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Between Imagination and Reality: How to Identify the Planning Trap When Buying an Apartment

Posted by ranit on January 29, 2017
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Ranit Nachum-Halevi

In the brochure it always looks better. The planned towers enjoy an expansive view, the home is spacious, the living room windows face the sea, and the place is just dreamy. In actuality, when you move in your dreams get dashed: dozens of other buildings surround yours, and the living room windows overlook a teeming road.


It happens often, and there’s no point in denying it: competition among project marketers leads contractors to issue a sparkling marketing brochure that proves less than accurate, and sometimes divorced from reality. Ronit Marom, owner of an architectural and interior design firm, answers questions that contractors try to hide.


The South Kirya project constructed in recent years by one of Israel’s leading construction companies sports 700 apartments, and it provided the first major exposure of real estate marketer techniques. The company distributed a brochure that showed the planned apartments as facing an open park. In fact the brochure hid what was actually happening on the site: the promoted project was but one of 27 towers planned for the area. No view, and certainly no park.


Ronit Marom, owner of an architectural and interior design firm on Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Street, explains: “Your typical contractor dreams of selling every apartment even before the first brick is laid. That way he can guarantee calm and certainty regarding the expensive funding of the project, and focus on the construction itself, as complicated as it will be.”


“Contractors use simulation videos in which you’ll always find virtual images of a svelte woman and a handsome man waking up in their virtual bedroom to another virtual day in their luxury complex – that might prove to be virtual permanently. This modus operandi results in a multitude of brochures showing spacious and comfortable, but that remains in the realm of simulation. In reality, there’s no room to move.”


Where are the limits? How are companies allowed to depart from what they promised and use computerized trickery to conceal the reality?


“Many buyers really think the contractors are deceiving them with the simulations,” explains Marom, who also handles “resident alterations” issues and oversees the implementation of plans as a resident representative. “The commodious apartment surrounded by trees, with an open vista, becomes a cramped apartment in a standard building in the midst of others.”


“Hundreds of lawsuits are filed every year on this subject, but you have to realize that construction companies see no problem with the brochure descriptions, and contend that only the signed contract with the buyer is binding. The courts have adopted the same assumption, and rule that brochures are just that – brochures: that simulations need not portray reality with complete loyalty, and what binds is the sale contract with its attachments, including the technical specifications. At the end of the day the contractors know well that a brochure has no legal validity, and that it serves as a tremendous tool to seduce most buyers. How many people, after all, know how to read the apartment’s architectural drawings? The resident, on the other hand, is left with the bitter taste of a deal gone wrong, of disappointment, since what he kept seeing in his mind’s eye is what was promised in the project’s early stages – in the contractor’s shiny billboards, ads, fancy brochures, and verbal promises, some of which, at least, proved to be backed up by nothing at all.”


What qualitative “deviations” have you encountered in your work?


“In most cases the entrepreneurs record the dimensions of the apartment using the actual numbers, but the model furniture is depicted as smaller than the standard size, giving the illusion of larger spaces than in reality. That’s without even mentioning dimensions that are not up to standard. We see that too. But the source of the problem as I’ve identified it lies in the layout plan and simulations, coupled with the buyer’s lack of skill in applying a critical eye to them. Sometimes contractors directly try to exploit that lack of skill, and sometimes buyers simply can’t translate the plan into an accurate picture of the way the apartment will turn out. The buyers hear the contractor talk about the area of the apartment and automatically assume that means a spacious place. They can’t tell that the division of spaces within in doesn’t meet their needs or expectations.”


What tips can you offer anyone who buys a place on paper?


“The most common technique contractors use in marketing is pressure. When the company starts pressing buyers, ‘Close the deal now!’ mentioning that 2 other families are interested in the place, take that statement with a sense of proportion. That’s actually the point at which buyers can insert their own demands into the contract that will help them later on.”


How can buyers protect themselves against deceptive brochure portrayals?


Marom: “Compare the brochure with the sales plan, which is basically the plan according to which the apartment must be built. It’s to scale. It doesn’t look as nice and isn’t printed on glossy paper, but it’s real.”


On that point Marom notes the great importance of examining the technical specifications of the apartment, which includes all of the company’s obligations, down to the smallest detail, such as type of flooring, type of plumbing, and number of electrical sockets.


“It’s a long list that must include everything, even the identity of the suppliers of the bathroom fixtures and faucets. When a company doesn’t provide a plan that matches the brochure and specs, there’s a problem, and it’s best to go back and check. It doesn’t matter what company it is, or how much goodwill they’ve accumulated.”


Marom also notes it is important to pay attention to the furniture in the drawings.


“The depictions of the apartment layout and the furniture in the marketing brochure are not to scale. That means they can even make it look like a double bed fits in a small room. In kids’ rooms, it’s not unusual to show miniature furniture – small desks and short beds. The master bedroom is also rich with potential disappointments,” she continues. “What was supposed to be a sanctuary of marriage and intimacy often features a walk-in closet so small that the couple is forced to by a separate stand-alone closet that somehow has to squeeze into the room. Similarly, rooms are sometimes too narrow to fit a wide bed and two night tables.”


What about living room space, and what do we have to be careful of in terms of kitchen drawings?


“If the space looks huge, pay attention to the furniture in the drawing – make sure it doesn’t look small. As for the kitchen, note that the niche for the refrigerator is usually too small to accommodate the wider appliances that have become popular in recent years. Such changes will inevitably lead to adjustments in walls and the entire standard kitchen offered by the contractor – adjustments that will cost quite a bit of money.”


It sounds complicated and risky. How can we be careful enough?


Marom: “Buying an apartment on paper comes with desires, expectations, even dreams, and no small number of disappointments. Sometimes big ones. It’s best to hire a professional to guide the buyers through the whole process, and if necessary, make sure those dreams retain a sense of proportion. If he’s really a professional, he can also save the buyer money, sometimes lots of it. Remember: the less you, the buyers, demand, the less you will receive, and that’s too bad!” she concludes.

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