Some property buyers seem to have no qualms about buying off the plan, armed only with information gleaned from glossy brochures dished out by sweet-talking sales personnel.

While the number of discerning investors may be growing, there are still the uninitiated and the presumptuous who do not know what they are getting themselves into. Unlike a property that is already built and available for pre-sale inspection, like brand-new units or old units on the secondary market, buying a property that has not been built yet has inherent risks. Topping the list of risks are quality and timely completion.

Nevertheless, some investors choose to buy off the plan for many reasons, among which are location, design and pricing. To some, the fact that the property will only be ready for handover in another two or three years is a plus point too for reasons such as cost and potential capital appreciation.

The quality of the yet-to-be-built property aside, it is also not easy to visualise how a house or apartment will turn out based just on the configurations and specifications set out in sales kits.

With buyers’ expectations getting higher in an industry inching towards maturity amidst growing competition, show units have therefore evolved as a developer’s integral sales and marketing tool.

While show units were once synonymous with high-end homes on the market — both high rise and landed — increasingly, they have become a feature of mid-priced properties. It is no secret that developers these days are pumping more money into show units to lure buyers.

The cost of these show units could easily run into millions of ringgit, depending on the kind of property being pushed. While there is no rule of thumb on the quantity, common sense dictates that a RM50,000 budget, for instance, will not suffice for a RM2 million condo. It may not be sufficient to fit out the kitchen and dining area alone.

In reality, some show units are better off bare — nothing is more off-putting than a half-hearted attempt to do up a show unit. There are also those that cry out for maintenance, where the furniture is dusty and the toilets filthy.

Such a lackadaisical approach and attitude on the part of a developer tells of a lack of commitment and taste.

At the same time, be wary of show units that are extravagantly done up. Unless you are prepared to fork out a huge sum for the makeover for your unit, you could end up a very disappointed buyer when you take vacant possession of it.

Never underestimate what a gifted interior designer can do to transform a unit that is ordinary in spatial planning and finishes. Awkwardly positioned columns and “dead” nooks and corners, for instance, can be cleverly “IDed” to emerge as interesting spaces that suit a house or apartment to a tee.

You may or may not have noticed it but micro-detailing and colour coordination are put to good use to create an alluring ambience that will differentiate a home from a house. A feature of an outstanding show unit would be the careful and deliberate collection of soft furnishings and accessories — photo frames, paperweights, rugs, framed pictures, message holders, table settings, toiletry sets, magazines, door stoppers and vases. Put together, these items can generate a “feel-good” factor that lingers. Often, the selection of these accessories — in form and colour — would be in sync with the market targeted by the developer.

As for landed units, professionally landscaped grounds and gardens go a long way in giving the property a winning look.
While show units do offer prospective buyers an idea of how the spaces would look and could be utilised, they could mislead buyers in the process.

Developers must show investors what a bare unit would look like. By all means, do up the show units but alongside these, build the actual units that the buyers will be getting.

Spell out how much it would cost to have a bare unit transformed into the show unit. Offer multiple show units with varying degrees and costs of makeover. This will enable potential buyers to make informed decisions. And should there be any variation in the built-up of the bare and show units, make this known upfront.

There are developers who are already doing all of this. Kudos to them!

As for prospective buyers, the next time you visit a show unit, remember to look beyond the show.

Au Foong Yee is editor of City & Country

This article first appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 758, June 8 – 14, 2009.