This post on Facebook about an allegedly dishonest real estate agent is what prompted this post. I’ve seen it too many times, partly because I own property.
It’s easy for anyone to say derogatory things about people who fall for land related fraud. I see it as an issue of a lack of education, of desperation, and the promise of something too good to be true. And on the flip side, there are enough people out there with property that don’t understand the process themselves and dig their own holes.
And, to be clear, I am not an attorney. I just know one thing that should be the mantra of anyone who is going to purchase property: Consult an attorney with land conveyance experience.
What I share beyond that is subject to about 20 years of indirect experience and 13 years of direct experience of dealing with property sales in Trinidad and Tobago.
The First Steps
The first step is, so that everyone knows, not to build a house and hope that the owner never shows up. It’s actually to have a conversation with the landowner – and from there, the following should be done if a sale is agreed upon:
(1) A deed search: Don’t buy property without a deed because then… you’re not really buying property. You may be buying rights, and I’ve seen instances where the rights are dubious.
Any attorney can do a deed search. It verifies that the deed is legitimate. However, it doesn’t verify that the deed being shown represents the land that is being sold. See part II.
If someone is selling rights, that’s a legal process as well which involves notifying the landowner.
(2) A survey: You can’t buy or sell anything without defining what it is.
Get a survey. That survey will also verify that the deed shown in step 1 is the same one being dealt with.
Purchase agreements can be done without surveys, but without very specific circumstances the best bet is to have a survey – and I think it’s in the purchaser’s interests to have their surveyor do it.
(3) Purchase Agreement: Once everyone agrees to a price for the property being sold – conveyed – everyone goes to an attorney to do the purchase agreement. The purchaser can select their own attorney (I encourage it).
It usually means putting 10% down, as well as other things that the attorney will advise you on – such things can change, so I won’t get into that. Attorneys get paid to stay on top of that. See one.
Do not simply hand money over to someone without a signed agreement.
(4) At the end of the purchase agreement period, pay off what is owed. You pay the lawyer for services, as well as deed registration, and so on.
You’ll need an assessment number as well – the attorney should already have that from the people selling – and you’ll go get your own assessment number, which is it’s own process.
And that’s basically how you purchase land/property. And even with this simple thing, you’ll note you always start at an attorney to verify that the deed is legitimate, and you should get your advice about everything else right then and there. I don’t expect the overall process to change, but your attorney will advise you.
Do it right or don’t do it at all. Don’t cry fraud if you never went to see an attorney, you just look silly.