Monday, October 26, 2009

Every little thing...

It’s not amusing, but it’s got to be done.

The paint in my current house is so fragile, if I sneeze in the living room, a mark shows up on the bedroom wall. The flat owner is allergic to any damages his home will incur, so it’s been a fun year keeping all furniture a good one inch away from the wall and not slamming doors when angry because the bathroom plaster is falling like snow.

When you decide to buy/ rent, make sure the owner gets the place painted if the house needs it. The charges for the same are NOT to be adjusted against your rent. In fact, any repairs the owner carries out, if you’re renting the house, are to be seen as enhancing the value of his/her house and are not a concession to you. If purchasing, you will naturally do the painting yourself.

When examining the house, check if all faucets, door knobs, latches, commode flush are in working condition. This is very important in case you’re renting, so point out any ill-functioning taps and appliances after a thorough check. The owner must get these repaired before you move in, and after you take possession. I actually took photographs of the house before moving in, compiled a list of minor damages here and there which the owner had not addressed, and got the list signed from him. Keep yourself safe on all counts; the owner must not have a window of opportunity to carry out repairs against any damages you might have caused from the deposit money you paid up.

Also, put the terms for recovering your deposit in the clearest language in your agreement. Generally, the owner hands over the deposit after a last inspection of the house. Agree that the house keys and deposit money will be exchanged on the same day.

What you will have to check for:
- Leakages in external/ internal walls.
- If the walls are too defaced to put up curtain rods, paintings and such.
- If the fans, lights, hot water geysers, intercom point are installed and in working condition.
- If door handles, knobs, latches have come unstuck/ are jammed.
- If there are plug points for your washing machine, refrigerator. These require special points, you cannot plug these appliances into your normal ones.
- If there is an inlet for a water filter. Also check for inlet and outlet for your washing machine.
- If there is a TV cable connection already provided.
- What the arrangement for gas supply to the kitchen is.
- If there is space to hang mirrors, bathroom cabinet/ shelf in the bathroom.
- If the window grilles, door shutters are in good working condition, and how secure the house is from burglaries/ forced entry.
- If there is enough storage space for kitchen utensils. Also check for additional storage space in the form of lofts.
- If there are cockroach infestations anywhere in the house. Look for these under kitchen sinks, unused room corners, kitchen cabinets and other places affording breeding sites.
- If there are cleaning ladies frequenting other flats in the building.

Start with these basics and you might discover many other things you need to look at while you’re still checking. Once these are done, you can start shifting your furniture. Leave actual beautification for the last – putting up plants, setting up planter boxes, wall hangings and wind chimes, wall paintings and flower vases – but get your house thoroughly cleaned, sprayed for pests, and painted before you start moving in.

Do write in if you have any tips to share.

Next: Packing for the move.

This is it!

You’ll know you want a house the moment you walk into it.

Every house, like people, has a personality. Of course you knew that, but keep it in mind when making the final choice. Some houses I’ve been to see were friendly in a superficial kind of way (the place was roomy but they had almost no running water, the paint was scraped off by some vindictive soul), some were grumpy and uncommunicative, some were ugly but habitable, some were rejected through no fault of their own because the building was embroiled in some kind of dispute.

Whether buying a house or renting one, be sure you like not just the house but also its surrounds. Even if it's just a rental place you will move out of a year later, make sure its personality matches yours. No, I don’t mean it should like chocolate milk shakes and walks on the beach. Try and match the house in front of you with the house in your head. The closer the match, the closer you are to making a wise choice.

When we were looking for houses, we rejected many more houses than we shortlisted, and that’s normal. We saw the whole works – dump holes, jazzy painted spaces, houses hemmed in from all sides by other buildings, a leaky ceiling – and drove several agents up the wall by demanding to see more. Some houses were great but I vetoed them for a variety of reasons – a neighbourhood comprising people of just one community, a series of slums leading to the main building, improper approach roads, a garbage dumpster right in front of the building entrance, building secretaries nosy beyond all reason. But these reasons should not necessarily stop you. You might have your own set of no-nos. However huge the temptation, do NOT compromise on factors that you are fundamentally against.

For instance, I would NEVER take up a house in, say, a building full of senior citizens or an all-Gujarati, all-Marathi, all-something else neighbourhood. I would also not be interested in a house that is now inside a tower block made by rehabilitating a chawl. Do not show me houses where the building is crumbling before my eyes. I am also not looking at places that are in the middle of nothing, and I have to trek one kilometer just to buy a loaf of bread.

Having said that, it is also not wise to reject something on first appearances alone, especially if you are looking to purchase. Find out the future of a particular house. For instance, buildings close to such important sites as the metro rail will see a staggering upswing in prices in the future. Also look to invest in a house that is liable for redevelopment, since you will get a bigger house courtesy the builder. Look for such fundamentals as grocery shops, restaurants and chemists near the building you select.

Next, the building itself. Once you’ve decided to purchase/ rent a property, insist on meeting the building secretary or chairman. Be friendly, not flattering. Tell him/her that you would move in soon and point out why you chose this particular house. Before asking him/her details about the building, slip in a request that you will require an NOC to submit at the registrar’s. Before he/she asks, tell them to list out the documents he/she would require from your end to prove your credentials. The most basic ones they will need are marriage certificates, passport copies and PAN card copies. Also keep aside extra photographs, ration card copies and once prepared, a copy of the agreement between yourself and the present owner of the house.

