Buying dream house may turn into a nightmare
The New Straits Times - 10/25/1993
by Anusha Anantha

Nothing tests a fledgling marriage so well as the search for a house. Some people get married and live happily ever after. Never mind where and never mind how. My husband and I would have been that complacent but my parents (and his) saw the marriage as an opportunity to show us the door. It just was not to be my place or your place but ours.

Ours? How does a house get that way? How do we make a home? You know, everybody gathered around the fireplace, all warm and cosy, laughing and talking? Dream some more and it's an apple tree in the yard, birds chirping, a jacuzzi, nice bathroom, library ... That list is endless and not quite in sync with reality.

Reality is not that fireplace or any other corny idea two buoyant heads might produce. Reality is our background and the budget. At a glance, we fall into the category of bourgeois - "person whose beliefs, attitudes and practices are conventionally middle class". I suppose that's as good a cover as any. We can afford more choices now. That place called home can reflect our choice not to compete with the Joneses.

Initially, my husband and I had no fresh ideas or clever concepts in mind. On weekends and evenings we drove around vaguely looking for an ideal location. We must have run up many kilometres on the odometer and exhausted most avenues in Petaling Jaya, Damansara, Taman Tun Dr Ismail and Bangsar.

There were many houses to be bought in these areas. Often, you would find a large, monstrous structure squat on a miserable handkerchief of land. We briefly considered the possibility of buying one of those houses.

"We might owe money forever," he said, "but it would be a good investment." Investment, resale value, rentals; more rooms than I can clean, empty distances across which to speak, barely land to call green ... Neither of us garden but we agreed that we needed the size of the house to match the land it was on.

As we drove past other peoples' houses, our view of ourselves and of a home, was changing. We had started out, in a sense, strangers to each other. As we learned our likes and dislikes, we came to conceive of a home, that is, like our son, unmistakably our own. We realised that no well-planned housing estate could satisfy us.

And yet, when we finally bought a house, it was one of a row built to the same design and specifications as the others. To make it our own, to make it a home, we turned it inside out. We could afford to do this because we settled on the cheapest house in our ideal location.

The house we bought had its flaws. We had spent a lot of time looking at houses but, in our haste and inexperience, we failed to examine this one closely. We also trusted in the goodwill of the sellers. The former owner took us on a quick tour of the fully occupied house. It did not occur to us to insist on the right to view the property in its entirety.

A lawyer by profession, the owner explained that her husband, a civil engineer, had also done some renovation work. Basically, he had removed one of the three rooms of the house and constructed a bathroom.

In the novel A House for Mr Biswas, Mr Biswas buys a house because he is dazzled by the modern exterior. I was taken by the bathroom. (Ironically, that bathroom has since been completely renovated and retiled.)

A description of the house we bought is in order. A single storey terrace house. There were two rooms and three bathrooms; the new bathroom had all the old electrical switches tucked away behind some crudely constructed shelves, a partition which was partly a cabinet and the remaining wall of the third room that was knocked down, halved the living area into the dining room, a cement arch heralded on one side, the airwell, toilet, kitchen and bedroom and on the other side, a large hole in the ceiling of the master bedroom which was concealed by a cupboard. The floor was a patchwork of terrazzo and mosaic.

The former owners are people you would want to trust. In our naive eyes, they had immense credibility.

"One hundred and thirty thousand dollars", she said, "and I will do away with the agent and the legal fees."

That seemed generous to us. They had bought the house for one hundred and forty-two thousand. We forgot that demolishing a room and construction an additional bathroom was not going to add value to the house.

An air-conditioner in the master bedroom, a heater, the fans and the light fixtures they would leave behind. We didn't examine whether these worked. Neither did we check the roof, paintwork or that bathroom I was enamoured with.

Buying a house is a serious business. One cardinal lesson we learned was to proceed with caution. When we buy a car, we examine the condition it's in. Sometimes we get a mechanic to look at it. Somehow, when we buy a house, that goes out the window.

It is not enough to visit the property once or twice. Repeated visits and checks are necessary. One regret we have is that we did not go in rainy weather. The leaks in the roof would not have gone unnoticed. Nor would we have missed the water stains on the ceilings and the walls. It is so important to remain aware of your right to view the property without intimidation. Or the feeling that you are encroaching on someone's privacy.

On our first visit there was all this furniture pushed against the walls. We could only peek in the master bedroom; a double bed and cupboards left little walking space. With the light on, the royal blue bathroom didn't look quite so dark. The mirror was cracked. The electric heater leaked. The roof had gaps between which cats could enter. (We have since made the acquaintance of over 14 stray cats). Either the onus was on us to inquire or the house kept its secret. For owners only.

The next time we approached the owners for a look-see, we had my father with us. He, too was hurried through the house and informed that he could only view one of the two rooms of the house because there were people asleep inside. That was the last we saw of the house until all legalities were over. The owners refused to let us have the keys before papers were processed and insisted that we pay a nominal rental of RM350 if we wanted the keys. They were otherwise unavailable to us.

We were confused and a little angry at how things changed immediately after we paid the deposit for the house. Suddenly, midstream, they switched partners. The lawyer insisted we speak to her husband, the civil engineer, at all times. We had not met him but he intimidated us by bristling over any questions we posed. In particular, we were worried about the renovation they had completed in the house. Our contractor had asked if Dewan Bandaraya had approved it. Our request for the architects plan and approvals was met with resentment.

One might imagine that buying a house is a matter of contract. How well one negotiates that contract is how good a deal one gets. Unfortunately, that is not all there is to it. When we buy a house, we are oftentimes purchasing not the bricks but the vision. It is easy to get carried away with that dream house. One can also get cowed by capricious owners if one is uninformed or inexperienced. Perhaps after all, a dream cannot be bought. As we were to discover, at a cost, that the dream house is created by the family.

Anushka Anastasia Solomon was known as Anusha Anantha before coming to Jesus Christ.