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House Buyers Unite

27/04/2002 Published in NST-PROP A Buyer Watch Article by National House Buyers Association

Housebuyers should band together in order to have more clout when dealing with developers and agencies

Whenever we attend to distraught house buyers, one question keeps cropping up in our minds. Why is it that so many of them somehow got involved in such seemingly unsolvable problems with their housing developers? We pondered over this and have come to the conclusions.

Davids versus the Goliaths

Housing developer companies are usually large corporations with multiple shareholders. Through leverage, influence and other corporate manoeurves, they have access to a large pool of funds. They also have lawyers under retainer arrangements and hence, are able to counter lawsuits without much additional worry or cost.

Time is always in their favour and they are in no hurry to settle any claim or to resolve issues. And since the onus is always on the house-buying plaintiffs to prove their cases, delay tactics are the order of the day. The cumbersome judicial process dished out by our judicial system compounded by the backlog does not make the situation any better.

In stark contrast, housebuyers, having forked out towards their houses, are usually financially spent. Thus the thought of engaging their housing developers in lengthy litigation can be disconcerting in terms of the costs involved.

Time is against them as well. There are loan instalments to be paid and their new houses to be furnished for occupation. Some also want to resolve issues quickly to be able to rent out their houses, as they need the rental income to pay for the monthly instalments, so they may sell themselves short when there are problems. Developers are well aware of this situation and certainly know how to exploit it.

So what can housebuyers do to overcome such odds? In most cases, our recommendations to distressed complainants is to form an action group in the form of a protem committee or a residents'/owners' association.

Strength of numbers

Here we would like to pause to tell readers about a particular case where house buyers were having difficulty getting the Certificate of Fitness for Occupation (CFO) for their houses because a particular agency was dragging its feet. The developer was complaining of the frequent visits to that particular agency without getting any results.

Finally, fed-up of the delay, both the housebuyers and developers approached us with the problem. The first thing we did was to advise the buyers to form an action group. This was done and the group subsequently made representation to the agency concerned. Guess what? The CFO were issued a few days after that!

Forming a group is vital when there are issues like this to be resolved because there is strength in numbers. Remember the analogy of the ant, which is not able to lift the morsel of food on its own, but which can move the carcass of a dead animal when it pools its strength with that of its compatriots.

Likewise, an individual house buyer may not have the resolution or the financial resources to deal with developers or government agencies. But once united, the group generates synergy that equips them to better resolve outstanding issues. Even political pressure may be generated because, as the saying goes, politics is a game of numbers!

Hence we strongly recommend that housebuyers band together as soon as they have signed their sale and purchase agreements (SPA). Communication should be maintained and regular get-togethers conducted to compare notes on what's happening with their properties and in the project.

Developers will also be extra cautious when they know that housebuyers have already organized themselves into a force to be reckoned with. If and when the crunch comes, the unified buyers will be well poised to take on the developer instead of procrastinating and allowing themselves to be divided and bullied as individuals.

A long-term affair

Once, the SPA has been signed, the purchaser's relationship with the developer is going to be a long affair. For landed property, it is two years till delivery of vacant possession and another eighteen months for the defect liability period to run, provided delivery is smooth and on schedule.

For stratified properties, it takes longer - three years for delivery of vacant possession, another 18 months for the defects liability period and (several) more years till strata titles are issued.

House is unlike other products, so housebuyers do stand to gain a lot by being united; after all, they are going to be living in the same community as neighbours. Responsible, transparent developers will certainly welcome a house buyers' group in their projects, as they are not just selling a houses but also building a community.


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