Monday, March 30, 2009

Axe The Agents or Agent With Axes?

Sadly folks we have yet to confirm the goings on within the Bulgarian "bait and switch" that we have been investigating as yet, rest assured though, as soon as we do, we'll be publishing a very elaborate throw more good money after bad scenario! Meanwhile, we pose some food for thought from one of the fastest growing portals - Propertyindex. is relatively new to the portal industry, having only been set up a couple of years ago by guru, Darren Richards. Using the methodology of having a simple, well laid out, easy to use site they have achieved some great results as far as traffic is concerned, taking on the likes of Globrix and Rightmove.

One has to wonder though about a recent industry press release from CEO Lee Bramzell, pasted in below.

Propertyindex.Com Ceo Complains To The BBC On Behalf Of UK Estate Agents
27 Mar 09

Lee Bramzell, CEO of has written the following letter to Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, to express his anger at the BBC1 programme ‘Axe the Agent’, and to represent the thousands of estate agents in the UK.

For the attention of: Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC. I am writing in regards to the BBC1 programme ‘Axe the Agent’. As the CEO of I am writing on behalf of the 125,000 estate agents in the UK whose livelihoods could be directly affected by a television programme on BBC1 that directly advocates British people to eradicate estate agents when looking for property.

Estate agents are expected to pay their TV License fee yet the BBC use this money to create a show which could result in the loss of their jobs and ability to pay the license fee. I unequivocally believe that estate agents are absolutely essential for both the buyer and seller. From establishing accurate property valuations to working to secure the best possible price during the negotiation phase, estate agents really are the only experts. The safety net that estate agents provide extends beyond accompanying all the viewings for the peace of mind of the seller, but they also drive the different members of the chain to ensure completion.

I doubt the BBC will be encouraging their viewers to axe their GPs, fire department or police. This is the kind of irresponsible programming one might expect to see on the likes of Channel 5, but not the state broadcaster, which should be inclusive of all professions.

Even if the programme is only shown during the daytime and may aim to be reasonably balanced, the premise and the title ‘Axe the Agent’ is deliberately antagonistic. On behalf of estate agents in this country, I urge the BBC to reconsider de-commissioning this programme. I will be calling on Peter Bolton King, the head of the National Association of Estate Agents, established in 1962, to take a stronger stance on this issue.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Bramzell

(Released via Property4Media)

Hmm. We will admit, we have not seen this show, having said that, the press release has bought our attention to it, and so we may well dig around in the basement and wheel out the video recorder to tape it!

Having said that... there is nothing worse than people complaining about paying for a service, something the media has been good at hyping the public about in recent years. Valid complaints are all well and good, but there really is no need to harp on and make an entire TV series that runs for 20 years.

Bramzell has a point to a degree, agents (qualified) are a much needed part of the process, however, suggesting that the programme is irresponsible and something that the likes of channel 5 would broadcast is a bit strong.

One has to ask here, how has this programme rattled the ever expanding PropertyIndex? Could it be the BBC has a point? Which nerve have they hit?

In Bramzell's defence, we too have come across people over the years who enquire about property, suck every agent dry in the vicinity for information, only to buy a property themselves with no-one to guide them through it, thinking smugly afterwards that they saved themselves a few thousand. Only then to come back later to the very same agents asking for advice for a good lawyer because their house is built illegally, without planning permission, 30 relatives are claiming ownership, and the local council want to demolish it. No prizes for what they get told buy agents in those cases!

The top and bottom of it all has to that if an agent or portal do what they say they are going to do, supply what they say they are going to supply, the press can't hype up the public into a hysterical frenzy and make TV programmes that affect less than 1% of buyers. (Mind you, if all agents did what they should, there would be little for us to write about!)

PropertyIndex. You have a great site, you have a huge agent base supplying one of the widest selections of properties out there, both in the UK and internationally. Don't get into the mud wrestling ring with the BBC, there is usually only one party that leaves with mud on their face! Keep up the good work, and let the complainers keep complaining in the corner and making the mistakes that complainers make.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

VAT is going on in the Bulgarian furniture world?

