When dreams become nightmares in TRNC

Buyers Story

This is the story of just 19 British property purchasers in the TRNC which, but for the intervention and support of the Home Buyers Pressure Group, would have been a complete disaster for us all.   Unhappily, our situation is all too common and the period between 2003 and 2008 has seen a huge number of purchasers caught in a trap whereby they could (and are) losing their homes through no fault of their own.  If you recognise the story and believe that you could be one of those purchasers then contact the HBPG immediately and get to work – not all is lost……. 

Nineteen years ago when my wife and I first visited Cyprus, it was obvious that a love affair had begun between ourselves and a beautiful country with equally beautiful people and culture.  That was the South side, Paphos to be exact, but over the years we watched helpless as this little corner of our paradise turned into Margate on a sunny day.  Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against Margate but we didn't need to travel 2000 miles to see it on any normal day.  

Four years ago we took the plunge and visited the North of the island.  It was like discovering our first love with the island all over again - a love which has blossomed and grown during the intervening years.  But, just like any relationship, it has had its 'highs' and its 'lows' which are worth sharing with any visitor to the island who has any aspiration of owning their own 'little piece of paradise'.  

Having completely fallen in love with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus the germ of a dream started and out of idle curiosity we (like many others) looked at new properties in estate agents windows which by UK standards were absolutely beautiful and which did not have the ridiculous UK price tag attached to them.  Of course, the dream became an aspiration once we had discussed the finances and realised that if we really pushed ourselves and ploughed most of our savings into the project, we could aspire to become homeowners in TRNC.  The 'aspiration' became a hope once we had done our homework and read all we could about the property purchase process in TRNC and once the island had been revisited and a number of skeleton properties viewed, the 'hope' became a reality with the engagement of a lawyer, the signing of contracts and the handing over of a deposit.  

As with the UK, it is always advisable to have a good lawyer representing your interests and ours was amongst the best by reputation.  Unlike the UK, there seemed to be a dearth of 'show' houses except on the larger developments.  But the dream is all about becoming a part of the island - not being a part of a small UK enclave and so the larger developments are shunned in favour of the smaller, more local developments being constructed by local builders in more rural areas.  And so, reassured by a very officiously reviewed, witnessed and signed contract complete with penalty payment clauses plus the physical evidence that our house was already partially built with progress racing ahead and the other 18 houses on the development nearing completion, we left the island and expectantly waited in the UK for progress updates from our builder.  

This was all happening at the end of 2007 with the property markets buoyant all around the world but even so, we detected a certain 'enthusiasm' on the part of the builder to make a sale - not unnaturally we struck a modest deal which moved the builders cash flow forward and improved the specification of our house, a win-win all round. 

With hindsight we should have recognised the obvious omission of a road, mains electricity and mains water to our house but the assurance from the builder was that these could only be agreed by the authorities and installed once the road was completed and that would be "done next".  For those 'Brits' who had already moved into our development electricity was supplied from a personal generator or a very long extension lead from the builders aging generator every evening for a couple of hours with water supplied by water bowsers which filled the very comprehensively sized water tank buried in the front garden.  The really obvious indicator  that we should have noted was that the original purchasers on the site had been there for two years when we began the buying process - living with no mains electricity, no mains water and a constant dust cloud from a road that had not yet been built.  

The promised completion date came and went – as did every other proposed completion date during the following year and the progress on the development had all but come to a stop.  Advice from our lawyer was that to pursue the penalty payments would be fruitless – it would take years to come to court with no guarantee that a suit would be successful and in the meantime the builder would probably go into liquidation.   

Clearly the legal system and a witnessed, signed contract was going to be of no use to get our house finished – other measures were needed. 

At this point, our main concern was to get mains electricity to the house and after discussion with our lawyer, she suggested that if the builder wouldn’t complete the job, there were contractors that she knew who would help.  Having discussed this possibility with those purchasers who were living on site, a rough plan was formed which, from the sanctuary of the UK with all of the sophisticated communications that we take for granted, was put to all of the other purchasers. 

Enter the Home Buyers Pressure Group and Marian Stokes. 

Essentially, we had thought that if we could pool all of our outstanding payments, there could be enough to make disbursements to the necessary contractors ourselves.  The problem was to actually find out how much was left outstanding and also to get the entire collective of purchasers to agree to the plan plus convince the builders & contractors that they would be paid if they did work for our group. 

For some years, Marian Stokes has successfully been able to help other purchasers, like ourselves, who were at risk of wasting their life savings by owning an unfinished house (in some cases just a shell) with no prospect of it ever being completed.    

As a trusted professional in TRNC, Marian was able to hone our plan and to obtain the agreement of the builder to it – he would receive no more monies from the site but we would have the task of completing the construction.  Crucially, Marian introduced a component that had seemed quite insignificant to we naieve Brits – the question of ownership. 

