LAST week's stories about developers who sex up publicity materials of their new condos with supposed sites of future MRT stations go to show one thing: sweet sales pitches are to be taken with huge pinches of salt.
Those moody sunset shots featured in brochures showing good-looking people cavorting in enormous eternity pools set against an unblocked horizon?
Perhaps a Caucasian man standing over a BBQ pit in the foreground, flanked by svelte Asian women with champagne flutes in hand? And all around, lush greenery as far as the eye can see?
Well, they are all artists' impressions, and the actual development when completed may bear little resemblance to the artwork.
Most people dismiss this glowing, glossy practice as artistic licence or advertising latitude. Nothing more. As long as the impression does not include the Swiss Alps in the background, they shrug and sign on the dotted line.
But location maps in sales materials are another thing altogether. A map is weightier, as it is supposed to give the buyer a realistic sense of where the housing project is.
Not a rough approximate, but a true reflection of where's what.
So when developers resort to using location maps that are "diagrammatic interpretations", they mislead.
A developer's map showing 'planned' MRT stations.
The layman – especially if he is new to the country – cannot be expected to know that the map is not drawn to scale and that the schools and MRT stations cited in the drawing are not within reasonable walking distance, and are in fact several blocks away.
Sure, the advertisers want a neat map that is without the clutter you may see in a street directory. But that is no excuse for stretching the truth.
There may be fine print to qualify certain things. But the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) points out that fine print has been ruled as "unfair" by the Fair Trading Act.
The scarier thing for the consumer is this. If a seller can stretch the truth in this manner, will he stretch the truth in other areas? Such as the size of the apartment. Or build quality. Or the types of finishing.
In short, how far can you trust such a developer?
With the current property boom, builders are rushing to complete projects in record time. The faster they complete a project, the faster they can collect payment.
Invariably, some units will have more than a few flaws. It is now increasingly common for home buyers to engage independent engineers to inspect their new place – so that they can have the developer rectify flaws before the one-year "warranty" is up.
Because many flaws will escape an untrained eye, only to become apparent much later. By then, it will often be too late.
Has it come to this? That you pay $1.2 million for a 1,000sqft studio, and have to go through it with a fine tooth comb to see if it has been built properly and built to specifications?
Sure, caveat emptor applies to property purchases too. But you would think that in a lawful, well organised and highly regulated place, consumers will have some peace of mind when they make buy the biggest ticket item of their lives.
The two developers cited in last week's stories are not the only guilty ones. But at least they have now modified their ads (one more willingly than the other), with one taking the extra step to inform buyers that a few MRT stations in the location map are unconfirmed.
As certain as the sun rises, there will be others in the future who will try to pull a fast one. But rest assured, The Straits Times will be watching – even if no one else seems to be.
Read more: No more 'future MRT stations'