I have heard and read in several property publications and online blogs that due diligence is among several ways a prospective investor in real estate can be ahead of con artists. How can a first-time buyer conduct due diligence to stop fraudsters in the lucrative real estate sector?
Conducting due diligence before spending a coin to purchase a plot or house would definitely go a long way to protect against losing all your savings for investments.
1. Site visit
Today, with the increased numbers of con artists in real estate, it is wise to start your due diligence by visiting the area where the plot or house you want to buy sits and talk to the neighbours who have lived there longer – they are more likely to know the registered owners of the properties or whether there are any associated disputes.
2. Conduct an official search at the Land Registry
This may help the buyer to ascertain whether the person purporting to sell the parcel of land has a title to it. It is also wise to conduct an official search at the Land Registry closest to where the land is sold.
Once the seller gives you a copy of the title deed and his or her national identity card, make an application to the Ministry of Lands to confirm the name of the registered title owner.
The search results contain several details including the name of the registered proprietor/owner of the land, any encumbrances over the land such as charges, (where the land had previously been charged or mortgaged to a financial institution), registered caveats, cautions, or restrictions on the land, as well as other third party rights such as existing easements and licenses, approximate size of the land and if the property is a government lease, the remaining duration of the lease.
3. Conduct a historic search of property
There are also some instances where a prospective buyer is forced to conduct a historic search of property before buying. A historic search is conducted by the registry to ascertain all transactions related to it from the first recorded transaction. Historical searches are useful, especially where there is a dispute as to ownership of the land.
4. Search at the county government registry
The prospective buyer should also proceed to the county government registry and conduct a search over the records at the county government.
The county government registry, will, upon paying the necessary fees, give the buyer information on whether land rates have been paid and are up to date and the registered user of the land.
It is important for the buyer to know whether or not rates have been paid as a Rates Clearance Certificate is required before the title is transferred to the buyer. It is the duty of the seller of the land to clear all rates.
5. Visit the registrar of persons to verify the seller’s identity documents
It is also important for the buyer to verify the authenticity of the seller’s identity documents at the registrar of persons before proceeding with the transaction. Verification of utility bills should also not be overlooked lest you buy the property with huge pending unpaid security, water, and electricity bills.
6. Purchase a Deed Plan from the county surveyor's office
The buyer must purchase a Deed Plan from the county surveyor's office. It is a map that shows the dimensions of the land, sizes, and bearings on the land.
- Harold Ayodo is an Advocate of the High Court