Check property documents carefully before signing

Many property buyers want to act quickly when purchasing a home and might sign purchase documentation without having read it carefully.

They must, however, think things through carefully, take time to read the documentation and sign later, says Annette Evans, regional general manager of the Institute of Estate Agents, Western Cape.

Evans says that queries have come in from members of the public with regard to their contracts, where things such as the suspensive conditions should have been clarified in the offer to purchase and weren't. In one particular case, the property that the buyer was meant to sell, which was listed as a suspensive condition was not mentioned in the offer to purchase.

Estate agents do have to adhere to a code of conduct and they are licensed by the Estate Agency Affairs Board to act on behalf of their clients in dealing with property and the Institute recommends that those who are buying and selling property deal with agents who are registered with the Institute as well as having their Fidelity Fund Certificates, as they will know that the agent is duty bound to perform well as a representative of this body and to act ethically.

The FFC is there as proof that the agent is able to act legally and the agent should not be dealing in property selling if he does not have this, said Evans. He is, too, not entitled to claim commission on a sale of a property without the FFC.

Buyers should always check that they are happy and understand the terms of the contract and its possible consequences before signing an offer to purchase, as once this is in writing this contract is binding, said Evans.

'It is better to take time to acquaint yourself with the terms in the contract and the finer details thereof. A good agent will spend the necessary time explaining everything in the agreement to his clients. There should be a separate appointment between agent and buyer, where each clause is read through and explained if necessary and this should usually take around an hour and a half to two hours to do,' said Evans.

Furthermore, buyers and sellers must never sign documents that have gaps in them, even if the agent says they will be filled in later, as this is not legal and cannot constitute a complete contract. If there are ever any suspensive conditions to the sale of the property, the details of these must be written in full into the contract, to avoid any misinterpretations thereof, she said.

'If there is ever any doubt as to what is being said in an agreement, rather take the contract away with you and ask someone who does know what it says and can explain the terminology to you. For inexperienced buyers, either take someone with the necessary experience with you when meeting with the agent and it might even be worth the money to get your own attorney to read through the documentation to be sure that it is all above board,' she said.

It is possible to check whether an agent is a member of the Institute of Estate Agents of South Africa by going to

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