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Monday, July 18, 2011

Be discerning, socially responsible when shopping for property

The promotion of eco-principles to developers is something the state authorities need to seriously consider and implement with no more delays.

In the face of spiralling property prices in Penang, where the average wage earner continues to struggle to find units, it may be timely for all property investors in the state to become more discerning "shoppers".

How does a buyer contend with pouring his or her life savings, bank borrowings and more into buying a property, only to find themselves "living dangerously", exposing them and loved ones to danger, while risk having their properties devalued should an environmental disaster occur in the area?

These are some of the scary thoughts which are keeping residents of Taman Desaria at Sungai Ara on Penang island awake each night.

The once green and lush development, which gave its residents - ranging from top industrialists to retired civil servants - fantastic views and fresh air, is slowly turning into a neighbourhood which is often plagued by mudslides, following the clearing of land for a luxurious hill slope development close to them.

The proposed development is said to comprise 51 three-storey semi-detached units and bungalows on the hill slope between two roads in the neighbourhood.

The same development received objections from the residents when it was first proposed in early 2006 and the Penang Island Municipal Council is said to have rejected the proposal not once, but 11 times.

This is because the gradient of the hill slope exceeds 35 degrees in some areas, and because a plot measuring 1.6ha was meant for education and not residential purposes.

The once-rejected project is now said to have been given the green light in December 2009 and the affected residents say they were only notified of the change 11 months later.

The Taman Desaria case is not the first to plague Penang property buyers since many other instances, with sometimes different "twists to the plot", have been highlighted by this paper and other print and online publications and blogs.

As the exercise of finger-pointing has commenced with the blame being placed on various parties ranging from the state authorities, elected representatives and the said developer, it is probably a good time to remind property investors to wisen up and "vote" with their money in future.

Socially responsible investing, also known as sustainable, socially conscious, or ethical investing or shopping, is something we read of taking place in the West when it comes to retail or consumer purchases.

In the same manner that socially responsible investors often favour corporate practices which promote environmental stewardship, consumer protection, human rights and diversity, the same can and should be the yardstick that we use when shopping for big ticket items like homes in this country.

By asserting one's rights as a buyer, property developers and industry professionals will be forced to develop and work sustainably as consumer demand increases.

Apart from merely putting forward arguments that buying sustainable homes will yield cost-savings in electricity and other bills, providing a higher quality of life and health, perhaps the lessened impact on the environment should also be highlighted by property developers to potential investors, when canvassing for sales.

As Penang positions itself to emerge an international city where it wants to serve as a preferred spot for investors and tourists, the promotion of eco-principles to developers is something the state authorities need to seriously consider and implement with no more delays.

Such a move will display political will and sincerity, instead of coming up with schemes to penalise errant developers for offences like demolishing heritage properties, or threatening to haul them to court for other wrongful acts when precious lives are lost or hurt.

Sustainable property investments require extensive research on a property developer and include among others, their track record of meeting promised deadlines, resale value on a property, delivering work which is far from shoddy and being kind to the environment.

The basic lesson which must be learnt by all parties ranging from legislators, corporations and consumers however, is that sustainability is not only about providing for the needs of people today.

These provisions should also be made without compromising the needs of future generations.

By Business Times

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