Buying off the plan: my disastrous experience

A couple months back, I mentioned that my partner and I bought an apartment. It was, at the time, a bag of mixed feelings and I’m here to tell you it didn’t get better. Indeed, it got worst, far worst!

Now, this is just my current experience and is based on the way things have been operated here, where we live, with this specific developer. Obviously, your experience might be totally different depending on where you live and the sort of development project you are getting yourself into.

Please know that I’m not trying to deter you from becoming a real estate owner if that is what you want.

I’m just here to rant!

The most common risks when buying off the plan

Risks associated with buying off the plan are all pretty much linked to time. Since between your purchase and the actual finished product, 2 years or so of your life will have gone by, a lot of things can happen. You can have a pandemic for example!

Most commonly, markets and interest rate can fluctuate, companies can face financial struggles, there can be delay in constructions or change of plans.

We bought in a country with pretty strict rules and a lot of covers, even in case of bankruptcy of the developer. This purchase is a mid-term investment for us, so we’re not too worried about market fluctuations. As long as we don’t have to sell during a crisis and can hold on to our investment, we shall be able to withstand strong winds.

Our montage loan is also more than reasonable compared to our income and we got a pretty good deal interest wise.

All in all, we are pretty safe.

Our specific project

We bought this apartment because the developer sold us a fully customizable project. We were getting the outside wall and could do what we wanted with the inside, with the exception that we couldn’t move the lone inside bearing wall and should respect the general placement of water evacuations, if we didn’t want to incur hefty extra costs.

Apart from these restrictions, we were to design the apartment how we wished.

And so we did, or we thought we did.

Now this seems fairly unusual.

It seems that in most cases, when buying off the plan, you may get to chose between 2 or 3 pre-selected sorts of floors. You may get to move one partition or you may get to replace a shower by a tub, for additional costs. However, the overall project is pretty much fixed. You get whatever the developer has decided to get. The number of plugs and placement of them is set in the contract. So is the style of the toilet…

Again, this wasn’t the case for us. We were free to chose everything.

This was on paper and reality keeps coming crashing on us.

The early hint we should have paid attention to!

There was one early small hint we should have paid attention to as it said a lot on how the project was going to go. We dismissed it at the time and it is laughable now.

When we discussed the loan amount with the bank, they insisted on adding a specific amount for ‘additional costs’. We were reluctant. They insisted. We gave up and added the smallest amount they agreed on. It didn’t matter that much we accepted to add it, as if we do not have any obligation to draw it and won’t pay any undrawn fee or interest on such amount.

However, this was absolutely telling of the nightmare to come.

The bank knew, the developer knew, we were clueless.

The endless list of potential additional costs

It all started right after we had signed since the residence was already off the ground when we purchased.

We first had to choose the windows and chose a slider window for the living room. We received the corresponding quote a little later and it was 4000 euros over budget. We revert back to a regular window.

Then we received a quote for the installation of mosquitos nets. An additional 3000 euros. I said no.

Then there were the doors. The ones my partner wanted were not going to fit in the doors’ budget. That was just going to be an additional 10-12,000 euros! I said no.

Of course we were than offered the installation of air-conditioning… for 5,000 euros. Well, I said ‘of course’ but we actually didn’t expect it. But, of course, I said no.

My partner wanted led lightning in the hallway and that alone costed an extra 4,000 euros. I said no.

By then, we had started to understand why the bank absolutely wanted to add a buffer on the loan for ‘additional costs’. Since I said no to everything, you may thing we’re fine and there aren’t any real issues.

Unfortunately these were easy to say no to. There are additional costs which we couldn’t avoid…

The additional costs which are truly piling up

For all the things I said no to, there are things I couldn’t…

The kitchen

The apartment does not come with a kitchen. We knew this. We didn’t know what was to follow.

So we happily went to the kitchen store that was recommended to us. This was going to be our very first kitchen hence the excitement! It didn’t last, as we were told that we needed to realize that kitchen costed between 40,000 to 100,000 euros. Yep! Not for a grandiose kitchen the size of an apartment, for a fairly regular kitchen!

Needless to explain that I almost fainted! I was so mad, thought this was so stupid and ridiculous. I really wanted to tell the guy that he needed to realize that, in a lot of places, for that price you get a small house.

We never step foot in his store again and ended up in a different store where found a much cheaper kitchen from a company which is really respectful of the environment. My kitchen will not emit any VOC!

Additional costs: not finalized but probably around 13,000 euros.

