House buyers’ trap

House purchasers lose their homes because of defaulting developer

Why does this keep happening to house buyers in Malaysia?

This incident happened two years ago in Taiping where a laid-back community of mainly retirees found the roof over their heads nearly, and in some cases, actually, blown away. The purchasers had paid the developer and had moved into their houses and lived there for 10 years. Problem was that the purchasers paid the developers in cash remittance without taking out end-financing loans.

Unknown to the purchasers, the developer did not pay the developer’s bank to settle the developer’s loan vide bridging loans. The developer’s charge remained and grew into bigger indebtedness to the bank.

Apparently, the developer’s bank had not been collecting payment of the loan from the developer, even as the developer was collecting the instalments of the purchase price from the purchasers, as provided in the sale & purchase agreement (S&P) schedule.

Having waited for 10 years for the developer to settle his loan, the bank realised that the developer was not going to pay; that foreclosure was unavoidable.

The bank had a problem. Apart from the developer’s loan having ballooned over the years because of the bank’s laxity in not insisting on the developer paying promptly, there was also political repercussion. There are a few issues here, namely, the destruction of a settled community in a pleasant location, the injustice of the S&P; the solicitousness for developers in preference to purchasers on the part of the powers that be; and the embarrassment resulting from the bank’s philanthropic ramifications.

Has the bank breached the fiduciary duty of care to the purchasers as the bridging loan financier to the defaulting developer?

The crux of the problem is that the Housing Ministry-prescribed S&P allows the developer to build the purchaser’s house with the instalments of the purchase price paid by the purchaser from the day the S&P is signed. On top of this, and even more seriously, the developer is allowed to borrow from the developer’s banks on the security of the purchaser’s property.

Where a purchaser has paid the purchase price in full to the developer, and the developer does not pay the developer’s loan secured by the purchaser’s property, the developer’s bank may foreclose, auction off the purchaser’s property to recover the developer’s loan.

The developer suffers nothing. It has received the purchase price and pocketed it. The developer borrowed from its bank and gave the purchaser’s property as security, and with foreclosure the developer’s bank recovers its loan, and so the developer owes no money to the bank. It takes no risk, suffers no loss.

Purchasers the victims

It is the purchaser who loses. He loses his house and he has to settle the loan he took to buy the house with increasing interest on it. He is blacklisted, which means he can never borrow again. He may never buy a house again! Is this fair to the buyer who never did anything wrong to the developer or to the developer’s bank? In the Taiping housing fiasco, some of the purchasers had to buy their houses again at prices bloated by 10 years’ arrears of interest (i.e. pay the developer’s debt) to stave off foreclosure.

Who is to blame for this sad state of affairs? We will consider each one in turn. The most obvious candidate is, of course, the developer. Not so. It is the Housing Ministry for providing a standard form S&P that allows this to happen. Firstly, the S&P allows the developer to borrow money from a bank with a charge on the whole housing development land before it is sub-divided and sold. This pre-sale loan is referred to in the recitals to the S&P. This is understandable as the developer needs money before sale. The result of this is that the purchaser buys an encumbered property but the purchaser is not told how much of the developer’s loan, if apportioned equally, is borne by each purchaser’s sub-divided land (the redemption sum). After sale, the developer collects money from the purchaser from the day the S&P is signed, and should be able to make use of it to meet all the expenses of the development. However, after the sub-divided land is sold, the developer keeps borrowing, and no effort is made to keep the purchaser informed about the increasing amount of the developer’s loan/ the redemption sum.

The purchaser’s consent to the additional, post-sale loans is taken for granted. In fact, the purchaser cannot withhold his consent as long as the purchaser receives some fig-leaf protection from the developer’s bank in the form of an undertaking not to foreclose.

What is the use to the purchaser of the developer’s bank’s undertaking not to foreclose? What the purchaser needs is the absolute undertaking by the developer and the developer’s bank that a purchaser who has paid the purchase price will not face foreclosure vis-à-vis the disclaimer(s). This would have helped the Taiping purchasers. It is, therefore, a matter between the developer’s bank and the developer, with the Housing Ministry playing the proper protective role required of it by law, to ensure that such an undertaking/ disclaimer is given by the developer’s bank to the purchaser. This and other issues arising from the S&P have been raised by HBA with the Housing Ministry which continues to procrastinate.

To the developer’s bank, the loans to the developer on the security of the purchaser’s land is regarded as if it is the developer’s property entirely; it is of no concern to the developer’s bank that some of the purchasers have paid the developer and the developer may or may not have forwarded some of these payments to the developer’s bank.

The developer’s bank’s concern is whether the whole loan has been settled by the developer-borrower. If not, the developer’s bank feels secure in the knowledge that the entire housing development land is available to the developer’s bank to recover its loan/s. In so far as the developer’s bank is concerned, payments made by each purchaser to the developer is of no consequence. The transaction between the bank and the developer is the one that matters.

Under the then S&P, there is also no control over how much the developer should be allowed to borrow, for what purpose and by when it should be settled. Each loan to the developer increases the risks to the purchaser.

In the recent past, developer’s borrowed only for the purpose of meeting the expenses of the housing development. The developer was allowed to borrow twice only – once before sale and once after sale. Although the developer was not required to disclose the redemption sum, there was a very important safeguard. And that is, the developer had to settle the redemption sum to the developer’s bank before completion of construction so that at the end of the 24- or 36-month construction period, as the case may be, the property was free from the developer’s encumbrances and safe from foreclosure, even if the property was not transferred to the purchaser just as promptly. It was at least safe from foreclosure.

Bank initiatives

Banks/financial institutions should take the initiative to recover progressively the loan it had given the developer. Banks should stipulate as a condition for giving loans to their customers (developers) that the latter open its Housing Development Account (HDA), a statutory requirement, with the same bank and require the instalments of the purchase price be paid into it, and authorise the bank to deduct the developer’s loan by instalments from the HDA so that when the purchaser completes payment, the developer’s loan is also settled.

There is no such statutory requirement in the S&P so that if it happens at all, it’s serendipity!

HBA had meetings with the Housing Ministry to propose changes to the law and S&P with the view of giving greater protection to purchasers within the framework of the sell-and-build (which Rehda defend so fervently) but some pertinent ones had been objected by Rehda.

As if that is not enough, the ministry too have rejected those proposals vis-a-vis pre-determination of redemption sums in the S&P transaction. And that notwithstanding the Housing Development Act 1966 stating that it is inter alia for “the protection of the interests of purchaser.”

The next continuing article will dwell on the new “protection” or whatever in lieu thereof approved by the Attorney-General’s Chambers vis-à-vis “redemptions and disclaimers”.

Chang Kim Loong is secretary-general of the National House Buyers Association:, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation. - The Star

No comments