Because it is in their best interests to do so, estate agents working in popular property markets abroad such as Spain, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Turkey imply that the purchase process is very easy, straightforward and hassle-free. In other words, according to them, you needn’t overly concern yourselves with any complex legalities, and quite often they will also introduce you to a lawyer or notary who will handle the whole thing for you.
Assuming you are a non-seasoned veteran of international property purchases, chances are the kind offer will be taken up, and you’ll find yourself potentially inappropriately represented from a legal point of view. The fact of the matter is, you need your own solicitor or notary when buying abroad, and you need one who only has your interests at heart with regard to the sale.
So, why involve an independent lawyer when buying property abroad? Because the entire security of your purchase and subsequent ownership status depends on it.
In the past we have always made a point of highlighting the fact that buyers of property abroad need to have independent legal representation. I.e., never take the advice of a developer, vendor or estate agent when seeking a lawyer to oversee and manage a purchase contract. What’s more, we have always advocated the need to ensure that your lawyer is proficient in matters pertaining to real estate and the ownership of local property by foreign nationals. But today we’d like to take our advice one stage further.
The need for upping the ante when it comes to the advice we’re giving is simply because we are heartily depressed by the number of cases being brought to our attention on a daily basis of those who have been scammed and ripped off abroad. And we’re not immune either – we too have had the wool pulled over our eyes in the past with overseas property purchases and now know how and why one does things very differently.
In terms of the scams and schemes, underhand dealings and issues that many overseas buyers are facing, few are at the extreme end of the scale where they have lost everything to an unscrupulous agent or vendor, the majority of cases ‘simply’ involve the fact that legal advice given has been very poor indeed. When it then comes to the point when the new buyer wants to resell the property, they find all sorts of outstanding issues that were never resolved by their lawyer at the outset and which now stand in the way of a smooth sale. As a worst-case scenario this can render a property unsellable, but most likely it wipes money off the asking price or reduces the final amount that the new owner walks away with.
So, again, in answer to the question posed by this article, namely ‘why involve an independent lawyer when buying property abroad?’ The answer of course relates to the fact that you want to ensure everything at your point of purchase is done properly and you receive the advice that you need.
In terms of finding a qualified and independent solicitor who can assist you, a good starting point is The Law Society in the UK. They should be able to provide you with a list of registered solicitors who are English-qualified and who do legal work overseas in the particular country in which you’re buying a property abroad. Alternatively you can of course contact the British consulate in the country in question and ask them for a list of qualified local lawyers – but if they do hold such a list they will not have placed any criteria on who is on that list. I.e., just because a lawyer has his name down at the British consulate, this does not make the individual in question necessarily experienced or even fully qualified to assist you.
Once you have done your homework and found a decent lawyer to help you, you should find that the contract they draw up protects you from the outset. The contract should be worded and crafted so that if anything untoward is found to be an issue with the sale, you can withdraw from it without penalty. They should also be able to advise you about how to structure the purchase from a legally qualifying tax advantageous point of view, and they should conduct extensive searches against the property and its title to ensure that you are not inheriting any debts or problems and that the vendor has the right to sell to you.
Finally, take your time investing in a lawyer – the right one will be worth their weight in gold. Get it wrong and you will rue the day you ever thought about buying a home overseas.