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Make sure the seller is the (real) owner

Having hunted for months and found the perfect home to fit their needs and their budget, homebuyers keen to close a deal must first make sure that the seller they are dealing deal with is, in fact, the legal owner of the property.
 
“We have all seen the tragic results of the land scams in which bogus ‘owners’ periodically fleece poor people desperate for a place to build a homeout of their life savings,” says Braam de Jager, national operations manager of Aida, SA’s best-known estate agency group.
 
“But problems can also arise in the more formal real estate market if the person who signs the offer to purchase does not actually own the property – even if there is not the same intention to defraud the buyer.”
 
It quite often happens, for example, that elderly parents who have moved to a retirement home will leave the sale of the family home to an adult child, or that an owner who has been transferred across the country will ask a friend to handle the sale, he notes.
 
“And such situations can lead to unexpected – and costly - delays in the transfer of the property, or even to cancellation of the transaction, if at the last minute the real owners decide to make a counter-offer - or simply change their minds about selling.
 
“It would be terrible if you had spent months finding just the right new home and several weeks more excitedly waiting to move in only to learn that you could not take transfer because the real owners had decided to keep the property after all.
 
“Even worse, you might then miss out on acquiring another property at a good price while waiting for the legal tangle to be cleared up and your deposit to be refunded to you. And you might even have to incur the additional costs of renting accommodation while you go back to the search for a new home.”
 
The problem, De Jager says, comes down to the fact that the law does not stipulate that the seller of “immovable” property such as a house or flat must actually be the owner of that property. “It does, however, stipulate that the person who is registered in the Deeds Office as the owner is the only person legally entitled to sign off on the transfer of the property to a buyer.
 
“Home seekers can, however, avoid such potentially costly mix-ups by dealing only with properly qualified and experienced estate agents, who will establish who actually owns a property before drawing up a sales agreement.”


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