Saturday, August 15, 2009

Condo ads - caveat emptor

PROPERTY developers, by virtue of their particular trade, have a habit of getting creative in marketing campaigns. In recent, fairly typical instances, two property companies advertised projects as being near unconfirmed locations of future MRT stations. The real estate business knows private property by train stations is highly valued, even if buyers are car owners. Being flexible with the truth in advertising has no place in an industry that meets a prime social goal besides being a plank of the economy.

Following a report carried in this newspaper, the two firms stopped using misleading transport information as a selling point. This is all to the good, particularly after a Land Transport Authority (LTA) spokesman dismissed the advertised claims as 'wild guesses'. Putting out unconfirmed MRT site information is not the only ploy resorted to. It has become a common - and even acceptable - industry practice for advertised properties to be depicted as being ensconced in verdant greenery when in reality, the 'greenery' is man-made infrastructure such as busy thoroughfares and tall buildings. Schematic diagrams frequently show schools, shopping malls, eating places and other amenities to be closer than they are. 'Walking distance' and 'minutes away' are relative, so advertisers get away with it.

It is easy to explain why home buyers can be taken in by hype and misrepresentation. In the first half of the year, more than 7,000 privates home were sold, exceeding the 4,264 units sold last year. Lower interest rates, improving consumer sentiment and the fear of being priced out are feeding the froth.

The onus is on buyers to do their homework. This should exceed what is promised in ads, scale models and dressed-up showflats. In the case of proposed MRT locations, buyers should check or verify the information on LTA's website and published media sources. Better still, do a reconnaissance of the property itself.

The buyer naivete shown underscores an oddity of the national psyche. Singaporeans have implicit trust in the integrity of the authorities (and rightly so). By extension, they tend to be fairly trusting of big commercial entities - banks, airlines, developers being examples. They accept sales information at face value. Property buyers who do not make thorough checks get what they deserve. The worst kind of information one is bombarded with is not brazen untruths, but untruths cloaked in a modicum of truth. If developers pull this stunt, the operative phrase for buyers is caveat emptor.

Source: Straits Times, 15 Aug 2009

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