Well folks, pending the consolidation and final draft of our story on "Strange Bulgaria Seminars" we thought we would wrestle with the very confusing situation regarding VAT on furniture in Bulgaria.

So far (that we know of) we can only find a couple of companies that appears to be the cause, and you guessed it, it's MRI, and loosely mentioned are Bulgarian Dreams.

Now, as per usual, we need to insert a disclaimer here. Apologies for any boredom it might cause, but it has to be.

Investment Property Rumours is purely relaying and consolidating information that is freely available on the internet, which is linked to and/or displayed within the blog. We are not responsible for your opinion on what you read or think, nor any conclusion that you might come to as a result (be that positive or negative). This blog is here to inform. It is not an instruction or a religion and should not be treated as such.

Investment Property Rumours is not linked to any company, nor does it solicit or sell advertising (other than automatic web generated search engine ads for which we are not responsible).

Ok, down to the nitty gritty!

As members of various forums and subscribers to a large number of blogs about the overseas property business, we obviously see a lot of conversations amongst owners and prospective owners of property overseas. A large number of them can't be taken seriously, but every so often we see the odd thread that warrants looking into.

There seems to be substantial concern about furniture prices, where it is, how much it costs, and whether that cost is what it says it is, or subject to change later on.

The overseas furniture business has been very competitive from day one, with everyone jostling in the search engines for position due to the substantial profits to be made out of it, not only as the sale of the products themselves, but also the fitting and so on. Some companies have manipulated the situation further by insisting that certain packages and specifications be installed to comply with rental agreements (which may or may not exist of course!) basically holding buyers over a barrel, having been sold more than they could afford in the first place by offering rental programs which many seem to be failing to profit from despite assurances and promises from salesmen.

The subject of VAT in any country is a complex one to say the least. We are not accountants, and make no claims to be either. However, VAT has long been used for scams in the past and no doubt will continue to be in the future.

It would seem in the forums that people who have paid in full for a furniture package in Bulgaria (In some cases as long ago as 2006) are now being sent a bill for an additional 20% VAT!

Now the 20% part is correct. The current rate of VAT in Bulgaria is 20%. No qualms there.

Charging the VAT after the fact? Well that's a different story.

Due to the rather heated affair with MRI "restructuring" which we uncovered at the end of last year, many of the original web pages about LIFEtime aftersales and furniture have disappeared from the usual search engines and general public view. On a mission as ever though, we found a very handy tool that appears to archive all sorts of things that were thought to be neatly hidden under the carpet, doused with "Shake 'n' Vac" and never to be seen again.

With the tool in question, we stumbled across this, (Click the image to enlarge, or, if you would like to see the archived Furniture Packages page click here.)

Now providing my eyes aren't deceiving me, it says on there that "The emphasis is on creating packs that include absolutely everything from cleaning to VAT to give you an apartment you can walk straight into - with NO hidden charges. We strongly recommend organising a furniture package well in advance of completion."

Hmmm. Now this page was last archived according to waybackmachine on February 14th 2008 (you can see other pages from the same site there too)

Now as we have said, accountants we are not. Let alone Bulgarian accountants. But, if someone tells me the price is fully inclusive "from cleaning to VAT", and tells me there are "NO hidden charges" how the hell can they present a VAT invoice years later?

After asking a few book keepers and accountants on the subject and subsequently being baffled into a corner with a pencil and a calculator, the general gist of what we could make of it in layman's terms is as follows.

There are occasions and situations for VAT disbursement to occur. These would normally be in the case of accountants providing services via a third party. Certainly as a rule only within the service industry and not in the case of products.

It has also been known if a company has made errors in it VAT charging or reclamation, they are advised (usually after inspection) that they politely ask their clients to pay VAT on previous bills. Having said that though, said clients are within their right to tell the company in error where to put their VAT bill. If it isn't settled, the company in error is responsible, not the end user.

On the face of it, this all seems to be a case of moved goal posts, possibly a misinterpretation somewhere, maybe even a mistake, but after looking deeper, it all seems to get a little more sinister....

