When services are not delivered

Evaluate property service providers well as they may not keep their promises

“You know the problem with real-estate services?” asked Lousie. The metro train was moving smoothly; Housie seemed to ignore the question, and smiled at a WhatsApp forward. Housie, a 25-year-old who owns nothing except his mobile phone, Paytm account and credit card, and rents everything else, said: “Nothing. It does not exist.”

Lousie, whose cup always overflows with property-related issues, was somewhat pleased. “Nothing is better. This is dis-service, mis-service, un-service,” he paused in search of more negatives.

Housie used this chance — they come rarely — to share a story. “My friend Chidvi Pemula, co-founder of e-commerce start-up Jeukart, wanted to take up temporary housing, and booked with an online service provider who offered many choices for stay. He paid a deposit of ₹28,071 for a room in Bengaluru. Chidvi went on trust, and did not see the place, as the terms of the agreement was full refund if you vacate within three months,” he said. “I bet the company took his deposit and refused to refund though your friend never stayed even an hour in the room.” said Lousie. “Yes. The company sent a representative when he moved in. Chidvi told him that he is not taking the place and raised a move-out request. But he did not get a refund.” Housie said.

“Did they say they do not have any record of him opting out?” asked Lousie. “Yes, the default excuse,” Housie responded. “But my friend persisted and kept writing and calling. They took his request and offered to refund ₹5,807 — based on when they recorded his refusal. He has been chasing them for over a month to get a full refund; paying ₹20,000 for just visiting a place is crazy. Sure, service promises such as full refund, unlimited switching sound good. While good service providers are realistic about their promises, transparent on the terms and have good support staff, many are new and often drop the ball due to operational issues. So, it is best to visit, enquire and be sure before making payments.”

Tenant woes

“Maybe your friend can console himself that he may have suffered more had he taken the place,” said Lousie. “On Twitter, you can find so many tales of woes of tenants who suffer inferior quality rooms and beds. They are over-charged on their utility bills and the service staff do not respond when there are complaints.” Housie saw that there were many complaints on the Indian Consumer Complaints Forum website, too. Some problems, such as asking the tenant to pay for air-conditioner repair, should have been covered in the contract.

“As a user, you must always ask, rather than assume; and keep a record of not just what was promised, but all forms of communication. Be sure to note the name of the employee you interact with. Many providers are new and may lack process and systems, and the staff may not know the policies,” he said.

Owner trouble

Lousie, who bats for owners, had a few woe-is-me owners. “Property-listing sites often offer what is called an assisted service to home owners who want to sell. Be wary of this — the service provider may not feel any obligation to deliver anything after you pay,” he said. These services cost many thousands of rupees; Google AdWords helps, and a relationship manager can set you back by as much as ₹16,000.

“Even non-assisted service payments are not based on results,” continued Lousie. “For example, you may post an ad and there may be some enquiries during the free trial. You may believe that you will get real leads and pay for a silver, gold or platinum service. But there may hardly be any genuine leads — the numbers may not exist, calls may not be picked up or you may be spammed by tele-marketers.

“If you are a home buyer, your broker — online or offline one — may promise benefits such as cash-back. However, once you have signed the agreement, you may not see the money nor get any response from the broker.”.

Housie added: “The onus, I think, is on the user to ask what you will get and the recourse if that does not happen. Try the basic service before you opt for higher priced ones to understand how the service is. Look for RERA (Real Estate Regulatory Authority)-registered service providers and use your State’s RERA website to lodge complaints.

“I just got a message from Chidvi; he has got his money back. Goes to show that if you have a genuine complaint and follow up, most companies sort out the issues; they care for their brand reputation, especially online.

The writer is co-founder, Rana Investment Advisors.

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