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Convergent courses

04/05/2002 Published in NST-PROP A Buyer Watch Article by National House Buyers Association

Developers and consumer groups do not need to be diametrically opposed in their objectives, says the House Buyers Association

The viewpoint of property developers and house buyers need not always be a divergent one. This is evident from the fact that the House Buyers Association (HBA) was generously given a platform by the Real Estate and Housing Developers Association (Rehda) to launch its House Buyers Guide at the recent Malaysia Property Expo 2002 (Mapex).

We are grateful for this opportunity to establish a presence a the country's foremost property fair and to promote awareness of our existence and our role to the house- buying public. But beyond allowing us to make ourselves known, the greater significance of this invitation by Rehda is the recognition given to HBA as an industry partner.

It is indeed heartwarming that Rehda is mature enough to recognise us as such, and has not viewed us an alarmist organisation that is trying to sensationalise the problems that house buyers face. It is of utmost importance that Rehda and HBA work together to help solve or minimise problems facing the housing industry if it is to be rid of them.

This is augmented by the views expressed by Rehda deputy president Tan Teng Boon in his welcoming remarks where he rebutted the general belief that Rehda and HBA are diametrically opposed to each other. He went to on to say that the two associations can together help to further improve the industry. These are very meaningful words indeed.

From the theme of the opening speech delivered by Rehda president, Datuk Eddy Chen Lok Loi, we get the feeling that both our aspirations seem to be on convergent courses. It would not be too unexpected if the whole theme of his speech had centred on the woes, and the hardship and the frustrations that developers are supposedly facing and to conveniently sideline house buyers' problems and aspirations. But this was not the case. Instead Chen's appeal to his association's members on various subjects, inter alia, that of building quality and affordable houses inclusive of the related social requirements deserve great applause.

We understand that being a developer's association, the interests of its members is paramount importance. Hence we find it most refreshing to be exposed to such a rational, matured and balanced approach on the subject of the housing industry as indicated in the theme of Chen's speech. We sincerely hope that this stance is reflective of the majority of Rehda members.

However, this balanced philosophy expressed would not result in any significant improvement if the related governmental agencies maintain the same old mindset. Now that Parliament has amended the Housing Developers Act (1966) to give more clout to the various agencies to deal with wayward developers, offences committed should be promptly dealt with to the full extent of the law.

Local councils have a vital role to play by adopting a "partnership"  stance rather than being purely regulatory in nature. They should be pro-active to anticipate problems and raise alarms to nip them in the bud instead of allowing them to materialise and then to reject the results.

Having said that we would also urge Rehda to discourage its members from jumping on the bandwagon of the so called "increased in compliance costs." This would then be analogical to the "teh tarik" syndrome in that whenever the government allows the price of sugar to be raised by, say 10 sen per kilogram, the stall operators would increase the price of each cup of the brew by a similar 10 sen!

A word of caution is  probably relevant at this stage. This is with regard to the subject of the "Malaysia My Second Home" programme. We wish to urge the government to adopt a balanced approach in its implementation. One of the end results of this programme will invariably be the increase of house prices and consequently, the profitability of housing developers and investors/speculators. This factor should be seriously weighed against the likely deprivation of affordable houses that the Malaysian house-buying public would lose. A gain for one party should not be at the expense of another. This is a tight rope situation.

Most of the difficulties confronting the housing industry that were mentioned by Chen are real and serious. We would like to touch on the subject of a skilled labour force. As much as there is some truth in the cliche that , "When you pay peanuts, you get monkeys", we also agree with Rehda president about the need to provide skills training for the workforce. Hence we hope that establishments such as Construction Industry Development Board and other related agencies will take not of the statement and vigorously pursue the subject of upgrading of skills for the industry. Funds collected from industry players and augmented from governmental sources should be promptly put to good use in skill upgrading efforts. We feel that the public funds collected should be spent to improve public facilities.

As Chen rightly said, the Malaysian house-buying public of today is more educated, more knowledgeable and hence more demanding. We hope that his call to his fellow developers to change their mindset to accommodate buyers' changing needs and expectations; to build better long term rapport with their customers; to be more responsive and to build higher quality houses, do not fall on deaf ears.

On our part, we at HBA will continue to educate, inform, guide and assist house buyers resolve their problems in whatever form and within our capabilities. We will continue to follow every step of the journey taken by the housing as we are deeply committed to seeing its orderly growth because we believe that it is the industry's only way forward. Allowing the journey to be peppered with disorderliness and to end up in a jungle of intricacies would be to the detriment of all Malaysians, more so to our future generations. It will also frustrate our Prime Minister's vision of Malaysia being a developed country.

Everyone has a role to play and we are particularly heartened that we are seeing a converging course with Rehda, whose signals in this have been made clear.


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