What you need to know before buying that house or land
By Daniel Wajuihian
A friend came to me recently to assist him prepare a “Deed of Assignment” of the land he bought few months ago. He had earlier found a plot of land to buy somewhere at the Ajah-Lekki axis, in Lagos, Nigeria. He got a Surveyor to draw up the survey, and obtained a payment receipt from the family who sold it to him.
He came to me much later, at the stage he needed to perfect his title to the land, since I have advised him that Lagos State Government would not accept any documents for perfection of assignment of land, except there is a properly drafted Deed. When he took the Deed to the family he bought the land from, for them to sign the Deed, they insisted that they would only sign if he paid them some money as “signing fee.”
He was forced to pay them for signing. Can you imagine paying a signing fee to the same family who you earlier paid the land purchase price? He could have avoided paying the extra money if he had taken some precaution before paying for the land. Here is what to do before you buy that land or property.
First, as a buyer, you need to instruct a lawyer to conduct a diligent search on the title to the land or building and wait to receive the search report before you part with payment. One of the very valuable facts that a search report usually reveals is the name of the current registered owner of the land. It will also reveal if the title is encumbered or not
Why should anyone pay for a land or building without first getting his or her lawyer to conduct a search on the title to it? Even where you are buying from a trusted source, it is still important to conduct a search before paying for the land or house.
What if there has been a defect or encumbrance on the title to the land that has not been obvious to that friend or trusted person? If it is because you are avoiding the fee to the lawyer for the search, then that is “penny wise pound foolish”. Here is what the courts have said regarding the need to investigate the title to any land or building before buying: “A PURCHASER WHO DID NOT TAKE THE TROUBLE TO INVESTIGATE THE TITLE OF THE VENDOR, WOULD HAVE HIMSELF TO BLAME FOR NOT DOING SO”.
You also need to see the original title document (s) before you buy and take it in exchange for payment. Even then beware that merely sighting the title documents is not adequate precaution. There are Issues of cloning and fake title documents. Therefore, the document needs to be confirmed or verified as genuine. I also consider the land information or charting useful. It has to be ascertained that the land is not under government acquisition or restricted to particular use (may be strictly industrial) which may be different from your investment motive.
It is not sufficient to accept merely the survey, or receipt from the seller. You need to ensure that the deed of assignment (or any of the appropriate conveyances) prepared by a lawyer is duly signed by all the parties in exchange for payment.
Buying a land or house is a lifetime investment, so exercise due caution.