Tag Archives: house

Do you trust online vacation rental sites like HomeAway.com?

I’m going to New York next month. As there are three of us travelling and we are staying in town for four nights I thought I would book an apartment, rather than two hotel rooms.

I checked out homeaway.com because I met their UK sales director a while ago and I remember thinking that I should try their service sometime.

They have hundreds of great places all over the world and I was spoiled for choice looking at the map of Manhattan – eventually deciding on a 2-bed apartment on 50th street. I sent my details to the owner and he confirmed that it was available on the dates I needed.

He sent me an invoice via PayPal and I paid it immediately – $1370 – not a small amount, but certainly cheaper than 2 decent hotel rooms in midtown Manhattan for 4 nights.

After paying, I immediately emailed the property owner to ask for the exact address, what time I could arrive and all that basic check-in stuff. He never responded. Five days later I tried calling. The number was a dud.

So I emailed again, but I started worrying. What if this guy has just stiffed me for over a thousand dollars? I still need to book a place to stay in New York whatever happens with this guy!

So I filed a complaint with HomeAway. Typically their customer service team promised to get back to me “in a few days”… is that acceptable from any customer service team today? I’m in the hole for over a grand and I just have to sit tight and wait.

Fortunately, PayPal were very helpful and have reassured me that even if this guy has stolen from me, they will underwrite the loss. In short, they have a dispute resolution centre where I can contact the person I sent money to. Usually they would allow a week to see if the person responds. After that week, PayPal would get directly involved in the chase and if another 10 days passes with no resolution then PayPal will reverse the transaction.

That still feels like a long time to wait, given the amount and given that in a couple of weeks I need a place to stay. PayPal agreed and said that because of the amount involved, they would waive the usual 7 day wait and they will get immediately involved in chasing the funds.

So I’m shell-shocked because of the experience. This was my great welcome to HomeAway.com… the best I can hope for is that I have a property owner who forgets to reply to email and doesn’t have a working phone – it was all a misunderstanding. The worst is that my money has gone, but will be refunded in 10 days.

And if I know this will be resolved one way or the other in 10 days that still gives me about a week to find a place to stay in New York – but you can bet it won’t be on HomeAway this time, or any time in future.

Manhattan Panorama

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Steel bars and shutters

I had visited Brazil a few times before I moved here to live, so I was aware that they take security pretty seriously. Supermarkets and banks have armed guards, apartment blocks are surrounded by impenetrable steel cages, and all the police are armed – even the humblest traffic cop.

But when I moved into my house, a few things struck me as unusual. Every window has steel bars – like a jail – and both the front and back doors are protected by big steel bars too.

When I moved in, it was unnerving and unusual. My front door in Muswell Hill opened onto the street, my front door in Ealing was not facing the street, but there was nothing to stop anyone walking up to the door. The open spaces at the front of houses, gardens for example, just don’t really exist here. If a house or apartment black has a garden then it is behind bars so only the residents can possibly access it.

Walking down a main street late at night is also strange. Every shop, bar or restaurant will have steel shutters. I know there are some shops in London that pull shutters down at night, but not every single shop. It’s quite normal to walk past shops late at night where only a pane of glass stands between you and their stock.

This sense of security makes me think of when I have visited Luxembourg. The head of state lives in a palace in the city centre that any member of the public can approach. You can walk up and have a look through the window. They don’t feel any need to erect barriers.

Quite a contrast to the average apartment-dweller in Brazil who only feels safe living inside a cage.

But, with the riots in London and across the UK over the past week, will this fear of the unknown and underclass pervade society so bars go up and steel shutters become essential?

I hope not, but I’m expecting the worst.

Palaisde Luxembourg

Please buy my Muswell Hill house

Who wants to buy a house in Muswell Hill?

How about my one?

There is no onward chain because I just got divorced from my ex-wife and so we are just selling up and splitting the proceeds. It’s in an amazing location. Have a look at the satellite view here. Right next door to Coldfall wood (one of the few remaining ancient woods in London), and the largest cemetery in London – which is also a huge nature reserve. Plus a huge park with football fields, a play area, and other facilities.

Oh, and the house is in the catchment area of two of the best state schools in London, Coldfall primary and Fortismere secondary.

