Buying a House – Tips and Paperwork

Rishab asked a few questions a couple of weeks ago regarding buying property and I will try my best to answer these as well as I can. I guess what I can safely say is to take as much advise as possible from friends, family, bankers, financial planners (if you have access to them) and of course, the internet. It is a great proud feeling to buy your pad (if buying for the first time) and it also involves us emotionally. Like hunting for jobs, this experience should be enjoyed and not feared or seen as a chore. We don’t hunt for jobs or houses every day, do we? Here are a few words of advise that I can suggest from my limited set of experiences so far. Caveat emptor.

1. Pre-Owned or Ready only – I would recommend that you purchase a house that is near complete or second hand only. There is too much economic uncertainty and too much of leverage on the books of real estate companies in India to share project risk with the developers. We have one life and most of us get one chance to pick up a house – we should be as risk averse as possible. With land prices in urban India being bid up higher and higher, property developers have to borrow to buy. If the interest rates rise in the future it will make the going quite though for the real estate companies. That is the reason why the business model of Godrej Properties (GPL) is so cool – they mostly lease property from owners, develop it and share the profits. And that’s one of the reasons why I consider my investment in Godrej Industries Ltd (part owner of GPL) to be a part of my core holdings. Inner core.

2. Documents to look for

The following documents are usually sought for when buying a second hand property:

– Agreement of sale between the builder and the first owners and all the subsequent agreements of sale thereupon.

– Papers that uniquely qualify a clear title to the land. Also known as the Conveyance Deed.

– Registration certificate of the housing society. It usually takes 1 – 2 years after posession is granted by the builder for society formation.

– No objection certificate from the society to transfer the flat in the prospective buyers’ name.

– Copy of share certificate of the society. Once the society formation is complete, it issues share certificates to its members. You should take a look at this.

– A draft agreement of purchase (between you and the seller)

– Copies of municipal tax paid by the society. This may be tough to get but you should try.

– Occupation certificate granted by the municipal corporation to the builder.

– No objection certificate from the society to mortgage the flat in the favour of the bank, along with a letter stating the lien (this is in case you want to avail a housing loan)

– Income tax clearance of the seller (for registration purposes only). Check that.

There are other sets of documents that would be required if A) buying a resale flat if the society is not formed or B) if you are buying a new flat from a builder. Let me know and I shall email these to you. It is prudent to ask for/be aware of these documents. Indeed some housing finance institutions may not ask for all of these (more on that later) and the builder/society might spin tales as to why some of these documents are really not required – if that happens just walk out of that meeting. When I was looking around for my first house, a particular builder just did not want to part with the architectural plans and other documents of a second hand, unlived flat that I had liked. Luckily for me, I did not have a penny on me (only a promise of future income) and therefore I did not have any option but to look to a bank for finance. Since the bank would not advance the loan if the architectural drawings were not made available I had called it quits.

3. Finance – I am really in no position to opine on which housing finance company you should take your loan from. This decision is not as straight forward as taking out term insurance – in that case you should simply head to the insurer that offers you the lowest premium. Most properties are on the ‘pre-approved’ list of many financers – which means that they have already completed most of the paperwork required. Buying property in such buildings from these banks reduces the risk of landing up with an unclear title as well as easing up the paper work. Public sector banks in India generally offer the most competitive rates but dealing with them may not be a smooth affair. They don’t give a rats ass whether you give them your business or not. On the other hand, private sector banks put stiff sales targets on their sales people and you really do not want an over zealous sales turk to finance what turns out to be a sand castle to you! Finally, interest rates may very well rise in the near future. Inflation is too big a monster for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) not to do anything to the current rates. However, most banks offer only a 3 year fixed when they refer to fixed rates. I daresay that if someone is to buy a house next year, he/she should pick a floating rate – but it really depends on your view of the interest rates. 

4. CIBIL Credit Report – You should apply and procure your credit report from Credit Information Bureau India Limited (CIBIL). This is available for a nominal processing charge and is one of the things that banks look for when deciding on the grant of the loan. There are known instances where people have found errors in their CIBIL credit reports and while the RBI prescribes a time limit of 45 days for compliants to get resolved, you do not want to be running around clearing the errors in your credit report. Purchase opportunities do not last forever. In fact you should procure and check your credit report regardless of whether you intend to take a loan or not. Beware, if you are blacklisted or your credit score is very low, the chances are extremely high that your loan application will get bluntly rejected without a proper explanation. The onus will be on you to investigate and clear your name. Even if this is your first mortgage application, the fact that you might have had credit cards to your name – some of them you don’t even know if you own – will reflect in this report. Just get that report – home loan or not. My gut is that the public sector banks will be quite partisan to the credit report. At least the private banks might be inclined to help you work your way towards clearing your record (if tainted) since there are sales targets to meet.

4. Other considerations – Some other points that you might want to keep in mind (readers, please add on to this list if you can. I will keep adding as and when I get new insights):

– While the useful life of buildings is usually considered to be 70 – 80 years, do not buy a property that has had more than 2 past owners or is more than 15 years old. Maintenance expenses spike up around this point in the life of a building.

– Do not pay more than 1% as processing fees.

– Best to get a term insurance cover from the same institution to cover the quantum and tenure of the loan. Use this option to squeeze a better rate from the bank. Reveal this card only during the latter stage of rate negotiation.

– One trick that many want to play is to play one bank against another when trying to drive a bargain for the best rate. I don’t feel it’s worth it – India is a growing economy. The mortgage to GDP ratio for rapidly urbanising India is a paltry 7% which is way, way behind the developed economies (60% – 70%). So, banks are not under too much pressure to run after you.

– If the seller of the house also has a mortgage, it’s advisable for you to take your loan from the same institution.  The process gets simplified. Unless of course some other instituion is offering you a much lower rate.