The kitchen walk-in cupboard

Because of the way the apartment is shaped, and where the kitchen is placed, we need to have additional kitchen storage and this will be a sort of walk-in cupboard. Great, I love the idea! But not great because we have no idea how to create it. The construction has taken place without an additional partition to define such space, and we’ll have to handle once the everything else is done. Will it be a light partition? Unlikely because from what I’ve seen in stores, our ceiling is 5cm too high. Will it be a partition made of shelves? Maybe? Handmade mix match of something?! Possible!!

Additional budget: absolutely no idea for now!

The floors

We had been guaranteed that wood floors would fit in the floors’ budget. And it is kind of true. One sort of wood floor fitted in the allocated floor budget. One only! And overall the choice were extremely limited. We are now exceeding the budget by 500 euros for 2 bedrooms. Which admittedly isn’t too bad, but should have not been the case.

Additional costs: quote awaited. Should be a couple hundred euros

Bathroom mood board extract
An extract from the presentations I made which confirmed the elements selected + had a mood board for each rooms!

The bathrooms

And then there were the bathrooms… and that is the most painful story of all. Not just money wise. It didn’t go well, and it would be too long to tell the whole story so I’ll try to make it short.

The first meeting with the provider was not that bad but what followed was ridiculous. We never chose the fixtures and for some other items they inserted things that were the opposite of what we talked about. The first quote was for 30,000 euros. Yep! Including a 250 euros toilet paper holder. Yes! you read that right!

Then it went on, and when we agreed on something, they changed it anyway. They removed the wrong items and replaced others. Again and again. We went back. We thought we had a great meeting but the next quote received didn’t match what we had selected. The installation company helped with the final quote but even on that quote, there were mistakes. I know we’re going to have to change one of the tap but I had to give up, because of the pressure we were getting to finalise and sign so all could be ordered.

Now, there is nothing extraordinary about the bathrooms. The guest bathroom is painfully simple. Early on, we remove from the quotes anything not absolutely necessary. The sink hangs from the wall, there is no toilet paper holder. No additional rack or storage either. In the main bathroom, it’s pretty much the same and worst as there is no shower wall either, at the moment. The shower wall discussions had become a nightmare. No, we didn’t expect anything fancy in terms of shower wall!

The provider had nothing to offer in terms of design (the first proposal we received was ridiculous as we would have not been able to open the window!) and they showed reluctancy to accommodate our choices. They kept changing the taps we chose for something else when I repeated verbally and by emails that I did not want the line they kept pushing on us. They probably get a bigger commission on these compare to the one we chose.

It is clear by now that the bathrooms are not going to be the bathroom of my dreams. The process was ridiculous and as time flew by, we had to give up on so many things.

In case it wasn’t clear: no, we were not allowed to select another service provider. And in theory this shouldn’t have been a problem. In practice, this was what nightmares are made of.

Additional costs: 6000 euros for the bare minimum + shower wall + storages to be added…

The industrial style partition

My partner really wanted an industrial style partition between the master bedroom and bathroom. I said yes!

Additional costs: 3000 euros

Industrial style partition drawing
One of the many drawing I provided. I also did some on pictures, from different sides….

The electricity

As indicated above, my partner wanted led lightning in the hallway which was going to cost an additional 4000 euros. We said no to this but it doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be additional costs. For a starter, we asked for a couple additional plugs and light sources. There were some included in the contract and on paper the number seemed fine. On site was a different story. Each plug cost something like 300 euros, so…. yep, waiting for the quote here although the work has been done so there is no turning back.

In addition, we’re going to have to buy bulb sockets, like a lot of them and the lightbulbs that goes with them. Plus the ones in the bathrooms have to respect a certain norm to handle the moisture. These aren’t cheap.

And that is the bare minimum because, although we could go for just some pretty light bulbs in some area, we’ll have to get some sort of light fixtures for some areas. Instead of the led lights in the hallway, we now have 5 light points to handle. How? I have no idea!

Additional costs: unknown but I’m pretty sure it is going to pile up.

The dressing room

The last 2 apartments we rented had been equipped with nice built-in closets and we never had to own anything specific to store our clothes. Obviously this isn’t going to be the case anymore and we have to buy/ build some storage areas in this new apartment.

Additional costs: We haven’t got around to handle this so we don’t really know how much it is going to cost us.

The built-in desk

Thanks to the pandemic, my partner mostly work from home nowadays and as, after a while, the living room table wasn’t cutting it any longer, we made a desk with some trestles and a big plank. It actually works great for now. But in the new appartement, there is a specific space for his home office and we’ll need to adapt the size of his desk to the space. More additional costs here!

Additional costs: I’m hoping we’ll do this ourselves to limit the spendings

The entrance cupboard

The placement of the ventilation was changed by the developer along the way and we now have to create a cupboard in the entrance / hallway, partly to hide it. It’s nice to have cupboard there, but it has to be made to measure and that’s a painful expense.

