Can there be a bigger tragedy than Colectiv? Unfortunately, yes. An earthquake in Bucharest. In the middle of the night…
– “My client has this offer for you”
– “It is too low, I have already two better offers by other developers”
– “How much do they pay?”
– “More or less 30% more than you do”
– “But how is it possible? We will both sell at the same price…”
– “How much do you budget for construction costs?”
– “400 – 450 Euro / sq.m.”
– “Well, you are a bit naïve… these guys build with less than 300 Euro / sq.m., all included, VAT as well”
– “Yes, but this means that they cut costs from the safety of the building”
– “This is none of my business, I am just selling my land”
He doesn’t care, he is selling his land. They don’t care, they are building “having permits for this”. The authorities may tell us that they don’t have enough people to control, etc. The clients don’t care / don’t even ask. They just want the property to be cheap. And when you raise the issue, all the above call you crazy and suggest you to mind your own business…
Now that we have your attention…
In 2008, 2010 and 2011 I wrote about the disaster that an earthquake may cause in Bucharest. The majority of people simply closed their eyes to the truth. Unfortunately they are used to think that “I hope that this will not happen to me” and they ignore what you tell them. If something wrong occurs, they will blame the authorities (usually guilty, I agree) and continue with their life, having the same habits they used to…
But you know… this story of “hope” is not always your best ally. After the tragedy of Colectiv, where we saw our brothers, sisters, families, friends and other young people die, maybe it is a good moment to proceed to the next step and start correcting some problems that threaten the life of thousands of people.
So… now that (sadly) we have your attention, let’s talk about the quality of constructions in Bucharest*.
1. Old buildings
- After the earthquake of 1977, there are thousands of buildings that were damaged, especially in the center of the city.
- Many of them were restored, many others were not.
- In some cases, there are rumors that “properties with red bullet (the sign that the building is dangerous) have been removed from the municipality’s list, under uncertain conditions”. I don’t have proofs for the issue, I just heard it endless times during my 12 years of activity here.
- Restorations are expensive. The majority of owners are reluctant to spend money on their property. They are always “poor” when it comes to assume a responsibility and they become “rich” when it is the moment to negotiate and receive an income.
- The authorities do not want to fight with the owners. Why to lose votes, after all, nothing happened so far… “Merge și așa” (anything goes)
- I am 100% sure that everyone is covered with papers… just that in case of a problem, I am also sure that many people will die.
- Hotnews has published an excellent map with properties that have red bullet and I think that everyone should study it carefully.
2. New buildings
- In the first era of my blog (2008 – 2011), the article which attracted the biggest number of readers, comments and… curses was the one where I was explaining why it is dangerous to create a market where new apartments will be sold with 500 Euro / sq.m.
- During the last 5 years we saw tens of project developing, in situations of complete anarchy, appearing in areas of Bucharest like the mushrooms after the rain.
- All of them have papers, all of them are legal…
- But based on their selling price, they raise questions regarding the quality of construction.
- 2 years ago, we have already had an incident with an apartment being reported to “explode by itself”. Very few people paid attention…
- This kind of properties are addressed to end consumers who buy properties only based on the price. They buy “hoping that it will all be fine”. If you give them a property nearby that costs +10% but has all the guarantees in terms of construction quality, the vast majority of them will simply ignore it.
- The same story exists with the endless “villas” (which are actually simple houses) that have been built during the last years, again without any plan. Few owners pay attention to the resistance of the building, most of them try to save money. Yes, to save money from the property which will be the shelter of their own children…
- Unofficially, people talk about less steel in the structures. You see… the finishings of a property are visible to people’s eyes, while the quality of the construction itself is not.
- Again, I have no official proofs for the above, just what my experience in the market tells me.
An earthquake during the night
Yes, I know… Paulo Coelho said that “if you really want something, the universe will move so as to satisfy your wish”. Now, please let’s all wake up. We are talking about people’s lives, lives which are in danger in case an earthquake knocks at our door. Especially if this earthquake happens during the night…
In case the above is right… if in Colectiv we count the dead victims by tens, in the event of an earthquake we will count them in hundreds, or thousands. And if the hospitals of Bucharest nearly reached their limits with Colectiv, I don’t want to imagine what will happen in a more severe situation.
Solution: Start (independent) controls NOW
“So we need to blame the Government and the authorities… they are receiving bribes and risking our lives”. No, we don’t know this, yet. Moreover accusing the authorities and going back to watch TV will definitely not solve our problems as a society.
- The Government should allocate a special budget for real controls of constructions (or maybe each property owner should pay 3 – 5 Euro / year for this reason).
- This should be done by independent controllers. Sorry, I have no proof that the authorities are to blame, but it is not normal for someone to verify himself, probably he will not find himself guilty at all.
- There should be an international public tender for this, with very high standards for the participants
- We can use the strict verification criteria from other countries, but should always be adjusted to Romanian reality
- In terms of old buildings, we can start with the center, checking 10 – 20% of the properties of each street, consolidated or not.
- In terms of new buildings, we should focus on constructions that have been built during the last ten years (the period for which the constructor is responsible for any construction problems). There should be 5 areas to control: Center, North, West, East and (especially) South
- Properties already identified as dangerous, should receive an ultimatum of 3 to 5 years so as to be consolidated. If the owners don’t have the money to do so, they can take a loan (with guarantees such Prima Casa) or they should sell to someone who will consolidate the property, assuming this obligation.
- “But I do whatever I want with my property, this is my right, this is what happens in all the civilized countries” many will say. Sorry, guys. A property ownership means also a responsibility and in all the countries we admire, the owner of a property has to make sure that this does not represent a danger for the public, directly or indirectly.
- It would be helpful if we could create a standardization of high construction quality, so as for serious developers to use it and the clients to know that they pay something more, but they receive guarantees of quality.
- I would also suggest that independent companies should verify each new construction before it is delivered, in case there are suspicions that public servants don’t do their task correctly. (There is something similar with the auditors in accounting).
- Also, disappointing part of the people and the populists, I would strongly insist that there should be big penalties for the ones who don’t insure their properties, covering all major risks. We cannot let everyone do “what he thinks it is right”. The leaders of this society are obliged to protect the people, sometimes even against their own will.
- Public campaigns of information are absolutely necessary. Very few people know how to react in case of an earthquake.
- PS. It is not an issue of laws, as we already have the strictest legislation in the world regarding structures. It is a matter of mentality, implementation and control.
“So is everything wrong? Do we need to panic?”
No, the vast majority of properties are good to live in. No, we don’t need to panic. But we need to act, as every society does, so as to make sure that its citizens are protected.
Are we going to pretend that the problem does not exist, dig a hole and put our head inside so as not to see, like the ostrichs? If so, then we should not be upset and surprised in case an earthquake strikes and finds us totally unprepared.
2020 obligation / opportunity
As of 2020, all new properties have to be built according to high environmental standards, ensuring low consumption of energy (we will talk more about this). Why don’t we create a 5 years’ plan so as to combine this obligation with the opportunity to verify where we stand with the existing constructions, resolve problems and prevent deaths of people?
Are we going to learn something from the tragedy in Colectiv? Or we just cry, curse and go on with our lives, waiting for the next disaster to knock at our door?
What is your opinion?
* Yes, I know the mentality saying that “a Real Estate consultant is not supposed to tell you the truth about property problems, it is the client’s choice to buy or not”. If this is what the “good professional” should do so as to earn his living, then please consider me a bad one.
P.S. Source of the image: Vintag.es