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Property – Getting it right or why use an agent?

By Patrick Kennan

SELLING one’s house is serious business. We are not dealing with a sack of potatoes or a similarly trivial item. A house is often the single most valuable asset that a person ever owns and

its value has often taken years to accumulate.

Getting the sale of this asset wrong can range in damage from an annoying but minor inconvenience to financial disaster which can change your life forever – for the worse.

The problem is hugely exacerbated in Zimbabwe where the situation is so fluid that a good decision today can be a very bad one tomorrow.

On the other hand a good sale should be a hugely gratifying and rewarding experience.

Getting it right is not that easy and it takes foresight and enormous attention to detail.

Casual and inept negotiating or sloppy contract drafting creates most problems.

There are so many things to get right which can go wrong. It is therefore not worth taking any chances.

For starters every person who sells a property must ensure that they achieve the best possible price.

A logical, sensible and practical strategy must be devised in advance to achieve this.

Once serious discussions begin with prospective purchasers negotiating must be professional, tight and accurate. Casual negotiating courts disaster.

A relatively common example of this is where the sale and purchase of the property is still at verbal negotiation stage and nothing has been put in writing.

The prospective purchaser however maintains that a firm agreement has been reached and the seller is of a different opinion and does not wish to proceed with the sale. The seller is hugely at risk here.

Verbal agreements are binding in Zimbabwe. The prospective purchaser takes legal action to have the sale enforced.

Several years later the matter comes to court. Time lapses of this magnitude to get cases to court are not unusual in Zimbabwe.

It is one person’s word against the other and many other areas that can go awry. In the meantime the value of the property has increased 20-fold but if the purchaser wins he will buy at the original price. Imagine the loss to the seller. This is not a hypothetical possibility and many such cases have gone to court.

The date of payment of the purchase price is critical.

Conventional agreements usually provide that the purchase price is held by the conveyancers until transfer and only then released to the seller. On occasions, and this is not that unusual, transfers are delayed and sometimes take months and even years. The seller wants his money, he has things to do with it but it cannot be released to him. The purchaser is holding him to the agreement. Money is devaluing. Why wasn’t adequate provision made for this possibility or sufficient research carried out to make sure it did not happen.

The most serious and damaging possibilities of sales going wrong usually relate to the purchase price. However there are a number of other problems that need to be seriously considered and resolved.

The occupation date. When exactly does the seller move out and the new party move in and is occupational interest or rent to be paid. The seller may by this time be living in the buyers house or visa versa.

Tenants. Whose responsibility is it to gain vacant possession? Can the seller evict the tenant or is the responsibility on the buyer? How much notice does the tenant need and is it given? Who gets the rent and from when?

Fixtures, fittings and movable items are a constant cause of dispute. It is so simple just to take the easy way out and not bother to be specific in the agreement. Often they are only insignificant items anyway. Well let me tell you, when the buyer takes possession and he finds that you have removed something he thought was included in the sale and you thought was not, his disappointment and the inconvenience to you is severe. Be it a mirror on the wall, some shelves, satellite dish, tennis court net or roller.

Whatever it is, no matter how small, it can cause inconvenience way out of proportion to the problem.

So what is the solution to this?

The solution is that you get an expert to sort it out for you and do not do it yourself. The joke about lawyers – which is not a joke – is that any lawyer is a fool who has himself as a client. The same applies to the property business.

Do not do it yourself but make sure that the property consultant that you employ is an expert. You do not want a sloppy, casual or ignorant estate agent. These are a danger to you and all around them. But there are experts around who take pride in their work and who deliver the goods. Select one of those. Get referrals if you can and interview prospective agents, several if necessary and only entrust your property to one that you are confident will lead you through this minefield safely.

Patrick Kennan is a property consultant and prepared this article.

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