The numbers are promising, but have attitudes changed?
Short-term economic indicators and the economy as such might be improving, but if we are not vigilant the next economic mishap might catch us off guard and develop into a full-blown crisis again. The real estate sector is problem-ridden. It might be wise that from now on we adopt the successful practices of other countries and change our state tactics to replicate them. We should seriously consider starting from point zero.
A strong example is that of the issue of title deeds. In 2013, the issue of about 100,000 deeds was still outstanding.
As part of our memorandum for reform, the Troika of international lenders had set the end of 2014 as the very last date for the issue to be resolved.
2014 is long gone, we are in the middle of 2015 and despite a herculean effort by the state agency responsible for it, the issue of around 40,000 to 50,000 title deeds is still pending.
The main reason for this monstrous delay are the wrong procedures we’ve been following for decades and which are not willing to change to bring about positive results.
Each case has to be dragged through a considerable number of state agencies if the procedure is to be finalised. This can take up to 3-4 years, despite the fact that it occupies quite a number of civil servants.
A common glitch is that in the midst of this lengthy procedure, an owner might interfere with the building (eg. change the structure of a veranda), and put the procedure on hold.
Even though the Town Planning Dept. offered an amnesty in the past to shorten the issue of titles, the plan never worked as our attitude and procedures remained unaltered.
In other words nothing has changed.
If we take the UK as our example, we can see that once a building is finished, and before anyone takes occupancy, a title deed is issued. The trick behind this success is that checks are carried out during the construction period and not after it is finished. Take into account that a lot of these checks are the responsibility of private sector civil engineers.
Honestly now, is that too difficult for us to follow here in Cyprus?
Another example of bad practice is the fact that a good number of commonly-owned apartment buildings have been left to deteriorate for a number of years and their value has plummeted.
Another serious market problem is that of ‘trapped’ property buyers who are without title deeds despite having fulfilled all their obligations. Outstanding issues between developers and the state have left these honest buyers in limbo. When the state finally decided to tackle the issue our honourable Members of Parliament decided it was time for their summer holidays and deferred the issue for some time in September.
The antiquated rent law is another hindering block for the real estate sector and nobody seems to be interested to tackle it. You might also want to add to the list the problems generated by tenants not paying their rent. Court procedures are so lengthy they often cause despair. Instead of court clerks putting pen to paper to record proceedings, surely the state could invest some money to provide them with modern stenography machines and make the system more efficient.
The conclusion is that not only do we lack strategy and planning in the real estate sector, but we are not even proactive, either. Our tax system is not well planned. We let problems pile up before we decide to act but then again we employ solutions after we make sure they will not disturb the ‘system’. The numbers will change, production will increase, but we need an attitude change at the same time. Procedures must change to become simpler and more effective. What we need is serious surgery, not just painkillers.