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Flat’s £23,000 service charge bill ‘beggars belief’, says owner | Money

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A resident at a 24-flat development in central London says he had the shock of his life when he opened his latest service charge bill and found he was being asked to pay £23,309 for the year – 12 times the average for the capital.

“Many of the charges listed beggar belief,” says Waiel Yahia, who bought his three-bedroom flat in early 2017 when his bill that year was £9,420. Another resident with a smaller flat, Chandini Lachmandas, is being charged £16,943 this year, up from £6,965 three years ago.

Residents are now paying more than the millionaires living in one of Mayfair’s most exclusive developments, which boasts luxury perks such as a swimming pool, cinema and wine room.

“This is a nice development but we don’t have any of those things,” Lachmandas says.

The development, One Seymour Street, is certainly a cut above the average block. Located close to Oxford Street, it was only completed in 2018, although its 24 apartments were snapped up off plan the previous year at prices starting just below £1m for a one-bed flat, according to press coverage at the time.

But while they typically came with a seven-figure price tag, residents say this is not a “super-luxury” development and that the only amenities are on-site porters and a car park.

In 2017, buyers were told in writing by the developer, the Portman Estate, that the estimated first-year service charge was £7.97 per sq ft – yet owners have now been told that for 2020-21 it will be £19.39 per sq ft.

The charge they are paying is significantly more than the £14 per sq ft that the well-heeled residents of the Four Seasons Residences at Twenty Grosvenor Square in Mayfair reportedly pay for luxury amenities including a supervised children’s playroom, library, 25-metre pool, gym, cinema and wine storage and tasting room.

The estimated average service charge bill in London is about £1,800 to £2,000 a year, according to the website of the HomeOwners Alliance, which says: “Anything over £5,000 is expensive, and you should definitely be asking questions.”

The latest budget document, covering the year to 24 March 2021, shows some dramatic increases. Window cleaning alone is £6,397 – up 360% on the £1,392 figure the previous year.

Meanwhile, “security guarding” was just over £11,000 during the eight months from July 2018 to March 2019, then £136,000 for the following 12 months, rising to £172,000 for the current period.

Lachmandas paid £1.9m for her two-bed flat in 2017 and describes the £19.39 per sq ft service charge as “scandalous”. The 38-year-old claims some flat owners had tried to sell up, adding: “Our property values have taken a huge tumble – no one wants to take on these nonsensical, inexplicable fees.”

One of the costs that has caused particular irritation relates to the Christmas decorations in the lobby.

The 2018-19 document produced by the previous managing agents gave a figure of £349 for “Christmas decoration cost for the residential reception”. But in the 2019-20 document, produced by the current managing agent, CBRE, £900 was quoted, and the latest budget, under the heading “Internal floral displays”, gives a figure of £1,320.

Yahia, who paid just under £2m for his flat, says: “We were never asked if we would like one. While I would be happy to have a tree, I certainly would never have agreed to one so expensive.”

Lachmandas says the 2018 tree at £349 “was perfectly decent”. She adds that she and other residents “have only ever seen a tree – no other decorations”.

The Portman Estate – which is also the freeholder of the block – controls 110 acres of prime property in central London and is headed up by Christopher Portman, the 10th Viscount Portman, who earlier this year was featured in a “global real estate rich list” that claimed his “net worth” was $2.4bn (£1.8bn).

It is currently involved with the development of several new housing schemes including TwentyFive in Marylebone, which is due to be completed in the coming weeks. The marketing material for TwentyFive says the estimated service charge is £6.85 per sq ft.

The Portman Estate declined to answer most of Money’s questions but in a statement, Tom Knight, its portfolio director, says: “We take our residents’ concerns about the service charge extremely seriously and are working closely with CBRE … to provide a full and comprehensive response to the questions raised by the leaseholders as soon as possible.

“As a responsible landlord we are fully committed to a thorough review of the costs for the service charge and, as at all of our managed properties, ensuring they are fair and reasonable.

“We are in ongoing communication with all our residents and are making arrangements with each of them individually to review the services provided to ensure they meet their needs.”

On the issue of the Christmas tree, it says the 2020-21 service charge budget included £506 for a large, real, non-drop tree with decorations, plus £648 for a large luxury garland for the main entrance door, which comes to £1,154. The total cost “accounts for the items to be delivered, fully dressed, then removed and disposed of”.

Charges too high? What you can do

If you are a leaseholder who is unhappy about high service charges, there are things you can do.

• You have the right to ask for a summary showing how the charge is worked out and what it’s spent on, plus any supporting paperwork such as receipts.

• You can get free independent advice from the Leasehold Advisory Service (LAS).

• You could use a mediation service to help you and your landlord reach agreement (you may have to pay a fee).

• You may be able to change the management of your building if you are unhappy with the way it is being run. You can ask a tribunal to appoint a new manager, although you must prove bad management, which can be a high hurdle.

• Leaseholders can exercise their “right to manage” (RTM) – in other words, take control of the management of their building. Others who have done this have cut service charges dramatically. You don’t have to prove bad management or get the landlord’s consent but, under the RTM rules, at least 75% of the building must be residential.


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Sportsdigita’s software, used by major sports teams, sees growth during pandemic

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Angelina Lawton

Source: John Wagner

Sportsdigita, an all-in-one cloud-based presentation software company owned by former National Hockey League executive Angelina Lawton, sees opportunity amid the pandemic as sports teams conduct business online instead of in person.

