GETTING AROUND THE HOME-BUYING PROCESS: LAND TITLE AND THE VALUE OF TITLE SEARCHES
Land Title is one of the phrases one will come across during the home buying process while purchasing a property in Nigeria. In land transactions, title is everything as it defines the owner’s bundle of rights in a piece of property that can be held, consigned or transferred by one party to another. We presume at this point you are wondering about the importance of conducting a check at the land registry. The relationship between land and human kind is a very important aspect of life and has been a source of so many disputes throughout the world.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF A THOROUGH TITLE SEARCH
Let’s use the following scenario to put the significance of land registry searches into context:
Mr. Femi has saved up to build his dream home after deciding that it is better to build a home than to purchase an existing one in Nigeria. He searches and finds a very good offer for a plot of land in his preferred location, let’s say Lagos, and within his budget. Pleased that the requirements he set before he started the house purchase expedition had been met, Mr. Femi approaches the property developer/vendor. Based on the developer’s/assurances vendor’s that there are no outstanding debts and the title has no issues, the transaction is closed. Mr. Femi is given his payment receipt and survey that covers his parcel of land, and walks away with a smile. Three years later, after he had built his dream home, he receives a notice for repossession of the land from another party with an authentic title that covers the same parcel of land.
People rush into land/property transactions once the price feels right and the location fits; some come out bruised, very few come out unscathed. Mr. Femi is in danger of losing everything, including the home of his dreams. What did Mr. Femi do wrong? He did not conduct a proper title search before moving forward with the transaction. The truth is that there are a lot of Mr. Femi’s out there, and navigating the home-buying process isn’t as difficult as you might imagine if you have the correct information to help you at each stage to protect your investment.
WHAT DOES A PRUCHASER LEARN FROM A LAND TITLE SEARCH?
A title search informs the purchaser of any encumbrance on the real estate, i.e., if it is subject to government acquisition etc. An encumbered property title normally is a sign of a storm in the near future. In real estate transactions, the onus is on the vendor to establish his legal right to sell the property in question; that is, if the vendor has the legal right to transfer the interest in such property to another.
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD A TITLE SEARCH REQUIRE?
In Lagos, the title search should not take more than a week; however, the timeline for conducting a title search can change significantly as it is also dependent on quite a few administrative and bureaucratic factors, which are outside the control of the person applying to conduct the search. Different states have varying levels of efficiency in this regard.
WHAT HAPPENS IF A PURCHASER LEARNS ABOUT AN ENCUMBRANCE AFTER MAKING A PURCHASE?
In situations where the vendor never had an authentic right to transfer to another and such rights resides in another and such a person, group, or institution is not willing to ratify, the purchaser loses everything, even the structure, because according to the legal maxim Quid Quid Plantatur Solo Solo Cedit– whatever is attached to land becomes part of it – whatever is affixed to land becomes part of it.
WHAT TITLE IS CONSIDERED A GOOD TITLE OVER LAND?
The answer to the question is that it must be a registered Deed of Assignment, Conveyance, Lease, or Sublease with the Governor’s consent attached. However, prospective property purchasers should make sure that this registered title was not obtained illegally or fraudulently as a third party may attempt to establish a lawsuit in such cases. Make sure you conduct a proper land registry title search before concluding on that land transaction, and that such a search is performed by a professional, preferably a legal practitioner. Do not sell yourself short by engaging the wrong hands. Recall that there is no such thing as ignorance in the law, so we need to arm ourselves with the right knowledge.
A search at the Surveyor General’s office to make sure the red copy of the Survey to the land is deposited there is another way to validate the land title and make sure the land is not being acquired by the government.