Wednesday, November 4, 2009

BUYING A DREAMHOUSE? Here’s What You Should Know

Whether its an old villa, a new townhouse or an apartment or condominium unit, it is always advisable to hire professional help in assessing and inspecting the prospective property, which can help you determine the vital details concerning the integrity, safety and viability of the structure and its surroundings, and answer your questions regarding the legal and physical attributes of the abode. But if you want to save a few bucks and bent on just trusting your own observations, here's a few guidelines which might help you in your assessment:

RESERVATION
When a real estate broker approach you and trying desperately to convince you to pay a reservation fee for a particular property that you like, saying you need to do that to "reserve" the said particular property, otherwise somebody else might get it, think more than twice before you give the check. This is becoming some sort of a scam. Either the developer is lacking resources to complete the project and your money is a drop in their empty bucket or nobody is really buying their properties. Reservation fees are really not necessary.
If ever you accede to giving a reservation fee, however, make sure that there is a receipt and a written agreement that the money will be returned to you in full after you agree to buy the property or if ever you decide not to buy it.
Some unscrupulous subdivision real estate companies require their prospective buyers to pay reservation fees but later refuse to return them due to technicalities. Some even delays the construction of facilities such as roads and water supply system, or the modification required by the buyer, so as to delay the acquisition of the property, and if the said buyer tries to withdraw, his reservation fee is deemed elapsed or forfeited. This is especially so when the developer lacks the necessary financing to finish the project or there are multiple buyers bidding to a particular property.

LEGAL DOCUMENTS
Remember that when you're buying a property, you are buying all the encumbrances attached to it. You must be very keen and prudent, especially when buying mortgaged properties and, also, readymade subdivision residences. Most of the ownership documents of these properties as gleaned from judicial records are "highly nebulous" and questionable and, oftentimes, anomalous.
So, it is best to research the background of the property first. That is, going as far as looking into documents in the Bureau of Lands, Land Registration Office and local government register's records. Make sure that the land location is "classified" as alienable. Many land titles have been declared null and void because they were illegally issued on inalienable domain such as alongside lakes and rivers, or on mountain slopes and areas still classified by law as forest lands.
Ask for the xerox copies of the land title, the vicinity map and the tax declaration of the property. Try to research the origin of the property or how the ownership of the property came about. Is the title to the property genuine, valid, clean and free from liabilities and encumbrances? Are there no conflicting claims to the property? Remember that a Torrens title is not an absolute proof of ownership, it is merely a document stating on whose name the property was registered. Take note!
Read the contents of the contract or deed of sale carefully. If there are legal or technical terms you do not quite understand or is not "crystal" clear, do not hesitate to ask for clarification.
After the verification and all turned out well to your satisfaction, and you have gone through all necessary inspection of the house and decided to buy the property, make sure that all the "originals" of the documents are given to you before the signing of the deed. Take a cue from the local parlance "kaliwaan." Pay only when everything is in order and at your grasp.
If it’s an old house, check also the current real property tax receipts and the latest electricity, water and telephone bills. You wouldn't want inheriting the hassle of unpaid bills in the future.

GEOGRAPHY
Most people like scenic locale, such as alongside a river or overviewing a lake. But with so much pollution and dirt in our bodies of water today, the comfort of the scenery has become a burden of sanitation. Plus there is the problem of flooding during high tides and the rainy season. So, unless it’s upriver (and I mean, really high up), forget buying properties near these waters.
It is very important to know the geography, topography and geology of the area. You wouldn't want to be shocked later when you discover that your house is very near a faultline or atop a hollow ground. An information sheet or certificate can be provided by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) with regards to the vicinity of faultlines and fault traces near or within the area of the property. Reclaimed areas should also be avoided, as they are prone to flooding, ground subsidence and liquefaction, notwithstanding the developer’s assurance that adequate measures were taken into consideration. Believe me, assurances lapsed and when problems of geologic proportions do happen, they will blame it on force majeure.
Subdivision houses on sloping grounds should also be avoided, especially when the underlying earth is loose and craggy and no adequate concrete retaining walls are built to separate different tiers of homelots.
Low-cost housing are good for the budget-conscious but be very prudent in inspecting these houses. Although they are built for economical purpose, they must also comply with all the regulations of the Building Code as well as other geographical or engineering requirements necessary for safety and stability.

