The purchase procedure
Foreign buyers, especially those from the UK, often assume that because legal and financial systems are based on the same principles as those in the UK, house-buying procedures will be the same.
Cyprus land law and UK land law and the associated procedures aren’t the same. It’s wise to employ the services of a recommended local lawyer even before you find a property and always before paying any money. This way you can familiarise yourself with procedures and seek general advice to bear in mind while you’re house-hunting.
In many cases, the vendor will ask for a holding deposit. This is usual in the case of a new property; in the case of a resale, you may pay a deposit only on signing the sale contract. A deposit reserves your property and it should be paid directly to the vendor; it isn’t kept in a separate (bonded) account until the transaction is completed as in some other countries.
Although the payment of a holding deposit is normal procedure in Cyprus, however, you should always take advice from your lawyer before handing over any money. He will advise you to keep the amount to a minimum and will draw up a simple document of receipt stating that the deposit paid is subject to satisfactory searches (see Lawyer’s Checks below). In general, you will lose your deposit only if you withdraw from a sale without a satisfactory reason (i.e. simply ‘change your mind’).
Once the sale price has been agreed or a holding deposit paid, your lawyer will begin to draw up the sale contract and make the following checks, which usually takes around a month:
- Verifying with the Lands Office that the vendor has legal authority to sell the property and that there are no debts attached to the property;
- Ensuring that, in the case of several owners, they all agree to the sale and sign the sale contract.
- Checking the ownership of any trees on your land (which may be owned by people other than the registered property owner);
- Establishing the exact boundaries of the plot. This is done automatically by the Lands Office, but you can wait up to a year, so it’s preferable to arrange for a private surveyor to do so and to have your lawyer send his report to the Lands Office.
- Verifying that there are separate title deeds for your property or plot. This is very important when you buy a property in a new development. It may be difficult to get these from a developer and provision must be made in the contract in case the developer or vendor fails to supply them. Your sale contract must be deposited with the Lands Office to protect your rights and put a charge on the property.
- Making sure that, in the case of a property under construction, all the required planning and building permits have been obtained;
- Checking that, in the case of land purchase, you have proper access to your property. You won’t be granted planning permission unless you have access to a public road. This must be confirmed before you can apply for planning permission. The regulations state that the distance to a public road must be less than 600ft. If the distance is less than 600ft but you don’t have right of access, you must apply for it to the Lands Office, which is a lengthy procedure.
- Verifying planning zones and regulations with the Lands Office. Zoning areas were changed in 2003 and you’re permitted to build only on land zoned for building. Your lawyer should also check the zoning of nearby land to ensure that your plot isn’t close to an industrial or agricultural zone, which may affect your enjoyment of the property.
- Checking the legal building density (how many square metres of land you can build on) and that the intended use, height and number of floors of any planned buildings are permitted.
- Making sure that the proposed building isn’t within a seashore protection zone, which usually extends approximately 300ft from the sea and where no building is permitted.
- Checking whether there are any ancient monuments close to where your plot is, and consulting the Inspector of Antiquities. Ancient monument areas are usually marked ‘A.M.’ on Lands Office plans (known as the ‘Lands and Surveys’).
- Verifying that utilities can be connected to the property. Usually electricity can be brought to any part of Cyprus, although it may be expensive if the property is in a remote area. Your lawyer should also ensure that it’s easy for the property to be connected to a water supply, including drinking water.
A lawyer’s checks don’t cover such things as motorways or major roads being built near your home or any other construction which may affect your enjoyment of the property, and you should check these yourself with the local Town Planning Department.
Many estate agents will carry out the above checks for you and pass the information on to your lawyer. However, it’s still advisable to have your lawyer double check. The cost of conveyancing for a property in Cyprus lawyers fees are around €1700, depending on the price, size and how complicated the conveyancing procedure is.
Before hiring a lawyer, compare the fees charged by a number of practices and obtain quotations in writing. Always check what’s included in the fee and whether it’s ‘full and binding’ or just an estimate (a low basic rate may be supplemented by much more expensive ‘extras’). You must employ a lawyer to check the contract before signing it to ensure that it’s correct and includes everything needed, particularly regarding any necessary conditional clauses.
When you sign the sale contract, you agree to accept the property in the condition it’s in at that time, so it’s essential to check that the property is still in the same condition as when you last saw it, and that it hasn’t fallen down or been damaged in any way.
In Cyprus there’s usually a clause in the contract which states that the property must be in the same condition as it was when it was originally inspected by the buyer. Nevertheless, even if you took photographs, it’s almost impossible to prove what condition it was in, so it’s imperative to check before signing the sale contract.
Your check should include fixtures and fittings and anything that’s included in the contract or purchased separately, e.g. carpets, light fittings, curtains or kitchen appliances. Check that these are still present and in good working order. You should also ensure that expensive items (such as kitchen apparatus) haven’t been substituted by inferior (possibly second-hand) items.
If you find that anything is missing, damaged or not in working order, you should make a note and insist on an appropriate reduction in the amount to be paid. In such cases it’s normal for the lawyer to delay the signing of the sale contract until the matter is settled, although an appropriate amount could be withheld from the vendor’s proceeds to pay for repairs or replacements.
You should refuse to go through with a purchase
if you aren’t completely satisfied with everything, as it will be difficult or impossible to obtain redress later.
If it isn’t possible to complete the sale, you should consult your lawyer about your rights and the return of your deposit and any other funds already paid.