Additional cost: provisional 3000 Euros.

That’s “all” I have in mind for now. These amounts are going to pile up to become a very significant amount of money. It’s outrageous really! And now that it has sinked in, I really understand why the bank insisted on the “extra envelop” for additional costs.

The false sense of freedom

As mentioned above, we were sold this apartment with the idea that it was fully customizable. It is partially the case but mostly it isn’t.

The bathrooms are the best exemple of this. Because of the process, because of the way things went, the end result will not be even be close to what I had in mind. We had to give up. And it wasn’t just because of the outrageous fee quotes but also because of the lack of creativity of the company involved. They quite obviously refused to use 2 cents of imagination to make it work.

And there are other areas where the construction has been done without us.

We got to visit last week with the electrician and got a bit of a shock. We were provided just a week before with the electrical plans and thought we were going on site to confirm and amend as necessary. It wasn’t the case as they had already pulled all the wires.They had done so 2 months before, right after our first visit. Some things they did without discussing with us, like installing 5 light sources in the hallway.

Meanwhile we also noticed that the bathroom window was a 2 panels window where we had signed for a single panel one. In addition all the plumbing in the bathroom was done when we never received the technical plans and never validated them. It seemed to match what we had designed but we never signed.

They chased us to get us to sign some of the plans for this or this when in reality, everything was already done. We kept pushing back because the plans were wrong. To this day, we don’t have a single plan that is entirely correct.

Overall, we just have a feeling that they basically do what is most commonly done. Put a light here, a switch there… If it doesn’t match, tell the client it’s better. Indeed they are professionals and they have far more experience than the client on how to install these things.

Once something is done, it’s hard to undo. It could cause delay or additional costs.

This isn’t even the end of the construction but already it’s clear that the ‘customization’ parts are limited. For several reasons including costs, available choices, willingness of the providers and construction process.

Sure we chose the placement of the partitions. But then again the guest bathroom walls were moved without us knowing it. This lead to major changes in the bathroom design and meant I no longer had a nook for my washing machine.

Sure we ‘designed’ the bathrooms but then again, we gave up on so many things that these are far from what we wanted, even if they end up being built the way they are supposed to be. Which is not guaranteed!

Indeed, we chose the floors but as mentioned only one wood floor fitted in the budget. It is still very unclear to us what our L shape hallway is going to look like.

The list goes on for every item listed above. And it’s probably not the end.

F*@ck you!

With regards to the bathrooms something else happened. For 4 months I insisted that because of the industrial style partition between the bedroom and bathroom, the toilet block needed to be a specific non standard heigh. When we visited, they had installed a regular toilet block.

I pointed it out, thinking it was a no brainer that it would be replaced. I got a call and the technician reluctantly ended by saying “well you do have another toilet block in the approved fee quote so we will install it“. OK that’s good!

Buying off the plan - creative toilet installation
Hell NO!!

But what if I had not insisted for 4 months, what if I had not paid attention, trusting that the quote was technically correct and took into account our design? What then? He probably would have said “I’m afraid the block installed matches what is in the fee quote. If you want something else, there will be additional costs.” I’m just guessing but it sounds like a real possibility.

But seriously! I’m not a professional. It shouldn’t have been my responsibility to check they inserted in the quote, the elements that matched the design requirements. I should not have had to point out that the bathtub manufacturer specifically indicated which waste kit worked with the selected bathtub and they had inserted the wrong one. I shouldn’t have had to check every single tap reference to see that they had changed them again and again and that this one was too small considering the placement or that this one didn’t match with the other one. Here again, the list goes on.

We were the last one to sign our fee quote for the bathroom and I discussed this with the installation company. They guy pretty much confirmed that most people don’t really look at the quotes! If this is the case, they will certainly not get the bathrooms of their dreams either!

*****

At this stage, all of those fights and extra costs are leaving a, extremely bitter taste in my mouth. My heart is torn between wishes to love our new place no matter what, and the deep resentments I feel for the process, the stress, all the things we gave up on…

Yes, we were naive and are painfully reminded it every step of the way.

Overall, this is not something I wish to ever do again. I am sure that buying an existing apartment has its pros and cons, but buying off the plan has been an absolute nightmare for me and I shall promise myself to never do this again!

Hope this will help you a little if you are considering buying off the plan. And if you have already and it’s not going well, now you know for sure that you are not alone!

I really hope to come back here in a few months to tell you how amazing the apartment is. I really do!

Buying off the plan - light at the end of the hallway
Will there be light at the end of the hallway?