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4 Feb

How to Conduct a due diligence search on Properties in the Western Area of the Republic of Sierra Leone.

 Introduction: Do you know the most significant impediment to purchasing property in the Republic of Sierra Leone’s Western Area is its underlying encumbrances? This could be because the property: has claims from multiple individuals, each with their own document; the property is under court injunction; the seller lacks proper title; the seller is ineligible to sell; or the property is affected by a government development project or falls within government restricted areas. Since you have no choice but to purchase property, you must take precautions against these risks by performing a thorough title check. Conducting a property title search and verification in the Western Area of the Republic of Sierra Leone entails enormous steps. The general goal of verifying a property is to determine if the property has a good root of title and, if not so, to identify any faults in the property’s title. These steps include completing due diligence searches and investigations using Global Salone 3S Model which are:

1. Search on the Document (the title document of the Property)

2. Search on the Property

3. Search on the Owner(s) /Seller(s)

These steps are not stated in a strict chronological order. So, it doesn’t matter where you start.

1.The Document The document refers to the Title document of the property. This is the easiest step among the three steps. When conducting a search on the document you should request for the document from the seller or representative. Property document in the western area is most time labelled as Conveyance, Deed of Gift or Vesting Deed, etc. Irrespective of the name, the process will remain the same. Verify the document at the:

a) Administrator and Registrar General Office: In conducting a search on the document for properties in the Western Area of the Republic of Sierra Leone, the point of contact should be the Administrator and Registrar General Office (ARGO) at 17 Walpole Street, Freetown-Roxy building. Using the Volume and page number, you can verify whether the document is registered or not. Only properties that have been duly registered with the Administrator and Registrar General can be checked at the land registry. This document reveals the root of the property to date, the previous owners and how it was acquired or secured from the first owner to the current Seller(s). At times it may be necessary to dig deeper in to the history of the property and verify the previous owners. Talking to previous owners give you an incredible information to decide the Genuity of the land. This is only possible if the previous owner is reachable. You can further exhaust this procedure during your physical inspection by intelligently enquiring into the history of the property at the neighborhood.

b) Survey Plan: Conducting a survey confirmation at the Director of Survey and Lands at the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Country Planning at Youyi Building, Brookfileds, and/or Directorate of Survey at New England, involves confirming the location of the land in issue using the coordinates, NO and LS provided in the survey plan. This step is critical in the land verification process in the Western Area of the Republic of Serra Leone. Using this information, you can apply to the Directorate of Surveys to check the validity stated and ensure that the details held with the ministry are the same with what is stated on the document in your possession.

c) Other Title Documents: In certain transactions the seller(s) may not be the bona fide owner of the property, in that case, additional document might be required. Such documents include: Power of Attorney, Letter of Administration, Vested Deeds, Court order etc. For Power of Attorney and Vested deeds, you can further verify the document at the ARGO. For Court order or Letter of Administration, it is necessary to do a probate registry search to validate if probate has been granted on any estate; who the administrators of the estate are; or to discover the executors of a testator in the case of assets belonging to the estate of a deceased. Unless a grant of probate or letters of administration has been obtained and is still valid, the sellers lack the legal power to sell or transfer a dead person’s property. Bonus: In a case of a business that is divesting a leasehold or freehold properties in Western Area of the Republic of Sierra Leone required additional steps. Because the company must be incorporated with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), it is necessary to conduct a search at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC)- to know the legality of the company, and at the Master and Registrar of the High court of Sierra Leone to ascertain the legality of the business and that no restrictions or whatsoever is placed on the property or the organisation.

2. Search on the Property This is the most essential step to verify a property in the western area of the Republic of Sierra Leone, particularly if the proposed property to be sold is a land in an undeveloped area or has any history of encumbrance. This step can only be accomplished by physical visit to the property concern. The purpose of a physical inspection is to detect any defects in the title; confirm the physical condition; know the boundary of the land and confirm if it corresponds with the coordinate or survey plan; and also, to know whether it is in possession by any person, whether by tenancy, leasehold, or even seizure through any competent court or police order or by any form of valid injunction. You can talk to the owners of neighboring property or people in the surrounding neighborhood. As well as the Headman/Headwoman in the community. For Safety reasons, try be open to conversation to the residence of the community and tell them frankly your interest in the property concern and who you have been talking to in connection to the land. In addition, enquire if the said land is in anyway labeled as:

• state land

• wet land or protected area by EPA, NPAA, or Forestry

• disaster prone area/

• prohibited or water catchment areas

3.Search on the Owner(s)/Seller(s) This step, despite its crucially importance, its frequently trivializes or ignored by many property buyers. Sierra Leonean tend to easily trust others by their looks and background. In fact, it is the painted “pit” that have lured many people into the land trouble in the western Area of the republic of Sierra Leone. For a single property owner, verify his identity and conduct a thorough check on his background, profession or occupation, reputation, family status and permanent residence. If necessary (I think, it does) ask for a copy of any valid national identity card. If a property is owned by a more than one person or a community, this can be accomplished by studying the seller’s family to identify the entire or primary members of the family, as well as other families in the town where the property is situated; particularly if the property is subject to family or community ownership. It is critical to confirm the approval or consent of all family members, including the family heads, to prevent invalid or voidable transaction. If the Owner(s) are represented by a third party, try to determine the owner’s relationship with the persons, and degree of power or whatsoever the person has in the transaction and any accompanying supporting document. If the owner is represented by a broker or legal firm or solicitor, study the history of the firm/broker, the individual you are dealing with to ensure you are dealing with a credible representative (s).

Conclusion When acquiring a piece of land or property, it is essential to undertake the essential research and due diligence to eliminate any uncertainties, ambiguities, or misunderstandings. The only method to verify that the land/property to be acquired in a transaction has a valid title is to do a full and comprehensive search in the above-mentioned locations, by following Global Salone 3S model for effectiveness and efficiency. Finally, employing the services of a credible legal or real estate professional to perform the search and throughout the process of purchasing property in the Western Area of the Republic of Sierra Leone is critical to ensuring that you receive a legitimate property with sound title.

Disclaimer: This article’s information is meant to serve as a broad primer on the topic. Regarding your individual situation, you should seek the opinion of a specialist.

Ismail Sheku Umarr Kebe BSc (Hon) Applied Accounting, IPAM, USL. Trained Real Estate Asset Manager, Head of Operation, Global Salone Property and Investment Company Limited with Eight years progressive experience in Brokerages and property management in Sierra Leone.

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