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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Help is never too far away

Owning a home is a personal achievement and a dream come true for anyone – but dreams can sometimes turn into nightmares when the unexpected happens, such as when the property you purchase gets abandoned mid-way through construction.

In this instance, the victim is usually often left confused, angry and without proper guidance.

Fortunately, help is never too far away and there are special groups that aggrieved persons can resort to.

Cases of abandoned property projects are especially common for the National House Buyers Association (HBA), a voluntary nongovernmental, non-profit and non-political organisation that strives for a fair, balanced and equitable treatment for house buyers in their dealings with developers.

Honourary secretary general Chang Kim Loong says that many aggrieved victims demanded justice and were usually tempted to sue the developers after being left in a lurch.

But legal recourse is a tedious process as buyers usually end up with pointless “paper judgements” apart from being burdened with exorbitantly high legal fees.

“Legal recourse requires money, energy, stamina and more money. If a person wins in court against the developer, the developer still has the resource to appeal to higher courts,” says Chang.

Datuk N. Marimuthu ... ‘Buyers should refrain from booking properties that are not completed and be selective of the property they intend to purchase.’

The Federation of Malaysian Consumers’ Associations (Fomca) president Datuk N. Marimuthu says potential buyers should refrain from booking properties that were not yet completed and should be selective of the property they intend to purchase.

“Buying property is a one-time investment and people should go for reputable developers, even if the property costs a little bit more.

It is a lot better than to go for cheaper properties by fly-by-night developers,” he said, adding that he was fully supportive of the build-then-sell concept.”

Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah ... ‘Local authorities should conduct background checks on developers before issuing approvals.’

National Consumer Complaints Centre (NCCC) chief executive Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah concurs, adding that local authorities should conduct background checks on developers before issuing approvals. He notes that the position of financial institutions were often overlooked as far as abandoned projects were concerned.

“Even after the projects were abandoned and the banks have written them (the projects) off, buyers still have to pay off their loans,” he says.

The NCCC, established under Fomca, was set up to handle consumer complaints on goods and services. According to Muhammad Sha’ani, about half of the complaints relating to housing matters usually concerned abandoned projects.

“We received 1,578 complaints in 2006, 2,076 complaints in 2007 and about 2,500 complaints in 2008 relating to housing issues.

About 50% of those complaints were with regards to abandoned projects. Sadly, we rarely see a solution to these problems,” he says. HBA’s Chang highlights that it assisted victims of abandoned housing projects to get in touch with other people who have suffered a similar predicament.

The HBA also organises meeting session s, where volunteers comprising lawyers, architects, surveyors, engineers and property managers, among others, provide free consultancy services and assist in the drafting of memorandums to relevant government agencies.

“We also facilitate meetings between the Housing and Local Government Ministry and the victims and also provide mediation services between willing developers and buyers with a view of seeking an amicable solution,” he says.

Chang suggests that the Government should put in place “safety-nets” to pre-empt projects from being abandoned. “By the time a project is abandoned, it is a little too late as it may be years before the Government or local authorities could step in. The authorities and lawmakers are well aware of the highly publicised problems of abandoned projects,” he says.

HBA was invited by the Housing Ministry to be part of a recently set up special purpose vehicle – Bahagian Pemulihan Projek Terbengkalai – to look into solving abandoned projec ts.

“HBA has reiterated that it’s time to get the property industry to move away from the current sell-then-build concept and to aim for the mandatory build-then-sell (BTS) system.

“This would force industry players to place even greater emphasis on buyers’ requirements, thereby putting an end to substandard quality and the fear of buying new homes. It would also curb overzealous building and reduce the overhang,” Chang explains.

He points out that foreign buyers, including Malaysia My 2nd Home buyers, would also have the confidence to purchase properties should the BTS concept be implemented.

By The Star (by Eugene Mahalingam)

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