I decided to buy a flat. It was August, 2009. I was working in Dar-es-Salaam, East Africa. My family was in Madurai, Tamilnadu. Krishna, my elder son suggested that Coimbatore would be the perfect place for me to settle down after retirement.
I started searching the internet for good apartments. I came across a project in Coimbatore promoted by a reputed builder from Chennai.
I landed in Coimbatore in the first week of Sep, 2009. The project was under construction. Out of the 70+ flats, only 10-12 were sold. Anand, the Marketing Manager of the builder, was confident that in the next 4 months the project would be completed.
A 1500 sq ft flat with a 350 sq ft open terrace was priced at Rs. 56 lacs- if I were to buy, I would have to pay Rs. 45 lacs immediately as “substantial portion of the project was over.” I told Anand that I did not have enough liquid cash; I could pay a maximum of Rs. 25 lacs and the balance in monthly installments of Rs. 4 lacs. Anand agreed. He told me to pay a token advance of Rs. 10,000 to book the flat. I did.
I returned to Madurai. We started dreaming.
“We should put a joola in the open terrace like Yeh Rishta kya kehlatha hai” said Eshwar, my younger son.
“Royale Play in the hall,” suggested Krishna.
Parvathy, my wife’s dream was “TV cabinet like it is in Suhana’s maike in Sasuraal…”
In the next 3-4 days he sent me the documents which shook us out of our dreams. Pay Rs. 45 lacs in the next one week! Any delay would attract 18% interest!
What nonsense! Anand pacified me. ‘You are working abroad. You don’t know how it works here. This is just a paper. Sign this. My MD will be fine with your proposal. Pay Rs.5.60 lacs-10% of the total price. Then I will speak to MD and get his approval’
‘Why can’t you change the documents to reflect the payment pattern I want?’ I asked.
‘Unless you pay some substantial amount, how will my MD believe that you are a serious buyer? Believe me.’
‘Reasonable,’ I felt. Also my date of returning to Dar-es-Salaam was approaching. I wanted to conclude this transaction before returning to Dar. I paid Rs. 5.50 lacs.
Till I boarded the flight Anand did not get any approval from his MD. After I landed in Dar, Parvathy called and said that she a received a letter from one Sangeetha from the builder’s office asking me to pay balance Rs. 39.4 lacs forthwith.
I sent a strong mail to Anand enquiring about his MD’s approval. He said he was working on it. He also asked me to pay Rs. 19.4 lacs- Rs. 25 lacs which I had agreed to pay less Rs. 5.60 which I had already paid. This would enable him to impress upon his MD that I am sticking to my commitment!
Parvathy was sympathetic. “Jaane do… pay him.” I did.
Sangeetha acknowledged the receipt, but reminded me to pay balance Rs. 20 lacs to avoid interest!
No word thereafter from Anand or Sangeetha. Meanwhile my wife, sons and I resumed our dreams. We started exchanging mails on interiors, furnishing, modular kitchen, etc.
I went to India for a short holiday in Jan, 2010 and when I went to the site I was shocked! No progress at all since I had seen in Sep last! The project was supposed to have been over by that time, as per Anand’s initial discussions with us.
“The builder faces severe cash crunch.” Someone said in the site. It sent a cold shiver down my spine. Is the project jinxed? I have already paid Rs 25 lacs. I rushed to the builder’s office and insisted on meeting the GM, a guy called Jhonny Raffael. After waiting for an hour, I was told he had gone out for an urgent meeting.
Anand met me in the lobby. “Sir, why don’t you apply for bank loan? I can get you easily. Jhonny was telling me…if Hariharan has not paid the full Rs. 45 lacs, how can he complain about delay in completing the project? I am sure my MD will also….”
Little did I realize that I was getting deeper into the trap!
“Why the work had not progressed …?” Anand dismissed me casually.”These guys will finish in 3 months. Don’t worry. You can do grahapravesh by Tamil new year.”While I was leaving, Anand threw his next carrot. “Don’t worry, I will get you good discount on any extra work you want to be done in the flat. That’s a promise!”
I believed and gave a list of things to be done- our “yeh rishta..” and “Sasuraal gendha..” stuff! Before leaving India, I applied for a loan of Rs. 20 lacs. The Bank pointed out to my wife that the documents were not signed by the competent person from the builder’s company.
