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Real estate news

Scam against Estate Agents

The situation regarding estate agents is not healthy and it is a cause of constant differences between the vendors of real estate and that of the estate agents.Most of the wrongs were corrected in the past by the Estate Agents Law, but there are still evident problems in the relationship of the two parties, which need corrections.As not all estate agents are angels, similarly not all vendors are angels either and we have a personal knowledge on this. There are scams on either party and this article, will address some of the problems that the estate agents are subject to.Unlike in most of other countries, for someone to exercise the job of an estate agent, he must be so registered with the Registrar of the Estate Agents (Governmental Body) who in turn requires that any registered agent must have a basic knowledge of the market and basic educational requirements and to be submitted to a written test prior to registration. Registered agents must keep a proper office, have a professional indemnity insurance, and follow the rules/regulations of the Registrar.Having said that, there are all sorts of people (professional or not) embarking on the estate agency operation, ranging from taxi drivers and bar attendants, to advocates, accountants and others, who by one way or another manage to by-pass the law, claiming that any receipts that they get for a sale, is not an agency commission, but disguised under “promotional fee”, introduction fee etc. Then we have the tax authorities who will not accept such payments, to non-registered agents as being tax deductible with the vendor being in the middle (with the vendor not being able to discount such payments from his sales income).Regarding now the sales commission, the average charge is 3%-5% based on the sales price, if the agent “introduces” a willing and able buyer to a vendor (the word “introducing” is in itself one which is open to various interpretations). As you can appreciate the commission/money is a lot, especially for the upper scale of the market. You must bear in mind that the law stipulates only a 3% commission (if no written agreement), but the parties (agent/vendor) can agree to any commission, provided that is so done in writing (tax authorities will not accept more than 3% if no such agreement). For those who claim a commission under the disguise of promotion, the tax authorities will require details on what promotion has been undertaken at the expense of the claimant, whereas the “introduction fee” which is worldwide acceptable, is also questioned by the Cyprus tax authorities.In more “organized” countries, vendors/agents have an exclusivity agreement for an x period of time (usually 6 months), but, in general locals, including foreign investors/funds who operate in Cyprus, do not accept this, hence we have agents promoting a property at their own expense, but being in a small country where everybody knows everybody, other agents/interested buyers by-pass the agent and express their interest to the vendors directly in an effort to get a reduced price. So, at the end, the non-exclusive agents restrict their promotion, other provide basic information on their website, whereas others just do not bother.Trying to avoid the agent’s commission is quite common and this includes even the large multi (national) investment funds, who, if one does not follow strict procedures of their own, they refuse their obligation e.g. by not filling a certain form (they may be right but at the end of day, what is fair?).Especially during these difficult times of sales, buying directly (buyers/vendors) is to the benefit of both (doing without the commission payment by the vendor and they get a reduced price).In this scam, against the agents, we provide for your consideration the following recent examples. The agent promoted a property and a Chinese client through his advocate expressed interest. A lot of to and from followed through emails with the vendor being duly aware with copies etc. The buyer approached the vendor directly and through his advocate and both claimed that the agent had nothing to do with the deal and with the vendor saying that the agent did not have the buyer signing a certain declaration. End result is that other than the agent, the vendor and buyer are happy for saving the 5% commission reduction. Is this correct mind you? The matter now will follow the legal route with the agent placing a memo on the sale. God knows who will lose at the end.In another example in Paphos, the vendor and buyer tried to by-pass the agent who having found out he placed a restrictive order for transfer (memo), so the whole thing is stagnant. The buyer paid the amount, the vendor cannot transfer and of course the agent was not paid (standstill for the last 8 years – so all lose). A messy situation.On another occasion a Russian buyer demanded that the agent should not be present during the negotiations with the owner. The buyer sued the agent for wrong doings and his witness said that everything was in order by the agent and finally he told his witness that he was trying to get a discount through no commission payment. He even sued the agent for €70.000 in damages notwithstanding that the sale was for €140.000. End result the buyer lost his case in court; a memo was duly placed on the property and everybody is at a standstill.Part of other problems is caused by the agents themselves, trying to “steal” properties registered as such by other agents by trying to by-pass their colleague. There are numerous examples of bad behavior between agents, so the scam is not restricted between vendor and buyers, but also between agents.In ending and unless there is an otherwise agreement, it is the vendor who has the responsibility to pay the commission. So be aware vendors, that any “monkey” business on your side it is most likely that you will pay at the end. Bear in mind that only registered estate agents are entitled to a commission, so any demand by third parties have no right to claim neither their payment is tax deductible).

