Think Before you Ink

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Reading the fine print is absolutely imperative when buying a property. As a rule, contracts do not make for interesting reading, but absorbing and understanding every point is vital and could save the buyer a great deal of money.

Under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), contracts have to be written in such a way that an average man, of average intelligence, will understand them. This means that for the most part, legal jargon is out. The CPA also states that an estate agent has to go through the contract with both the buyer and the seller, explaining each and every point.

There is good reason for this. No one wants to appear stupid and in the old days at least, many refused to admit that they didn’t understand what they were signing. The consequences of this undoubtedly made more than a few lawyers slightly richer. All property transactions have to be reduced to writing and although there are those who still believe that a deal can be sealed with a handshake, this is not the case when concluding a property deal.

Knowing and understanding your rights will protect you against unscrupulous buyers or sellers.There have been numerous instances where the seller has taken the buyer for a ride. In some instances, this is due to ignorance and not malice on the seller’s part. However, buyers who understand their rights - and the contents of the sales contract - will be in a far better position to argue their point as they have the law firmly behind them.

A sales contract should cover just about every eventuality so that each party fully understands what their obligations are. No one should feel intimated and should ask for clarification if a clause is not fully understood. Buyers and sellers should ensure they fully understand what they are signing, even if this means delaying the sale until further information can be gleaned.

Although sales contracts differ from agency to agency, overall, they contain the same basic clauses. Both parties need to pay particular attention to any clause that has been deleted by either party and fully understand the reasons behind such a move.

The devil is in the details as they say, and both the buyer and seller need to understand that the contract is binding from the moment pen is put to paper. The date of occupation often comes back to bite as in the excitement of the moment it is easy to overlook this very important part of the sale. Transfers are taking far longer to be registered at the Deeds Office and sellers who do not take the importance of occupational rent into account could end up out of pocket.

Fixtures and fittings are another area that often causes tempers to flare. Once again, if the contract clearly states what is staying and what is going, there can be little room for argument. Buying or selling is a stressful exercise. However, if all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed, the experience is generally an exciting time for all.

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