Friday, July 18, 2014

What Are the Things to be Checked Before Buying a Flat or Apartment in India?

Real estate business has flourished much in India now. Both individual builders and real estate companies are active in most of the cities of India, especially those having a population of 100,000 or above.

Flats (sometimes also called apartments) in high rise buildings have now become common in the Indian cities just as in the highly populated cities of the world. Indians, especially the well educated and well earning middle class have accepted the culture of living in apartment homes in high rise buildings. 

More and more new features are offered by the builders and developers of flats to woo the customers. Depending on the city, location, construction features and luxuries as provided, buying a flat in India costs any thing between Rs.2000 to Rs.20,000 per sq.ft living space. While the cost of construction is more or less similar throughout India with a variation of  of say, 10-20 % from the average, the exorbitant margins above that exist in some localities and cities due to the high cost of land and its future escalation potential. 

Flats having 2 bedrooms, one common living and dining hall, one kitchen with 2 bathrooms are commonly designated as 2BHK types and those having 3 bedrooms, hall and kitchen are called 3BHK types. These are the most common types. These flats may or may not have additional facilities like additional utility space, an extra bath room, one or two or three balconies, etc. Floor area (also called carpet area) of bed rooms typically vary from a low of 100 sq.ft to a medium of 144 sq.ft  to a high of 156 sq.ft. Carpet areas of halls typically vary from 180 sq.ft to 420 sq.ft and kitchen areas vary from 48 sq.ft to 100 sq.ft. Bathroom sizes vary from 30-48 sq.ft.

The best way to understand the size of the flat is to measure its carpet area (the internal usable space excluding the walls, ventilation or pipe shafts). The carpet area of a 2BHK flat may vary from 550-900 sq.ft while that of a 3BHK flat may be between 650-1250 sq.ft. However, builders normally adopt other yardsticks to designate the area of the flat. Sometimes, the flat area is indicated as the built up area ( which is the overall outer area including the walls). At times it is indicated as the super built up area which includes the built up area plus an apportioning of all the common areas in the building divided among the total number of flats. The super built up area of a flat having a carpet area of 550 sq.ft could then be easily indicated as having 750 sq.ft which would be difficult for the buyer to verify. 

Real estate builders are known to exploit the buyers based on the manipulated or misguiding flat area projections. They may provide some plans of the apartment with internal dimensions. However, they would not show how the areas add up to become the projected flat area based on which the basic price of the flat is fixed. The government is reportedly considering to make the carpet area as the mandatory yardstick for all real estate developers, to over come such clandestine activities. Anyway, it is a good idea to get this aspect verified properly without any ambiguity before the deal is settled.

It is a good idea to check all the relevant approvals that the builder has obtained to construct and sell the properties. If possible a copy of all the approved drawings and other statutory approval documents may be obtained from the builders for records.

Now let us examine the technical aspects of the multistory building in which the flat is located. Many people in India are now-a-days get carried away by superstitious pseudoscience popularly known as Vaastu. Personally, I do not believe in such things and I consider it as some thing irrational. However, these are associated with one's personal belief system and therefore I leave it to the decision of the individual whether to check for vaastu or not.

Whether you take time and effort to check vaastu compliance or not, what aspects you should really check for a good living in your flat after you take possession of it are what I would like to discuss further.

The first thing is to check the water supply arrangements that the builder is planning for the building. Check whether the builders have got an assurance from the municipal authorities to have the water supply provided from the existing water supply network. Most probably, this would be missing. The builder might be telling that he has enough bore wells with enough ground water. The builders representatives may even show you the abundance of water that is being supplied from the tube wells that supply water for the building during its construction stage. But remember, this bore wells may not be enough to cater to all the residents when all the flats get occupied. Water would become one of your problems after you have established your flat as your home some years later. In most cities and towns of India, the local municipal authorities are too incompetent to provide good drinking water to the multistory buildings in later years, even while they allow the builders to construct and sell flats in such high rise buildings!

Assuming that there is some assured source of water supply (including water supplied through road tankers) the next thing to check is how this water is being planned for distribution in the building to the individual flats. Normally, there should be one underground closed tank preferably made of RCC with enough capacity to store water received from various sources including the bore wells. If the storage capacity of this tank gives an average of at least 500 litres per flat it could be considered quite okay.[for example, if the building has 50 flats, then the underground common water tank should have a minimum storage capacity of 50x500=25000 litres or 25 cubic meter]

Water from the ground level has to be pumped using pumps so that it is distributed to the individual flats located at various levels above ground level. Hence pumps are required to be installed for this purpose which draw water from the underground tank. Though there are many ways to do the water distribution, the best way to adopt to ensure 24x7 water supply  in the individual flats is by pumping the water first to over head tanks installed at the roof top of the building. The roof top tanks also should have a capacity which is preferably not less than the ground tank capacity. From the roof top tanks pipes are laid to the individual flats below through which water flows by gravity. There are a few things which need to be specially noted in this.

First the water supply pumps which have to supply the water from the ground tank to the over head tanks. The flow capacity , the pressure that these pumps generate and the number of pumps provided as standby are very important. I would now explain it with the help of a typical example:

Suppose that the building under consideration has 12 floors including the ground floor. The average roof height maintained in normal Indian apartment building is approximately 3.3 meters. Thus the roof top would be at a height of about 40 meters (12x3.3~). Normally the bottom level of the underground reservoir would be 5 meters below ground level and the overhead tank would have a height of about 5 meters. Thus the total height through which the water is required to be pumped would be 40+5+5=50 meter. Additionally the pump has to overcome the friction that is caused by the pipes and should have enough margin pressure to deliver water. Giving proper allowances to that, we need a pump which should be able to generate at least 60 meters of head which is approximately 6 kg per pressure. 