July 17th 2020

Alone in the Wilderness? – Building Industry

It seems that we are alone in the wilderness of the mess that the building industry is at and by projection the Cyprus Real Estate market.We write in this lovely paper, but as well as others (in total 4 newspapers per week for the last 40 years) on the wrong situation that the building industry is at times and we hope that some people (especially politicians) listen to us (not necessarily we claim the infallibility of the Pope, but we place our views in writing in hope to create some sort of a discussion to get things better).What is most annoying for us, is that the various associations of e.g. architects etc are not bothered neither the association of developers and even worse that of the so called Advisor to the state on technical matters (ETEK) who keep all silent and surface only if their members own interests are negatively affected.From our recent articles (last 3 months) and bearing in mind the virus effects, we have put forward our own ideas on “corrective” measures on the situation, commenting on just about everybody who does not care, including the political parties (all the worst) and sent direct letters to the various Ministers in charge. We give credit to these Governmental actions and mainly to the two Deputy Ministers, as well as the Minister of Public Works and that of the Minister of Health and we criticize others, to the extent that we suggested that a couple of Ministers should be fired for not being up to it for their job. Our articles, being not politically oriented and having in mind only the well- being of the building industry (real estate), so we are not one sided, but we dare express our personal views based on our practical knowable on the subject with our 40 years of front line experience on the matter. We believe that we can offer our experience to the market, but it seems that small politics and personal interests do not help out (which is not always a voting attraction for those hungry to attract voters for them regardless to Cyprus, to this end the voters are exploiting this, since we are used to exchange favors to voters – who indeed checks this?).So here we are, and we provide for your reminder the following headings on matters that we have raised very recently:• The “scam” of working from home (and not in practice) by employees and with this excuse getting paid in the meantime by the Government much at the loss of the business concerns and our economy.• The decision of the Government to guarantee hoteliers for the reservation fees paid (which are in fact loans) is a most dangerous situation open for exploitation – details given.• The actions of Municipalities being involved in all sorts of illegal practices, but yet the Government has no “authority” to deal with it (see the Paralimni Mafia regarding the very recent kiosk which is turned into a grill bar, who did nothing about it, as well as other shocking reported on our past experience – a disaster).• The reduction of rents which covers just about everybody even those that have not suffered a cent (see civil servants, bank employees etc and other businesses who are closed in any case during this period).• The Natura classification which cost nothing to those suggesting causes a disaster to property owners affected by the classification. Save some exceptions, this is now a national sport covering 29% of the land area of free Cyprus.• The lack of housing for rent and especially those to students. Our ideas on corrective measures was not met by any including no care, including the University of Cyprus who seems to live in its “own world” for its students for their lack of accommodation.• The wrong proposal for affordable housing which we referred to it a year ago and it failed. Who is caring now?• Various business scams ranging from the sale of bottled water and others, but the one which shocked us most, was the replacement of an electric key with the dealer asking for €1.000 and we replaced it with €36 from a kiosk!!• The non-understandable suggestions to the Employers Association on various matters.• Our letter to the Minister of Finance and recently that of the Minister of the Interior which (the latter) messed up due to the wrong information suggested his subordinates. • The mountain resorts help which is nowhere to be found despite the announcements and the replacement of a local businessman with a teacher?• The inexcusable delays by the Planning Authority which has disappointed foreign investors especially (examples given) for the mountain resorts.• The passport issue for which we have suggested penalties of €500.000/case to the wrong doings (God help us with the furious reaction by some developers, but we have had also negative comments from some legal firms).Since our Government over the recent years, does not have the majority in the House of Parliament, any Bill that is proposed at the end, it becomes a compromise, with each political party bidding who will be most likeable to its voters (forget our country we add).For those of us who are at a “mature” age, you may remember the TV series of Kojak (a Greek actor who excelled in the series Kojak), who used the phrase “who loves you baby”?We loan his phrase and ask, “who loves Cyprus”? Surely not the politicians and some of the numerous commissioners with all their hefty salaries and perks (see also the gifts/ watches given by the Arab countries and others and to the never ending visits by our House members to the extent that the Australian Government complaint that it cannot host such a large number of delegates!!).In ending, our favourite slogan is that of W. Churchill who said that “Democracy is not the best system, but it is the best until we find something better”. Presumably, Mr. Churchill did not have in mind the Cyprus Republic!!

