Acquiring a property could be one of the following three things: buying land, buying a building or building.
Provisions of the law will have to be followed in acquiring land and, therefore, it is advisable to contact a knowledgeable person to give an initial bouquet of information which will be free of charge.
An estate agent will be very happy to provide this information. However, care needs to taken. There are many estate agents in Malawi. Some are just in name while some are genuine. The genuine ones will be registered by government’s Department of Lands and will be members of the Surveyors Institute of Malawi. I can guarantee that the genuine estate agents will have knowledge of all that is required for one to acquire property.
Under the laws of the country, a non-Malawian citizen can also acquire land or building. However, there is a requirement for an advertisement on a piece of land for which a Malawian will be given priority if he/she can match a given price. That is currently the only additional requirement for foreigners. Otherwise the following are essential legal requirements and if not fulfilled, one may not be able to have legal rights of ownership:
1) Consent from either the Government or the freehold owner of the land if it is a statutory must be obtained.
2) The vendor must produce a tax clearance certificate from the Malawi Revenue Authority.
3) Town or City rates, if applicable must be cleared and a rates clearance certificate must be produced by the vendor. This certificate will be issued by the Town Council or City Council as the case may be.
4) Initially, you may need an agreement between you as the purchaser and the vendor to be executed. This document together with a valuation report from a recognised qualified individual may be required by the Malawi Revenue Authority to assist them in arriving at the tax which must be payable as a result of the sale.
A quick summary of the procedure is, therefore, to see a genuine estate agent first, engage the vendor or his agent, then see a lawyer to process the agreement, obtain the consent and implement all that may be required legally. It must be mentioned that there is no statutory requirement that you should engage a lawyer.
However, it may be prudent to do so. In any case, your estate agent ought to do all that is legally required.
The property is yours only when it is registered in your name and this means you have the land certificate or certificate of lease.
Some land may not have legal documentation. This does not mean you cannot sell or buy. You can, except that the procedure may be longer if you want a legal title.
Our urban also have chiefs and, therefore, it will be essential to involve them. Otherwise, only those pieces of land that are surveyed professionally and not just with sketches, would be ideal.
Finally, great care must be taken when purchasing or selling property. There are many pseudo practitioners. Unfortunately, there exists great confusion as regards to registration. A very common form of registration is that of the business name which the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs does through the registrar general.
This is not professional at all and is not a valid registration. It is only a registration of the business name.
Estate Agency is controlled by the laws of the country and a genuine registration is that of the individual done by the Ministry of Housing, Lands and Urban Development under the Land Economy, Valuers, Auctioneers and Estate Agents Act of 1989.
However, before you start approaching others, you must have a concept of what you intend to do. You need to have an idea of the type of property, the size and the location of such a property.
Once you decide to build, you need to take some precaution on the professionals you engage.
—The author is a land economist, valuation surveyor, estate agent and a housing professional in private practice.