As citizens of Zimbabwe we all know someone who has been a victim to some sort of scam concerning real estate property. It might be someone selling land they do not own or simply selling land that does not exist. This calls for us as buyers to do our due diligence before we buy properties and to sufficiently protect these once we acquire them. In this article, we will focus on the measures you can take to safeguard yourself from falling victim to conmen who dupe people by selling properties that do not belong to them and on how you can protect your real estate assets after acquiring them.
Does the land exist and is it fit for the purpose?
Before you buy land, whether you are buying a stand or plot, firstly you need to know if the land actually exists. This seems fairly obvious, but some people are quick to pay for land they have not seen. There are some people who are quick to dupe you if you’re gullible.
Secondly, you need to know the exact location of the piece of land and assess its fit for the purposes you need it. Given a choice, you would not want to buy land in a swampy area or buy land designated open space to build a home. If not sure of the permitted use of the land, you can check from the local authority on what is permissible in certain areas.
Thirdly, it is also important to verify that the land has no caveats or encumbrances that might restrict what you can do with the land. A caveat is a formal notice lodged on real estate property and is endorsed on the title deeds. Its purpose is to stop any person from dealing with the real estate property. An encumbrance is a right by a third part on the property of another, which restricts the owner from alienating the property without uplifting the encumbrance.
Registration of Ownership
Title deeds can be easily accessed from the Deeds Office. The Deeds Registration Act established that deeds registry and filing of documents for particular properties is done in the area where the property is situated. Registration for property in Gweru, Gowanda, Tshlotsho, Binga, Kwekwe, Lupane or Victoria Falls would be effected at the land registry in Bulawayo whereas registration for land in chipinge, Kariba, Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe, Masvingo, Harare or Guruve would be effected at the deeds registry in Harare.
Buying from a company.
Land can be owned by a company, a trust or an individual. It is important to be aware of the different categories in order to know what to look out for. If it is a company, one needs to see the CR14 and CR2 in order to ascertain the names of the directors and shareholders respectively.
It is paramount that when you want to create a company with the sole purpose of owning a property, the correct formalities should be followed. In Radar v Zimcor and Boka, the company’s directors that owned the property in question were minors whose signatures were on the CR14 yet a minor cannot be expected to sign the document. This was a point the defendants placed emphasis on, citing fraud. The owners of the home lost the case due to this oversight. Finally, once you own property under a company you need to ensure that you file your annual returns or risk the company being struck off the register thereby creating ownership challenges or uncertainties.
Buying from a Trust
If the property is allegedly under a trust, one needs to know if it actually is part of the trust property. The trustees would have this information. Also, one must verify the ownership from title deeds, as well as confirming the validity of the trust itself. A trust must be registered by the Deeds Registry Office. If have any doubts whatsoever, it is advisable to seek the guidance of a lawyer.
Buying from an Individual
If an individual owns the property, their name should be on the title deed. Alarm bells should ring if the person selling is different from the person who owns the property. In such a situation, the owner allowing the seller to go ahead and sell the property should grant a special power of attorney. A special power of attorney is one granted for specific purposes. The executor can only sign a power of attorney after Letters of Administration are issued to him or her. Therefore, if you ascertain an affidavit by the legal owner granting the seller to sell, then it is safe to buy.
Fake Title Deeds
In the same breath, I will mention fake title deeds. fake identification cards are used in the issue of fake title deeds. This shows that even when the name on the title deed matches the identification card, it may not be legitimate. For this scam to be successful, buyers are referred to fake law firms on transferring the properties. Fraudsters can pose as lawyers so if you are suspicious look deeper, find out if the law firm has a license and if that lawyer is a member of the law society.
Lost Title Deeds
If you lose your title deeds, a notice of application should be lodged in a local newspaper or the Government Gazette for two weeks. If there are no objections, one can apply for title deed replacement. The application can be made by the owner or the legal representative to replace them. The applicant will be required to declare that the deed missing is in the name of the person who he or she represents, to show that a diligent search has been made and if found it will be given to the Registrar.
This article was written by Exodus & Company as part of its public awareness responsibilities.
 Pg9 s3 (1) of Deeds Registration Act
 Mhishi pg 69 A guide to the law and practice of conveyancing in zimbabwe