Kenyans lose millions of Shillings every year when they fall prey to con artists selling non-existing land parcels with fake title deeds, or land with uncountable encumbrances and court orders.
The Ministry of Lands has made some progress in attempting to deter these cunning thieves by digitising land records, streamlining title search and transfer, and setting up the ArdhiSasa Portal, which helps citizens access lands services online.
This has reduced congestion at the land office. There also have been steps to educate Kenyans on the land buying and selling process in the hope that this will bring an end to land fraud.
Yet it is still up to the buyer to protect themselves. Scammers will and are getting smarter and are devising new plans to con you.
How exactly do they manage to trick buyers and make away with their money, most of the time with little effort?
This article will explore ten ways you can get conned in Kenya and what you can do consistently to stay a step ahead of con artists.
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You can communicate all your land specifications over a call or write them down, but the only way to be sure you are buying what you want is to see it first. By visiting the site, you get to see what a camera couldn't capture, your middleman could ignore, and a seller could hide.
When you visit the land you want to buy, you can confirm you aren't purchasing a ghost property and get the chance to speak to neighbours about the area. Ask if the location is prone to flooding and see if the land can support your vision. If you want to plant it, is it farmable? Or, if you plan to build a house, are there any barriers that could make construction more expensive?
Additionally, when you visit the land, you can
Remember being conned is not just being sold non-existent land, it could also be being sold land that is not what was described on paper such that the amount you paid is not even close to the worth of the land or that if you had known the state of the land you would not have purchased.
Before paying for the land, you will need to ascertain if the seller is the actual owner. The only way to be sure is by visiting the land office and performing a title search. It will confirm the ownership details and show other interests registered on that property.
To perform a title search, the seller will give you a copy of the title deed certificate or the title number. You will then need to visit your nearest land office to conduct the search, which costs Ksh500. Alternatively, you can perform a title search online through the ArdhiSasa portal.
After performing a search, you'll get to know if more than one person owns the land. If the title bears more than one name, you should consult the other owner(s) and get consent to continue with the buying process. You could be exposed to a lengthy and costly legal process if you fail to do this.
You should also confirm if the land is matrimonial. This is land owned by married couples and is occupied or utilised by both spouses. The Matrimonial Property Act of 2013 provides that both married couples have equal rights to the property. To be on the safe side, you should consult the seller's spouse and get their concern before paying for the land.
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Encumbrances refer to the hindrances that can impede, limit, or restrict how you'll use your land after buying it. Here are some common ones to look out for:
This happens when the land you are buying has boundary disputes. Either the seller is trying to increase their property size by encroaching on pathways, public lands, or their neighbours land, or the neighbour is interfering with their boundary. Hire a surveyor from the land's office to conduct a proper property survey.
Check if the seller has rented the land to another party. When you buy land that another party has rented, you won't be able to use it until the lease expires. Ask the seller about this before paying; if it affects your plan, you might need to look at other options.
This type of encumbrance mainly arises when the seller has used the land as collateral for a loan or auctioneers have lodged a claim against it for debts incurred by the owner. Before paying, you might have to liaison with the seller's creditors.
You should also check if the owner is owed land rates taxes, utility bills, or salaries if the land has employees. When you complete a purchase, you risk inheriting all these debts.
As a first-time buyer, you might overpay for land if you are not careful. To avoid this, you should consider hiring an appraiser to perform an independent property valuation before you buy.
Beyond that, an appraisal will help you understand why a piece of land is valued at the said price. The extra information you gain will help you make a more informed decision when you are ready to buy.
Another reason to know a property's valuation is to bring red flags to light. If the seller is selling way below market value and the deal is too good, that might raise some hairs. You might have to think twice. An Appraisal will keep you alert, and you'll investigate all encumbrances diligently.
One of the most common ways Kenyans get conned when buying land is using brokers and unregistered real estate agents. To avoid losing your money, you should only work with experts who are registered, reputable and have solid experience.
To confirm the legitimacy of your agent, you can ask them to produce a licence from Estate Agents Registration Board (EARB), the body that licences them.
Before engaging with an agent, look at their track record and read the online reviews. You can also ask for recommendations from family and friends. Cons tend to prey on new buyers' ignorance, charge them exorbitant fees and make the entire process burdensome.
When buying land, you'll find some sellers asking you to complete the transaction in cash. They'll give you weak reasons such as lack of bank account, minimising charges, and at some extreme, to avoid taxes. You should avoid engaging in such business. Paying in cash leaves no paper trail to show you paid for the land and gives leeway for the seller to deny receiving it.
Still, on the subject of the money trail, you should ensure that you transfer the money to the bank account of the person whose name appears in the title deed. Don't pay money to middlemen or through a third party. If disputes arise, you won't be able to say you paid the rightful owner confidently.
As stipulated in section 3 (3) of the Law of Contract Cap 23, all land sale agreements should be in writing and signed by all the parties involved in the transaction. The contract will include all the essential clauses such as dates, terms, and conditions of the sale, encumbrances, buying price and deposit, size of the land, etc.
The law also demands that the contract be signed in the presence of a neutral witness. The two most common witnesses land buyers should use are the commissioner of oath or a notary public. The agreement is valid after the land ministry has sealed it with a stamp duty stamp.
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Involving all the relevant government officials when buying land has one advantage. It leaves behind a paper trail that confirms all due process was followed when making the purchase. A legitimate seller won't object to it as it will not only save you time, it protects both your interests and ensures no one makes a loss.
The government authorities involved include:
Once you have paid the seller, completing the property transfer is up to you. You should work hard to complete the process as fast as possible. Delaying it might lead to a dishonest seller selling the land to another party, cancelling your agreement, or, worst, cold-heartedly double-crossing you.
Fastening the process can also ensure you start using the land for your intended purpose. If you want to construct a house or go into a joint venture partnership, a sale agreement won't suffice. You'll need a title deed to apply for permits and convince partners to go into business with you.
You should always follow the legal process when buying land and avoid shortcuts. Sometimes, buyers looking to save extra money skip some steps that later cost them much more. This can be in the form of accepting big discounts in exchange for paying in cash or putting up a down payment without witnesses.
Buying land can be an overwhelming process, especially for beginners. You'll have to be careful in an industry filled with cons and untrustworthy people masquerading as land sellers and brokers. Always hire a licensed real estate agent to hold your hand throughout the process. They might not come cheaply, but they can help you avoid significantly high losses.
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