If you’re purchasing, find out such things as whether the building is involved in any legal wrangles, if the water connections perform as promised, if there are power outages, if the neighbourhood is friendly. These might matter even when you’re renting a place, so make enquiries before committing yourself.

Also, find out from at least three different sources, the correct market rate of the property. This applies also to rental homes. Some agents and homeowners quote funny prices, so find out what the deal is before you laugh. Property sites on the internet can help with this, if you search each area diligently.

When you take possession of the house keys, talk to the neighbours. In fact, it is a good idea to sometimes talk to the neighbours before you finalise a deal. You will know what to expect from the person next door and you might get an accurate assessment of your purchase.

As for me, I butt into the house-hunting process only twice: first to veto or shortlist a property, and next, when it is time to move in. I understand nothing of the monetary part of the deal, so the husband handles that. He is not allowed a say in the other things. If you’re looking with a partner, decide which specific parts of the process either of you will handle. If single, all the best and have fun.

Next: What to really look for in a house.

Token love

Well, so the house is final.

First thing you have to do is pay the token amount. This is an exercise purely to get the flat owner leasing out his flat to you, to shut up and stop dropping hints about “other buyers” queuing up to get the house you have already finalised. After several rounds of discussion. I have known some people to go to extreme lengths merely to snooter the prospective buyer – in the hope that the more desperate the buyer, the more the eventual price. There was once a home owner who made a deal with another party after accepting the token amount.

So first things first. The moment the token amount is given, insist on a receipt mentioning all the relevant details. Tell the home owner/ agent clearly that you will require subsequent receipts for monthly rents paid, the deposit sum and any other compensation from your end. After they have meekly agreed, do a dance to rub their faces in it.

I trekked to the agents’ today to give the token amount for the new house. There was a form to sign and I had to put down my father’s home address and the husband’s home address (“for police procedures, heh heh heh” said the agent) and I traipsed out with the knowledge that the deal is finally through. Of course, the husband put the spanner in the works by asking me a) Why I had paid the token amount (when it had been discussed yesterday that we were going to) and b) What is the guarantee that the money will not be misused?

After issuing dire threats and ordering him off my phone, I fumed all the way home and cooled down only much later. But let me tell you this: gauge your agent, if there is one. After you decide you trust him, that you like his face and the fragrance of his deodorant, try and determine how well his business his doing. Also keep an ear open for whether he listens to you. For instance, one of the agents we hired was such a prat, he kept showing us fully furnished homes after we specifically told him we wanted empty houses, and then insisted that we take up a shady-looking accommodation that nobody seemed to want.

Second, your agent is not likely to run off with your money unless he is a complete berk and if you have every transaction in writing and signed. Do not be taken in with promises of “Pay now, we’ll issue all the receipts together.” Insist on the receipt at the time of handing over your money. Keep all your receipts carefully and check for any spelling errors of your name; this might complicate matters somewhat if your HR gives you house rent allowance and finds your name spelled wrongly.

Third, assess how much cash you have in paper form at home, and how much you have in the bank. The general rule of thumb is that you make an agreement for at least 11 months, so multiply the monthly rent you agreed on by 11. Add the deposit money (refundable) to this amount. To this, add such sums as stamp duty and registration charges, brokerage for the agent (generally equivalent to two rents, but some charge just one rent if they know the party), and items of immediate concern that you might have to pay for, such as fixing some furniture or getting some minor repairs done if the owner does not do them. Try and insist on the owner carrying out any repairs – after all, whatever they do to make the house as habitable as possible is an investment in their own home and is not to be construed as a special favour on you, the licensee.

However, before you make noughts and crosses on the walls to mark the spot where your kitchen cabinet goes or where the bedroom mirror affixes itself, ask your owner if it is possible to punch holes in the walls if you promise to restore the house before you leave. Some owners are notoriously touchy about people even touching their walls, so any hole-punching is out of the question. Ask me; I spent all my eleven months in the present house tiptoeing about not touching anything.

Once you’ve set aside your money, try and put a bulk of the amount in a bank account that is not as frequently used as maybe the account that has an ATM card. This way, you know you are not defaulting on your monthly rent payments and you don’t have to constantly juggle between the house money and cash for daily living. Having learnt the hard way, I will now use a hitherto neglected account for the rent money and keep my HDFC one for daily expenses.

Tomorrow, I am following up on the piped gas connection with the agent. I expect to get the receipt after I have made a trip to the bank to track an extra payment I made to my current homeowner (yeah, that happens too). Let’s talk about selecting the right location for your house tomorrow, which I now realise should have been topic number one. Do write in if you have a tip to share or a point to make.

Before I begin

This blog is meant as a place for education and interaction, between home owners and licensors, licensees and other people vaguely interested in the business of setting up home.

Ah, who am I kidding, it's a place to help me let off some steam and write down the things that strike me as rude to say to somebody's face but which I can put down here because, as every idiot knows, setting up house is a harrowing business which necessitates letting off some steam.

So my husband and I are in the process of moving a second time. The lease on the current flat goes poof on November 15, and we've homed in on a dear little house which comes with a terrace, thus opening up a whole lot of possibilities involving pottering about with spades and plants. Also, I love the process of moving in. Last time was fun, and though most parties will not admit it, I did it ALONE.

I will largely do it alone this time, too. Anything and everything related to the move will be found here, right from the faffing one must do at the agents' to the slow disintegration of your most comfortable pair of slippers as you trek the neighbourhood seeing dreary and delightful homes, to the process itself, right down to the pottering about with spades and plants. Suggestions and tips are most welcome, because as much as I brag about it, I have done this just once.