly and promptly.

But there are also poor and marginal builders who may not respond appropriately to consumers’ complaints. Worse, consumers have no reliable, objective way of distinguishing between good builders and the others.

Can you knock on doors in a housing development to ask current owners if they’re satisfied? If there are construction defects, some owners may reveal them. But often they won’t, for fear of lowering their property value. Some fear litigation from the builder.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) defects can be very expensive to fix. You may have to tear out walls and ceilings, which usually requires that you relocate. These repairs often range from $40,000 to more than $100,000 and are very stressful for the families involved.

So, if you’re considering buying a newly built home, what can you do to try to protect yourself? Here are some tips:

* Take your time and do not rush into a deal. Do your due diligence.

* Make sure you know what warranties come with your home and that you understand them. Often these warranties are quite limited. Read the fine print.

* investigate the HVAC system to be installed and see if there are any media/consumer reports with concerns about the HVAC system.

* Before signing your purchase and sale agreement, review it with your own qualified lawyer.

* Include a clause indicating that you want the right to have the HVAC inspected (and tested if necessary) by your own independent HVAC expert, before the drywall is put up, and if you are not satisfied with the HVAC, you can get out of the deal.

* Include a clause for an extended warranty on the HVAC system.

* Beware of clauses about leasing HVAC equipment. This can be problematic.

* Follow through with finding and retaining the services of a qualified HVAC expert.

* If the builder will not include such clauses in the agreement, think twice about proceeding.

If you’re looking at buying a recently built home on the real estate market, here are some tips:

* Again, take your time – do not rush into a purchase. Before you submit an offer, review all claims submitted to the warranty company, and figure out if there is a warranty remaining on reported HVAC issues.

* Determine if there is leased HVAC equipment and the implications.

* Include a clause indicating the right to have the HVAC inspected (and tested if necessary) by your own HVAC expert, and specify that if you are not satisfied with the HVAC, you can get out of the deal.

* Find and retain the services of a qualified HVAC expert.

It may be difficult to find qualified HVAC experts. Many home inspectors are not qualified for HVAC. One place to look is the Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Institute.

A home is the largest purchase most of us will ever make. A home with HVAC construction defects can consume your life – and drain your bank account – as you try to get it properly repaired. So do your homework when purchasing a home.

Dr. Karen Somerville is president of Canadians for Properly Built Homes (CPBH), a national, not for profit corporation dedicated to healthy, safe, durable, energy efficient residential housing for Canadians.

CPBH receives no government funding and relies on donations from consumers to cover its operating expenses. To send an email, write to info@canadiansforproperlybuilthomes.com.

How to get the best long-distance rates from Bell

April 23 2012 by Ellen Roseman

Today’s guest post is from Bob Lepp, a consultant who examines your telecom and utility bills and finds ways to reduce your costs, either with the same supplier or by changing suppliers.

He’s saved almost $15,000 for his first 28 clients. He takes one third of the first year’s savings as his compensation. A similar service, Cut My Costs, takes 40 per cent of the first year’s savings.

Bob’s email address is 2thirds4u@gmail.com. Check out his views below.

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Look closely at your Bell phone bill every month. If you have bought an ‘Anytime Block of Time’, or any long distance, eliminate it right away.

Bell’s design hides what you bought and for how much, thus falsifying the savings. Let me explain.

1) You cannot determine what you bought. There is no size of the “block” you bought. It may be 100 or 1,500, the bill never tells you. The “per minute” rate is buried in the usage chart.

2) There’s no total plan price. There’s a block price, but you pay more. You will see “1 Network Charge $6.95”, the second plan component. When questioned, Bell says “Everyone pays that standard charge.” It is really just Bell-speak for “extra profit”.

3) Check the usage on every call. Date, time, place, number, duration, cost. But there’s no total of minutes used. That space is empty in the chart. Given the total, you’d divide it into the sum of Block plus Network for a minute rate. And that is why Bell does not add it up.

4) Check “Savings and/or Discounts” columns, you’ll see the old mileage-based rates, 10 cents close by, 79 cents to BC. These are rates no one should pay, but Bell chooses high rates for comparison. They need “savings” so badly they do it by the minute in the usage, then total up and state it FOUR times under “Usage-Summary”. But no “total minutes used” OR “unused” from your expensive plan.

5) Bell does NOT add in the plan and Network Charge as costs when calculating savings. Nope, they’re ignored. First, they charge an inflated .79 cent rate, now they leave out fees REQUIRED for the deal. EVERY invoice says savings were made. Every one. Because every plan is “free” of costs, according to Bell.