The company, which counts the Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Yankees among its clients, is raising $10 million to $25 million in Series A funding. It may use some of the money it rasies to acquire smaller firms that have been hurt financially by Covid-19.

Sportsdigita is a subscription-based software company that’s seen growth since Covid-19 halted in-person meetings. It offers customized presentations and integrates video conferencing and presentation software. It competes with other services, like Microsoft PowerPoint and Microsoft Teams, both of which are included in an Office subscription.

But Sportsdigita considers itself “PowerPoint on steroids” because its Digideck software offers customized presentations for sports teams’ sales and marketing groups, which use them in pitches with corporate partners. Lawton said the Sportsdigita’s Digideck platform’s professional services, which come with subscriptions, help it stand out against competitors.

“That is a big differentiator between us and our competitors,” Lawton said. “We actually do the heavy lifting with the creative and design services. We’ll do the presentations and hand them over to teams once they are done, versus our competitors that will sell their product and then it will be up to the company or the professional team to put their packages together.” Subscriptions to Sportsdigita range in price from $20,000 to $500,000.

Lawton said the coronavirus pandemic sped up Sportsdigita’s development cycle, too.

“Prior to this, we were relying on getting on airplanes and face-to-face meetings,” Lawton explained, noting the product wasn’t scheduled to launch until 2021 or 2022 but was prioritized due to the pandemic.

Lawton said the Series A funding will better position Sportsdigita to gain market share among other companies that offer sales enablement software. MarketsandMarkets said in 2019 that sales enablement will be a $2.6 billion market by 2024.

Sportsdigita took a $3 million seed round in 2017 led by venture capital company Peak6 Investments. One of its investors is well-known Minnesota sports journalist Sid Hartman, who died on Oct. 18. Lawton said the company has 40 employees and wants to grow to 60 in 2021.

“In a baseball game, we’re in the fourth inning,” Lawton explained, describing Sportsdigita’s future. “These next innings will be critical for our success as far as how we pivot and grow.”


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CDC should warn people the side effects from shots won’t be ‘walk in the park’

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A volunteer is injected with a vaccine as he participates in a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination study at the Research Centers of America, in Hollywood, Florida, September 24, 2020.

Marco Bello | Reuters

Public health officials and drugmakers must be transparent about the side effects people may experience after getting their first shot of a coronavirus vaccine, doctors urged during a meeting Monday with CDC advisors as states prepare to distribute doses as early as next month.

Dr. Sandra Fryhofer of the American Medical Association noted that both Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines require two doses at varying intervals. As a practicing physician, she said she worries whether her patients will come back for a second dose because of the potentially unpleasant side effects they may experience after the first shot.

“We really need to make patients aware that this is not going to be a walk in the park,” Fryhofer said during a virtual meeting with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an outside group of medical experts that advise the CDC. She is also a liaison to the committee. “They are going to know they had a vaccine. They are probably not going to feel wonderful. But they’ve got to come back for that second dose.”

Participants in Moderna and Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine trials told CNBC in September that they were experiencing high fever, body aches, bad headaches, daylong exhaustion and other symptoms after receiving the shots. While the symptoms were uncomfortable, and at times intense, the participants said they often went away after a day, sometimes sooner, and that it was better than getting Covid-19.

Both companies acknowledged that their vaccines could induce side effects that are similar to symptoms associated with mild Covid-19, such as muscle pain, chills and headache.

One North Carolina woman in the Moderna study who is in her 50s said she didn’t experience a fever but suffered a bad migraine that left her drained for a day and unable to focus. She said she woke up the next day feeling better after taking Excedrin, but added that Moderna may need to tell people to take a day off after a second dose.

“If this proves to work, people are going to have to toughen up,” she said. “The first dose is no big deal. And then the second dose will definitely put you down for the day for sure … You will need to take a day off after the second dose.”

During the meeting on Monday, Patsy Stinchfield, a Children’s Minnesota nurse practitioner, said officials and drugmakers could try talking about the side effects in a more positive way. She said they could use language such as “response” instead of “adverse reaction.”

“These are immune responses,” said Stinchfield, a past voting member of the committee. “And so if you feel something after vaccination, you should expect to feel that. When you do, it’s normal to have some arm soreness or fatigue, some body aches and maybe even a fever. It sounds like in some of these trials, maybe even having to stay home from work.”

“You hear some people in the trials that are disappointed that they didn’t have any of those things, feeling they must have gotten a placebo” she added.

The committee meeting comes three days after Pfizer and its partner BioNTech applied for an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for their coronavirus vaccine.

The FDA process is expected to take a few weeks, and an advisory committee meeting to review the vaccine has been scheduled for early December. Some Americans could get their first dose of the vaccine in about a month.

ACIP is expected to call an emergency meeting to make specific recommendations on distribution once the FDA authorizes a vaccine.

Federal agencies are already sending vaccination plans around to staff. Five agencies have started telling employees they could receive Pfizer or Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine in as little as eight weeks, a person with first-hand knowledge of those plans told CNBC on Friday.


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Grocery workers face new challenges as Covid worsens, fatigue sets in

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Grocery workers face new challenges as Covid worsens, fatigue sets in