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MUMBAI - SIGHTS AND SOUNDS 

BY JM 

Sharks!

(aka as real estate brokers in Mumbai)

Real estate brokers are like amoeba; they just replicate and grow. You can identify the same genetic code in all of them. And they populate each nano-inch of Planet Mumbai.

My encounters of the third kind with real estate brokers in Mumbai began in 1997. One of the first memories is of hunting around for a better house with my brother. We had a boy-broker who took us to one nice house which we liked. The agent's commission, according to local tradition, works out to a month's rent in New Bombay. On the day of signing the lease agreement, we were greeted by three different brokers, all of whom claimed to be the landlord's agent. Which meant that the agent fee had to be split up equally among the three. Since the split sum was too low for any of them, the ceremony was cancelled. It also turned out during the melee that one of the 'brokers' was actually the caretaker of the building. The building was owned by his wealthy uncle, but this enterprising chap was out to make a quick buck by 'brokering' houses in the same building!

Tips on escaping Brokerreich

My movement to Mira Road (hereinafter referred to as Mira, because there are no proper roads there) exposed me to the post-graduates and doctorate degree-holders in Brokerology. I was moving to the house vacated by my friend there, and life in Mira started by witnessing the acrimony he had with his broker. These things donít happen to me, I thought. He had already been once cheated by his broker, who levied three months' rent from him as the commission, when he too was wet behind the ears in Brokerland.

For understandable reasons, agents want to keep you miles away from the landlord. They are paranoid that you will strike up and independent deal with the landlord and cut them out of the deal. This is very possible, since many landlords are gentlemen manipulated and corrupted by the sharks, and a decent tenant is like manna from heaven for them.

I needed a no-objection paper from the landlord to apply for a phone line, but the agent and his sub-agent stonewalled my humble requests for a long time. When it was time for me to leave the house after a year and a half, I happened to meet the landlord, a nice bank officer and he said if I wanted a phone he had no problems with it. The intermediaries had never even mentioned my request to him. Also, the society would harass me every other day about nonpayment of society bills, and the agent was nowhere to be seen when he was needed most.

After I moved out of the house, my house security deposit was still with the broker, who wanted to squeeze some money out of it. There were reasons touted like a fan which has stopped working during my stay, a glass that slid out of the frame and the like. Despite my best efforts, they managed to extract a couple of hundreds out of me.

My move to the next house saw an even more enterprising broker. The landlord had a friend, and the friend knew this broker. The shark knew this house was lying idle and persuaded the friend to talk to the landlord to lease it out. The elderly landlord called me and the broker to his Pali Hill residence, where the broker did all the talking. The lord and the tenant meeting goes against the grain of brokerdom, but here, there was little the broker could do. Of course it was the first time the landlord was meeting the broker, but the broker presented himself as such an angelic, saintly character that the entire Bengali landlord family was swept off their collective Bhadralok feet and fearfully told me in hushed tones later about the halos around his head.

The tide turned when the landlord later told me that I can pay him the rent directly; no need to pay it through the broker. So from the next month onwards, I started my monthly trek to Pali Hill to pay my rent, and this ruffled the broker feathers. He called up his friend and described me in very colourful language and asked him to convey the same to the landlord. The message was - The tenant may look okay and talk in angrezi, but potentially, he could be some mischievous character and keeping the broker out the financial stuff could invite trouble later. The friend, a huge, always-grinning affable man, conveyed the same to me and the landlord and the broker was permanently cut out of the deal from that very day.

In this context, I must say that not all of them are bad. The next house I moved into was arranged by a broker, a local chieftain of the Shiv Sena. A tiger painting and the bust of Shivaji adorned his drawing room. He was the perfect go-between, collecting my rent in time and paying it to the landlord, collecting society fees from him and paying it to the society in time. Never a tiff in over two years there. When the house was going to be sold, he offered me the first option of refusal, and suggested that if I would commit to buy the house in a certain timeframe, the rent for that period can be deducted from the cost of the house. Sadly I didnít have money to buy that house.

Brokers may come and go, but I go on forever, looking for the next house. And this latest one took the cake. I was taken to the house, quite spacious and located conveniently. I paid up my security deposit (Rs. 40,000) and my commissions (Rs 8,000) and the advance rent (Rs. 4,000) and got ready packing and moving. This is a high-tension procedure, which anyone who has moved around with his family & belongings around Mumbai will attest to. 

At the gate of new building I was moving into, I was greeted by the society officials who denied entry to the house as I didnít possess a written permission from the society. Obviously, the cash-guzzling broker did not do his homework before handing me the keys, and for the written permission, several house-related documents had to be submitted first. Brokerdom had to be woken out of slumberdom and explained the situation. 

After hours of discussion & wait, (Mostly by two kind friends who turned up -- I had to be at work that day to save the company) during which my house-in-transit was waiting in the transport and the transport workers were plotting rebellion to avenge the time lost to them, the stuff started moving into the house.

Few days there passed without altercations with the society and the brokers. The society dues had mounted to over Rs 30,000, with the accompanying society threats to cut off water supply and my peace of mind. In any case, they donít supply you too much of water in Mira. The first morning of my first day in that house was marred by a visit from BSES with a power disconnection notice, since bills for the last several months were unpaid yet. More phone calls to broker, disturbed sleep...

I managed to get my phone connection transferred here, but only after I gave an undertaking that Rs 10,000 from the deposit will be held back until I pay the last MTNL bill during my stay there and produce the phone disconnection notice. Which should not be a problem for me because I did not come to Bombay to cheat MTNL of its money and land up in jail.

Within a few months itself, I got increasingly fed up of the house. Besides, my brother directed me to a better house, one which did not involve crossing brokerland. I gave my notice for moving out, submitted all bills and disconnection notices and stuff. The broker, like all brokers, wanted to make some Ďcutí out of my 40,000 that he has in his pocket. After the disconnection bill was produced, he made a trip to the MTNL office to find out if there is any discrepancy, citing which he can hold back some of my money. MTNL said my payments are fine. Finally, on the day of leaving Mira, he came up with this exotic idea: Before he can return the last installment of my security deposit, he needs a bank statement from me showing the cheque payment made to MTNL! Amazing! I lost my cool and called up my landlady to tell her that this boor is holding back my money citing arcane reasons. She was helpless, since she had already returned my deposit to him. I made another call to my second broker away in Gujarat and he vouched to pay my dues if any problem was found later, and only then the boor relented. He nodded, but was still unwilling let me go without extracting some money.

"Mere ko ghar theek se dekhna padega" he said and proceeded to inspect the house, to find if I had broken windows or shat in the living room. I asked him why he did not exhibit such due diligence before I moved in a few months back. He mumbled something, but nothing coherent. 

Finding no reason to hold my money back, he finally handed over all the money. And with that I bid bye-bye to Mira.

I am not alone, I am sure. Any person who has been cursed by almighty to interact with real estate brokers will also have similar stories to tell. This is my story. After long years, by the grace of God, I have escaped the stranglehold of Brokerreich. 

Tips on escaping Brokerreich

  God save the Malayalee

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