Note that if there are several owners or inheritance procedures to go through before completion, this could take months and your lawyer will arrange an extension to the original preliminary contract.
Completion involves the signing of the final purchase contract, transferring legal ownership of a property and the payment of the balance of the purchase price, plus other payments such as the notary’s or lawyer’s fees, taxes and duties (although these may be paid earlier or later). When the necessary documents relating to a purchase have been returned to the notary or lawyer handling the sale, he will contact you and request the balance of the purchase price less the deposit and, if applicable, the amount of a mortgage. He will also send you a bill for his fees and taxes. At the same time, the notary should provide a draft final purchase contract (if he doesn’t, you should request one), which should be complete and not contain any blank spaces to be completed later. If you don’t understand the document, you should have it checked by your lawyer.
Property is sold subject to the condition that it’s accepted in the state it’s in at the time of completion, so you should be aware of anything that occurs between the signing of the preliminary contract and completion.
Before signing the final purchase contract, it’s important to check that the property hasn’t fallen down or been damaged in any way, e.g. by a storm, vandals or the previous owner. If you have a lawyer or are buying through an agent, he should accompany you on this visit. You should also do a final inventory immediately prior to completion (the previous owner should already have vacated the property) to ensure that the vendor hasn’t absconded with anything that was included in the price.
You should have an inventory of the fixtures and fittings and anything that was included in the contract or purchased separately, e.g. carpets, light fittings, curtains and kitchen appliances, and check that they’re present and in working order. This is particularly important if furniture and furnishings (and major appliances) were included in the price. You should also ensure that expensive items, such as kitchen appliances, haven’t been substituted by inferior (possibly second-hand) items. Any fixtures and fittings (and garden plants and shrubs) present in a property when you viewed it should still be there when you take possession, unless otherwise stated in the contract.
If you find that anything is missing or damaged or isn’t in working order, you should make a note and insist on immediate restitution, such as an appropriate reduction in the amount to be paid. In such cases it’s normal for the notary or lawyer to delay the signing of the deed until the matter is settled, although an appropriate amount could be withheld from the vendor’s proceeds to pay for repairs or replacements.
You should refuse to go through with the purchase if you aren’t completely satisfied, as it will be difficult or impossible to obtain redress later.
If it isn’t possible to complete the sale, you should consult your lawyer about your rights and the return of your deposit and any other funds already paid.
The final act of the sale is the signing of the final purchase contract, which takes place in the notary’s office. Before the final purchase contract is signed, the notary or lawyer checks that the conditions contained in the preliminary contract have been met. The notary also checks the accompanying documents including the buyer’s tax file number and the receipt of the payment of purchase tax by the buyer.
It’s usual for all parties to be present when the deed of sale is read, signed and witnessed by the notary, although either party can give someone a power of attorney to represent them (see Power of Attorney below). This is quite common among foreign buyers and sellers and can be arranged by your lawyer. If a couple buys a property in both their names, the wife can give the husband power of attorney (or vice versa).
The notary reads through the final purchase contract, and both the vendor and buyer (or their representatives) must sign every sheet included in the contract, indicating that they’ve understood and accept the terms of the document. If you don’t understand Greek, you should take along an interpreter – your lawyer may translate for you.
Power of Attorney
If for any reason you’re unable to sign the final purchase contract in person, you may wish to give power of attorney to your lawyer beforehand.
The power of attorney document can be as extensive or as limited you wish, but it should include authorisation to act on your behalf at completion and at tax offices (e.g. to obtain your tax file number and pay taxes).
The document can be drawn up in one of two ways: your lawyer sends you a power of attorney in Greek, which you take to the Greek embassy or consulate in your home country where it is legalised by the authorities; or your lawyer in your home country draws up a power of attorney, which is legalised by a public notary and authenticated with an official stamp (apostille). The document must then be officially translated into Greek.
If you choose to sign a power of attorney in Greek, make sure you know exactly what you’re signing.
The origin of funds used to buy property in Greece must be declared to the Bank of Greece using an official import document (the ‘pink slip’). Proof that the funds have been imported must be produced at completion.
The balance of the price (after the deposit and any mortgages are subtracted) must be paid by banker’s draft or bank transfer. For many people the most convenient way is by banker’s draft, which also means that you will have the payment in your possession (a bank cannot lose it!) and the notary can confirm it immediately. It also allows you to withhold payment if there’s a last minute problem that cannot be resolved.
When the vendor and buyer are of the same foreign nationality, they can agree that the balance is paid in any currency and payment can also be made abroad. However, the final purchase contract must state the sale price in local currency, as taxes are paid on this price. At the time of signing, both the vendor and buyer declare that payment has been made in the agreed foreign currency. In this case the payment should be held by an independent lawyer or solicitor in the vendor’s or buyer’s home country.
After paying the money and receiving a receipt, the notary or lawyer will usually give you a copy of the final purchase contract showing that you’re the new owner of the property. You will also receive the keys!
After the final purchase contract is signed, the original is lodged at the land registry (ipothikofilakio) and the new owner’s name is entered on the registry deed. It’s important to send the signed deed to the land registry as soon as possible (the notary should do this), although the actual registration may take some time. Only when the deed has been registered do you become the legal owner of the property.
Until recently there was no centralised or co-ordinated system of registering property in Greece and property transactions were recorded by hand in small local land registries.
Transactions were mainly recorded in the name of the people involved rather than the actual property. This system, still the only one in some parts of the country, means that a title search can take hours (or even days) as each cross reference is checked against others, a process that is open to error and omission.
To rectify this and to conform to EU directives, in 1995 Greece established a National Land Registry where all property will eventually be recorded and registered with an individual reference number and the names of current and past owners. This will facilitate checks on ownership and encumbrances and generally ensure a more secure purchase. The National Land Registry is far from complete and it’s estimated that work will be finished by 2010. Meanwhile, many areas in Greece still rely on local land registries for registration of ownership.
This article is an extract from Buying a Home in Greece.