Ravindra and Madhu Arya were one of the many home buyers who got carried away by the posh and spacious sample flat that opened out to a great view at the site office of one of the reputed developers in Pune.
“The flat shown to us was so airy and spacious that we felt this is the dream house we thought of. We immediately booked it though the rate was a bit higher than that prevailing in the area,” said Madhu Arya. “However, on the day of possession, we were in for a shock. The flat handed to us was something that we didn’t expect. It had dark portions and no breeze. It had no view and seemed very small.”
The sample flat is the most potent marketing tool developers use to lure buyers into making purchase decisions. They are done up by interior designers and the furniture too is customised to make it look spacious and bring out a high-end feel. The cost that goes into doing up the flat is sometimes higher than the cost of the flat. “In some cases, visually appealing sample flats may help detract from the fact that the project’s location is not exactly cutting-edge,” says Om Ahuja, CEO-Residential Services, JLL India.
“Showing a sample flat to give an idea of the product is technically not illegal. It is a standard marketing tool,” says Naresh Mehta, a Mumbai-based property consultant. “The problem is that most developers use this to deceive the buyers. The facts are hidden and the difference between the sample flat and actual flat is not revealed at that point. That is unethical,” adds Mehta.
There are two problems at this stage. One, the buyer is unaware of the tricks and walks into the trap and secondly, he is emotional and vulnerable at the time of searching for his dream house and becomes an easy target of the sales team who sell a dream with this exquisitely designed sample flat. The so-called ‘show’ flat is an eye-wash in many ways.
The sample flat is positioned in such a way that the person walking through it feels abundant light and good ventilation. Then he is taken to the windows or the balconies, which would offer a pleasant view. However, when the buyer moves in, that window in all probability would face another building. There may not be sufficient light and air in the dream house. The floor and the orientation of the flat could change.
Size is another front to fool the prospective buyer. Usually, the area of the sample flat is quite bigger than those up for sale. The ceiling is higher too. But the flat would be smaller. By the time the difference is realised, it is too late.
“Unfortunately, the client does not check or measure the size of the sample flat. He may feel awkward to do so, and the sales representative convinces him that he would get something similar and that he need not bother,” says Ramesh Ranka, a broker in Mumbai.
“However, by the time the buyer realises that the flat handed over to him is smaller, the sample flat does not exist. It is usually demolished once most of the project is sold. There is nothing left to compare or prove,” says Ranka.
The Feeling of space
The game starts with floor size and ceiling height and extends to other parts of the sample flat. In many cases, the walls are made of glass, which gives a better view of the interior. The flat looks spacious as it creates larger visual effect and also glass being thinner than the wall adds to the feeling of greater space.
“In some cases one may find plywood partitions instead of brick walls. Gypsum boards, too are used. Like glass, all these consume lesser floor area and add to the spacious look,” says Deepa Shah, an interior designer. “In a few cases, pre-fabricated bricks of width of say two inches are used to erect the wall. In this case, even when one knocks on the wall, one will not be able to find the difference. Besides, all these partitions impart better finish when painted,” adds Shah.
The next element of illusion is the door, or the lack of one. Most sample flats will not have doors to the rooms or even to the bathrooms. Like glass walls, having no doors removes visual obstacles, giving an impression of greater space.
It looks posh
There are three tricks here: painting, furniture and fixtures. Due to use of plywood or gypsum or pre-fabricated bricks, the finish looks superior. The paint used is also of higher quality. However, it would not be the same quality for the flat that would be sold. The flooring would also be high-end and walls will have impressive artwork to delight the buyers instantly.
The furniture is another piece of optical deceit. That is because it is made to a size smaller than the standard size. The dining table, the beds, the study table etc are smaller and overhead closets have lesser depth. This makes the room look bigger and the buyer assumes that all his furniture will fit in well. In reality, the house would have furniture of standard dimension, and the room could look congested.
The fixtures used in sample flats are top of the line to impress the buyer. In the actual flat, to be moved in at the end of 3-6 years, they would be either be inferior or of the same brand but of a lower range. The lighting is done in such a way that one feels as though natural light is reaching every corner of the flat. In one case, hidden air-conditioning ducts were installed to make the buyers feel cool and that was attributed to the natural breeze from the ‘lush green’ surroundings.
The legal angle
Seen legally, showing the sample flat is valid. To prove that there was a difference between the sample flat and the actual flat needs evidence. Buyers don’t have any documentary proof of the sample flat. Photography or video-shoot is smartly prohibited by the developer by saying that competitors might steal their design. The buyers don’t realise that the ‘design’ the developer claims to be protecting is already available in his brochures. He is actually prohibiting the buyer from taking away any evidence of the sample flat.
“Since the actual sample flat is demolished before possession, the buyer will usually have no evidence. In case someone has any proof, the developer will have another layer of safety in the agreement” says Shefali Madan, a Mumbai-based advocate. “The buyer agreements are usually tilted in favour of the developers and they would typically insert a clause such as ‘the final design may vary subject to approvals’ or ‘dimensions and specifications are indicative’ or ‘the developer reserves the right to change or alter without prior intimation’ etc. This clause makes the buyer defenceless.” Most of the regulatory provisions are silent on the issue of discrepancy between the sample flat, brochures and the actual flat.
Buyers have to restrain themselves from being carried away by the brilliantly done up sample flat. One can compare the architectural drawing in the brochure and layout plan with the dimensions and specifications of the sample flat. This will reveal a lot of hidden issues such as actual carpet area and the corresponding rate, actual location of the flat and specifications of each room.
“These flats are showcases, meant to incite interest and indicate the ‘lifestyle potential’ of the unit. The fact that they are furnished allows for an understanding of how the available space could be optimally utilised. These flats can make a difference in a buyer’s purchase decision but onus of establishing the difference between real and perceived value always lies on the buyer,” adds Ahuja.
The buyer can insist on taking photos or video and should not feel awkward to ask questions. Usually the sales office is reluctant in giving the draft of the agreement. In that case, it would be advisable to have second visit with professionals to check if you are going to get what you are paying for.