I thought the house buying was all going a bit fast. I still think it's the right house for us, but I wasn't happy about signing contracts and paying more than the initial deposit so quickly. Particularly when contracts on our UK house haven't yet been exchanged. I also had a sort of gut feeling that perhaps it was going to be more complicated than we had thought, or even that the vendors were trying to hide something...
On Friday the estate agent told Richard that it wasn't quite as straightforward as they had thought: there were minor 'problems' which weren't really difficult, but as the owners wanted to leave before we'd finished paying for it, she thought a solicitor should be used to draw up the contract. She said they had solicitors they could recommend, and told him the fee - which seemed a bit steep.
Today we talked about it, and I didn't feel at all comfortable about using a lawyer recommended by the estate agent. So Richard said he'd phone the guy recommended by a friend of ours who's in the house business. The guy quoted the same fee (OK, so it wasn't unreasonable) and said that a solicitor was really only needed when there were complications. He wanted to know if there was anything at all dubious about the deeds. We had gathered that there were two minor problems: (1) the carports didn't have planning permission and (2) the hairdresser salon which is part of the downstairs flat wasn't legally registered.
However, as they're taking out all the equipment from the hairdresser's and we're going to turn it into a bedroom, we didn't think that one mattered. We plan to take down one of the carports to make a little garden, and if the other one had to come down too, that wouldn't have worried us. We don't have a carport here and it's never been a problem.
So Richard went to see the agent, and while there phoned the solicitor, so he could talk in Greek to the agent and find out exactly what the problems were. It seems that they're rather more serious than we had realised: if he understood rightly, the upstairs house (ie the top two storeys) may not ever have had planning permission, as they're apparently not mentioned on the deeds at all. Since the deeds are in Greek, we had no idea...
The agent then said that if we'd used their recommended lawyer it could have been pushed through quickly, but using a different one means they'll have to employ an architect to sort it out, and that will slow it all down. Well, that's fine by us. I'm just glad we didn't go ahead and sign contracts and hand over more money without checking first.
Looking online, I found this very helpful site. According to this (and others - I checked several) the reservation fee (which we paid about ten days ago) ensures that the house is taken off the market, while we have 28 days to get a solicitor to do legal searches - as they would in the UK. We had been told by the agent, and a few other people, that it's not normal to use a solicitor at all in Cyprus - estate agents are legally qualified and can usually draw up the contracts themselves. But it sounds as if it's a good thing to use one even if they're not necessary - and in our case, it sounds as though it probably is best.
So tomorrow we'll meet the lawyer, and find out his advice, and ask him to go ahead with the searches and whatever else is necessary. We just hope it turns out to be straightforward to get permission after the event (something which, we gather, happens fairly often out here).