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Buying Land in Ghana: What To Know

Real estate is a very lucrative business in Ghana. No wonder land disputes are quite common in lots of areas. According to records, 80% of cases are land-related. You must be careful when buying property in Ghana. The reason for this is that the process of buying property can be complex due to the country’s land tenure system. So, having the money and land documents alone is not enough.

Therefore, employing a lawyer’s services is prudent when buying property in Ghana. A lawyer may save you your time and money’s worth. Usually, those who transact in land sales without a lawyer find themselves in Court a few years after buying land to defend their interest. This article aims to educate all persons on some basic things to note when purchasing land in Ghana.

This article should guide your choices, so you do not ignorantly go about the entire process. Also, ‘land’ and ‘property’ will be used interchangeably.

Types of Land Ownership in Ghana

One of the first questions you should ask when shown a piece of land is, ‘what type of land ownership does that specific land fall under?’ In Ghana, there are four types of land in terms of ownership. There is family land, stool land, public land, and private/individual lands. If you know under which type of ownership a particular piece of land comes, you can duly purchase it from the owners correctly. That means the means of purchasing each type of land is different.

Public Lands

Public lands are also identified as State/Government lands. By these other names, one should understand that the land belongs to the State. In this case, if you want to purchase such land, the right person to contact is the Lands Officer at the Lands Commission. You will be setting yourself up if you contract with an individual, family, or chief to buy such land.

Usually, the result of buying this land without proper research is that most people have their properties bulldozed by government agencies to protect their land. So make sure to do your search diligently.

Family Lands

Family lands belong to a particular family, meaning all the members in that particular family hold that property in common. Some areas in Ghana are known to have lands vested in families. Some distinct instances of places where family land is prevalent are Prampram in the Greater Accra Region and some parts of the Volta region.

According to Ghanaian land law, the proper person to sell family land is the family head in concurrence with the principal members of the family. Thus, if some principal members sell family land to you without the say of the family head, the law will not recognize such a transaction. The involvement of the family head is important in these transactions because they are the ones the family holds accountable for respect of the family property.

Also, in instances where the head of the family transacts with a person to sell family land without the consent of the family members, that transaction is voidable. The term “voidable” means that that transaction is valid at law until the principal members of the family object to the validity of that transaction in Court.

The Court has the authority in this case to cancel the sale or not, depending on the facts available. So, for caution, make sure that when buying family land, you prepare a document where the head of the family and principal members agree to sell the land and append their signatures to the document.

Stool Lands

Stool land belongs to a particular stool and its subjects. According to law, the proper person to sell stool land is the stool with the consent and concurrence of the principal elders of the stool. It is, therefore, important to note that no linguist or principal elder can sell stool land to you. It does not matter how much you bought it; the law will not recognize such a transaction.

Also, recent court decisions have concluded that the law will not recognize a transaction where an occupant of the stool alone sells stool land. It will be deemed to be invalid.

Private/Individual Lands

The land is privately owned if it is owned by private individuals or private companies, including real estate companies. Quite a several lands in Ghana are owned privately. This reason can be attributed to the sales made by stools and families, especially private individuals or companies. On a note, the owner can sell it as and when they like.

One crucial point to note is that where a husband and wife own land, the recent Land Act 2020 stipulates that one spouse cannot sell the land without the other spouse’s consent. So, a husband or wife cannot sell any property acquired by the couple during the marriage’s subsistence without the other party’s consent.

One should note that the consent granted by the other spouse is written to avoid any irregularities shortly.

Types Of Land Purchase In Ghana

Land purchase in Ghana is done in two ways. There is the formal approach to purchasing land and the informal approach.

Informal Approach To Purchasing Land

With this way of purchasing land, the buyer sees a piece of land he is interested in, then inspects it. If satisfied, they verbally agree on the land’s price with the seller. The two parties then finalize other details of this oral contract, like the date of final payment, and the exact size of the land, amongst other essential details needed for land ownership to change hands.

After this has been settled, the seller will sign the deed document, which will transfer ownership of the land to the buyer. The buyer then goes to the Lands Commission, where that piece of land is situated, and registers it to get a Land Certificate. That ends the transaction between the parties unless there are unsettled matters like the timelines for payment.

Typically this is how the informal approach functions. There are no background checks. The parties deal with each as if they were transacting over an item in the marketplace. It is largely built on trust and has been discovered to be the preferred way of purchasing land in most rural areas in Ghana. Sometimes, this is also the case in urban areas.

The advantage is it is very simple, but the demerit is that it is not a very safe method of buying land. This has been a hassle-free approach for some, but this is not the story for others. Possibly, it has been a headache after enjoying the benefits of the land for a few years. This is especially true when the seller cannot sell the land at law, and the real owners come to reclaim their land, with the matter ending up in Court.