– Bargain with the seller like your life depended on it. In some ways, it does. At least your financial life does. Rehearse your speech and plan your tactics, even if it means you appear like a penny pinching moron.

– If you are married, buy property in joint name. Makes things easy later on.

– Try to see the locality during the peak of the monsoon season. You’ll get an idea of water logging, seepage etc.

– refer to my other post on Buying Property for some more ideas.

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AWOL – I

Travelling upcountry today….to sell off some agricultural strip of land. Therefore will not be able to post today.

Buying Property

Some time back Sushanta had asked me to write something about buying property. As luck would have it I was contemplating buying a house in Mumbai at around that same time, but dropped the idea. Not because the price was outside my comfort zone but mainly due to the fact that it clashed with my firm belief to buy houses only after they are nearly complete. I haven’t purchased any house which is “under construction” or “proposed construction” till date. I personally know of friends and colleagues who have been stuck with housing loans where they have started paying the interest component on the loan but the building is far from getting completed. This is the worst possible situation one can be in since the principal stands as it is and you only service the interest component. Many young families give in to the lure of booking property the moment it is conceived on the drawing boards of the architects since these are usually offered at a discount to the current market prices prevailing in the locality. The rate in one of Mumbai’s suburbs where I stay is c 10,000 /per sq feet ( ~1 lakh /sq.m ~USD 2,500/sq.m) and in this particular case I was being offered a flat @ 8,000 psf which would get ready in end 2012. The builder would have to be paid in installments (as and when the plinth, slabs, etc.) get ready. The builder is well known, location of the property is sexy and the future piece was being offered at a discount of 20% to current prices. I would effectively be giving a loan to the developer. Assumming that prices in that area escalate by 10% per annum (they have actually compounded up ~15%  in the past couple of years), it would mean a completion price of c 12,000 psf. I pay 8,000 today and get back 12,000 in 2 years time! I would effectively be lending money to the builder at > 22%! (It’s actually greater than 22% since I would paying for the flat in installments). Makes you wonder what kind of loony builder is this? Well, not quite for I think that Pareto’s rule applies in the housing construction acitivity as well. Close to 80% of the actual costs of a building are incurred during the last 20% of the construction acitivity. Fittings, lifts, floor work, workers wages, permits etc. are what consume up a lot of cash but are needed much later – therefore the builder enjoys the float till that time.

Anyways, given my personal situation I figured out that I’d have to take out a loan for 50% of the amount ( = 4,000/-). and shell out an interest @ Rs. 40 psf. Moreover there is always a chance that the builder over leverages himself and is unable to complete a project (or cuts corners). Idea dropped – I would be happy to deploy that capital in the capital markets and expect a modest 15% annualised return instead. At least I’d have near instant liquidity and can always withdraw in case the need for a house becomes a painful obsession later.

Here’s my two cents worth regarding home buying: 

  1. Decide if you want to rent or buy. pre-tax rental yields are in the range of 2% – 4% in the suburbs of urban India (my hunch). Which means its a pretty stupid business to let out flats which logically means that it must be quite smart to rent. But young families need to build assets and there’s tremendous social pressure to own a house, and therefore we feel the need to move down the list.
  2. There are three main things that one should consider when buying property. These are A) Location, B) Location and C) Location.
  3. Stay within your means. Do not extrapolate salaries into the future and do not overextend in the present. Who knows the tide might just turn and all outsourced jobs might get sucked back into the countries of their origin.
  4. Do not buy property which you cannot touch and see. Period. The risk of promises being broken is high.
  5. If you are a young family and are renting it – then buy a house subject to above 4 constraints.
  6. If you are a young family and are staying with your parents and have no house of your own – then buy (again subject to points 2 – 4 above)
  7. If you are any kind of family and already own houses (my category) buy your next one at outright cash as far as possible and only for portfolio diversification. Which means you’d already have mountains of wealth in other asset classes (not my category!). Unless of course, you can afford the additional leverage.

Taking point 7 forward, I’ve never been too much of a fan of the adage, “make money on Wall Street and bury it on main street”. Many of the visitors to my site would never have made enough money on Dalal Street anyways.

In case you get stuck at point 1 above and keep staying in rented places (many people I know do this), then please ensure that the notional excess of cash at hand is deployed wisely. Hard nut to crack for most. Especially for young Indians whose parents come from the boring mileau of the license raj and Hindu rates of growth. The earning generation’s distinguishing identity seems to be today’s conspicous consumption habits. If you have the fortitude to resist the temptation of “keeping up with the Junejas” and deploy the money in (>> inflation) longer term, boring occupations, then please – do drop off the list at point 1 itself.

An extension of point 2 above is a heads up: just because you have to buy a house, do not pick one up in too remote location/city however attractive the price would be. The risk of buying houses/land in remote cities and localities is that prices remain stuck for ages and the trigger may not come in the current generation (i.e. yours). Can you say with certainty where your kids will be once they are old enough to understand website posts like this? And that they will not curse you for buying assets which they have no interest in at all.

Another problem many non-native families to Mumbai (or any other city for that matter) face is their aversion to taking up residence at the periphery of the city center or further away from their workplaces. It may be difficult forgoing easy accessibility of all the interesting sights and sounds and tastes but the outwardly radial move is well worth it – you save money. Beyond a certain point the convenience factor of being in the center of the city is taken for granted and the irritation of staying in an outpost starts to wane. Logic would dictate that a cannily chosen outpost would appreciate faster than a much discovered nerve center. Something like mid-caps vs. large caps.

Does that mean that I do not personally prefer being long on property (other than the one where I reside)? I do – that’s the reason why I’ve sunk in some amount of money in Godrej Industries Ltd. (though not directly into Godrej Properties)

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