Thursday, June 13, 2013

With This Deed I Thee Wed

Have you ever been on a blind date? What’s your success rate been? I’m willing to bet that a high percentage of blind date stories you’ve heard don’t have the required happy endings that were originally desired. These are stories usually shared long after the fact in a humorous, anecdotal way. The only real damage done from the experience is hours wasted, and, if you play the traditional male role of paying for the evening, a lighter wallet.

Let’s take this analogy one step further. In our Western culture we are expected to meet the person we fall in love with, date for awhile, get engaged, and then marry. While some parts of the world still rely heavily on the arranged marriage, which involves sight unseen of your mate until you say the “I do’s,” this idea is pooh-poohed in our civilized world. And yet, with all the pre-nuptial preparedness we go through to make sure you have the right one, the divorce rate is still above 50%.

Okay, so by now you’re probably saying to yourself, “why is a plumber talking about marriage?” Well, to make a very valid point. While most people wouldn’t think of marrying a mate sight unseen, there are many who will plunk a huge down payment on a condo that doesn’t even exist.

Arguments can be made that gambling on a pre built home is less expensive, but in the long run, it is much easier to buy a visibly finished product. If you’re the kind of person who likes to roll the dice, then at least let me give you a recent example of what you might be up against.

A person I know, and for the sake of argument, let’s just call him “Ralph,” made an offer on a pre-built condo. The unit was optioned for the choice of either shower or bathtub. The shower was chosen. One particular brand of toilet was shown in the model condo, with the promise that an equivalent type would be installed in the finished dwelling.

The end of construction and occupancy date was given. A price estimate was made for the municipal tax and “welcome tax” (in the province of Quebec new homeowners are expected to pay an addition tax called a “welcome tax.” Most Quebecers would prefer to be not so welcomed). Two choices of kitchen cabinet doors were shown and specific subcontractors were supposedly executing the work.

The first week of April was chosen as date of possession. The first sign for Ralph that things might be going off course was having the move-in date pushed back several times. At the time of this writing it is mid June, and just like Dorothy, all Ralph wants to do is go home, but no amount of heel clicking will get him into house any faster.

When asked to see the almost finished condo, a bathtub was installed in place of a shower. Ralph was told by the vendor that an extra charge of $4,000 would be incurred to change to the already agreed shower. It’s ironic how the price has gone up, since it was a mistake on the builder’s part and also the original selling price for either the shower or tub was the same. As if that wasn’t enough, the toilet installed was less expensive and of a different brand than originally agreed upon. Like so many people in such a stressful situation, Ralph just decided to agree on sticking with a tub. A compromise was to have glass doors installed. The end result was that now poor Ralph will have to step over the toilet bowl to enter the bathtub; a tricky Olympic maneuver that would no doubt be made even trickier with wet feet on a slippery surface.

The vendor agreed to change some but not all the mistakes made by the builder. The plumbing contractor that was supposed to execute the work was not the one chosen. Welcome tax and municipal tax was at least 20% higher than the estimated value.

So through this nightmare, what has Ralph learned? Well, he now knows that every decision, as far as style of finishing are concerned, should be documented and brought to the attention of the vendor upon completion of the work. If not, Ralph is stuck with what he’s got.

When buying a property after construction, you pay for what you can physically see. Usually in a multi-unit dwelling, mistakes are more likely to happen (whether intentional or not) because many finishing products are bought in bulk for better price.

If you still want to be as brave as Ralph and buy the proverbial sandcastle in the sky, sight unseen, then it is imperative that you hire an independent licensed building inspector. One who is legally allowed to enter a construction site. Usually if the vendor is on the up and up, they would allow this type of inspection.

Just like someone who goes into a marriage on a wing and a prayer, buying a condo that you can’t even see, might cost you way more than you bargained for in the end. When you’re making such a huge investment, make sure everything to your specifications are written down in a concrete, iron clad contract. And it doesn’t hurt to actually have the physical concrete up as well. You don’t want your condo investment to be the nightmare blind date you can’t get away from. That will eat an even bigger hole in your wallet.

See you around the drain!!!

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