It would seem as some clients have found, that if you try to take the latter path of suggesting that MRI put their VAT bill where the sun doesn't shine, clients are being told that not only will they not get their furniture (which they have paid for "in full, with no hidden charges") but they will lose what they have already paid! No refund offered, partial or otherwise.

Again, we are not accountants, forensic or otherwise, neither are we high court judges, but this is tantamount to extortion is it not??

To see specific details on this area of the discussion, simply take a look at the VAT on Furniture thread here from Someone has amusingly posted in an excerpt of a letter from MRI staff stating that all their furniture packages are inclusive of VAT.

The apparently now defunct Bulgarian Dreams is also implied on some threads as well, but after the high profile heat on the TV, one would suspect they have had the sense to go to ground!

One would hope that MRI Property (Which now seems to only consist of MRI Construction on their website) will sort this out in a civilised manner. I mean, it wouldn't be the first time they issued press releases cover things up, or taking stabs in the dark at innocent companies. We wouldn't be surprised that all hands are washed, and the buck gets passed to the "non-related company" Solutions Overseas who appear to be recommended by MRI on their FAQ page, being as MRI apparently don't supply furniture?!

What can you do about it?

Well there is a small thing called "Distance Selling Regulations" that have to be complied with that catagorically state a few simple things according to The Office of Fair Trading;

Cancellation periods
"The regulations give consumers an unconditional right to cancel an order. This is to allow the consumer the opportunity to examine the goods or consider the nature of a service.

If a consumer cancels an order, written notice must be given to you by:

goods – seven working days from the day after that on which the goods are received by the consumer;
services – seven working days from the day after that on which the consumer agrees to go ahead with the contract.

If you fail to provide consumers with written confirmation of all the required information, then the cancellation periods can be extended up to a maximum of three months and seven working days. If the missing information is provided during this time, then the cancellation period ends seven working days beginning with the day after the full written confirmation is received by the consumer.

Where a contract is cancelled, the consumer must ensure that reasonable care is taken of any goods received and 'restore' them to you. This does not mean that they have to return them - unless you stipulate this in the contract - only that they make them available for you to collect.

You must refund the consumer's money as soon as possible and, at the latest, within 30 days of receiving the written notice of cancellation. The consumer may, at your discretion, be charged the direct cost of returning the goods, but you must tell them about this in the written information you give them.

If payment for the goods or services is under a related credit agreement, the consumer's cancellation notice also has the effect of cancelling the credit agreement."

If you feel we are being unfair in anything we cover, feel free to comment. We do read all comments, and have published 99% of those posted. If you wish to post, be sensible and do not put personal information in. We cannot edit it out.

We will leave you here with this article, make of it as you wish. We are now going to have a chat with yet more lawyers about some seminars to see how we can publish the next article, covering the very complex issue that appears to run along the lines of "I sold you something in good faith, have taken your money and spent it on fast cars, now because I have no cash, I'm going to blag you into another development and claim the original developer that I haven't paid has gone bankrupt, and charge you several arms and legs for the pleasure"

Until next time, invest wisely. If you have already invested, keep an eye out!

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Strange Seminars for Bulgaria Owners

After a short break away from the day to day rumour world we have returned to a barrage of gossip and rumour about developments in Bulgaria!

It would appear that a certain company happens to be holding seminars for existing clients that have paid deposits. The intention of the seminars seems to be a little muddled at the moment. Some say it appears to be a bid to save clients apartments and/or funds, some say it seems to be a bid to extract more cash.

Not being a client of the company in question, we obviously cannot get into one of these jollies to get actual facts. If you happen to have been to a seminar about your Bulgarian property either in Manchester (Saturday 14th March 2009) or Dublin, (Sunday 15th March 2009) Or if indeed you have been invited to another such Bulgaria property seminar/meeting in Dublin this Wednesday 18th March, please do get in touch via the comments link, or send an e-mail to the feedburner link if you are subscribed on there. It would seem both Bansko and Sunny Beach developments are involved.

It could be of course that we are barking up the wrong tree entirely. Those of you that follow our blog regularly though will know that we are likely onto something though. We cannot at this point disclose which company we are talking about, having said that, it is one of the usual suspects and we wouldn't want to be shut down entirely before we got the full story out would we?