As the builder technically remained in business at this point in time, it had not occurred to any of us that the final ownership of our properties would not take place once we had completed the site!  Marian pointed out that the builder may well not be in business when all of our Permissions to Purchase were granted and that there would be no way to complete our contracts.  This meant that the properties would remain assets of the builder and could be used to pay debts if required. 

Whatever else happened we had to secure our title and this became the number one priority. 

Fortunately all of the purchasers could be contacted by email and the case for a collective pot plus the advice from the HBPG could be discussed readily even though none of us knew who the other purchasers actually were.   Through a number of lengthy emails the plan was put to the group of purchasers and agreement as to the groups’ priorities was established with securing ‘title’ as the very highest priority!  Marian Stokes of the HBPG had secured agreement from the builder that, providing each purchasers’ outstanding funds were paid into the collective fund, he would release the title on the property.

 

Having set our priorities at the inception of the ‘fund’ we needed a driving force to deliver them and this came from an incredibly determined and resilient purchaser who was living on our development in the TRNC.  The first task of our ‘driver’ was to establish a bank account with multiple signatories and to agree a sequence of events that would confirm to purchasers that their monies were safely deposited plus notify the builder of such.  After this the only thing left to do was to collect the monies from the purchasers and get the jobs done – WRONG. 

The purchasers were safeguarded against their ‘fund’ being abused because of the multiple signatories being required to release any money and the fact that there was no cheque book – every cheque had to be raised by the bank under instruction from the three signatories.  However, no-one knew just what perversities the TRNC construction industry could throw up and our local ‘tiger’ spent many woman months of effort in coordinating, cajoling and persuading local officials and contractors to deliver our priorities.  In this regard our local ‘tiger’ was totally focussed and would not allow any deviation to our priorities until an unseasonably bad winter threatened to destroy the entire site at which time another few lengthy emails accompanied by photographs of the damage persuaded all the purchasers that some of the ‘fund’ needed to be diverted to an infrastructure rescue project. 

The big sadness in all of this hard won success was that two of the purchasers found themselves unable to pay their full outstanding amount into the ‘fund’ which precluded them from completing their title transfer and this sadness was proven to be completely founded – the builder became the subject of litigation and  ‘memoranda’ were applied to all of the un-transferred properties on the site.  The purpose of a memorandum is to allow the asset to be used to settle unpaid debts and therefore these two purchasers had effectively lost their properties despite having paid nearly all of their monies.    The TRNC legal system is heavily weighted in favour of local business and this was the very essence of the warning that Marian Stokes of the HBPG had offered to us in the first place. 

To add insult to injury, every other property built by this builder but for which title had not been transferred, whether it was on our site or not, was included under the memoranda which rendered all of them as potential assets to be liquidated to pay the builders debts.  Amazingly, there were properties which had been completed years before but to which title had not been transferred through apathy presumably – these were also caught in the trap. 

If this all sounds like an idyllic dream turned into your worst nightmare, don’t allow yourself to get too disillusioned. 

With the guidance and help of the HBPG plus the superhuman efforts of our local ‘tiger’, our development has been completed and 17 out of the 19 purchasers on it have successfully transferred property title, but it could so easily have had a totally different conclusion. 

The lessons learnt from this battle are essentially these:- 

Before you purchase your dream home ‘off plan’ 

n  Don’t imagine that purchasing a property in TRNC has the same protections as purchasing a property in the UK – even legal contracts are incredibly difficult to enforce in practice

n  Do not purchase a property which is not equipped with a road or mains electricity before it is built – the infrastructure must be in place

n  Take advice from the HBPG regarding the reliability of the builder from whom you are buying.  Don’t think that you can protect yourself by having clauses inserted into your contract – lawyers are very happy to take your money to create amended contracts but notoriously reluctant to enforce the amended (or any) contract. 

If you have already purchased ‘off plan’ and your builder has floundered 

n  Contact the HBPG immediately

n  Get together as a group of purchasers

n  Gain confirmation from your builder as to the outstanding amounts owed by purchasers to effect their contractual completion

n  Create a contact list for the other purchasers (the builder and estate agent should be able to help here)

n  Obtain a local volunteer ‘tiger’ - you will need a strong and dedicated local presence to organise builders and public authorities

n  Agree your priorities – recognising that it is unlikely that all of them will be achievable

n  Be single minded about achieving those priorities

n  Have one leader.  The HBPG can advise on how to achieve your objectives but only one person should be tasked with delivering them – ideally your local representative.  This ‘tiger’ will forge relationships with local providers which cannot be achieved from the distance of foreign shores

n  Hold your nerve and support your local ‘tiger’.  Division and argument after agreeing your priorities negates your effectiveness

n  Remember that it could be a long haul before you achieve your goal 

If you’ve survived all of this, you will be the owner of an absolutely dream home in a wonderful country – your next task is ‘to enjoy it’ .

Colin Morris

Esentepe

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