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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Buying a house in Mumbai is sooooo frustrating. I have been looking for a two-bedroom place in a specific area of the city (Worli-Mahim) for the last 8 months. I've been looking at both old apartments and some in new buildings that are mushrooming all around the city. I like the old apartments because they are more spacious and have higher ceilings. The new buildings come with more 'fittings' and some of them can be quite nice - but you feel really cheated on the super built-up area rates they charge you, which can, in some cases be upto 45% of the carpet area of the flat. So you have to really compromise on the living area in the flat, and are paying so much more needlessly.

This is such a disorganized sector - there are brokers and sub-brokers - anyone can become a broker and you don't need to be affiliated with a firm. They ask for anywhere between 1-2% of the sale or purchase and this is 'bargainable'. Very often, they haven't seen the place they are showing you, and this results in tremendous wastage of time. Because I am a woman and I don't have a big firm attached to my name, they assume time is of no essence to me - and fix and change appointments at their whims and fancy. And prices they quote always seem to be 'negotiable'. If I ask to examine papers for the apartment they tell you its all ok.

I have come so close to buying something at least thrice - then it all falls through for reasons completely out of my control. In one case, I paid up a token amount of Rs.100,000 and had to get it back because on examining the papers the housing society had not given the owner an NOC to sell. When I ask for the papers in advance, they say papers can be handed over only after you have paid up the token amount. Thanks to my sister who is a corporate banker and deals with this sort of thing professionally, we had a handwritten, signed memo with the owner, and I was able to get the token amount back.

Another apartment fell through at the negotiation stage, where the owner wanted over 40% of the amount in cash as against cheque payment - to cut down on stamp duty, registration and most importantly capital gains. And I thought the days of paying out black money are gone, since the IT department has become so much more vigilant.

I wish there were some standards here!

I really had my heart set on the last apartment that fell through. I'm buying the place on my maiden name which is a typical Parsi surname - Dastur. When the owner heard that, he immediately said "sorry madam we only allow strict vegetarians in". I'd been rejected for one flat for this very reason earlier, and it happened again. It reminded me of the British Raj, when there were signs outside clubs, hotels and restaurants which read something like - 'Dogs and Indians not allowed'. Only in this case, I feel discriminated against by my own people. I'm made to feel like a pariah simply because I eat meat. This is really ridiculous.

I feel for the Muslims in our country too - in many buildings I visited, I was told by the society members and brokers in a tone meant to make me heave a sigh of relief, that Muslims weren't permitted to buy.

While I can still handle the inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the buying process, this discrimination really sucks. Any ideas on whether any sort of action can be taken against it? Would love to hear your views.

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