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Buying landed property in Malawi

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Blantyre City

By G.M. Wawanya:

Introduction

In Malawi, like in many other developing countries, the field of estate agency is regarded as mere property broking and is practiced by anyone who dares to. However, the field is a profession and is controlled by an Act an of Parliament. It, therefore, requires that one should have the right professional qualification, is registered by government and belongs to the Surveyors Institute of Malawi

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Above all, it requires one to have the highest standard of ethics, integrity and discipline.

The government has a board which registers these practitioners and the board and the professional body, Surveyors Institute of Malawi, enforce the required standards and ensure that the members so registered practice in a manner that ensures maximum levels of ethics adherence, integrity and discipline.

Background

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We live in a liberalised economic situation where the market is chaotic and anything goes, as prices are so high. This also applies to the land sector. There is no control over pricing whatsoever.

Land pricing has already gone haywire. Extremely high pricing is rampant and very common among unqualified estate agents. It would not be wrong to say that they are responsible for distorting the property market in the name of liberalisation.

Authorities need to step in urgently as the situation will soon get out of control. As economists know, where markets are imperfect and have failed, it is essential to intervene and correct the situation. The property market may have already surpassed that level and this warrants urgent action.

The public seem to be of the view that estate agency is like any business, such as selling muffins and pancakes (mandasi and zitumbuwa).

Yet, the field is regulated by the law through an Act of Parliament, known as the Land Economy Surveyors, Valuers, Estate Agents and Auctioneers Act of 1989, Cap 53.08. This law regulates entry into this profession. However, despite the existence of the law, many people venture into estate agency business, some of whom are learned persons such as lawyers, accountants and many others.

One would ask as to why the law is not enforced but the answer to that is that there exists so much chaos now that the authorities seem to have started demanding full compliance to laws and are ready to take those on the wrong side of the law to task.

A properly qualified estate agent will surely sort out industry challenges and ensure complete compliance with the legal framework.

Both the Land Economy Board and the Surveyors Institute of Malawi publish, in the local press, names of registered and licenced professionals who are authorised to do estate agency work, valuation surveying and auctioneering. They will also make sure that citizens do not get robbed of their financial resources by unscrupulous people posing as estate agents when they are mere thieves.

How then does one participate in the real estate sector, and how does one identify a legitimate estate agent?

The answer to this question is simple: “Engage a qualified estate agent”. Period.

Such an agent will display a registration certificate or licence issued by the Land Economy Board. Please note that this is not issued by the Registrar General’s Department, which registers companies or businesses. It [the department] is, therefore, of no consequence in this regard. It merely gets involved in the registration of a company or the business name. Authority to practice as an estate agent, valuer and auctioneer is only given by the Land Economy Board.

There are very good reasons as to why the public should engage a qualified estate agent and some of the important reasons are as follows:

  1. One is assured that the transaction will be legal and will result in the obtaining of a good title. A registered estate agent will have knowledge of the existing laws and the entire legal framework, which consists of very complex legal provisions that an unqualified practitioner cannot have. Some of the laws that are current and need to be followed and understood are as follows:

The Land Act

The Customary Land Act

The Physical Planning Act

The Land Survey Act

The Registered Land Act

The Land Acquisition and Compensation Act

The Highways Act

The Local Government Act

The Chiefs Act

The Malawi Housing Act

In addition, the estate agent will also be able to:

  1. Have deep knowledge of the economic and social environment of the property and provide a much needed commentary on its locations, in terms of physical planning, and, therefore, its suitability for the intended purpose.
  2. Pricing of the property will be reasonable.

An unqualified estate agent would offer the most unrealistic price ranges way above the market value of the property just because they would like to make large commissions. These high prices are prevalent today because the market is full of unqualified and illegal estate agents.

So, if you are thinking of buying any landed property in Malawi, engage a qualified estate agent.

Engagement of an illegal estate agent will result in disaster. One might end up buying land in an area where the law prohibits any sales of land such as in customary land zones.

Even if one develops such land, the authorities may not grant title or, worse still, they could demolish the buildings. One could easily loose life savings.

There are many advertisements in newspapers, social media, etc, but be warned: A lot of these practitioners may not be genuine. They could be after your money and by the time you realise it, they would have closed shop and even have left the country. You will be left alone, stranded all your life.

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