Many people have fallen prey to unscrupulous property dealers posing as property owners or brokers. In the process, they have lost a lot of money. This has led to conflicts with family members, partners or business associates. To avoid or reduce chances of being conned, here are steps you can take:
1. Know your agent/broker
The first person you are likely to meet when buying a property is a property agent or broker. It is important to know who you are dealing with. To do this, ask for the person’s identity card and make a copy.
If possible, take their photos as well. Find out whether they are registered. All registered estate agents are gazetted, so, obtain a copy of the Kenya gazette. Ask for a copy of their registration certificate.
Confirm the registration with the Estate Agents Registration Board. Also, find out where they operate from.
2. Know the seller
It is critical that you know the seller even if you are transacting through lawyers. Insist on meeting him/her of her since some agents will tell you that it is not possible. If the seller might not be in a position to meet the buyer, the agent or the advocate should be in a position to make a full disclosure of the seller’s details. Once you have their IDs or passports, have these counterchecked at the Registrar of Persons or with the immigration Department. If the seller is a company, get a copy of their registration certificate and carry out a check at the Registrar of Companies.
3. Confirm that the property exists
When buying property, get all the relevant documents. Get a copy of the Certificate of Title or Certificate of Lease. In the case of a Certificate of Lease, ask your agent/owner or lawyer to give you the lease document.
Talk to people in the neighbourhood, especially in developed areas. Often, they know who owns which property and whether there are disputes. Talk to the local administrators.
If possible, get history of the property. Also check other documents like the Ndung’u Report to confirm that the property was not a public utility earmarked for repossession or set aside for a public utility.
If you suspect that the land is part of road reserve, check with KeNHA or KURA. Buy a survey map of the property to ascertain that the land exists, then engage a licensed surveyor to confirm the beacons and the size of land.
Try to establish the price of the property using a registered valuer. This will help you negotiate from an informed position, besides knowing that you are paying the correct price. Most property brokers quote above-market prices to increase their commission.
5. Avoid paying the seller directly
Buying a property is a process that takes on average 90 days. Many sale contracts include paying a deposit. Ideally, the sellers should not be paid any money directly until the transfer of the property is effected. Deposit any money paid with a registered estate agent or an advocate. This way, your money is safe and should the sale fail, your money will be reimbursed.
6. Avoid cash payments
Most conmen will insist on cash payments, and especially the deposit. This helps remove any paper trail where you can obtain their details through the banks. Some are not even interested in the full purchase price. Payment by cheque or bank transfer is advisable as you can trace the person should the deal fail.
7. Get legal advice
Get a lawyer to draw up the sale agreement and help with the transfer. It will safeguard your interests. A lawyer is conversant with the sale process and details that you might not be aware of.
8. Outstanding statutory payments and other dues
A search on the property will show you if the property has any encumbrances like bank loans, cautions or inhibitions. Some of these must be cleared before a transfer is registered.
9. Be patient
Never rush to close a deal. Conmen are smooth talkers and create a sense of urgency by telling you of other interested parties who are about to close the deal to force you to make a commitment.
10. Follow your gut feeling
If a deal feels wrong, it probably is. Walk away from a deal that doesn’t seem right even if the broker or agent tries to convince you otherwise. It will save you a lot of tears later on.
-Ms Macharia is a registered valuer and estate agent