Experiences in the community

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Real estate, linkedin.com and FOSS financial softwares

Hi all,
This would be a longish thread about different things happening in and around me, some things a reality check, while others having much more potential.

Having your own house is a dream for lot of people in the world . Most of the major population resides in places as tenants for their whole lives, probably less in developed countries and more so in developing countries like India. As far as population density goes, we are one of the biggest victims as can be seen in this map.

Population density map with color-codes

Feel free to click on the map in another tab and it can be zoomed in to have a more accurate picture of the same.

The Real estate scenario in India seems to be a mess. The only statistics I could find about India seems to be here. As can be seen the difference between supply and demand is humongous.

How accurate the Statistics are or not , I have no idea as these are based on the Census done on 2k1 and IIRC the base for that was of at least a decade before that but these are better than having none as couldn’t find any other alternative authoritative source . The following experience also shows the classical information asymmetry which is there in the Real Estate market, at least in India.

I also have to share that while there have been good noises and legislation in the last couple of years to decouple the fraudulent and corrupt practices in the Real Estate market, the cynic in me tells that the implementation and change would take a long time in India. It’s the inherent inertia which is also part of the problem. And till a few errant firms are not made an example of, I don’t see any change happening soon.

Anyways, I had to get some idea when a friend of mine (let’s call him Mr. X ) asked for my help in seeing,advising and purchasing a house. As week-ends are usually free, I agreed as it would serve as bonding time with my friend as well as having some know-how about housing, property which never hurts anybody. Also the fact that Debian is going through a sort of staid phase was factored in that decision.

While the hunt is still on, it has been quite an interesting and educational experience so far. While the Real estate industry has organized a bit due to players like 99acres.com there are still lots the industry needs to do in order to be really a sunrise and transparent industry from what little I have experienced.

The first thing that was discussed between friends was buying of a second-hand house.

Pros :- A second-hand house is one where have lived and it has its own history. You can get a romanticized appeal/feeling about it. Rent/buy Under the Tuscan Sun to have an ideal dream of what could be. The difference between that and my friend is while Diane Lane is thinking of a villa/bungalow, my friend is looking for a 2 BHK (Bedroom House Kitchen) flat. In such flats there is also a distant possibility of getting some furnishing at cheap/throwaway prices from the previous owner.

Cons :- There are a lot of fraudulent transactions done in second-hand transactions where the owner or tenant of a house has sold a flat to multiple people. There have been cases where people have not sold flats but also raised loans from multiple institutions for which no prospective owner can have any knowledge about.

So this was instantly rejected as neither of us have any means or know of any means/knowledge to be sure of a legal status of a house.

There was also talk and discussion of buying a plot of land and making his own bungalow but due to both knowledge and mainly time constraints was ruled out. Also what little we came to know, the legal red-tape is much more in making your own bungalow then buying a residential apartment/flat. So this too was rejected.

So with the above background, it was agreed to look for new projects, townships etc. by reputed builders. One of the things we would definitely keep in mind was that the builder is a member of CREDAI as the institution would have more knowledge about builders, their financial health and how they are rather than us. Of course, this is an assumption but for lack of better knowledge we use this as one of the benchmarks.

While most of the builders did give us a nice ride to their site to see the property in construction and get an idea, there have been problems in getting a copy of the Agreement. The agreement is a legal document which tells of both the rights and responsibilities of both the parties ( the developer as well as the potential owner of the said property/flat/apartment). Out of 8-10 we saw, 2-3 were finalized to get to a copy of Agreement stage and we got the grand total of 1.

Just to check we asked for copy of Agreement from the other builders and all said that they cannot give a copy of Agreement unless we booked the Apartment. Now booking an apartment meant spending around 10% of the value of the flat/property. Now there have been cases where the builder has not paid back the booking amount after an agreement is not reached or the prospective buyer canceled for some other reason. I know of 2-3 cases which happened sometime back with some friends. So either you sign on the dotted line with your eyes closed or don’t do. It was a revelation to us and from that only one conclusion could be formed. People have lots of money and don’t care what the agreement says and the whole thing is an investment which would be recouped when property prices appreciate. A potential homeowner would probably do much more research and look at things rather than just paying the amount and signing on the dotted line.

The lone agreement that we did get access to was heavily loaded in favor of the land-developer + builder. While there were quite a few beauties in it, one of the clauses for e.g. was :-

“In the event the buyer sells the house within 3 years of purchase, the developer would have the first right to buy the property. ” – Some builder .

Now if you read in-between the lines, if one is buying the house, if you get some offer for the house, you have to some sort of NOC (No-Objection Certificate) from the builder. Also the developer-builder would have the right to first digs. Of course, for the first 2-3 years, the builder-developer can still sell the flat as a premium property.

These and other such clauses leave a bad taste in the mouth. And this is when neither of us are lawyers, as civil lawyers would probably find many such loop-holes, a fraction of which we found. Also because of information asymmetry, we do not know if there are illegal things in the agreement. Illegal in the sense that the developer has told/shared as his right, but which the high court or Supreme Court has declared as void, unconstitutional etc.

Simply put, it isn’t a walk a park. And if such situations an individual is facing, god only knows what issues are faced by small and medium businesses.

Coming to a more familiar ground, I would like to talk about linkedin.com today as well. I have shared about linkedin.com couple of years back when it was going through its infancy/birthing pains. See this and this for my past posts on linkedin.com.

Now while the interface is much better than the ones years ago and latency issues are not as much as in earlier years, one of the ‘features’ of the site I genuinely don’t know what to think about. Before starting, I have to mention that I’m a basic user and haven’t taken any of the premium memberships that linkedin.com hawks/sells.