The pump should have a pumping capacity in such a way that it could fill the overhead tank at a rate more than the average total consumption of water from it. During the peak hours of the morning, the water consumption in a typical 2BHK and 3BHK flat be an average of about 250 litres per hour or 0.25 cu.m/hr. Thus the peak rate of consumption for a 50 unit building could be 50x0.25=12.5 cu.m/hr. Thus the pump selected should have a capacity preferably not less than 12.5 cu.m/hr. This pump would be sufficient to fill the overhead tank from an empty state within 2 hours. This pump with a flow capacity of 12.5 and pressure of 6 kg would require a motor having a power of approximately 5 HP. There should be at least one additional pump installed having the same capacity which should serve as the standby in the event one of the pump is required to be taken out for breakdown repairs. Remember, the pump is the life line of water to the high rise building. If there is no pump to supply water to the top floors, life in the flat would be a nightmare!

Builders and their designers would some time try to save some money by installing lower capacity pumps than what I have indicated in the above example. In that case, the pumps would take more time to fill the tanks and are required to be operated for more hours. A lower HP rated pump would not give any real saving on electricity to the flat dwellers or their association. But it might reduce some initial cost saving to the builder. However, this saving is not very remarkable. The selection of pump capacities and the water supply designs often go wrong because of the technical incompetency of the engineers who work for the builders. 

The next aspect to be given importance is the provision of reliable level gauges for the underground and the overhead tanks and their linking to the pumps for automatic operation of the pumps. Such provisions would greatly help in reducing the wastage of water and the manpower that is required to operate the water supply systems of the high rise building. Make sure that your builder is giving due attention to this aspect.

When water is gravity fed from the over head tank to the flats below, the top floors would get lower pressure in their taps. The highest pressure would be at the lower floor flats. This uneven pressure has to be regulated with the help of suitable pressure reducing devices installed in the respective pipelines. If this is not done, the high pressure in the lower floors may even cause the water taps to fly out or rupture due to high water pressure.

Some builders or their water supply design engineers may not provide individual water supply lines to each flat which could be regulated from a common source point ( say the roof top). When flats are handed over to the buyers, it is the responsibility of the flat owners association to manage the common facilities. It would be difficult for such associations to regulate or stop water to those residents who are not paying their dues properly when individual water regulation valves are not provided. Absence of such a facility would also cause several flat owners facing problems together when some repairs are to be carried out for any one flat.

The next aspect to be looked in to is the type and numbers of electric lifts that are provided in the building. Never allow the builder to use the lifts for completing their construction work. The buyers should insist for newly installed lifts from reputed makes with all safety feature and service facilities in writing from the builder. In most flats in India, especially in the non metro cities, problems caused by non working lifts are very common. Your life would be miserable if you are to climb more than 5 floors every day due to a non working lift. People normally overlook this aspect. Lifts that are not proper are also a major cause of fatal accidents in high rise buildings. So, make sure that you and your co-buyers are aware of this and are capable of resolving this when you are to manage the show yourself when the builder quit the place after all his flats are sold out. Lifts are expensive machinery. The cost difference between cheap makes and reputed makes is too wide. I have seen many builders cheating the flat buyers on this issue.

It is important to give attention to the structural strength of the building and its construction quality. However as per the prevailing laws the builders are responsible for it for 80 years. They know if any thing untoward happens they are likely to go to jail. Hence, normally no builder would like to overlook this aspect. But, lack of experience and expertise of the builder and his construction group could cause many defects in the building as constructed. 

One should check how the builder has planned to dispose the sewage and the solid wastes that would be generated in the flats. Fire safety is another thing. Many builders do not have expert engineers in their roles to plan and execute these issues properly. It is a common practice in India that the statutory authorities are often and easily bribed that they give all such clearances without any hitch. It would be better for the buyer to ask for more details about these aspects and get himself convinced.

Insist for the layout plan of the building with the internal movement spaces and the parking spaces. In the drawings these might appear as okay. However, it is a good idea to check their dimensions to see whether such spaces are enough to turn and park your cars without facing difficulties. Also it is a better idea to get the parking space reserved for your flat in a written agreement.

It is now common that many builders are wooing the buyers with many luxuries. Swimming pools, play grounds, luxury fittings and finishes are all in the offering that make the flats to be like five star hotels. However, the five star hotels are managed and maintained by trained and experienced staff who are paid decently. When such facilities are offered by the builders initially, it is a good thing to check how these facilities would be maintained through out the future years with regard to their management and its recurring costs. 

Many people buy flats as an investment opportunity. In the metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and in many other tier two cities, the flat costs are now at such high levels that one may not get the desired appreciation in the future as it used to be in the past. Buying flats in remote places where it is difficult for you to look it after could become a headache for you later on various counts. It is better you think about these too before taking your final decision. Remember, there are several thousands of unsold flats held by many builders in the major cities of India.

Unless the government changes its laws that enable the owners and builders to rent out their apartments, houses and flats without any risk, it would not be much beneficial to own flats as investments or as an income source. I had written about it earlier.[ read it here!]

You may also read these related articles that I wrote earlier in this context [ article-1 ; article-2]  

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