Those who follow my writings will know that I almost get a “fraud alert” the moment a builder quotes an apartment price on the basis of “super built-up area” or “super area.”
The definition is clear. Carpet area is the space within the apartment. RERA carpet area, however, includes carpet area with minor additions like internal walls. Super built-up area includes broadly the space outside the apartment like clubhouse, gym, lobby, etc. The gap between “super area” and “carpet” is called “loading.”
Nothing wrong in the definitions. The problem, as always, arises when it gets abused and exploited. Super area should, for all practical purposes, vary from project to project, since every project is different, with different features and amenities. Instead, all developers started following a range-bound “loading”, irrespective of the nature of the project.
Things had reached such bizarre levels that a standalone building with nothing to offer had the same “loading” as one that provided all amenities. The advantage of talking about everything based on “super area” is that the price per square foot appears lower to the customer. Being told that a 1,000 square feet carpet area apartment is for INR 1 crore is not as appealing as being told a 1,400 square feet super area apartment is for INR 1 crore.
Thankfully, the practice stopped with the introduction of RERA in Mumbai. Anyone and everyone in the city talks and writes only “carpet area”. We in the commercial capital take it for granted now, but it is important to visit other cities to realize that Mumbai is probably an aberration.
In my recent visit to North India, a few things became clear. Delhi–NCR is a market that seems to have remained unchanged to all reform. People talk in, and only in, terms of “super area”. (Personally, if one is going to mislead, I prefer hearing something even larger like “super-duper area”.)
The only time “carpet area” appears is when the cost-sheet is given. Since that is written and subject to legal scrutiny, the term “super area” is kept out. Or is retained but “carpet area” is also added.
Should I be surprised? To some extent, no. To some extent, yes.
No, because eventually the industry culture has not internally been changed. The limited change has been thrust from above – regulators, lenders or government. There is very little internal resolve to modernize. There is this naïve perception that branded developers offer a differentiated experience. I have said this before and I’ll repeat it– most branded developers are merely developers with a famous surname. Let stock market analysts and consultants not fool you into believing otherwise. The best example to depict this is in a visit to one particular sector in Noida that has several key “branded” developers building products. I hoped to have a different experience prior to my visit. Unfortunately, it was all the same. There was not one that deviated from the old path. Simply put, branded developers exploit the situation equally shamelessly if the environment permits. Sympathizers may argue that branded developers have to follow the crooked market practice or be at a disadvantage. That’s a specious argument. If in today’s environment – when consumers, lenders and investors are all in favour of brands – the same tactics are employed, it merely shows lack of intent.
I was, however, surprised to see this practice continue because I believed consumers in Delhi–NCR would be as informed in demanding transparency as the ones in Mumbai. In that regard, I think there is much ground to be covered by Delhi–NCR home buyers. I could sense when I was asking questions that the sales personnel were taken aback with what would qualify as routine questioning in the Mumbai market. I suspect customers in Noida, in particular, are partly suffering from the benchmarks problem. After seeing stalled projects one after another – their only quest is to get the apartment. If in that quest – developers mislead, exploit or manipulate, it’s still a worthy trade-off. Hence “branded developers” and ready-to-move inventory is seeing attention while the rest is largely shunned.
How will this end? Not well, I would reckon, for many buyers. A developer unwilling to abide by even the most basic regulatory requirement is an opportunist. If he can compromise here, there is little reason to believe he will not compromise on all other aspects of his project.And the cycle of distrust between customers and builders will continue. The “fraud alert” must start ringing.