Check the title deed before you buy

A title deed is an essential document in property ownership. This is what you need to examine before you buy.

Many people who wouldn’t think of hiring a new employee without doing a thorough background check will go right ahead and buy a new home without knowing anything about the property’s “pedigree”.

What to check on a title deed

“Enthusiastic buyers, anxious to complete the purchase of their new home, will often not even ask to see the title deed,” says Gerhard Kotzé, MD of the RealNet estate agency group, “but ignorance of what this says can prove very costly, and time spent examining every detail is seldom wasted.”

“For this reason, our property practitioners make a point of providing potential buyers with a copy of the title deed for any property on which they plan to make an offer, along with the current owner’s disclosure document relating to the condition of the home.”

Most importantly, he says, prospective buyers should examine the title deed for any restrictive conditions that could prevent them from using the property as they envisage. “Such conditions may refer to the size, number and placement of dwellings and other buildings on the stand. They can also dictate the style and standard of these buildings.

“It is possible that they were registered years ago by the original developer of a suburb or an estate and are no longer at all appropriate, but even if they are clearly being ignored by other owners in the area, potential buyers can’t just forget about them.”

“They might have plans, for example, to sub-divide their stand and sell half of it, or to build some chalets and convert a house to a guest lodge, only to find that clauses in the title deed prohibit such moves and would take a great deal of time and money to get changed or removed.”

Kotzé says homebuyers should also look out for provisions in the title deed granting servitude over the property.

“Examples are when the owners of a neighbouring property have ‘right of way’ over part of your property in order to reach theirs, or when the council has a right to run a mains water or sewage pipeline down the side of your property – and once again this could affect the way in which you are able to use the property.”

Another thing to examine carefully, he says, are the property boundaries and the building lines set down in the title deed, which determine how far any buildings on the site can extend.

“Crossing these lines is known as an encroachment, and if buildings on your property are encroaching on to municipal property or your neighbour’s property, it is possible you will have to knock them down or pay compensation to the affected party – even if you had nothing to do with the encroachment.”

“On the other hand, you may find that your neighbour’s garage or fence encroaches onto your property – and not be able to do anything about it if the mistake was made more than 30 years ago.”

“These are just some of the reasons we strongly advise buyers not to rush into a purchase without careful checks of all the relevant paperwork and suggest they work only with qualified, experienced and registered property professionals,” concluded Gerhard.

Writer: Meg Wilson

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