Buying a property in Cyprus
By Andrea Pavlou
Buying property in Cyprus can be an extremely enjoyable experience for a potential buyer if it is done properly. Cyprus has a system of registered land and a legal process that is similar to England and Wales. We will outline some safeguards that you need to be aware of prior to purchasing your property in order to protect your property investment.
1. INDEPENDENT LEGAL REPRESENTATION
We cannot over emphasise the fact that independent legal representation should be obtained. The buyer must feel confident that his lawyer is protecting his best interests. Even though it is very tempting to follow the recommendation of the seller who will quite often innocently suggest to the buyer to use the same legal representation as himself, we believe that it is almost impossible for a lawyer to be independent when he is either personally or professionally involved with the seller. For our British clients, we have always suggested to them to follow the same practices they do in the UK ie to think sensibly and use their own personal lawyer who is paid to protect their legal interests.
2. OWNING PROPERTY IN CYPRUS
Nationals of EU member states are now allowed to own as much “immovable property” (a term that includes both land and property) as they wish. Once the title deeds of the immovable property become available, they will be required to establish proof of their citizenship by taking their passport to the Land Registry when they pay their transfer fees.
A national of a non-European country will require the approval of the Council of Ministers prior to owning any type of immovable property. However, the legislation with regard to non-European nationals owning property is case specific and therefore legal advice from a Cypriot lawyer must be taken in this regard. There are several exceptions to the legislation based upon the purchaser’s individual status so it is imperative that correct legal advice is obtained in order that an overseas national is able to receive a letter of approval from the Council of Ministers as quickly as possible.
The buyer’s lawyer should check the title deed to the property to see if there are any mortgages or any other charges or encumbrances that are registered against the property or the land. If there is a mortgage or charge, this must be dealt with in the contract of sale with a provision being made for the discharge of the mortgage prior to the sale. If it is a new development, then the developer’s bank would quite often issue a waiver letter with respect to any developer’s mortgages.
4. THE STATUS OF THE SELLER
It is extremely important for the buyer’s lawyer to check the financial status of the seller in order to determine whether it is sensible to proceed with a property purchase. Recovery of purchase monies paid to companies who are about to go into administration or liquidation is extremely difficult and obtaining title deeds for properties in such a situation, is time consuming and incredibly stressful. A company search or credit search will often allay such fears to a considerable extent. For a property that is bought before its been built or during construction, we would also check if the seller has obtained the necessary town planning permission and building permits for the construction of the property.
5. THE RESERVATION FEE AND DEPOSIT
After a sale has been agreed orally between the parties, a seller would require the buyer to pay a reservation fee to take the property off the market for a small period of time until the deposit is paid. Your lawyer would normally draft a reservation agreement until the buyer has raised the funds for the deposit. If the deposit is immediately available then the buyer should seek the advice of his lawyer to ensure that a written agreement would deal with the terms of any deposit payment being paid to the seller. Such an agreement should include the full details of the property, whether it has title deeds, planning permission, building permit, the agreed purchase price, whether the price includes VAT, if a reservation fee has bee paid and when, to whom and the amount of the deposit that has been paid, whether the deposit is refundable and if the deposit will be deducted from the final purchase price.
6. DEPOSITION OF THE CONTRACT AT THE LAND REGISTRY
When a final contract of sale has been agreed between the parties, it is absolutely vital that the contract of sale has been stamped at the tax office and deposited at the local land registry within the strict timeframes specified by Cypriot law. It is imperative that the lawyer follows these time limits. If the buyer fails to stamp and deposit on time, the buyer will lose the right of specific performance of the contract which means the buyer will not have the right to seek a court order to require the seller to perform his obligations under the agreement.
The buyer must be made aware of the costs of a property purchase. Legal fees, stamp duty, transfer fees (if applicable), VAT (if applicable), surveyors fees and immovable property tax must be calculated and considered prior to making a decision to purchase a property.
This summary has been prepared as a simple outline for clients considering buying property in the Republic of Cyprus. It is not intended to be a comprehensive legal guide about buying property in the Republic of Cyprus. Clients should seek professional legal advice prior to taking any steps to implement any of the matters discussed here.
If you have any queries or questions regarding the contents of this summary, please feel free to contact us for a free initial consultation or write to us here.