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How to buy a Property in Zimbabwe

INT1For most people, buying a house will probably be the largest single investment they will make in
their life time. Ordinarily, this should be an exciting and fulfilling exercise, however it can also be
very tiring and if mishandled can be the largest single mistake that they will make in their life time.
Many a times and sadly, people have lost thousands of dollars by entering in to wrong property
deals which could have been avoided by just employing a few tips before releasing that hard earned
money saved over years. In this article, I look at three processes that can be employed to help you
the buyer to get a good property deal. This is not exhaustive at all, but arises out of my own
observation over the years of areas that are often overlooked particularly by first time home buyers
hence my focus on these areas.

1. Where to Start
Before one begins to look at available properties that are for sale, there must be a clearly
defined budget of the total amount available for the purchase. Within the budget amount,
one must be cognisant of embedded costs such as transfer fees which are fairly significant
and within the transfer fees are other costs such as stamp duty which fall to the account of
the purchaser or buyer. A word of caution to most first time home buyers is that within your
budget, it may be prudent to reserve anything between 1.5 to 2.5% of the total budget
amount for repair works to the acquired property. Given the past ten years of hyperinflation
in Zimbabwe, most of the properties in stock are in need of some repair and maintenance
work. The percentages given are by no means cast in stone nor arrived at by some formula,
what is critical is to be aware that most of the property stock available in Zimbabwe requires
either repair works, refurbishment or even major upgrade therefore it is critical to factor this
in your budget.
A strong word of advice is ‘Be strict with yourself and stick to your budget, do not allow
estate agents to tempt you to overstretch by looking at more expensive properties priced
beyond your budget, unless your agent is sure they can negotiate the price downwards to
your budget.’
The second and equally important is ‘Seek professional advice from reputable estate agent
firms such as ZIMRE Properties Limited. You are already spending a lot of money therefore
paying a bit of money to ensure you are making the right decision is the only sensible thing
to do. You will save yourself a lot of heartaches.’
2. Finding the Right Property
Now that you have a clearly defined budget of how much you have available, you can start
looking at properties available for sale. There are two ways of doing this: –
i. You can register with a particular estate agent or several agents giving them your
budget, preferred area and other features in your prospective property that you are
looking for such as you would want the property to be on an acre stand with a
borehole etc. You then leave your contact details with the agent(s) who in turn will have the task of finding a property that matches your specifications or at least is
close to your preferences. The agent will contact you usually with a list of properties
to view (later on I will highlight what to look out for when viewing a property).
Again a strong word of advice ‘Deal with registered estate agents, keep away from
unregistered agents. One can easily check with the Estate Agents of Council of
Zimbabwe by merely calling them on +263 – 4 – 746356/746400 and asking if the
name of a particular agent is registered with them. This safeguards you and your
Ii The second method is the most obvious and most widely used, and this is by looking
through the classified sections of most of the daily newspapers and going through
the advertised properties within your budget. One can also look at particular estate
agents websites (although most websites I have looked at are not regularly updated
which is disappointing) nevertheless websites are still a good source of property
information. One good website to look at is www.zimclassifieds. Without over
emphasising this point, ‘Deal with reputable and registered estate agents such as
Zimre Properties.
Why deal with agents?
Because estate agents have a good understanding of the property market and the
particular location you will be looking for a property in. They are aware of the day to
day movement in property prices therefore you eliminate the risk of being
overpriced. An agent can also negotiate on your behalf with the seller. A registered
agent is mandated to act professionally on behalf of both the seller and buyer, any
signs of demeanour can result in the agent being deregistered and losing their
license to operate. On the contrary, an unregistered agent may inflate the price in
order to earn more commission since commission is a percentage of the sale price.
In the unlikely event that you are ever defrauded by a registered estate agent and
you lose your money, you can appeal to the Estate Agents Council of Zimbabwe
which through the Estate Agents Compensation Fund after a proven breach by a
registered agent will compensate you and you can recover at least a portion if not
the entire amount.
Iii A third option which is not very popular is to attend public auctions of properties.
These are usually properties that have been foreclosed on by banks or other
creditors. Normally these properties are advertised prior through a daily newspaper
notifying the property, date and place of auction and the advert ordinarily mentions
viewing period.
