As I type these words, I am gazing at a rather important piece of paper. It is a “Deed of Transfer” from the registrar of deeds at Cape Town. In a nutshell, this document reports that Turtle House is finally mine! The full story, however, is much bigger than these three sheets of paper.
- December 5, 2015: As frequent readers of my blog will know, I first placed an offer to purchase this townhouse within three weeks of arriving in South Africa. My offer was slightly lower than the asking price, and I requested that the refrigerator remained in place. The sellers accepted these terms on the following day.
- December 21st, 2015: The Offer to Purchase document specified that I needed to pay just over 15% of the purchase price into the account of the “conveyancers” by this date; think of it as a down payment. Under South African law, the interest accrued on all monies deposited in this way is credited to my name. I decided to go whole hog. On December 15, 2015, I had accumulated the total purchase price in my South African bank account (I’ll leave the financing stuff out of public view, if you don’t mind). On that same day, I transferred the purchase price to the conveyancer, and I also transferred an additional sum, more than 4% of the purchase price, to cover a wide variety of costs associated with the purchase.
- January 10th, 2016: On this date, I was at last allowed to move into my new home. Note that I did not yet own the home, though! The Offer to Purchase included an “Occupational Rental” section specifying that I would pay a sum equal to approximately $1000 USD for each month that I occupied the property prior to ownership.
- January 19th, 2016: An email arrives that starts my teeth gnashing. The conveyancers note a critical problem; the bank that had held the bond (home loan) for the sellers had lost the title. As a result, the bank needed to begin proceedings to acquire a copy. This would add a delay of unknown duration to the purchase (I assumed a week of added time).
- January 27th, 2016: The ship with my belongings had left the United States long before I took flight for South Africa. On this day, my shipping container arrived at Turtle House, and I was reunited with my beloved stuff. On this day and the next, I made material upgrades to Turtle House by installing a Trellidoor and new custom security gates. This sets up a problem, though; since I did not formally own Turtle House, what would happen with these investments if the contract to purchase should fall through?
- February 1st, 2016: To quote the Offer to Purchase, “Transfer shall be effected by the Seller’s conveyancers and shall be taken by the Purchaser on 1st February, 2016, or as close as possible to such date.” The document has my real estate agent’s written addition: “Sooner the better for the purchaser.” What, then happened on the first of February? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No information was forthcoming from the conveyancers.
- February 12th, 2016: The conveyancers notified me that they had filed for the deed to be transferred. Since government services were only then coming back to life (it’s quite challenging to transact city business from late December through mid January), a queue had developed. They estimated my title transfer would be complete on February 22nd.
- February 25th, 2016: The city deeds office rejected the title transfer. The transfer request failed because the bank that had held the bond for the seller had improperly signed the bond cancellation document. The conveyancers also made a mistake on the deed documentation. The mistakes would require the conveyancers to work with the lawyers on behalf of the seller, and those lawyers would have to interact with the lawyers for the bank. I facepalmed. To add insult to injury, the converyancers now demanded another month of overpriced rent. The conveyancers promised another try at the deeds office on the following Monday, February 29th. They did not accomplish that goal, though. They actually re-filed on March 8th, 2016.
- March 23rd, 2016: An ominous message arrived from the conveyancers. They wanted to speak with me personally, reporting that the deed transfer had been filed for a third time. I was pacing along the towpath in Port Elizabeth as I spoke with the lawyer on the phone. What he told me was horrifying. The lawyers for the bank had foolishly filed the same paperwork for the deed transfer three times in a row, and it had been rejected each time for the same reason. Considering that it was a one-page document, this accomplishment took some bloody-mindedness. The conveyancer seemed convinced that the bank lawyers had finally absorbed that they had made a mistake. Meanwhile, the conveyancer wanted me to pay more rent. I had already told them to take it out of the interest that was accruing on all my money that was still sitting in their account. They said the interest had run out. I countered that this deal was only still viable because I chose to consider it so. They said that that’s not what the Offer to Purchase said. I asked them if they had read it recently.
- March 31st, 2016: The outcome of this conversation was mixed; the conveyancer and the bank agreed to reduce certain charges, which left me with a considerably reduced sum to pay for rent. Their letter rather frostily commented that the conveyancer was a lawyer acting on behalf of the seller. The conveyancer announced that I had seven days to pay the reduced rent or expose myself to terrible acts by the seller. I paid with this note: “The amount was paid this evening. It would really have been sufficient to tell me what the revised amount was, after the discounts.” I made a quiet note in my mind that further provocations would result in my “lawyering up.”
- April 15th, 2016: I received word that the deed had finally been transferred into my name. The letter noted that the seller had complained that she was paying property taxes and homeowners’ fees on Turtle House while I was living in it. She now wanted me to reimburse those costs. I simply replied, “Since I was paying rent, it would not have been appropriate to charge me the homeowners’ dues, of course. My rent has already compensated the owner for her having payed the dues to the body corporate.” I again considered whether it was time to get my own lawyer. The seller, however, made no further mention of this unreasonable claim.
- July 21st, 2016: I received word from the office of the conveyancer that my Deed of Transfer was available for pickup or delivery. Rather than trust that my mail would arrive, I drove by their offices to retrieve it this afternoon. The document has three dates on it: April 15th, 2016 for the execution, May 4th, 2016 for “Data/Capture” and May 5th for “Data/Verify.”
I can only feel relief that the trail to Turtle House has reached a successful conclusion. Now it is my home on paper, as well as in fact!
*I want to thank everyone who has contributed to OpenClipArt, which provided the images for this post!