Key Things You Need to Know Before You Buy Property
I enjoyed giving this joint presentation with senior lawyer Kanti Patel of Christopher Russell & Cook at the Zambia Property Owners Association. The most important thing when buying a property is to do a thorough due diligence on the title deed (that confirms legal ownership) and on the property itself. We talked about how critical is to do a search at the lands and deeds registry and confirm that the property does indeed belong to the person selling it. The search will also reveal if there has been anything negative registered against the property that will prevent you from buying it like a mortgage, caveat or a notice that the state intends to repossess that property. Many times, the seller will be selling through a personal representative through a power of attorney and if they are deceased then through an executor or administrator. The role of the personal rep needs to be validated by the courts through the probate registry.
In terms of the property due diligence, you want to make sure that the property has some development to avoid imminent repossession by the state for lack of use. You also need to make sure that the property is properly zoned for your intended use. If you’re buying an old house that you intend to raze to the ground be aware that you have to go through the long process of changing the zoning from residential to commercial. Don’t forget to check those bills! Land rates from the council, water and electricity bills should all be cleared before you complete purchase of the property.
For people who sign documents abroad, such us our diaspora clients seeking to buy property in Zambia – they need to be notarised. There is an old 1911 Act that requires them to be “authenticated”, a long legal process that requires ministries of foreign affairs and embassies to be involved in validating the signatures on the document. Luckily, our Supreme Court recognises how outdated and cumbersome this century old requirement is. They’ve said as long the last person to sign is in Zambia, then we’re good to go. Mr. Patel and I couldn’t place enough emphasis on the need to use reputable professionals when buying land! It amazes us how often people use conveyancing freelancers and/or briefcase agents. Mr Patel told a story about how one such dubious agent tried to sell a property belonging to one of their clients – the client had no idea his property was on the market! When buying land cheap is expensive. I reminded the meeting that as lawyers we are licensed and any wrong doing on our part lands us into a lot of trouble with the Law Association of Zambia. In addition, you may be partially compensated if I run off to the Bahamas with your money (after I’ve been arrested and thrown into prison!).