Beware of Maintenance Red Flags When Apartment Hunting

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Sound advice from a veteran property expert you can’t afford to ignore whether an apartment is worth buying.

  • Check out the lifts and corridors
  • Scrutinise for water marks on the ceilings
  • See if the pool, outdoor facilities and landscaping are well maintained
  • Look for loan shark stickers, notices of foreclosure on doors

For prospective buyers of any apartment or condominium unit, beware of poor maintenance of the entire building complex, warns Dr Ernest Cheong, a chartered surveyor with over 40 years of experience.

In a recent interview with FMT, Cheong said that many high rise properties within the Klang Valley have not been maintained properly because owners or residents were refusing to pay maintenance fees.

“I think this problem will become worse because many people bought properties on a speculative basis between 2012 to 2014.

“Now it is a renter’s market and I foresee that many speculative buyers will have trouble selling the units they thought they could flip for a quick buck or renting them out due to the oversupply of such properties,” he said.

Cheong also said on top of servicing their bank loans, the speculators with unsold or unrented units might find it difficult to pay maintenance fees.

“People who bought the units on a speculative basis without the intention of living there may not feel the urgency to honour their commitment to paying their maintenance fees.

“As a rule of thumb, if even 30% of owners in an apartment or condominium complex don’t pay their management fees, the building’s joint management body (JMB) or joint management committee (JMC) may not have enough money to properly maintain the property,” he added.

One example is the Flora Damansara high-rise apartment complex, which is familiar with this problem, as committee member Amir Johari Abdullah told FMT, saying that the JMC has been fighting a losing battle to maintain the four-block complex comprising over 2,500 units.

“Many people who bought the units don’t stay here; they rent out their units,” Amir said.

He added that only 48% of the owners regularly pay their maintenance fees, resulting in facilities and services being affected, including the now disused swimming pool which couldn’t be repaired due to lack of funds.

“Before we took over, the collection rate was under 40%. So we resorted to drastic measures to increase the collections,” he said.

The measures included denial of car stickers and water supply.

“When we clamp the water meters, those who haven’t paid up for three to four months will promptly pay. But there are also those with vacant units who refuse to pay because it doesn’t affect them,” Amir said.

He added that the management would resort to legal action against those who didn’t pay, but this was a slow and lengthy process.

According to him, even if the management could achieve a 100% collection rate today, it still would not be enough to pay for maintenance expenses because the current outstanding debts are over RM2 million.

“We actually need to raise the maintenance fees to break even, but it’s hard to ask people to pay more now because some may feel that the facilities need to be improved first. It’s a chicken and egg situation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cheong advised prospective buyers of apartment and condominium units to look out for “maintenance red flags” before making their decisions.

“It’s best for those interested in buying an apartment or condo to visit the place a number of times, over a month or two, to get a feel of the place,” Cheong said.

“Usually, the lift will be among the most neglected facilities if there aren’t enough people to pay the maintenance fees. The lift’s journey should be smooth and not jerky or noisy. The doors must also close properly.”

He also said corridors must be clear of any personal belongings such as shoe racks or bicycles as evidence of clutter would mean poor enforcement by the management.

“Also look for water marks on the facade of the building as well as on the ceilings of the units. Be sure to ask the management how often the swimming pools are cleaned and, if possible, go and see for yourself if the pools are cleaned as scheduled.”

Cheong also pointed out that for apartments with landscaping and water features such as fountains and ponds, buyers should look out for weeds, moss and stagnant water.

He also added that other red flags would include loan shark stickers, poor condition of playgrounds, notices of foreclosure on the doors, as well as warnings on maintenance-fee arrears and discussion of issues on the building’s notice board.

The veteran property expert’s final advice: “You don’t have to rush to buy a home now as it is a renter’s market. There are more sellers than there are buyers. But if you are inclined to buy a home and can afford one, please do your homework and take your time doing so.”