Again a nightmare. Have we been duped? Fortunately for us, not. The builder took a sweet one month and returned proper documents, without a word of regret. The loan was sanctioned and the money was paid to the builder in Feb-2010.
Sangeetha sent a mail that registration of the land could be done whenever I travelled to India. My father’s 80th birthday was falling in the first week of April, 2010. I travelled to India. After attending the birthday celebrations, I drove to Coimbatore. When I was near Darapuram, some 70 kms from Coimbatore, Sangeetha called and said that registration could not be done as the “valuer” had not come. Enquired whether it could be done the next day, she said “only by next month”! I lost my patience. How irresponsible! I have spent $2,000 on travel from Dar to India and these guys are so casual!
I drove to their office and shouted at everyone. They said they would arrange a meeting with the GM. When I waited, a middle aged man who was sitting next to me hushed “Sir, you are far better. I paid the money 18 months back.”
As usual, the GM evaded me. As I was leaving, they gave me a bill for Rs. 1.20 lacs towards extra work. Discount…? Nobody was willing to talk about it.
“Hariharan, when is the flat going to be ready?” asked my concerned sister in law. So did my friends, other relatives. We were embarrassed to give a reply. We could not tell them about the problems. We cursed ourselves. ‘Why the hell did we brag about the flat to others?’
The land was registered the next month. I had to make an extra trip. The land lord who came to register the undivided share told me that the flat which was being sold to me was, in fact reserved for him under the Joint Venture Agreement between him and the builder. He had objected to the same being sold to me. Then he was “compensated” by the builder. That was why the registration did not take place the previous month!
I felt stupid.
I went to the site. There was hardly any work going on! Anand was ready with his reasons. “All workers have been retained by the Govt. for the Tamil Semmozhi Conference. Hence the delay.”
By now I had started getting disenchanted with Anand. A feeling of helplessness filled me.
I returned to India in Oct, 2010. I learnt that the builder had sacked the GM in charge of Coimbatore Projects and a new guy called Palanisamy had joined. I met him. I filled him with my grievances. He sympathized with me and said he had been receiving complaints from other buyers as well. He apologized for the delay in completing the project. There came Sangeetha with a letter asking me to pay interest of Rs. 180,000 as I had delayed paying the initial Rs. 45 lacs!
Palanisamy who was courtesy by itself till then, distanced himself. He could do very less in this regard as these things happened before he joined. He told me to meet one Anil Damani who could help in this.
Anil Damani, whose business card said that he was the Sr. General Manager of Secunderabad Branch, said he was deputed to Coimbatire to solve the problems. He listened to my grievances and called Anand. Anand confessed! He confirmed every word of what I had said! Damani, perhaps did not expect this.
“Pay Rs. 90,000 as a compromise.” Damani said with an air of finality. Logic..? Simple. “If you want possession, you better pay. Remember you have already paid Rs. 50 lacs+. “
“What if I go to court?”
“Try your luck.”
Possession? Is the flat ready for taking possession? A visit to the site in the morning had revealed that generator had not been installed, water connection had not be obtained from Corporation, lift had not been installed, car park was not paved, final coat of paint in the flat was not given, doors inside the flat had not been fixed…..
Damani dismissed these as trivial issues.
I did not agree. I called the builder’s office Chennai and wanted to talk to their MD. I could not succeed in getting him. Then I wrote mail after mail to the MD. Two months went by. No reply. Meanwhile the Coimbatore office reminded me that they would be charging interest for every further day of delay.
My friend in Dar consoled me. “Hariharan, I paid Rs 75 lacs for a flat in NOIDA 2 years back. Still I have not got the flat. You are better off. Pay this and be done with it.”
Finally I paid Rs. 90,000! I paid full Rs. 1.20 lacs for extra work. $2,000 on a wasted trip- I let go of. 18 months delay in handing over- I accepted. Lift was not installed- I accepted. Gym was not ready- I accepted. Plumbing problems- I accepted. So did other owners.
The builder’s tag line “where you love coming home” at the entrance of the building stared at me. I wondered whether it meant anything.
I did the grahapravesh in June-2011. I was leaving the flat after grahapravesh. Anand met me in the car park. “Sir, you did not invite me for grahapravesh! How could you do this?”