Surely someone wants to take it off my hands…?

Barrenger Road in Muswell Hill

Youtube responds… I am a repeat offender…

I *finally* got an email this morning from youtube about my deleted account.

—–

Hi markhillary,

Thanks for your email. We received multiple notifications from various
content owners regarding unauthorized content that has been uploaded by
your account(s). When we’re notified that a particular video uploaded to
our site infringes another’s copyright, we remove the material as the law
requires. Federal law requires that we terminate accounts when they are
found to repeatedly infringe copyright. Because you have had other videos
rejected in the past, we are unable to reinstate your account. Users with
suspended or terminated accounts are prohibited from creating new accounts
or accessing YouTube’s community. You will need to resolve at least one of
these penalties before your account can be reinstated. You may be able to
resolve at least one of the following video removals by filing a
counter-notification.

The following videos have been removed from your account:

Penalty 1:
“Oxygene (Part VI) Jean Michel Jarre” formerly at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0GFnKXa6PU
Removed due to a copyright claim by FRANCIS DREYFUS MUSIC on 04/03/2008

Penalty 2:
“Jager Yoga – CSS Shepherds Bush Empire London – Oct 6 2008” formerly at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jQVE_JP4hE
Removed due to a copyright claim by Stage Three Music on 09/04/2009

Penalty 3:
“Jimmy Carr – Bath Pavilion – 20 Feb 2010” formerly at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a65IMh2ynzo
Removed due to a copyright claim by Chambers Management on 02/22/2010

IMPORTANT: If you feel a content owner has misidentified your content as
infringing, you may be able to resolve one or more of these penalties by
filing a counter-notification. For more information, please visit our Help
Center article about counter-notifications at
http://help.youtube.com/support/youtube/bin/answer.py?answer=59826.

Regards,

The YouTube Team

—–

That’s three complaints against me over the past two years. I wouldn’t say that makes me a persistent offender, but Youtube seems to have a ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ policy – deleting my account and all the content without notice.

But, look more closely at these complaints. Jean-Michel Jarre in April 2008. I went to see him in March 2008 and I filmed some of the show, then credited it to him on the video. Take a look at what he asked his fans to do, back in March 2008… I saw this video before I went to the show. I knew that Jarre *wanted* his fans to film him and distribute the content. He even offered a reward for the best video from the tour! Yet, his record company came along and deleted my video on youtube.

The second one, CSS in Shepherd’s Bush in 2008, isn’t really something I can defend. I filmed the opening of the concert and put it online – clearly the band didn’t like it and deleted the video. I would argue that some shaky hand-held mobile phone footage from the audience is not going to prevent people buying music by CSS, or going to their gigs. In fact, quite the opposite. Someone seeing this might actively look out for their shows in future. But I can’t really argue against this penalty – if the copyright holder wants to remove the video then they have the right.

And then, the third one just recently in 2010, where I filmed some of the audience waiting to see Jimmy Carr in Bath. It didn’t feature Jimmy, or his material… there was nothing stolen, just some happy fans in a packed venue waiting to see Jimmy. Obviously I don’t agree with this one being banned, but Jimmy’s management have informed me they have a policy of no filming at the gigs – even if Jimmy is not on stage.

So in the five years I have been uploading content to Youtube, all 900 or so videos, I’ve broken the rules once. That’s 0.1% of the content I’ve uploaded that has caused an issue with a copyright holder. Is that consistent with the behaviour of a pirate, or a persistent copyright thief?

Jimmy Carr’s management have offered to withdraw their copyright violation claim, if it means I get my videos back. That’s a nice gesture by them and I hope it does allow my account to be restored.

I’ve sent a counter-claim against Jean-Michel Jarre’s record company. I never complained about it before, but if there really is a ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ policy, and I do manage to get my videos back, then it will still mean I am one complaint away from losing all my video again. One more incorrect claim I might stress, because I’m not sitting at home with DVD copies of ‘House’, uploading every episode.

More to follow, but I have not heard anything from Google’s press team yet. I’m writing the entire saga up for Computer Weekly and talking to some other journalists about what it means for those using Youtube as a video storage facility. But Google don’t seem to want to comment.