When I go to the market to buy a dozen mangoes costing Rs 150-300, I examine each one of them carefully. The fruit-seller swears that each mango is perfect, but I don’t take his word for it.
I think we all do this. Because the fruit market is a BUYER’S MARKET, and the consumer is the king.
But while buying a flat worth lakhs and crores of rupees, we quietly accept the tall claims made by the sales brochure, the estate agent and the builder’s sales office staff. Buying a house involves much of our life-savings. Not only that, it is a life-changing event; if we get it wrong, we suffer for years. Even being aware of this, we fail to ask for necessary documents. We succumb to social pressures and take a blindfolded decision.
Why? Because when we are buying a new flat from a builder, it is a SELLER’S MARKET. If we ask too many questions, the sellers will totally ignore us and the deal will break. If our family members have set their heart on living in that particular neighbourhood or building, we don’t want to break the deal by asking questions. And so we let the deal go ahead and keep our fingers crossed. Bad things don’t happen to us, they only happen to other people, we tell ourselves. “The name on the board is of a reputed builder, a well-known architect, and an impressive law firm. Reputed banks are giving housing loans. All these people can’t be engaged in illegal or risky activities. Therefore, I am safe,” we convince ourselves.
The realities are different. If a big builder cheats us, even the police or municipal corporation are unwilling to entertain complaints against him. In case of a dispute, we will have to struggle to even get an appointment with the builder… and when we do, he will cow us down with his show of importance. We will be reduced to negotiating, pleading and begging before him.
If we choose to go to court, the builder has the money power to engage respected counsels to defend his illegalities. And we realize, too late, that the documents and receipts are inadequate for the court, and the transaction was partly illegal e.g. cash payments made towards parking space, and therefore, cannot be proved in court. Any lawyer will tell you that as a home-purchaser, you should get copies of all the important documents of the building project, and not only your flat.
Before you pay any money to a builder, TRY TO GET COPIES OF ALL THESE DOCUMENTS: http://tinyurl.com/Builder-Docs
You will have to collect these documents from the builder, licensing authority and other sources. However, these documents are not easy to get, as builders don’t cooperate. While buying a flat, the customer is NOT king, he is the paploo, the sucker. Even the public information officers (PIOs) of licensing authorities conspire with the builder and evade RTI applications asking for necessary documents. If the builder comes to know that you have filed the RTI application, he will not sell you the house.
The administrative and judicial system is favourable to builders. It is not possible to drag the builder to consumer-court before we buy a flat. But even after buying the flat, it is difficult to do so. Most of us don’t have the courage and persistence to even try.
We cannot change this reality as individual buyers, but we can try to change it by organizing ourselves into CONSUMER RESISTANCE GROUPS.
Please follow these DOS AND DON’TS: http://tinyurl.com/Flat-Buyer-Dos-Donts
By doing so, you will strengthen yourself and also other home buyers.
HOW BUILDERS ESCAPE ACCOUNTABILITY:
1. VERBAL CLAIMS. The builder and his representatives make claims that cannot be verified. Only the area of the flat (Super-Built-Up or SBU) is given in writing. All other details of the flat and the building are orally given by the sales office staff, estate agent, Direct Sales Agent (DSA) etc, and we have no way of holding the builder responsible for such claims. If you insist, they will scribble down some details on a piece of scrap paper, which has no value in court.
2. VISUAL IMPRESSIONS. Most people base their purchase decision on a glossy sales brochure made on a computer. Some others base it on a tour of the fully furnished “model flat” where they are taken. How do they know that the model flat is actually much lot bigger than the actual flat that they will get? Where is the legal document that certifies that the dimensions of the model flat are the same as the actual flat?
3. GLOSSY BROCHURES. A large number of purchasers take their decision based on the builder’s glossy brochure. Suppose it says that the 3BHK flats in A-wing are 1665 square feet SBU (Super Built Up), inclusive of common amenities. “As you know, actual carpet area is 65% of this measurement,” says the estate agent smoothly. So the purchaser does mental math and concludes that you are getting 1082 square feet carpet area. But can he actually measure the apartment to ensure that it is really 1082, and not, say, 982 sq ft? And who will explain how this magical figure of 1665 sq ft SBU was arrived at, based on which the purchaser will be asked to pay a huge amount? What common amenities are included in 1665 SBU?
4. IGNORING QUESTIONS. If you want to measure the apartment, question the figures and ask for documents and copy of the agreement before giving the token amount, it is likely that the estate agents and sales staff will be uncooperative. If you say that want to show these documents to your architect, lawyer etc, they will generally delay, postpone or even turn rude. The brochure may mention amenities like “spacious clubhouse, swimming pool, billiards” etc. But any attempts to get details may be met with ridicule and hostility. “Stop wasting our time and move on,” they will say to you.
5. SOCIAL INHIBITIONS. The consumer is discouraged from asking any probing questions. The sales staff and estate agents act as if your questions and demand for documents are a personal insult to the builder. Unlike other sales representatives e.g. car sales staff, builders’ representatives are evasive, even when it comes to the exact pricing of the home. As a substantial “cash” component is involved, even customers accept secretiveness and evasiveness as normal.
And so, we generally buy homes from a position of disadvantage. We need to change this. We must all learn to act out of information and knowledge of law, and not out of blind faith, ignorance, mental laziness and fear of builders.
THE PROPER WAY TO DO IT: Ideally, most documents mentioned in http://tinyurl.com/Builder-Docs should be made available to us by the sales office on a CD or in printed form, as part of the sales brochure. For this to happen, we all will have to campaign to build public opinion and media awareness.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This article has been written based on guidance and inputs from Sulaiman Bhimani, JB Patel, Prashant Uikey, Shabbir Tambawala, Mohammed Afzal and other activists.