Formal Approach of Purchasing Land in Ghana

Amongst the two approaches outlined above, the formal approach is the safer option, albeit time-consuming and more expensive. It is also technical, as it involves a lawyer doing rigorous and diligent searches wherever possible. Here are the processes involved in this approach.

Sale-Purchase Agreement

Once the buyer has identified the land he wants to buy, the first thing they do is to inform a lawyer who will draft a contract to safeguard the land deal. This contract is called a “Sale-Purchase Agreement.” This contract contains the various terms on which the parties will handle the purchase of land.

That will enable the buyer to do all the necessary research he has to do to ascertain that they are getting a good title from the seller. This agreement includes terms that allow the buyer to conduct searches at the Lands Commission and other institutions associated with land in any way for that purchase.

Other terms to pay attention to also include the seller’s identity, place of abode of both parties, purchase price, the duty of the seller to prove his title to the land, the payment plan, onsite-visit, and inspection, the guarantee of the seller that the land has not been sold to another person at the time of contracting. The Sale-Purchase Agreement establishes an interest in purchasing land based on certain conditions.

One of which is that the seller ought to give the buyer adequate time to do his research before buying the land. It also bounds the seller to the sale, such that if another person comes with a better offer, the seller cannot sell the land to that person. Again, where one of the parties passes on, the contract of sale has to happen, and either party can sue in a court of competent jurisdiction to enforce that contract.

    The Search

The best point to begin your search on a piece of land for a prospective buyer or a lawyer is the Lands Commission. Before this search, there is the need to hire a licensed surveyor to draw up a site plan for the land. The site plan is important because it will aid the Lands Commission in knowing the exact piece of land the prospective buyer wants to search on.

The Lands Commission may be of little help if there is no site plan. So, when you get the site plan, the Lands Commission will use the coordinates on the site plan to identify the piece of land you want to purchase. Sometimes, sellers give their site plan to buyers when the latter is searching for verification at the Lands Commission.

It may be risky to accept those site plans. The reason is that the site plan may not be connected to the land the buyer may want to purchase, especially when someone else’s land is nearby. The result could be that the land belongs to the seller though that may not be the case. Therefore, getting a fresh site plan is wise when doing your search.

While at the Lands Commission, you should check whether that land has been the subject of a mortgage. Usually, most buyers are unaware that a mortgage has encumbered their lands. So the buyer buys the land, and after some years, the mortgagor comes to recover the land, especially when the seller defaults on payment.

That begins your embarrassment at being duped! Another thing to do is visit the Collateral Registry of the Bank of Ghana to ascertain whether the property has been used as collateral in a loan transaction. Also, determine if the land you intend to buy has been marked for public projects. If the land you intend to buy has been marked for the construction of a road, any project you embark on that land will be demolished.

The last search you should consider is the courthouse. Search for the registry of the Court where the land you intend to buy is located. This is so that you note if there is any ongoing litigation over the land, you do not purchase it.

    Know The Seller

You must know who you are transacting within a deal for the land sale. This is because, in especially urban areas in Ghana, most people claiming to be land owners are not who they claim to be. Thus this is why you or your lawyer must conduct a diligent search. In law, it is recognized that you cannot give out what you don’t own.

Therefore, if the seller did not have the title in the first place, he could not transfer that title to anyone else. This means that if a seller who is not the proper land owner sells land to you, there is no valid sale of land. This is because he does not have the right to conduct the sale. In most instances,  it is hard to find sellers after engaging with them for the sale of land.

And even when they are found, in most instances, it is impossible to recover the monies paid under the land transaction.

To prevent this:

Get a valid national identity card from the seller. Make sure you have not been issued a fake identification card. Verify the authenticity of the card before you complete the land transaction.

This is so that in the event you get scammed. You have a name and face to issue to the appropriate authorities.

  Verification and Registration

Once you have searched, this is where you finalize the sale of the land. Thus, the seller transfers his interest to you. It is prudent to know what kind of interest is being transferred. This is because some people think they bought the land.

Meanwhile, on the document transferring an interest, they only have a lease on a particular piece of land for some years. Once you have ascertained that you are now the land owner, you need to register your interest in that land. So go to the Lands Commission and get yourself a Title Certificate. Doing this means you are declaring to all who bother to know that you are the owner of that piece of land.

Conclusion

In conclusion, buying land requires due diligence. If you do not have time, hire a lawyer to do that for you. Do not be in a hurry to finalize the sale, especially if the seller is pressuring you.

Also, note that this article does not replace a lawyer’s advice.

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