July 1st 2020

Labor Unions & Jimmy Hoffa

You may wonder dear readers, who is Jimmy Hoffa. This man was the Chairman of the Truckers Union in the USA, who was accused and jailed for a period for bribery, Mafia links etc. This was the result of an investigation that was carried out by the then Government of J.F. Kennedy with the chief investigator being Bob Kennedy.During the investigation Hoffa called a national strike which almost brought the USA economy to its knees.One of the many problems that the Cyprus Government has, is the behavior of some unions who behave in a rather similar, blackmailing manner, so that at the end the free economy of the country cannot function. With reference to Civil Servants, it is noticeable their inefficiency, indifference and the never-ending demands which cause damage against the Cyprus economy (all of us).We will report certain recent examples that we have experienced, but there are hundreds of others.• Town Planning – We have been asked by a foreign investor who wished to acquire a large building plot in Nicosia to investigate the development parameters of a planning zone that the plot fell in, that of the local commercial center (TEK). We wrote to the Planning Office submitting our own enquiries on the subject and after 2 months of no answer, despite our reminders and having then applied to the Planning Director (he called us promptly) we have arranged an interview with the District Planning Department. We had a meeting, but the local Planning Office reported to us that it needs to refer the matter to H.Q. for advice. After 40 days of waiting and our reminders, we got a call from the District Planning Office, asking us that we should submit a written request (again) for preliminary planning views. So, after waiting 4 months and bearing in mind that preliminary planning views can take anything 2-3 months or so, we came back to square one. We informed our foreign investor accordingly who gave up waiting and abandoned the project.• We now come to the unfortunate foreign investor who proposed to develop in Troodos an Adventure Park. Although his application was approved initially, he waited for 2 years to be informed what the lease rental would have been. No reply, with the Lands Office excuse that It had too much work and could not cope. End result the project was abandoned much at the loss of the mountain resorts.• The long awaited Verengaria Hotel sale at Prodromos village, got stuck again at the Civil Service bureaucracy and the long patience of the foreign (Chinese) investor pulled out from the sale notwithstanding the fact that he had paid a down payment (see the announcement of the local representative of the investor Mr. A. Pieris). So, his offer was withdrawn and cancelled much at the loss, again, of the mountain resorts.These and tens of other cases are examples of results having untouchable unions whose members cannot be fired from their job.We now come back to examine the differences that we have experienced when work usually carried out by the Civil Service, now is undertaken by private practice such as:• Airports – You may remember the almost daily strikes that the airports suffered with the most memorable one being by the luggage porters complaining that the luggage were very heavy for them to unload from the planes. A strike followed which gained them added income and suddenly the weight was not an issue (they became somehow lighter). No strikes since the privatization of the airports.• Ports – A similar situation and since privatization of the ports, be it that there are problems at this initial stage of privatization, these are solved within a short period of time.• Court Bailiffs – Court Bailiffs were taking their time to deliver the documents to the various litigants which had resulted in backhanding. Now that this service has been privatized, the delivery happens within a very short period and no cash under the table.• Land Surveys – An exclusive work by Civil Servants/Lands Office is at the top of our list in corruption and which took months for execution. Now that this survey work is done by private surveyors, the time and cost is much reduced (minimal) and it is all the best.• Building Permits – A never ending problem, be it that the Government although it tried to pass on the work to private architects, the latter are not up to it preferring to play it safe (lack of knowledge being one of the reasons).• A good percentage of local Authorities manage their business as it is their own ownership (a result of the Ottoman Empire). The local Mayors and other “chiefs” have as their priority to find “jobs for the boys” (their own voters) and they show little care about the well-being of the areas administration. So, in one case the local Mayor allowed one of the “local boys” to build a kiosk for selling newspapers and juices, within the protection zone (strictly prohibited) which became a grill bar. The District Officer protested and despite his warnings to the local Municipality, he received no reply. Now the C.T.O.- Ministry is taking some sort of action, but we are also told that it doubts its effectiveness.• The previous Minister of Education “dared” to correct the operation of our education system and the unions called a strike and demonstrated with approximately 10.000 educationalists. The Government pulled back and the Minister was “demoted”!!Etc. etc.So here we are, we are not so much governed by the elected Government, but by the unions and the other “mob” that we have become accustomed. We remember during such happenings in the U.K., Mrs M. Thatcher demolished the coal miners’ unions and since then everything is peaceful. Lovely, but then do we have the guts such as Mrs Thatcher to do it in Cyprus?Another “mob” style behaviour is that if one union strikes, then other unions who have nothing to do with the strike, call their members to strike in “support”. So, we have a problem with the Civil Service and others (see recent announcement by the Chairman of the Civil Servants that “if the Government dares to reduce their salaries/benefits, they will shut down the economy).Although we do not suggest that the local unions are anything like Mr Hoffa’s wrong doings, it brings up another important matter that of the shutdown of public services, such as electricity, telecommunication, hospitals etc. There was a proposal for these essential services to be provided a certain procedure prior to a strike, but this was not followed.In ending (although we have many other examples) is it not odd dear readers that the country which is the most affluent and most capitalist state in the world (the U.S.A.), is the one which has introduced 8 working hours per day and other measures and no other so called socialist states dare to adopt?

