Are you buying a 'safe' house? Ensure that the property is structurally sound
Did you know that of the 33.8 lakh buildings in Delhi, over 31 lakh face medium risk from an earthquake, while 1.46 lakh are at high risk? Given that the capital falls in seismic zone IV, this claim by the Vulnerability Atlas of India 2007 is not far-fetched. A similar story of neglect and deliberate flouting of housing laws plays out across the country, which is why the onus of checking the structural soundness of any property lies firmly on the buyer. After all, buying real estate involves a lot of your hard-earned money, and the least you can do is to ensure that the property you and your family plan to reside in is safe.
Of course, any newly constructed property will seem neat and strong at first glance. Hence, the trick is to look beyond the cosmetics and check the safety quotient of the project you are considering investing in. To help you do so, here are a few tricks gleaned from real estate experts.
According to experts, the construction quality of a building can be judged through various parameters, such as its architectural design and the quality of interior design, the brands used for electrical and bathroom fixtures, and the grade and finishing of windows, to name a few.
According to Kishor Pate, secretary, Confederation of Real Estate Developers' Associations of India, cheap paint on walls and doors is easy to detect. The use of good paint on such surfaces not only enhances their visual appeal but also prolongs their life.
"So, cheap paint is evidence that the developer does not feel investing in good paint is important and may have compromised on the quality because the surfaces are not made to last," he adds.
Experts point out that patched up cracks on a building's exterior can also be an indicator that the project has a faulty foundation. "Other signs to watch out for are small cracks on the walls, creaking or sticking doors and windows, and improperly aligned or uneven floors, say, with bathroom and kitchen tiles," says Pate.
A short-cut to evaluating quality is to go with established, big developers. According to Om Ahuja, CEO, residential services, Jones Lang LaSalle India, a rule of thumb in Indian real estate is that construction quality depends on the reputation of the builder. Since their reputation for quality construction is their primary ambassador in a competitive market, branded builders employ trusted contractors and ensure proper quality control throughout the construction process. What's more, they follow standardised construction norms, which do not vary from project to project.
According to Pate, the developers who pride themselves on quality construction do not allow their contractors to use cheap fittings and accessories. Think taps, window frames, door handles, electrical outlets, and the like. "Similarly, the project's common facilities, such as lifts, will boast established brand names and will have a maintenance contract by reputed facilities management agencies. Any evidence of obscure, unfamiliar brands should be viewed with suspicion," he adds.
Says Ahuja: "If one is considering buying into a project by a well-known builder, it makes sense to inspect units in older projects by the same name, preferably those that are five to seven years old. The condition of these will throw light on how important construction quality is to the builder in question."
Another sure and quick way of ascertaining structural soundness is to opt for an apartment in a star-rated project. Crest, a real estate project rating division of Crisil, chalks out five broad parameters—legal, financial, construction and innovation quality, along with that of the real estate developer—before rating the project. In other words, the rating company not only evaluates the organisational and financial strength of the developer, but also checks the construction technology, the materials used, and the legal aspects involved, like title clearance of the land and other government approvals.
However, such projects are priced at a premium compared with the regular residential projects, but it may be worth shelling out extra in order to guarantee the structural strength of the project as well as the resale value of your investment.
Seek professional help
This, however, is not to say that any property being developed by a newcomer should be automatically rejected unless it has been approved by a rating company. In such cases, you can hire an architect or a structural engineer for their professional expertise. "Just as you would avail of the services of a lawyer for due diligence on the title of a property, the services of a structural engineer can be taken to evaluate safety. The engineer can conduct a thorough check and certify its soundness," explains Sandeep Sadh, chief executive officer, MumbaiPropertyExchange.com. Hiring such services may cost Rs 5,000-10,000, depending on the experience and reputation of the concerned firm.
According to Sadh, the expertise of a structural engineer is particularly vital while evaluating the skeletal structure of a project. "The other part of the project, say, walls, is comparatively easy to understand. If the construction quality is strong, you will find it very difficult to hammer a nail in the walls after occupation," he adds.
Lastly, while hunting for a property, make sure that you look at more than just the sample flat.