HOME TRUTHS

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Lofty Ambitions

I am interested in converting my loft so my son has somewhere to study in peace. How do I go about getting planning permission?

Jerry Maclean

Newport, Gwent

In the first instance contact your local authority to advise them of your intentions. To support your claim it would be useful to have some plans, measurements and possibly some sketches of your proposed conversion ready. They will look at your proposal in more detail and run through some standard questions with you. If accepted, you will then be contacted by the building regulations department for the work to be inspected and agreed. By getting their agreement now, it will negate any problems you may have when you come to sell the property.

BUY TO LET

I have noted with interest the recent growth of the private rented sector. I have only a small mortgage and would be interested in more information about buying a property for residential letting purposes. Is there a market out there and where should be my first port of call to find out more?

Robert Granger

Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

Our research has shown that the rental sector will need to grow significantly in the future to meet demand. Based on government projections, an estimated 4.4 million new homes will be needed by the year 2016 and if current trends continue, around half a million of these will be in the rented sector. As the profit potential of renting increases following a period of low interest rates, more individuals are seeing the private rental sector as an attractive investment opportunity.

The rental sector is dominated by private landlords. Typically individuals invest in this market to provide a second income.

The private rental sector is also very important for the general economy. As changing demographics and lifestyles have brought greater flexibility to working patterns, the private rented sector has helped to provide for greater job mobility.

The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) introduced its buy- to-let scheme last autumn and its panel of lenders (NatWest Mortgage Services, Halifax Mortgage Services, Mortgage Express, Mortgage Trust, Paragon Mortgages and Woolwich Direct) represents over a third of all mortgage lending to this sector. The ARLA will give details of your nearest ARLA agent and of the panel of lenders. Telephone 01923 896555 between 9am and 5.30pm weekdays for more information.

CODE OF PRACTICE

I am about to take my first steps in the housing market and am conscious that this will probably be the single most important financial decision I make in my life. What impact will the recent Mortgage Code of Lending Practice, introduced by the Council of Mortgage Lenders, have on the process?

Elise Morgan

Gateshead, Tyne & Wear

The code is the first of its type to cover mortgage lenders and comes into force from 1 July. The broad aim of the code is to raise the confidence of mortgage customers by setting out clearly the levels of service and advice that customers can expect to receive from mortgage lenders. This should help to clarify the whole mortgage process.

One of the more publicised aspects of the code is that of offering different levels of advice to customers. There are three different levels of advice that mortgage advisers can give to a customer:

1. Advice and recommendation as to which lender is most suitable for the customer

2. Information on the different types of mortgage products on offer so that the customer can make an informed choice.

3. Information on a single mortgage product, if the lender offers only one type, or if the customer has already made up his or her mind (known as "execution-only" advice).

The new mortgage code has clear benefits to anyone arranging a new mortgage, but it also makes a difference to existing mortgage customers. The code covers the whole mortgage lending process, from the marketing of mortgages and the sales process, to the lender's continuing handling of the customer's affairs and any complaints or financial difficulties which might arise. This should help to ensure that once you have arranged your mortgage, you will continue to receive the highest standards of service.

George Wise is managing director of NatWest UK Mortgage Services

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