INSPECTION
Contrary perhaps to convenience, the best time to inspect the house you want to buy is during or just after a heavy rainfall. The occasion will reveal civil defects in the structure (if there are any?) such as leakage, seepage, damp, drain clog, gutter inadequacy, roofing problems, flushing fissures, soil erosion and other environmental hazards, and of course you'll be able to know first hand if the place is being inundated or not.
Be sure to take notes of what you observed or perceived-to-be-defects of the structure and its facilities so that you can discuss these later with the broker, project engineer or maintenance supervisor.
If you discovered an item of sub-standard materials in the house, chances are the rest of the house are built on sub-standard materials. Pamphlets and brochures will show you drawings and pictures of beautiful houses, but it is the actual inspection that will reveal the ugly unmentioned things. One good example: If there is a window adoining any door of the house, open it and try to reach the doorknob from the outside. If you can open the door by doing it, so does potential thieves and other unwanted visitors. Look at the doorknobs and the locks, if they are of low quality, you are almost sure that the rest of the items in the house are just like them. Be very scrutinizing!

STRUCTURAL SOUNDNESS
Make sure there is a complete structural plan for the building and it is duly-signed by a licensed civil or structural engineer.
Examine the structural and non-structural members of the building for any defects and anomalies. For concrete members, look for cracks and voids. In unrefurbished old houses, the cracks are usually visible, penetrating through the paints and finishing. Cracks on masonry walls are much easier to repair and would entail lesser repair cost than those on structural members such as slabs, beams, columns and footings.
For wooden members, look for signs of infestations of termites and other wood vermins. Inspect if the jambs, joists, lattices, girts and purlins are treated with anti-pest solutions. Try to observe if they are aligned and leveled. Mark the wood pieces having sags, breaks and warps. For steel members, look for weld breaks, rusting and sagging. Check their anchorage carefully. If they are embedded in concrete, check if there are signs of cracking in the concrete. If they are anchored by bolts, screws or rivets, check if these fasteners are rusted, loose, still intact, and consult a structural engineer if it is still efficient to carry the loads.
Inspect the base of the columns. If they are separated by gaps from the ground slab, and lateral and vertical cracks in the wall near the columns exist, chances are ground displacements and settlements have occurred.
If there are repairworks to be done, it must be made clear how much the repairworks will cost, on whose pocket the repairworks expenses will come, and if the repairworks can restore the integrity of the structure?
If you plan to have an additional room or a balcony to the building, again, you should consult a structural engineer if such an additional load can be sustained by the building's structural frame and foundation?
With regards to new construction, it is best to inspect the house before the finishing stage. It is at this point when the "retouching" is made, and you'll be able to identify the location of possible anomalies.

CODE COMPLIANCE
Try to get a written assurance, in "black and white, " from the seller of the property that all the constructions, renovations and installations are in compliance with the Structural Code of the Philipines or the Uniform Building Code (whichever is applicable), and National Building Code (P.D. 1096), and other city, municipal or subdivision regulations and ordinances. You certainly don't want the front of your house to be "slivered" in the future for violation of setback requirements.
For subdivision houses, check if all the required facilities are met according to governing engineering standards. Don't just buy a house because it is located in a scenic spot or because the roads are paved, but check if the subdivision in its entirety complied with all the sanitary, civil and structural provisions in accordance with existing laws and standards.
Be sure that a certificate of occupancy has been issued for the building.

VITAL SERVICES
These include electricity, water, sewer and telephone connection. Check if everything is in working order. Are all the circuit breakers functioning accordingly? Is the water coming from all faucets and conveyors clear and clean? Are the toilets flushing properly? Are the gutters and drains working? Is the telephone line active?
Check the wirings and pipelines to allay yours fears of future troubles. In old houses, the insulations of the wirings are often worn out, and the pipes are rusting and brittle. You might also want to relocate underground electrical conduits that may be affected by water seepage, and water conduits below existing sewer lines, which may contaminate them.

CHANGE IN THE FINISH
Most of the time, the new owner would opt to change the finishing of the house to suit his taste and lifestyle. Again, if you want to install your own finishing, you might want to talk to the contractor ahead of time, if possible, before the finishing stage. You can supply your own finishing materials and compromise on the deduction of the cost.
Remember that it will be your house, and you have the open option to arrange all matters for your satisfaction. Then again, if it's not all possible, you can always just buy a piece of land, and then plan, design and built your own house – with the help of engineers and architects, of course.

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