Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Buyers rights and consumer activism

It seems that apt buyers have woken up to the internet and are organizing and ganging up against builders in ways never seen before. In the old days, media was controlled by few select companies or the government. Consumers had to resort to telephones, type-writers and sit-in dharnas to have their voice heard. In this new age of instant connectivity, builders are facing the music by irate buyers who are getting increasingly impatient for their purchases. Most of these buyers on delayed projects are paying a high rate of pre-EMI in addition to the EMI they will end up paying once the loan tenure begins. They also have to account for the loss in rent they have to incur for their present accommodation. They are bleeding slowly and it is high time builders be held accountable for their losses. For too long have buyers been herded around like sheep.

Livemint.com reports. Kudos to the Wall Street Journal for voicing the problems of the masses. Most Indian newspapers write soft marketing articles how it is a great time to buy. Its time for the Times group of companies to take some journalism lessons from the WSJ. If only Vineet Jain can get some time from posting Holi pictures on his Indiantimes website.

After using a portion of his retirement money to buy an apartment in Gur gaon, on the outskirts of New Delhi, S.K. Bangia pursued the developer for almost a year to get the purchase agreement. He eventually got a letter cancelling the allotment of the flat, Bangia says.

The 62-year-old former bank manager booked the apartment in a Raheja Developers Pvt. Ltd project in December 2007, the month that he retired, in his and his son’s name. His son wanted to borrow a home loan to finance part of the cost.

“They did not give (me) a buyer’s agreement and an approved sanctioned plan of the project, without which no bank gives a loan,” says Bangia, who sent a legal notice to the company in November, demanding the sanctioned plan and buyer’s agreement. A sanctioned plan is a project layout approved by the local urban development authority.

Homebuyers are taking recourse to consumer forums and the courts and online activist groups to resolve grievances against real estate developers. As slowing economic growth and a property market downturn cause cash-strapped realtors to abort or delay projects, property buyers are increasingly being forced to turn consumer activists.

Bangia, who approached a consumer court last month, claims he was targeted because he was trying to involve other buyers in his fight. He wants double the 9% interest Raheja Developers paid him on the money it eventually refunded him. Raheja, which charges 18% interest for delayed payments, says it’s following the rules.

“As per the terms of agreement to sell, it is mentioned that the company will give 9% interest,” said a Raheja Developers official who didn’t want to be named. “I am not familiar with this particular case...” One reason for the increasing incidence of disputes is a decline in real estate valuations, which is prompting buyers who had booked property at high prices in the past to seek refunds and switch to cheaper developments, said Anuj Puri, chairman of Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj.

“It is (also) true that many projects of developers have got delayed for genuine reasons—may be because of lack of finance or whatever—and at the same time the tolerance level of buyers has gone down,” he said.