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Foreign observations
23/4/2005 NST-PROP By Salleh Buang

Ever since my good friend and editor, Andrew Wong, invited me to “join him” (and leave behind us another daily) to become a regular contributor for PropertyTimes, I have always enjoyed the prospect of opening my e-mail Inbox every morning and perusing the messages that readers of my column send me.

These letters vary in length and content. Some are short (ranging from polite but nevertheless sincere expressions of appreciation to requests for further information), but a few are indeed lengthy, extending a couple of pages.

One particularly long note came from a person named Richard Fitz-Gibbon. Addressing me as “Professor Buang”, he began by saying, “I am writing to you from America. My wife was born in Petaling Jaya and we visit Malaysia quite often.”

He then said that in the 1990s, he made frequent trips here as a representative of a Canadian company that had developed and was then marketing “a high-tech building system in the West”. Having studied the building strategies prevalent in our country, he said he thought his system “would be a great alternative to the drawn out methods” we have adopted.

By way of explanation, Fitz-Gibbon said that with his four decades of “planning and sub-dividing land” as well as “developing residential, commercial and industrial properties”, he has realised the system in place in this country “is not flexible and forward looking”.

Although he acknowledged the presence of our Petronas Twin Towers, Putrajaya and KLIA as concrete “examples of modernisation”, he said “the basic needs of the average person struggling to survive are not always met”.

Fitz-Gibbon said my article on the need for our housing industry to build first, then sell, hit the nail on the head.

“I asked almost everyone I met why not build first and sell later (as opposed to the current norm of selling and then building), but they were all of the mindset that using other people’s money is better - if their projects fail, they have less downside risk and losses,” he wrote.

The American went on: “I have met many people who booked their houses (that were not built yet), secured their financing and are paying their monthly instalments, but still haven’t received the titles to their units.

You have to ask yourself what kind of Government or system would allow this to happen over and over?”

Fitz-Gibbon’s letter didn’t stop there, and delved into both the bright and dark sides of the Malaysian way of life before he concluded: “I really do love Malaysia and its people. I have never felt shut out or threatened in any way. The people are the biggest asset and the diversity does work well.”

If it is indeed true (as many of our national leaders have also claimed) that our people are the nation’s biggest asset, then by natural extension, house purchasers’ interest should be of paramount concern and become the primary consideration of both the housing industry and the relevant ministry. After all, without purchasers, there would be no housing industry, and without the housing industry, there would no need for a housing ministry.

Mid of last year (May 22, 2004), a local daily published a news report that read: “Pak Lah wants housing developers to adopt (the build-then-sell) concept to protect buyers”.

It went on to quote Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as saying, “I think it is not right to pay money first before you get your house. If they (the developers) don’t get to sell all their houses, the money won’t be enough for them to build. What will happen to those who have paid up?”

Although this “build then sell” issue has yet to be resolved (despite having been publicly debated for over a decade), another topic that has bedevilled the housing industry is also making headlines - that of delays in the issuance of Certificates of Fitness for Occupation (CFs) for completed housing units.

By the end of this year, the work of issuing CFs will be taken away from the local authorities and handed over to the professionals overseeing a housing development, made up of its architects and engineers.

The looming question posed by this action is whether the interest of house purchasers will be better served. If the old CF rules are scrapped because they “delay” the issuance of CFs, is “quicker” necessarily better and safer?

Chang Kim Loong, secretary of the National House Buyers Association (HBA), believes that abolishing the current rules and replacing the existing procedure with self-certification by professionals in the form of Certificate of Completion and Compliance (CCC) “could open a new can of worms”.

Many of my friends share his sentiment.

“Should we risk our safety, even lives, in the name of speed?” Chang asked.

To me, the answer is pretty obvious. And we certainly do not need another reminder from an American visitor (despite his good intentions) to show us the way.

Salleh Buang is senior advisor of a company specialising in competitive intelligence. He is also active in training and public speaking and can be reached at

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