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Ten tips for land transactions in Jamaica

The Jamaica Gleaner, on Tuesday, Oct 2020, in an article titled couple and developer wrangle over land at,

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/news/20201019/couple-developer-wrangle-over-land-title

The article was about a retired Jamaican couple in the USA, who had paid thousands of dollars to a developer for a property to use as their Jamaican home, found their dreams dashed as 12 years later they still have not received the title to their home. The article continued to say that over the years the couple had made many requests to the developer and had submitted all that they were asked. The developer in his defense stated that relevant documents were at the Stamp Office and that the couple would soon have their title.

The entire article shows that purchasers and sellers need to be very aware of the process of involved in the sale or purchase of a property. This becomes more necessary if you are overseas. Always ask the following questions. 

  1. Is the property really for sale?

This may sound strange, but there have been too many examples of persons accused of selling property that they have no legal rights to. To be able to legally sell a property, the seller must have some legal right to do so, as the owner, the owner’s agent or as another type of representative. The title to the property offers much information about who is the owner. Make sure you do some checks on the potential seller. There are many reputable real estate agencies in Jamaica whose sites offer properties for sale. You can check them out too, like http://millenniumpropertiessalesandservices.com. The Real Estate Board  of Jamaica at www.reb.gov.jm also offers useful information about real estate companies in the country.

     2. Where is the property?

Sometimes persons buy a property without having seen it. Don’t only really on word of mouth about a property. If possible, get pictures, take a trip to the property without the seller. Importantly ensure that the seller is reputable, see #1. 

      3. Is there an actual title for the property?

Increasingly, persons find themselves unable to get the title for property that they purchased for many reasons. Before the transaction begins for the sale and purchase of the property it makes good sense to find out about the title for the property. If there is no physical title that is a red flag. Be cautious moving on.

    4. When is a valuation going to be done?

The valuation is done by a certified land valuator and gives the market value of the property in a comprehensive document. So, there is no guesswork needed by anyone. Never let someone tell you that a valuation is unnecessary. The valuator is an expert and knows what to look for in assessing the property.

    5. Where is the survey report done by the land surveyor?

Like the valuator, the land surveyor is an expert who uses his skills to identify the correct boundaries of the property and establish if there are any breaches of the restrictive covenants and to show who might have rights over the property. Both www.lsaj.com and www.nla.gov.jm offer information about land surveyors. These are the land surveyors association of Jamaica and the National Land Agency respectively.

      6. Who will look after my interest in this sale or purchase?

A sale or purchase of property requires experience and expertise. An Attorney is best suited to help with this undertaking. But, don’t be afraid or reluctant to ask the Attorney questions or ask them to break down an explanation. They went to school for this, not you, so if you don’t understand something, ask and keep on asking! 

Tips 7 to 10 show some of the questions you need to ask your Attorney.

    7. Where is the sale agreement?

The agreement to sell or buy the property is called the sale agreement and this is what starts the transaction (there is something called an indenture that has been used in some cases, but that is for another Jamaican Yaadi Lawyah blawg). It should state all the critical details of the transaction but these are the ones to keep a keen lookout for – the person selling, the person buying, the location of the property, the price of the property and how long the transaction is expected to take.

    8. Where is the statement of account?

At the beginning of the transaction, the Attorney should give you an estimate of all the expected costs that you will have to pay as the purchaser. If you are the seller, these come out of the purchase price, so you should not have to worry about taking money out of your own pocket. Some of the costs include the transfer tax (paid only by the seller), the stamp duty (shared by the seller and purchaser equally) the registration fee (also equally shared by seller and purchaser) and Attorney’s fees (each person pays his own Attorney). When the transaction is complete another statement of account is to be given to you. This one should have all of the actual expenses. The seller gets his money and goes on his way and the purchaser gets his title (or it goes to the financial institution if there is a mortgage), letters of possession and keys (if there is a physical structure).

     9. Where are the receipts for payments made?

As the transaction moves along, the Attorney will pay out money and receive money (dependent on he or she is working for the seller or the purchaser) The purchaser has to pay a deposit on the property and must make sure that a receipt is received stating how much was paid over to the Attorney and the date. Never hand over money without getting a receipt. Other payments will be to the government offices that are inevitably involved (Stamp Office, National Land Agency, etc). As I said earlier when the transaction is finished you are to get your statement of account and all of these should add up.

    10. Where is my title?

The article above said that the purchasers are still waiting for their title, 12 years later. At the end of the transaction (the sale agreement should state how long the entire process is expected to take) the new owner, you, as the purchaser, are entitled to the actual title unless there is a mortgage on the property. In that case the actual Duplicate Certificate of Title as it is called, will be sent to the financial institution that gave you the money (mortgage) to buy the property. If you bought the property with your own funds, you must insist that you get the Duplicate Certificate of Title as soon as the purchase is complete. There should not be any unreasonable delay in getting this and if there is you need to write to your Attorney and demand it.

Jamaican government websites such as www.nla.gov.jm and www.nht.gov.jm which are the national land agency and national housing trust respectively offer good information on land transactions. 

Til’ next time, walk good!

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