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How To Avoid Getting Conned When Buying Land.

Land is one of the most valuable asset and a central factor of production.  Without it, majority of Kenyans feel incomplete. This explains the current craze to own a piece of land, no matter how small.

That craze has attracted those who live on the wrong side of the law. Reports abound of people who have been conned through bogus land transactions. Hardly a day never passes without reports of people being conned while buying land in Kenya. A cartel of land officers, lawyers, real estate agents and brokers is duping innocent Kenyans into buying non-existent land leading to loss of millions in cash.

The well-organised racketeers use existing deed plans (document that shows the location and divisions on a particular parcel of land) to tamper with records at the Lands ministry.

Fake titles and allotment letters come in various forms. These conmen obtain a genuine title and produce a replica with all the details, signatures, and seals of the genuine one, then use it to swindle a potential buyer. In such a case, when one conducts a search at the relevant lands office, the same details and particulars of the title deed will be emerge from the search, leading a potential buyer to conclude that the document is clean. It is usually discovered too late in the day, when payments have already been made and the genuine title holder shows up, or even when the transfer documents are taken for registration at the lands office.

Conmen have also mastered the art of making these fake titles. After identifying a parcel of land that is, for example, a road reserve or even grabbed, they prepare a title that has all the attachments. A simple search for this at the lands offices reveals the true ownership.

These fraudsters start their scavenging at the county offices where they scour records for details of land transactions that have been approved, including sub-divisions, by town planning committees. Armed with this information, they forge letters purporting to be from the council indicating an approval, complete with dates and the plots that need to be sub-divided. They then alert their contacts at the Lands ministry who prepare a parallel set of fake documents which they use to dupe their victims.

Where corrupt land officials are working in cahoots with the conmen and a file for the land has been opened at the lands office, a simple search at the ministry will show the land as being in existence. These people are usually so thorough that only a very keen eye and a veteran in land issues can detect the fraud.  

So, how do you protect yourself from these fraudsters?

When dealing with something of such importance, you cannot afford to assume that all will be well or that the person you are dealing with, no matter how honest and sincere they may seem.

You should always look for those warning signs and as much as possible, seek for professional help when doing the land title searches, conducting a valuation study, drafting the sale agreement or filling land transfer forms.

Before you make any advances to commit that money, it is always advisable to look out for those suspicious indicators. For instance, if the name on the title deed fails to match with that on the ‘seller’ identity card, be very warned. Do not fall for explanations such as that it was just a typo, even if it is an omission or an addition of a single letter in a name.

If the piece of land has more than one title deed, run and do not look back. It is also important to ensure that the property you are buying is registered to the person selling. Land left behind by dead relatives are quite tricky since dishonest siblings may be tempted to sell it behind the back of the other siblings leading to long court battles. It is mandatory that the process of succession be followed and complete before the land belonging to the deceased is sold. For matrimonial property, always ensure that both spouses consent to the whole deal.

Never rush to buy property whose owner is infirm or incapacitated due to illness, absent or resides away from the country. If by any chance you get wind that there might be some ownership wrangles reported over the piece of land you intend to buy, it is a wise idea to search elsewhere as the wrangles may drag on for years.

Be very scared when you come across a very prime property situated too close to public, government, or industrial property or has been vacant for a long while other plots in the area are for sale. This might be public property. Another indicator that you are buying land that is on road reserve is the Kenya Power & Lighting Company (KPLC) electricity lines. KPLC poles are always erected on the edge of the proposed roads.

For any parcel involving joint ownership, all parties should be available during the transaction. If one party is missing, this ought to raise some questions about the legality of the deal and why the other party is absent.

Every parcel of land has to have physical planning maps or mutations. Verify with a surveyor and ensure that you see the beacons that mark all corners of the land you are about to buy.

When the land is under an allotment letter but the mother title is not being provided, be very careful as it is likely that the title may have been charged to a bank against a loan or the details on the title do not match those on the allotment letters. Private land buying companies that issue such letters do so without any laws to protect their buyers or members.

When the agent or broker does not seem to know the ins and outs of the area he is selling the land, is unwilling to give you direct communication with the owner of the land, or if there are too many agents and brokers dealing with you on the same parcel of land, or there are inconsistent answers by the seller to your questions, think twice.

Legal land transactions should also be done in an open and transparent manner. If a transaction is being carried out in a suspicious location or through a land buying company that does not feature as registered anywhere, it would definitely indicate a fraud.

Always remember that when a deal is too good, think twice. Different areas have diverse land prices, but if the quotation given for the land you are about to buy is suspiciously low for that location, do not take it as your lucky day. In addition, when you are being rushed into making a hefty deposit, think twice.

When paying a deposit, do not go it alone. Ensure that you first see the property and sign the agreement in the presence of a lawyer only if you are satisfied with it. If photocopies of maps, plans, titles, and other documents are not being provide to you for your search, it may be a sign that the transaction is deceitful and the seller does not want you to find out.

It is advisable therefore to always find out the history of the parcel of land you intend to buy before purchasing it. This info can be gotten from reliable sources such as neighbours, land officials and so on. It is also important to involve experienced professionals such as a certified conveyance advocate, surveyors and valuers.

In case you find yourself holding a fake title, the first action would of course to immediately report the matter to the nearest police station or the Directorate of Criminal Investigation, where a statement will be recorded and an investigating officer assigned to the matter. You should report this to both the lands ministry and the police if you discover that the mother title for the piece of land has been tampered with.

(Information heavily borrowed from an extract from the Daily Nation)

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