One of the features the site has, you can tell/share/recommend a person’s skills by way of expertise in a particular skill-set or range of skill-sets. This I find quite troublesome as many a times the skill-sets attributed are wrong or off the mark and at the same time I have problems with the term ‘expert’ itself. I see, speak, learn and share from people who know things much better than me all the time and being termed as an ‘expert’ is a fallacy in that context. The only awareness I have is of being a ‘lay’ person rather than an ‘expert’ in anything at all.

Some of the skill-sets attributed to me which have left me nonplussed most of the time are :-

a. Open-source :- Open-source is a generic and all-encompassing term. To be claimed by people as being an expert in Open-source I feel is cheating people. While I have shared with people what the terms mean and how and what probably would be a good thing to open-source it doesn’t make me an expert in Open-Source. Also FOSS is huge. If I were just to follow-up all the dynamics which happen in terms of technology as well as licensing and policy, I wouldn’t be able to function in anything else.

b. Linux :- This is again a loaded word for me. GNU/Linux is huge. If we are talking of the Linux kernel, well it’s being used from micro-servers to giant top 100 supercomputing nodes and everything in-between. It’s present in military and military-grade hardware to using in banking and finance, automotive and entertainment in civil Airplanes.

While it is an honor I again find it misplaced. I play a very miniscule role and have probably a slightly better knowledge than an average Joe as to what can happen or how you can use GNU/Linux. Also the ecosystem is pretty dynamic, the changes in the kernel happen so fast that you are left playing catch-up most of the time and it takes years for people to understand the features that comes in a new kernel release. The number of drivers and the sub-systems and the changes are just hard to keep up. For e.g. if someone had asked me if a feature like cgroups would come and become an existential part of the GNU/Linux kernel few years back, I would have said no and today it’s very much there. The only thing I know that there are lots that I don’t know or know vaguely but haven’t paid any attention to. There are lots like that. Even today I am none the wiser as to whether the number of subsystems will grow for instance ( I suspect they will) or will they stagnate ? the same about drivers (should grow as far as there is interest from consumer durables and interest in security increases.) but still can’t say.

c. MySQL :- This is clear fallacy. I *think* I have mentioned MySQL the grand total of 3-4 times since I started this blog. To be called an ‘expert’ is again unsettling as knowing how to form a query or two or knowing some bits of either MySQL or Postgres doesn’t make an expert. I have met, learnt and forgotten quite a bit from people who are daily in and out in RDBMS. A database architect should probably be called an ‘expert’ . The most I can say for the self is being a ‘user’.

The list goes on quite a bit. Each time I look at one of the recommendations I get, I am embarrassed. I wish there was a ‘user’ badge/recommendation. I am and would be far more comfortable as being shared as a user.

The other side of the coin is when people make recommendations they also expect a recommendation back. Now most of the people who have given me recommendations are either past colleagues or new friends. Now again, recommending back is again a headache because those are things which you become aware of only after a certain period of time. Also what their skill-sets are today are not known to me most of the time. I do not want to game the system so leave at that.

Note :- A good way to know and share some of the passion can be felt by using linkedin.com forums where lot of discussions happen. Unfortunately I don’t take much part in it in part due to time constraints, part is in finding questions which propel me to give an answer which doesn’t happen that often. I usually jump in when people are either misleading others either deliberately or otherwise, or they are not able to make a point or two clear.

In short, linkedin.com does have limited gain for people. It would perhaps be richer in interaction once classes like ‘users’ and ‘Advanced Users’ which will save lot of people being labelled as experts when they know for a fact they are not and perhaps be freer and willing to interact with people. Also (perhaps a bit naively) I don’t believe everybody wants to game the system.

Now coming to the financial accounting softwares, for a long time I have been trying to have free software for doing all my books, investments etc.

I did try GNUcash some years but gave up as the UI had quite a step learning curve. Also it was not compatible to many of my needs and perhaps thousands of the others at that time.

For the last few weeks I have been hearing quite a bit about Postbooks. Now Daniel Pocock is mentoring the candidates which will be selected for OPW (GNOME Outreach Program for Women) for integration of Postbooks in Debian.

There are two features which are not yet in Postbooks which would make me consider Postbooks for now :-

a. VAT :- India also moved to a VAT system a few years back. While I’m not personally not much affected by it, but having VAT support with Indian percentage calculation and diffing the incoming and outgoing VAT and calculating remaining Income and Tax liability on top of that would be a deal-maker for me.

b. Calculating bank interests, shares etc. :- While there are potential hacks for stocks/shares in the works there doesn’t seem to be anything for bank interest.

A year or two ago, the RBI issued a notification which became a law that interest would be calculated on per day basis on the basis of balance at the end of the day.

Number of years ago, people got their interest if they kept money in the bank on the minimum balance between the 10th and 30th (or 31st) of the month. So calculating interest was easy.

Now interest calculation has become a bit more complicated. Now let’s say you have Rs. 20 at the end of the day and the interest rate is Rs. 4/- (it’s been the same for a number of years in the Indian market). So the calculation of interest would be (20×4/100)/365 . The answer of this would be the interest for the day.

Now as money goes in and out of the Savings account even if 5 times in the month (average use), then that needs to be equated as well. Doable but needs work. For a lot of people who have multiple savings account having this functionality would be a god-send.

If somebody has done something on this, please lemme know.That’s it for the day.

Update :- I forgot to share about CERSAI. This newspaper news item tells/shares some background info. on it.How good or bad it is only time and people’s experiences will tell.

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