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Home > Business > Special

Have I sold my flat? I am not sure

N Sriram | May 14, 2007

Typically, in a bullish property market, the seller faces no risks; but the buyer needs to be extra cautious. That is common sense, right? Not really. One can face several irritants, even in the most efficient urban property market. Here's a first person account of the hiccups faced by a property seller in Mumbai.

After relocating to Chennai about a year ago, I decided to sell my pokey little one-bedroom apartment in Borivali, a north-western suburb of Mumbai, and thought that the process would be a breeze. Sure enough, it began on a promising note. Brokers started arriving in droves with prospective buyers.

The first hurdle was price. Every potential buyer expected me to know it and I had no clue how to discover it. Looking for help from benchmark rates in the property supplements of newspapers was a futile exercise. The price range within a suburb was bewildering.

Finally, I had to pose as a buyer, call a few brokers, collect a set of rates per square foot, work out an average, mark it up arbitrarily and announce the final price for my flat... phew!

The result: half the crowd of brokers and buyers vanished. After a few weeks, when I was disheartened enough to announce a downward rate revision, my first potential buyer arrived. And I was offered a 'token' of 1 per cent of the sale value.

Good enough, I thought. But then, the broker dropped a bombshell by demanding a 3 per cent commission. When I protested, the broker explained, "This buyer is being routed through other brokers and everyone had to have a cut in the deal." But I was determined not to pay than the customary 1 per cent. The deal was off.

Next week, buyer number two arrived. He didn't even make an effort to bargain. Nor did he have a clue about the paperwork or the process. That should have rung an alarm bell in me. But I was ensnared by the new broker who kept repeating "Ready cash party, sahib; loanwallah nahi hai". Also, he seemed quite happy with the 1 per cent commission. So a token of 1 per cent was dutifully paid to me, with a promise the rest would be delivered within a week. Meanwhile, I was to get all the paper work done.

A week became a fortnight and morphed into a month. But, there was no sign of ready cash. Every time I called up, the buyer would come up with an irrefutable excuse for the delay, followed by a promise that he was on the final stage of organising the funds.

Meanwhile, a steady stream of vaastu consultants, contracted by the buyer, kept visiting the flat. They also called on my neighbours seeking details about 'the state of our lives' when we resided there.

After a while calls from other brokers ensued, as they realised that the flat had not changed hands yet. Some whispered on phone that I should ditch the buyer since he had not paid up even after a month. But I was too timid to even think of violating the unwritten norm: once you receive the 'token' money, you cannot go back on the deal.

Exactly after a month, I got the dreaded call. The deal was off; the buyer's family guru visited the flat and advised that it was not going to be good for his family. I also discovered that I had a long lost brother who wanted his 'non-refundable 1 per cent' back. I was in a murderous mood.

Then, the third buyer, a bureaucrat's bureaucrat, arrived. In the very first meeting, he gave me a long list of documents that needed to be perused by his legal luminaries. Many papers, I realised then, were not there. Thus began another set of discoveries. For instance, the earlier owner had not paid stamp duty on his purchase of the flat. Though the flat sale was registered, it was without the payment of stamp duty.

Of course, the courts had also had a role. That is, the high court, grappling with a petition against stamp duty, had frozen stamp duty collection, some two decades back. After the verdict cleared the collection of stamp duty, the government should have sent me a notice. But they had done nothing of that sort. Alas, even the government and courts had conspired against the sale of my flat.

I rushed to a lawyer who crunched numbers and blurted out a penalty that made me faint. But I paid up. Then, there were 'no dues papers' to be collected from the bank that had loaned me money to buy the flat. While the home loan had been closed, there were no papers to prove it. When I met the bank officials, I was told their 'system' showed that I owed the bank Rs 2,000 and they were trying to get details. A week later, I was told.

The next week, the issue was sorted out and mercifully, there were no payments to be made. It was a 'system error'. After a week, the flat sale registration was over. By now, I was too fatigued and was signing documents without reading them. The buyer agreed to pay all the monies within a month in a staggered fashion. I collected the post-dated cheques and left.

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