In Greece, some aspects of conveyancing, such as drawing up the final purchase contract/title deeds and witnessing the signatures, can be performed only by a public notary. A notary represents the government and one of his main tasks is to ensure that state taxes are paid on the completion of a sale.
Note that a notary doesn’t verify or guarantee the accuracy of statements made in a contract or protect you against fraud!
It’s therefore vital to employ a lawyer ( dhikigóri) to carry out the following checks:
- Verifying that a property belongs to the vendor or that he has legal authority to sell it. Note that when there’s more than one owner, which is often the case in Greece, all owners must agree to the sale. If a property has no deeds or isn’t registered, you must be extremely wary. The final transfer of ownership cannot take place until a separate title deed has been issued, which can take as long as two years; it’s therefore important to check how long the title deed will take to obtain before signing a preliminary contract.
- Verifying that trees on rural properties belong to the owner or finding out who they belong to.
- Making sure that there are no tenants. If there are, you must ensure that you will obtain vacant possession.
- Checking that there are no pre-emption rights over a property and that there are no plans to construct anything that would adversely affect the value, enjoyment or use of the property such as roads, railway lines, airports, shops, factories or any other developments.
- Checking that the boundaries and measurements in the deeds are accurate. If possible, obtain a certificate from the property register containing an accurate physical description of the property and maps. When buying a property with a plot of land, the boundaries must be surveyed.
- Ensuring that building permits and planning permissions, e.g. building licence, water and electricity supply, and sewage connection, are in order and are genuine, and that a property was built in accordance with the plans.
- Checking that there are no encumbrances or liens, e.g. mortgages or loans, against a property or any outstanding debts, such as local taxes (rates), community charges, water, electricity or telephone. Note that if you buy a property on which there’s an outstanding loan or taxes, the lender or local authority has first claim on the property and has the right to take possession and sell it to repay the debt. All unpaid debts on a property are inherited by the buyer.
- Finding out the correct ‘assessed tax value’ for the property and obtaining written confirmation of this.
- Ensuring that proper title is obtained and arranging the necessary registration of ownership.
Many estate agents will carry out the above checks for you and pass the information to your lawyer, but it’s still wise to have your lawyer double-check. The cost of conveyancing depends on whether you employ a foreign or local lawyer or both (it’s generally cheaper to use a local lawyer).
Lawyers’ fees in Greece are a maximum of 1 per cent of the ‘assessed tax value’. Before hiring a lawyer, compare the fees charged by a number of practices and obtain quotations in writing. Always check what’s included in the fee and whether it’s ‘full and binding’ or just an estimate (a low basic rate may be supplemented by much more expensive ‘extras’). You should also employ a lawyer to check the final purchase contract before signing it to ensure that it includes everything necessary, particularly any relevant conditional clauses.
In Greece, the final purchase contract is prepared by a public notary ( symvoleográfos), who’s responsible for ensuring that it’s drawn up correctly and that the purchase price is paid to the vendor. He also certifies the identity of the parties, witnesses the signing of the final purchase contract, collects proof that the purchase tax has been paid, arranges for the property’s registration (in the name of the new owner) in the local land registry or National Land Registry and collects any fees or taxes due.
Note, however, that a notary represents the state and doesn’t protect the interests of the buyer or the seller and will rarely point out possible pitfalls in a contract, proffer advice or volunteer any information (as, for example, an estate agent usually will). Don’t expect a notary to speak English or any language other than Greek (although some do) or to explain the intricacies of Greek property law.
Anyone buying (or selling) property abroad shouldn’t even think about doing so without taking expert, independent legal advice. You should certainly never sign anything or pay any money before obtaining legal advice. Your lawyer should also check that the notary does his job correctly, thus providing an extra safeguard. It isn’t wise to use the vendor’s lawyer, even if this would save you money, as he is primarily concerned with protecting the interests of the vendor and not the buyer.