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A close shave with property conmen

Posted by Popular Ombudsman on December 8, 2009

by Enock Ondeyo
Man is a creature of habit. The dream of every Kenyan is to own a piece of property where one may retire to in their twilight, never mind that such a time may be long in coming. It was in that spirit that a close relative asked me to seek and organise the purchase of some property in Karen, one of the up market woods in Nairobi. Being streetwise, I knew that the best way to get a clean deal was to purchase the land through one of the reputable property development companies.

How was I to determine that a company was reputable anyway? Easy! Or so I thought. If a company had a Head Office within a respectable neighbourhood and flashy offices, it had to be my choice. So I went to the Head Offices of a famous property development company in Westlands which shall remain unnamed for now. I did my inquiries about properties available in Karen area. I was shown a number which were however not suitable, or way too expensive.

So after discussing the whole issue with another relative, we decided that maybe, it could be better to get somebody who was selling his or her land and negotiate directly. We sent out feelers and also kept checking classified advertisements. Finally, we located an advertisement for land in Karen, somewhere near a high cost school (on Kolobot Road I think). We called the number given and conversed with a smooth talking gentleman setting an appointment with him in the process. We drove to the City Centre and met somewhere outside Nairobi Sports house. He then took us to a dingy office which he shared with several other desk-top companies and proceeded to extol the virtues of the property he was selling. We told him we needed to look at the property and so we drove to Karen in his Peugeot 504.

All the while, he told us how he had schooled in our home area and how he had attended Lower Kabete Campus for his Bachelor of Commerce. He named several senior people including a Minister for Planning at that time as some of his University classmates. After arriving in Karen, we saw the property, and behold it was good and unoccupied. We even visited a home nearby and greeted a caretaker.

In my mind, I noted that next to the property, there was a huge clearing, so I asked him what the clearing was about and he said that it was for one of the road bypasses or something to that effect.

We drove back to the office once again. We knew what we needed next. From my earlier experience, I knew that we had to carry out the title check in Ardhi House before committing a single cent. I asked him to give us the particulars of the piece of land i.e. LR No. for a title check before we could pay. Remember at this point, he had already produced a purchase agreement and wanted us to sign it and make a down payment. At the mention of the title check, my man became agitated, almost turning violent! He actually shouted that if I did not pay in the next four days, he could not wait for me because there were many buyers who were interested. He claimed that he wanted to help me because we come from the same general area. I told him that as much as I understood his empathy towards me, I still needed to do the check because it was mandatory for me! Then he said, ‘if you wish to satisfy your bloated ego, here are the details, but remember, the first customer who comes along will take the property. He then showed me a purchase agreement with some other Kenyan working in Switzerland who had already paid a million shillings or so to secure his interests in the adjacent plot. I replied that the title check was not negotiable.

My initial efforts to check the records were hampered by a lack of cooperation from some officials at Ardhi House. I gave up and went away, but when I returned a few days later and found a different official, I was given access to the whole file for the particular LR. They wouldn’t give me any official document acknowledging the search but allowed me to see the history of the property. In brief, this is what I found:

It turned up a litany of court orders and caveats stretching through over 10 years and none of them lifted. There was even an existing one, lodged only a few months earlier! Everybody claimed to have an interest in the land because they had paid a deposit to some company or other. In brief, this was a money mill, because as soon as one paid some money to somebody, they disappeared and all you could do was to put a caveat on the land! And a broker was enthusiastically inviting me to become the latest victim, and pay him a fee too.

I called the advertiser and cancelled the deal immediately, got in touch with the relative who wanted to purchase the property and advised him against it. If I did not insist on the check, ours could be a very different story now. As you seek to purchase property in Kenya, this is some common wisdom for you: Get someone trustworthy and willing to genuinely help you, or better still organise for one month leave and do it yourself. Ensure you see the property, do the title searches as an absolute condition and generally find out as much as possible about the land before any financial commitments. Complete the payment when transfer documents are received and upon confirmation that they are genuine. If you do not do these at the minimum, please be prepared to suffer unbelievable losses. That is how easy and difficult it has become.


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