A common recurring theme that runs through our minds is how to safeguard our money, so that we won’t be duped by land fraudsters or lose our lands to the government. Every day, thousands of Nigerians at home and abroad hope to buy lands in Nigeria, particularly in popular cities such as Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Abeokuta, Ibadan, etc. Due to the prevalence of land scammers and dubious real estate firms that specialize in deceiving potential land purchasers, scary tales frequently precede the seamless transfer of these lands.
In order to prevent land fraudsters from swindling them out of their hard-earned money and causing them to lose their lands to unscrupulous people, we have created a list of 10 land purchasing commandments for any prospective new land purchaser that must be strictly adhered to by anyone who intends to buy a property in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos. These commandments include the following:
- You must set a budget. The first and most important rule is to stick to your budget; otherwise, you risk going bankrupt. The number one cardinal sin of most intending property purchasers is not having a budget before they set out to buy a land. No matter how much money you have in your bank account, always take the time to research the other fees that are typically associated with buying a land and they always come in these forms.
- Legal costs amount to 5% of the land’s price.
- Agency fees: 5% of the land’s price
- A survey plan, which typically costs between N100, 000 and N300,000 depending on the state and location of the land.
- The price of signing the paperwork ( A very strange tradition in Lagos but nonetheless something you cannot escape paying)
- The price of building a fence to secure your land as soon as you buy it.
- The price of completing your documentation at the Land Registry with the government, including obtaining a C of O, the governor’s approval, ratification costs, survey land information, etc.
Once you have done the arithmetic to determine all of the hidden costs related to purchasing land, you will be properly guided as to the area and kind of land that will suit your budget.
- You must seek the ownership documents from the vendor before purchasing a property. Look for all the necessary supporting documentation, such as a receipt, land survey, and/or a deed of assignment, that a land vendor is required to have. Since I didn’t know what documents the vendor owned when they bought the land, it baffles me when people call me to say they are in some serious trouble. As a result of this terrible mistake, they are worried that land grabbers will try to take over their land or that they will receive a notice from the Land Bureau Office that they are encroaching on illegal government lands and must leave. You know what will happen to you if you are caught driving without proof of ownership from the previous vendor when you try to buy a car from an auto dealer or independent vendor? The same rule applies when buying land. Anyone trying to transfer land or property to you must show you the documents he executed with the previous owner in order to show proof of ownership, or else anything you are trying to do with the property will be null and void. I sometimes overhear absurd tales like, “Oh, it’s my Aunty selling the land and I know her” or “It’s my co-worker selling the land so I just paid money into their account because I previously knew them”. Really!!! Why then would you just pay for a land to a non-blood relative because you know them before? Husbands and wives write wills, parents record gifts they provide to their children. Those of you planning to do this soon are urged to refrain since you risk purchasing a problematic piece of land without prior ownership documentation, which would make it impossible to prove that you did it properly and without incident if anything went wrong.
- You must conduct a thorough legal land verification search. A crucial step before purchasing land is land verification. The complexities of investigating a land are so intricate that you shouldn’t gamble with your money without consulting experts in land verification to confirm the legitimacy of the land you intend to purchase. Unless you want to run the risk of losing your entire life savings to land fraudsters because you were too cowardly, ignorant or arrogant to conduct one. Please refrain from purchasing any land before doing a land check on the owner, the property, and the documents the vendor is in possession of. You must take your time and be patient because there are numerous items to cross-reference at this point and it is your money, not the vendor’s or the agent’s, which is at risk. If you don’t do this, the merchant will have long since fled with your money, leaving you all alone to wallow in your own despair. The vendor and agent are just eager to line their pockets with your money so they throw you lines like “A lot of people are rushing to buy this land and if you don’t pay now, the land may be gone”. Don’t let them get you down or push you to do something hasty. The land was there before you decided to pay interest in acquiring it and it would still be there after you do your search. The reason you must conduct the search is that you must confirm the owner, how he acquired the property in the past, why he wants to sell, and what is motivating him to do so, including whether there is any dispute or litigation that he wants to shift the burden to you, whether he has purchased a very poor piece of land and wants to get rid of it quickly before the issue becomes worse, or whether he has shaky and unreliable documents that do not grant him title or ownership and so on. In order to determine whether the land is actually good, whether it is subject to government acquisition or not, whether it is the topic of a legal or communal conflict, whether it violates any laws, and other factors, you must do an investigation. The check list is too long but it must be done so that you are 100% satisfied with the title. You must hire a land verification expert to do it to give you that extra assurance. And finally, investigate all the documents the owner has and ought to have, such as a survey plan, Deed of Assignment, Contract of Sale, C of O, Governors Consent, Gazette, Letter of Allocation, Receipts, Deed of Transfer, Power of Attorney, etc. We have seen a variety of land scams over the years from purportedly trustworthy individuals, real estate developers, and agents. Because we are aware of their tricks and are constantly one step ahead of the game, we have prevented land fraudsters from defrauding unsuspecting and innocent purchasers, saving Nigerians both at home and abroad millions of dollars’ worth of real estate transactions that would have ended badly.
- Before purchasing land, you must always consult professionals in land matters. The three most important people you should contact before buying land are a lawyer, a surveyor, and an architect. A lawyer is the only person who can legally draft your contract papers. Any other landed document drawn up by another person is void and you would not be permitted to process your papers at the Land Registry. Use only a registered surveyor, please, as without a survey plan you have no description of the land you intend to purchase. An architect is the only one who can draw up your survey plans, and without a survey plan you have no description of the land you intend to buy. Don’t do self-service; engage these professionals to guide you properly.