June 19th 2020

A Paradise in Trouble?

We were nearing full recovery in the real estate market with positive trends, only to face now the virus situation. This, in addition to human losses, is causing now side effects on business, especially to the tourist industry and by projection to real estate.As if this was not enough, we have added problems in the near horizon such as:• Passports – A recipe which done well for a few years, is now in trouble with the E.U., placing pressure to abolishing this Cyprus Investment Scheme. If this happens the repercussions will be considerable, especially with regard to the high rise blocks, which are directed towards this market source, with a consequential effect on some of them not been completed with a clear effect on the bank’s finance (NPLs), unemployment and the lucrative income that this has produced for accountants/advocates/agents and others.• Income Tax – A joint effort by France and Germany and in general the E.U. to adopt a uniform taxation system is another cause for concern for Cyprus, especially now that the two protagonists are connecting any financial assistance to countries that have an attractive tax system (such as Cyprus) to increase their tax. The Cyprus taxation system is one of the many reasons of Cyprus economy revival and whereas the Government of Cyprus is trying to introduce more and more incentives, it seems that this will not only be halted, but to turn around (you might remember how France and Germany changed the E.U. economy indicators in the past, to cover themselves for their indicators which were not in accord to the E.U. indicators).• Russian Pressure – As if these are not enough, we have now pressure coming from the Russian Government regarding our double taxation treaty, starting from Cyprus, but leaving out (at this point of time at least) countries such as Denmark, Luxemburg etc.• Small Politics – This is another inherent problem with the various political parties opposing the Government’s measures to assist business by differing these handouts, but not reducing them with as a result the delay in the economy restart.• M. Thatcher – We wish we had a strong politician such as Mrs. Thatcher, who managed to place under control the never-ending demands of unions in the U.K. We see the various Cyprus unions causing trouble in our economy asking for more and more (and less and less working hours). The recent High Court decisions on the Civil Servants demand for €800 mil. refund got us (all the rest of us) off the hook, but so much is their greed that they have applied to the European Court of Justice. You do remember a few years ago when the then Minister of Education “dared” to introduce some alterations to our system of education, with the unions promptly demonstrated with 10.000 people in the streets – at the end of the Government pulled back and we came back to secure one. During the writing of this article, we just happened to see the story of Jimmy Hoffa, the Chairman of the Truckers Association U.S.A. A beautiful example from the USA where the Government almost came to its knees by a union• Financiers/Banks – Despite their effects and although improving, they still face problems and with the recent Bail In of the year 2013 and the near one of the Co-Op not only the financiers are not earning anything, but in addition the shareholders are called from time to time to contribute more from their initial investment. As such a loan application is now being a calvary with time required for a loan issue (from the date of application) surpassing 2-3 months.So, justifiably, dear readers, we are worried about the whole situation, especially coming to know by examples, that small countries, such as Cyprus, is the prey of the larger countries (in the E.U.), especially at times of financial strife.All these (and