Monday, February 23, 2009

Heart-wrenching stories of housebuyers

I SYMPATHISE with the plight of Taman Sri Manja residents in Old Klang Road, whose houses are sinking. Reading their story recently reminded me of the predicament faced by my father-in-law in Malacca 15 years ago, although on a lesser scale.

The poor man had used his savings to buy his dream home. However, unknown to him, the house was built on swamp land and six months after he moved in, the foundation began to sink. Another six months down the road, cracks started to appear on the walls and soon, some of the gaps were large enough to allow one's hand to slip through.

Although the house was considered safe because the beams did not show signs of impending failure, my father-in-law and his neighbours knew that the developer had not been entirely honest with them. Patching up was done at the developer's whim and fancy, and before long, two years had passed and the liability period during which developers were required to undertake any remedial measure for free had ended.

My father-in-law has since accepted his bad luck and continues to live in the house, occasionally reminded of the mental anguish he had to live with when guests asked about the partially patched-up cracks which bore grim reminders of his encounter with a bad developer.

News about house buyers being given the short end of the stick is not new. The path to successful house purchase is littered with even more heart-wrenching stories of deals gone sour. Some of the luckier ones only have to deal with poor aesthetics but the not-so-lucky ones end up with a lifetime of problems -- or until they manage to sell the property to an unsuspecting secondhand buyer.

The unluckiest ones are those who have no choice but to live with the nightmare for the rest of their lives. This is because more often than not, they have spent their entire savings on what was supposed to be their dream homes.

The guidelines for successful house ownership are simple: check the developer's reputation and track record and don't be taken in by sweet sales talk. But really, is there any guarantee that cunning will not outwit intelligence and you will not end up with a lemon after all the trouble?

If you remember, back in the mid 1990s, the frenzy of house ownership had driven property prices sky high and everyone who had any opinion would tell anyone who would listen that one should live far away from the city to avoid traffic jams and to get better value for the shrinking ringgit.

Droves of sensible people made a beeline for the new townships north of Kuala Lumpur. Houses were unbelievably cheap and at that time, it appeared quite logical to live away from the city centre, after all there is a highway which connects the townships with the city and it shouldn't take more than 30 minutes' leisurely drive to get to work and home daily.

What the careful buyers forgot to figure out then was that fuel prices would go up one day, and so would toll charges. And when the combined expenses amounted to a huge chunk of their salaries, many realised that it was wiser to stay put in the city.

The glossy townships painted in the developers' colourful advertisements are today sparsely populated urban outbacks. Some of the housebuyers were careful people like you and I. But in the end, they end up paying for the bank loans and maintenance fees for a place that they no longer want.

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