Iv The last option is private sales where no agent is involved. I highly discourage this
particular option because of the high risk of fraudulent transaction. This option also
requires one to invest a lot of personal time in ensuring the property being sold is
unencumbered and the person selling has the legal mandate to do so for example
the property in question could be subject of a divorce case where the one party is
trying to sell quickly before the other. It could turn out there is a caveat on the title deed prohibiting selling or transfer of the property without the other party’s consent
after you have paid. This is a headache you can avoid by going through an agent who
would (if it’s a good agent) have undertaken such research prior. In the event that
you have to buy privately without going through an estate agent, at least involve a
good and reputable law firm that is registered with the Law Society of Zimbabwe to
undertake the conveyancing before you pay any monies. Although the conveyancing
lawyers are the seller’s choice ensure these are reputable and registered and only
pay money in to the lawyers trust account and not directly to the seller.
In your search of course within your prescribed budget, which you must stick to, it is
prudent to combine options one to three as you look for the property of your
3. What to Look Out for and How to Spot a Good Property Buy.
The golden rule in spotting a good property buy is ‘simply to avoid a bad one!’ This may
seem a contradiction but this is the best way to get a good property buy. To avoid a bad
property buy; ‘use a reputable and registered estate agent’
What to look out for?
One needs to undertake a thorough research of the intended properties for purchase. This is
done by looking at daily papers, going through websites and going to public auctions as
highlighted above. The second step in your research is to visit each property and view it. As a
personal rule of thumb, I suggest one to view at least ten properties before making a
decision. At each property inspection, take photographs of the property or better still, video
recordings, however this requires permission which should be sought first before making
any recordings. Pictures make a good basis for comparing properties alone without the
agent and assist in keeping memory of viewed properties.
So what should one really look at when viewing a property?
i. Look at the external walls or outside of the house. Here one is looking for structural
cracks. A structural crack is normally a crack that appears on both the outside and
inside of the house following the same fault line. This can usually be traced from a
particular area which is either a tie beam or the foundation of the house. A brief
background knowledge of the area will also assist for example if you are buying a
house in an area such as Queensdale or Parkmeadowlands (south of Harare CBD)
most of the original houses in this area are built of compressed earth (a technology
known back then as ‘no fines’) there are no bricks or mortar joints therefore if one
of these type houses has a structural crack, it is most likely very severe (fortunately
very few of these houses have structural cracks). If you are buying in Old
Marlborough, because of the clay soil type in Marlborough a good number of these
houses are on special foundation known as ‘raft foundation’ this is basically like a
floating platform on which the house is built on therefore a structural crack
emanating from the foundation can be disastrous. A word of advice; it is better to buy a house which has not been painted or refurbished provided this can be factored in the price and do this work on your own. Often times repair works and paint jobs may be done to hide serious property defects which can haunt you later.

ii. Look at the roof from the outside; check whether the roof is straight particularly on
newer houses. I have since discovered that generally most of the newer houses are a
notch lower in workmanship compared to older houses. This is not really because
today’s workmen are less skilled but more to do with people over building beyond
their budget and getting to a point where they start to compromise on both material
and workmanship in order to make savings. Take a careful look at the roof, look at
the ridge and check whether it is straight, check to see if the roof is not warping. A
warped roof could be a sign of a serious defect resulting from subsidence, walls that
were built not straight and/ or a serious roof leak.
iii. Take a look at the inside; check on floors, ceilings and walls. The main things to look
for are signs of moisture ingress or rising damp. Usually this is signified by
discolouration on the walls or ceiling and in severe cases algae growing on the
surface. Moisture ingress can result from a punctured water proof membrane, this is
quite difficult to repair and fairly costly and is usually indicated by wet walls from
the floor upwards. Another source of moisture ingress is a leaking roof and may
result in stained ceilings and water flow marks usually from the ceiling cornices
downwards. Geyser or overhead water tanks in the roof can also be sources of
moisture in the house and these need to be checked and ascertained. The latter are
usually easier to rectify. A word of advice is that most internal fittings such as
bathrooms and kitchens have a definite life span. These can be easily changed and
replaced with new and modern fittings therefore do not be too bogged down on
looking for a ‘wow!’ kitchen or a fancy bathroom because you can always create
your own that is bespoke to your taste. The idea, however is to ensure if you take
this route, structurally the house is sound, the cost of doing this work is factored in
the final purchase price and you have adequately provided for this in your initial
budget for the purchase.
iv. The list of things to look out for are numerous and to a large extend also depend on
what you are looking for as a buyer, I have just picked a few that I consider may
result in major unplanned expenditure after buying your property if they are not
taken in to consideration from the onset. The last thing I would like to mention is the
electricity reticulation of the house. Most houses built in Zimbabwe around the 50s
have metal conduits and electricity cables insulated in fibre. Over time this fibre
becomes brittle and begins to chip off and you have this dangerous combination of
live electricity wires coming into contact with metal conduits. It is imperative that if
you purchase one such property, you rewire the entire house; it may not be possible
to change the conduits but replace the electricity cables with PVC insulated cables. Since this article is mostly directed at first time home buyers, it is essential that I look at
three types of entry level properties briefly and highlight pertinent points to look out for.
