Private property developers seem to have been the key or dominant players in the real estate in Nigeria, especially in megacities like Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan and Port Harcourt. A lot of people seems to prefer buying their future homes either in a newly proposed estate or an ongoing one. It is obviously not a bad idea, especially in Nigeria where governments are yet to provide necessary infrastructures such as water, electricity and most important roads in existing or old neighbourhood.

A lot of people assume or believe private developers are likely going to provide some of the mentioned amenities. Additionally, due to constant problem of ‘omo-onile’ (Yoruba words for indigenous “owners of land”), which is prevalent in South West, especially in Lagos, people are like going to prefer buying their homes in a fully secured environment that is devoid of Omo Onile’s problem. Based on the stated reasons there is currently a massive surge in patronage for private developers across the country, especially in Lagos State.

Having regards to the foregoing, there are important legal precautions everyone aspiring to buy a building or land from private developers should be aware of. These precautions are important not because most of the private developers are untrustworthy, but because failure to undertake such precautions are usually at the buyer’s peril.

First, anyone purchasing a property from a private developer should not just make payment blindly. It is better to engage the service of a lawyer to help trace and search the title of the property one intends to purchase. The fact that a property that is about to be purchased falls within a big estate does not confer a good title on such property automatically. In this country, we have witnessed a situation where a large estate with many buildings were all pulled down in Abuja because of the alleged bad title of the owner of the estate.

Another precaution is that it a prospective buyer should seek to perfect his or her own title immediately after purchase. Subject to the provisions of Land Use Act, Governor’s consent is required in every state for a property transfer from one owner to another. A buyer’s failure to perfect his or her title is as good as no lawful transfer of property has taken place among the parties. Where a buyer has neglected to perfect his or her own title, or the developer or assignor has also neglected to perfect his own title too, the governor of such state might still lay claim to such property for overriding public interest without any compensation to the buyer.

Furthermore, when a new buyer buying a property from a developer may insist on a contract of sale, especially when a developer is asking such buyer to pay a premium on the land for some proposed infrastructures such as electricity, road network among others. Contract of sale is a preliminary agreement in a land transaction before a deed of assignment. In a situation where the developer is offering a buyer 6 months or 2 years payment’s option, the buyer is at mercy of such developer if there is no contract that defines the rights and obligations of both parties. A  contract of sale will prevent an arbitrary increase in the purchase price by the developer after receiving a deposit from the buyer

In addition, contract of sale can be used to incorporate every other term of the agreement a developer has represented to the purchaser. We have heard cases of people buying landed properties in deep forests at a premium price claiming developers have promised to help them construct the road networks on such lands. Such verbal agreement or promise is often not binding, unless it is written somewhere, the purpose a contract of sale can easily serve.

Finally, we would advise that anyone seeking to buy a new home should not do so without a consultant, which is usually a legal practitioner who can properly ascertain the risks associated with such transaction or property in question. A lot of good developers out there have kept to their promises by delivering exactly what they promised, but one can never predict what his or her own developer might be up to. But it suffices if as a buyer, one has done the right thing from the beginning.

Written by Real Estate Law Team at Resolution Law Firm, Nigeria

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