- You must physically inspect the land before buying it. One of the most important steps you must take before buying a land in Lagos is to inspect it, otherwise you risk being conned by shady vendors or real estate agents. It is also very important to check the status of the land to determine whether it is a swampy land that would cost millions of Naira to fill with sand; an erosion-filled land or that you might be purchasing someone else’s land. Too many real estate developers and agents have conned thousands of Nigerians using beautifully drawn flyers advertising lands that are comparable to Aso Rock estate in prime locations only to discover that they are misrepresented as they can be likened to holes or dump yards which is unfit for human habitation. So please go there and look at it, regardless of how beautiful or attractive it appears to be, make sure you check all these things before you finally commit yourself to buying a piece of land. Don’t rely on just pictures and sweet words because there are so many other important things the picture or advert won’t tell you, such as the neighbourhood, light and water issues, the road leading to that place, amenities such as schools or hospitals, transportation ease to and from, market, etc.
- You must not purchase land that your intuition warns you away from. It may be that God did not designate the land for you or you may be courting future problems on that land and may not have the stomach or resources to settle it. Land fraudsters are everywhere!!! The moment you visit a land for inspection, trust what your gut tells you to do. If your mind is uneasy about the land, don’t push it and just walk away because that land isn’t meant for you. No matter what happens in life, you must always trust your own personal instinct and 95% of the time, your conscience would never lie. You may have just avoided a silver bullet, so don’t let anyone pressure you to buy it if you see anything that makes you nervous or suspicious. Such as fenced land that the owner cannot justify, lack of title documents, lack of a survey plan, the knowledge that the land is being used for relocation, the resolution of a minor dispute, the presence of numerous family members, etc. Instead, please walk away and move on. The warning signs you are seeing now might seem insignificant but believe me, five years from now, they will start to show up seriously and by that time the agent or vendor who assuaged your concerns and forced you to buy it would have left the building and you will be on your own to handle the problems that result.
- You must never pay in cash for any landed transactions. Never pay for land in Lagos in cash up front and always save the receipts issued. I hear people giving land vendors cash to make them feel comfortable but it’s not right. Everything must be properly documented, from the cost of the land down to the receipt of purchase price. This is the only thing that can save you from problem tomorrow in case you want to track down a fraudulent vendor of land. Even if the signing fees is N50, 000, try your personal best to document it through a recognized bank instrument. Instead of paying cash up front, why don’t you pay through checks or bank drafts so that there would be a history of the transaction? Also, hire a lawyer to prepare a purchase receipt in your favour so that all parties would acknowledge receipt of these bank instruments. It would prevent the vendor from disputing the precise amount he was paid, when he was paid and for what purpose. I do it all the time to protect my clients, and that’s why a land fraudster cannot claim he didn’t receive payments. Don’t do it. Most fraudulent vendors try to avoid this road by collecting partial cash instalments to disguise their tracks. If need be, that tiny piece of evidence can be used in court to demonstrate when, how, and the time the person got the money and he cannot dispute it.
- You must always verify a land vendor’s claims concerning the ownership of the land before accepting them. Some people make the mistake of listening to land vendors who tell them that the land has Government approved papers like a Gazette or C of O but they do not have any shred of evidence to support their claim. They lie that certain big shots have bought lands there and they are all deriving title from that government document legalizing their ownership of the land but there is no proof of any of that. Many previous land purchasers are very guilty of breaking this commandment and have become terrible victims as a result. Their only business with you is to show you the land, prove ownership and show you their documents. Anything else that comes out of their mouths to persuade you to buy is just plain lies so don’t fall for their tricks. If you’re in doubt, hire a lawyer to investigate these claims. I might be saving you from throwing away your life savings to a land fraudster.
- You must record all details of their landed transactions in writing. There are many documents involved in the transaction including a deed of assignment, contract of sale, letter of allocation, affidavits, purchase receipt, deed of gifts, letters of administration, survey plan, so you need to ensure the title of that land is properly transferred to you. Not having some of these documents is equivalent to just assuming you own a land but when you are ready to take possession of it, you find out you don’t have it. Another very common error that most purchasers make is paying for land without having a deed of assignment or contract of sale between the vendor and purchaser. This is absolutely insane. Some will claim that they haven’t received the receipt but are anticipating the owner’s return so that he can take them to meet the family he purchased the property from. Many people I know don’t even have a survey plan. How can you establish ownership? How can you find the owner? The 3 basic things a Purchaser must have when they pay for a land are a receipt, Deed of Assignment and a Survey Plan. Without these 3 things you have a very slim chance of proving ownership. Some people tell me that it’s not a problem because they know where the person lives so he cannot run. Ok, what if he dies? How do you prove to his family or community that you bought the land validly from him? What if another person claims ownership?
- You must immediately take control of the land you purchased. In order to deter land speculators or fraudsters looking to steal unattended lands, please take control of your land as soon as you buy it or within a fair amount of time after you do. As soon as you buy it, try to take possession of it by building a small fence around it. You don’t need to do 9 coaches; just 2 or 3 is enough to demarcate your land so that any potential purchaser of the land knows that it has already been bought and should stay away from it. Pour gravel or sand there, do a well on the site, and visit it frequently. Hire a security agent to come on the land to watch over it until you have money to build something concrete. I am talking from experience. That is how I wasted N2Million, which was my entire life savings back then, when I bought my first land and left it there unattended for 6 months hoping to come back there to do something when I have raised enough funds, only to find an unfinished building on it fully fenced with gate man. Don’t just leave it fallow and expect it to wait there for you when you are ready. Someone else would end up encroaching on your land and stealing it.
Following these guidelines carefully will help thwart land fraudsters who will do anything to steal your hard-earned money from you and fail to provide you with authentic landed documents and legitimate lands that belong to them.
- ISOCHUKWU MICHAEL
- AYENI OMONIKE