Bell forbids us from calculating savings, since if we did we’d cancel the plans immediately.

Why? Rates used for comparison are not applicable to anyone, unless that person failed to say: “I want your no-charge ‘no plan’ long distance plan”.

Smart customers making few calls remove ALL long distance plans, asking instead for the free one, charging ONLY for making calls.

No calls? Pay nothing. Make calls, pay 25 cents a minute anywhere in North America, not 79 cents. Bell charges $2.50, once for that entire month, regardless of minutes used. No ‘Network Charge’ applies.

Next month, start all over, make no calls, pay nothing. Florida for 5 months? No fees. The most you should pay Bell is 25 cents, plus $2.50 across all minutes that month. They won’t tell you that, unless asked.

We contacted Bell President George Cope at: executive.office@bell.ca, suggesting the formula needs correction. The bill should total the minutes purchased, total our usage, and suggest better plans based on usage.

The reply? Chris, employee MYCVAS, called with bad news. Nothing will change, the calculations are identical for everyone, ours is no different.

Would they fix the calculations? No, he said there’s nothing Bell can do, because “our systems are so old only 3 people can change them. Changes cost lots, millions, for even the smallest change.”

How can customers find out the true savings on their plans? Chris expects customers will call about an unclear or wrong bill. Then, a better plan is suggested.

Regular readers know you speak to Loyalty about cancelling and then they throw money to retain you. That’s their job and they’re rated on how many customers they retain with better deals.

Every Loyalty agent wants to keep customers after mentioning “cancel”. But Bell cannot automate the real savings suggestions onto the bill itself.

Call Bell today, question every charge, every line item, document each, what it covers, start date and end dates for contracts. Ask for lower fees. You are paying too much, you want to pay less.

They welcome your call and will give discounts just for asking. “I’d like to know I am paying the least before I decide to cancel” is a good opener.

Bottom line: No Bell LD package is good unless you can calculate your true minute cost easily. Then, get direct dial LD for 3 cents with Rapidtel Easyvoice.

Get off the Bell ‘regulated’ line. Go ‘unregulated’. Get basic Home Phone Lite for $14.95, INCLUDING Touch Tone and 911.

Get those missing bundle savings for TV and cellphone services that ‘regulated’ lines don’t get. (Get $5 off phone for TV, for cell, for internet, again for an LD plan over $5. It’s all there for the asking.)

Savings are for 12 months, so call back just before to renew your deal. Otherwise, your discounts end and you pay full fare.

To get discounts or best rates, you have to ask

April 10 2012 by Ellen Roseman

Claudine didn’t know that Scotiabank had a free chequing account for customers age 59 and up. By the time she heard of it, she was 69 years old.

Do you think she deserved a refund of 10 years’ worth of service charges ? If not, what would be a fair settlement?

Claudine had renewed her mortgage two years ago and seven years ago. The bank staff could see her birth date and didn’t mention anything about the free account (Scotia Plus Program for Seniors).

“The banks do everything they can to bring in money, as if they don’t make enough. But when it comes to money-saving options for their clients, there is nothing done, no information disbursed,” she told me.

When she called the president’s office, she was offered a refund of two years’ worth of service charges. She thought that wasn’t enough.

“I didn’t feel I was responsible, since no one had made me aware of their seniors’ policy. How can I be held responsible for something I have no knowledge of?” she asked.

When I ran this complaint by Scotiabank’s media people, they boosted Claudine’s refund to $295.55 — up $173.95 from the previous amount.

This was still only partial reimbursement, but she was happy with the offer.

CBC Marketplace did a short item about seniors’ discounts on bank fees in last week’s show (the Busted edition).

Marketplace also had a great chart, showing the discounts at the Big Five Canadian banks. It said the rebates are not automatically applied when customers become eligible.

Two banks (BMO and RBC) add seniors’ discounts automatically. CIBC does not add discounts, but gives full refunds to those who miss out. Only Scotiabank and TD Canada Trust fail to add discounts and fail to pay full refunds to those who miss out.

I often hear from customers who didn’t get the best deals because they didn’t ask the right questions. They trusted that company staff would give them the information they needed.

Forget it. As Claudine’s example shows, you have to ask. You’re held to be partially responsible if you don’t ask.

“Are there any discounts or money-saving options I can qualify for?” That’s a good question. You can also try: “Is that the best you do? Can you do any better?”

You don’t know what you don’t know, so you have to reach out to the companies you deal with. Don’t be afraid to ask open-ended questions. You may just get results.