Beware of bogus estate agents

Paul Nyakazeya

THERE has been an increase in cases of bogus estate agents and fraud when selling residential stands and houses since the economy was formally dollarised in January 2009.

 

In Harare alone, 23 individuals are said to have lost their properties to “shady” deals last year, while 79 lost their money to nonexistent stands and 12 lost their money in the process of buying a house.

 

Despite literature in the media aimed at buyers in order to help them from falling prey to  bogus estate agents as well as sellers or “fake” landlords a lot of people are being duped of their hard earned money by “fraudsters”.

Because a few buyers are on the market and the lack of adequate mortgages’ facilities in Zimbabwe, some buyers have taken this opportunity to go out and hunt for property bargains, which at the end of the day turn out to be no bargain at all.

Property analysts say buyers should exercise extreme caution when buying or selling a property and make sure that the information they have  about the property they intend to buy or sell is correct.

This fraud is not only perpetrated by bogus estate agents but of late, legitimate estate agents have also fallen victim to unscrupulous sellers who pretend to own the properties that they give to the estate agents to sell.

Property experts say a lot of people are duped because they do not know the procedure to take when transferring a property or stand after money for the sale or purchase of the property is paid in a “trust fund” until the transaction is complete.

Commenting on the transfer of properties, Seeff Properties said for simple transfers when a seller concludes an agreement of sale for their property, one should be in possession of the deed for the property which would be in his name.

“The current deed in the seller’s name and the agreement will go to the transference who will then be able to draft a new deed in the name of the purchaser along with other documents required by the deeds offices to effect transfer, such as declarations for stamp duty purposes by both parties and a power of attorney by the seller authorising the conveyancer to deal with the transfer,” said Seeff Properties.

The draft deeds are signed by the attending conveyancer, the declarations are signed and witnessed by the respective parties and the power of attorney is signed by the conveyancer and the seller and witnessed.

Seeff says a rates clearance certificate has to be acquired from the local authority for a period of six months during which transfer is likely to occur.
To obtain the certificate an estimated rates fee for the six-month period will have to be paid. This fee is usually paid by the buyer as the seller is required to pay his rates on a monthly basis up until the date of transfer.

The conveyancers will also require that their statement of account be settled before they lodge the documents for transfer.

“This statement will include the conveyancers statutory fee, the stamp duty, the registration fee and any additional charges. If you want a lawyer to speed up, pay him his fee well in advance,”

“He will accept the fee but cannot, generally, pay it until transfer has been registered. His only option is to hurry up and get your transfer registered,” Seeff Properties said.

Withholding Tax is required to be paid by the seller prior to the conveyancer lodging the deeds at the deeds office.

“If the Seller is over 60 years of age he is able to apply for a tax exemption providing it is the seller’s principal private residence,” said Seeff Properties.

Seeff Properties said as the seller’s representative, the conveyancer is also responsible for making sure that the entire purchase price is secured to the seller’s satisfaction, be it cash in the lawyer’s trust account, guarantees from building societies or written confirmation from the seller that he has received the entire purchase price.

“A good conveyancer will never lodge documents for transfer unless he has done this. Basically, once these issues are settled, the legal practitioners will lodge the declarations, the power of attorney, the sellers original deed, the draft deeds in duplicate, the rates clearance certificate and a cheque for the stamp duty and registration fee, in the deeds office for registration,” said Seeff Properties.

Once in the deeds office, the documents are checked to ensure they are in order. If they are not, they will be returned to the conveyancer with a query, for correction and re-lodge.

If the documents are to the pleasure of the Registrar of Deeds, the required amendments are made in their land register and records.
“That is the sellers title deed is cancelled and the purchaser’s deed is registered. The Registrar of deeds will sign the draft deeds (in the name of the purchaser) and date them. One copy is retained in the deeds office with the declarations, power of attorney and rates certificate, the other is returned to the conveyance,” Seeff said.

“From the date placed by the registrar of deeds on the new deed, the seller is no longer owner of the property and becomes entitled to the purchase price and the purchaser becomes the new legal owner of the property,” Seeff Properties said.

 

“The conveyancer will release the purchase price to the seller if he has it in his trust account, or will request payment in terms of a guarantee from a building society when a bond is involved. He will also supply the purchaser with his now valid title deed.” Seeff Properties said there were only ever two valid deeds to a property, one lodged permanently in the deeds office, the other with the owner. That deed is the holders claim to ownership.

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