These three entry level properties are: –
a. Vacant stand
b. Flat
a. Vacant Stand
What are the pertinent points to look out for when buying a vacant stand or buying in to
a proposed new development?
Firstly I need to mention that one of the disadvantages of real estate or property as we
commonly call it is a quality called ‘fixity rigidity’. This simply means, unlike a car or
tomatoes which after paying for you can carry the product away with you and decide to
store it or put it where ever you wish, property after paying for it remains fixed where it
is and you can then not take it away with you. What this really means is that what one
really purchases in property in the strictest sense is not the property itself but an
‘interest’ or ‘certain rights of use’ in the property and these rights vary depending on the
type of ‘tenure’ or ‘title’ that one has. Tenure or title refers to whether one has a title
deed to the property which is normally referred to as ‘freehold title’ or one is leasing
which is normally referred to as ‘leasehold tenure/title’ I do not wish to bog you down
with these technical terms, but the import of this is that, what is really important in a
property transaction is the legal paperwork because this is what secures your rights of
use to the property.
Given the above mentioned, the first thing to look for when purchasing any property
and not just a vacant stand is whether it has Title Deed. However since most stands are
within new developments where title may not yet be available, one needs to safeguard
their interest by considering some of the following: –
 The agreement of sale between the developer and the purchaser should be
correctly drafted to safe guard the purchaser. At best before title is issued, the
agreement of sale becomes the security of tenure document which defines the
interest the purchaser is acquiring. Certain parameters need to be factored in
such as the issue of ‘top ups’ will these be permissible and to what extend?
 The second point to look out for is whether the developer has complied with all
Statutory Authorities to undertake the development. Particular authority is
required from the Local Authority or Council in the form of a Subdivision Permit
allowing the developer to subdivide and develop the land in question. This
Permit will also outline what the developer is required to do in order to get a
‘Certificate of Compliance’. Title Deeds to a new development will only be issued
after this Certificate of Compliance has been issued out by the Local Authority. It
is well and in order for a potential purchaser to request proof of this document
particularly if you are not sure of the developer. Other critical documents
required are an Environmental Impact Assessment approval by the Environmental Management Agency of Zimbabwe, approved layout plan by the
Surveyor General which is issued after what is known as a ‘Title Survey’ by a
qualified and registered Land Surveyor.
 Check the past record of the developer, what have they done before? Have they
completed the servicing of their other projects? Reputable property developers
such as ZIMRE properties by mere reference to their history of past
developments such as Zimre Park in Ruwa, Parklands in Bulawayo, Zimre Park in
Masvingo, Eastview Gardens in Harare and many others show that they are
reputable property developers and have the capacity to deliver on their
b. Flats
On flats, the main thing to look out for after making your inspection as outlined above, is
what is the type of title that the flat is held under. Flats are found mainly on two types of
title or tenure, namely: –
 Block Share – In this instance the entire block of flats is in the name of a
company and individual flat owners have a certain number of shares in the
company which gives them ‘Exclusive Rights of Occupation’ to the flat. The
purchaser in this case does not get a title deed but gets a share certificate.
 Sectional Title – This is a title deed issued on a flat conferring the owner with a
percentage ownership of the entire block. The percentage is equivalent to the
portion of his or her flat out of the whole block thus if there are ten flats in a
block which are exactly the same, each owner will have a title deed conferring
roughly ten percent of the entire block (there will be common areas exclusions).
In terms of preference for title, the latter is most preferred as it is deemed more secure
although the former has the advantage of less transfer cost.
When buying a flat, it is important to look for a strong Residents Association that enforces
payments of levies to ensure your block is well maintained. There are certain obligations
that one cannot undertake as an individual flat owner and require every resident’s
cooperation such as insuring your flat. This ordinarily has to be done as a block.
For now I will end here, but in my next article I will look at Vacant Stands and the Process of
Property Development.
This article was written by Stephen Kapfunde. Stephen is a Chartered Surveyor with The
Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and is the Property Manager with ZIMRE Property
Investments Limited.

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