other) matters have their repercussions on the real estate market. It is early days to specify what the effect is in terms of reduction in demand/property values, but as an indicative estimate and as present circumstances stand, a reduction of ±10% is reasonable. Depending on the duration of the virus and the other factors mentioned above, it will get worse. The recent reports (by the Lands Office) record that sales have dropped by 70%, so you do appreciate what the results will be during the year 2021 (expected commencement of recovery not earlier than 2022). The part of the market that is expected to be least affected is the residential market directed for locals and for the average prices, within towns/periphery. Housing is a social need, either for ownership or for rental, whereas the archaic dowry system is an assistance to young couples. So, we expect that this sector of the market will be the least affected, whereas if this situation continues, there will be an increasing sale of hotels and other tourist related properties, followed by shops/commercial uses (see also side effects by the Malls competition) and to industrial units (save the small ones for use as storage). Agricultural land will remain at the rock bottom still struggling not so much to sustain their value levels, but to create some sort of demand/realization of sale. Properties which are rented for income are expected to retain their present level, since with the low deposit rates on the savings and with the retirement/pensions that are collected by mainly the Civil Servants, money will be around, be it to a smaller extent, whereas the increasing unemployment will create a difficulty as a result of which will increase demand for rental accommodation. Rental (gross) returns are on average 3%-4% for residential units and 5% for commercial, whereas industrial returns do not show a steady/average return – but on average 5% (if a suitable tenant is found).Regarding rentals, what is important to note is not the level of rental income that a tenant pays, but the ability to abide in addition to the rent his other obligations, such as common expenses/repairs etc.So, now is the time/even better during next year, for those daring and adventurers and with money available to start searching for “opportunities” which appear on the various banks’ websites, administrators, investment funds etc., who have now more difficulty to dispose their assets than before and now, we expect, to be more inclined to accept offers than before.We must point out that the Government of Cyprus, is introducing all sorts of investment incentives regarding the real estate market, such as the abolition of the property tax, the reduction of transfer fees and now added tax deductions in the event of landlords concluding a deal on the passing rent reduction for a couple of months of at least 30%.Everyone loves his own country and it is not an exaggeration that we report that Cyprus is a Paradise despite its problems. The weather, widely spoken English, short distances, low crime rate, reasonable cost of living, education opportunities at all levels and the variety of the countryside are just a few of its attraction. On a recent visit to London, we took a taxi for our appointment. After 45’ minutes we stuck in a traffic jam, so we got out and we walked for ½ hour during the rain to reach our appointment on time. If in Paris you should not walk on your own, especially after hours since the crime is evident, whereas in Milan, our experience on pickpockets was shocking.In ending and during a visit of ours in a Bedouin camp in Jordan a few years ago, literally in the middle of nowhere, our host asked us “my friends is this not a paradise”?Yes, Cyprus is a paradise, but troubles are ahead.

June 18th 2020

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