Online shopping is catching up fast. The biggest reasons are convenience and the sheer variety of things/services that you can access on the web. The latest addition to the list of things that people are increasingly using the web to buy is real estate. Though one cannot go through the whole process of buying property (such as paperwork) online, websites such as 99acres, magicbricks and housing.com are helping buyers in a big way by providing loads of information on properties such as location, size, price/rent and proximity to facilities such as hospital, park, railway station, airport, etc, which is helping them save a lot of time. Some are even offering services such as documentation (for example, drafting of the rent agreement), while some even offer services that verify the paperwork.
"It is estimated that online sales account for a little less than 1 per cent of total sales. The trends are still evolving. There are no end-to-end online sales yet. Only leads are being generated online. The deals are closed offline. At the most, booking amounts are being transacted online and the rest of the deal happens in the real world rather than the virtual world," says Ashwinder Raj Singh, CEO, Residential Services, JLL India.
Though online real estate aggregators such as 99acres help buyers shortlist properties, of late, some big builders such as Tata Housing, Puravankara Projects and Godrej Properties have also taken the internet route to market their projects and accept booking amounts. The rest of the process, is, of course, offline.
"The developers are responding to online selling in an extremely positive manner. Almost every builder has a website. These are attracting enquiries and site visits," says Singh of JLL India.
Apart from the new projects, properties for resale are also finding place on websites of aggregators. While these sites are a great help in choosing from the numerous options available, they are not of much help in checking the builder's credibility. "While the amount of information available is humongous, its quality is suspect. Data are not completely transparent and are not available in a standardised format," says Ankur Gupta, Joint Managing Director, Ashiana Housing Ltd.
Here are the things that you need to do to ensure you are not duped while buying property and the process goes on smoothly. Remember that the online and offline processes are not very different; both work best if the buyer keeps his eyes and ears open.
1. The seller's background: Check the builder's past/ongoing projects on its website as well as on websites of online aggregators. See if it has been delivering the projects as promised. "Besides using the internet as a source of information, buyers can use it for background checks on the builder too. You can figure out from Facebook, Twitter and real estate forums the opinion that past buyers have of the builder," says Gupta of Ashiana Housing.
If you are comfortable with numbers, you can even check the builder's balance sheet to see how it is placed on the debt front. If his debt position is critical, it means there is a strong possibility that it will face a cash crunch in the near future. This may delay the project's implementation.
2. Location, proximity to basic amenities: The websites give a lot of facts about the location and other details. But it is always advisable to visit the location. In case of a yet-to-be-launched property, read the brochure and look at the project site carefully. Also check the infrastructure planned around the areas.
3. Conveniences offered: You may want to look for things such as power back-up, water supply, fire fighting system, parking, lift, gymnasium, swimming pool, sports complex, club house, children's play area, etc. Though some of these things are extremely important for a quality life, they come at a cost. See if the developer is charging an additional sum for these amenities. Calculate the total cost, inclusive of such charges.
4. Construction Quality: While many developers promise quality construction, not many provide the details. Check the annexure related to specifications of flooring, doors, windows, fittings and fixtures to know what the developer is committing. You may also ask the builder for certification of the concrete mix provided by a testing lab. Most reputed builders have started seeking certifications form third-party agencies. You may look at these certificates to be sure about the quality of the house you are buying. One can also consult an independent architect who can check that there are no structural defects in the building.
Conducting field visits and scanning the paperwork, including that related to the allotment of the land on which the project is coming up, are also a must.
One cannot leave anything to chance, though builders say they do their best to ensure quality. For instance, Parveen Jain, CMD of Tulip Infratech & President of NAREDCO, says, "For ensuring quality and audits, consultants to whom projects are outsourced have experts like structural consultants, principal consultant architects, MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing ) consultants and engineers who keep checking the work being at every stage. Besides, an internal audit team is also there." Still, it is best not to take chances and do own research.
Websites are a good source for picking preferred properties on the basis of information they provide. But you must do several offline checks to ensure the genuineness of the project and the seller. You may also hire services of a lawyer to look at the papers. "Finally, before writing the first cheque, meet the developer and clarify your doubts. As for the all-inclusive price, get all commitments in writing before signing on the dotted line," says Ankur of Ashiana Housing.
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