Check the deed before the deal is done

Home buyers should carefully inspect the title deed of any property they want to buy before they sign an offer to purchase.

Otherwise, says Neville McIntyre, chairman of Aida, South Africa's best-known estate agency group, they might be in for an unpleasant surprise. "Title deeds often contain information that is not readily apparent when inspecting the home itself and careful scrutiny of the document will prevent possible disappointments," he says.

"For instance, your plans to extend the patio or add an extra garage may come to nought if the title deed contains a clause prohibiting further building on the stand. And even if further building is permissible, the title deed may prescribe certain standards and building styles, which may not suit your taste or your pocket."

Equally, he says, the title deed may prohibit sub-division, which would scupper any plans to sell off a part of the property to help finance your bond.

But boundary lines are probably the greatest bone of contention and it is vital that buyers carefully check that the physical boundaries of the property correspond to that described in the title deed.

McIntyre says the main problem is usually encroachment from a neighbouring property. "Fences may encroach on the property you want to buy, or a later addition such as a garage or cottage may breach the boundary. It is no easy or cheap task to set matters right - and it may well influence your decision to go ahead with the transaction.

"And in cases where the encroachment has been in place for 30 years or longer without any objection, you will have no recourse in any event since the neighbour will be deemed to legally own that part of the property," he says.

Sellers and their agents are, of course, obliged to inform potential buyers of any encroachment they are aware of, but if neither party have inspected the title deed they themselves are likely to be in the dark. "And that's why prospective buyers should do their own homework diligently to make sure that they will be able to enjoy the property - without restriction - in the way they envisage," says McIntyre.

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