IT ONLY TOOK EIGHT YEARS, so we count ourselves as the lucky ones. Many are still waiting – some after 30 years or more. Title Deed acquisition in Cyprus is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Back in 2003, during the frenzied property boom on the island, you could turn in for the night and awake to face not only a new day, but also equally new batches of villa walls in the valley below; it was like a giant game of village Jenga.
When plumping for a new build, everything begins and ends with the developer. The fervent hope is that he’s the sole owner of the land he plans to build on, that he has sought planning permission to do so, and that the land is not mortgaged – he actually owns the plot he’s offering to you.
Apart from our villa, the developer we chose (because he had the land with the view we craved) had designs for eight others on the large plot. Individual Title Deeds are not issued until all the building is completed.
There is an awful lot of toing and froing between the developer, the planning department and the Land Registry, giving ample opportunity for delays and oversights.
Somehow, in our case, the owner of the local taverna was apparently entitled to a say in the matter, too. Last year, a top government official pitched in and, in an effort to get things moving, was recorded as having “started shouting at the mayor”.
After each visit to the lawyer, we would emerge into the hot sun carrying a batch of paperwork all in Greek and a tight knot of worry. We were assured, “Everything is good. This is Cyprus. No problem. You are here to relax! Siga-siga …”
We paused on our way out, to grill the secretary: “How long do you think? When will we get them?”
Her reply: “Maybe next month, maybe next week, or maybe tomorrow.”
It became the norm when bumping into old friends and/or meeting new people: “Hello! How are you? How’s the dodgy knee? Have you got your Title Deeds?”
Life went on – a volcano in Iceland erupted causing flight chaos; the Human Genome Project was completed; Facebook and Twitter were launched; President Barack Obama was sworn in; technology raced on – the iPhone, Kindle, Google Street View… Cyprus joined the EU. But we waited for our Title Deeds.
Several times a week our neighbour could be heard on the phone haranguing some poor chap, who would later reveal that he hadn’t the foggiest idea why we Brits were so hung up about this stuff. This, after all, was Cyprus.
Other neighbours packed a coolbox and staked out the offices of the Land Registry, refusing to budge until they were seen. Still nothing happened. To be fair, having had plenty of experience of the notoriously loose Mediterranean sense of time, we had to admit that, ultimately, most things do get done. Eventually.
Once, we ordered a replacement mirror for the guest bathroom; it was expected to take a week to arrive. Six months later, when I was out and my children were watching television in the lounge, three delivery men emerged via the patio and marched upstairs with a mirror tucked under their arms. They installed it perfectly, cleared up every scrap of mess and promptly left. If the children hadn’t mentioned it to me, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the new mirror for days. It got done.
Then, a phone call. Would we care to go along and pick up our Title Deeds? Racing home with the precious envelope (stop for champagne!) we pored over the documents spread out on the table. The drawing was very neat: a parcel of land we recognised as our own, but no building. No house evident on the Deeds. Apparently, we’d been living in a field for eight years.
A phone call established that these were our temporary Deeds (stage 1) and that the full version (stage 2) was to come. Soon. By this time, we had changed. We were in Cyprus. We liked – no, loved – our life here. We decided to call off the active and soul-destroying pursuit of the Deeds. We backed off.
One day, three chaps turned up at our house equipped with a GPS device on a long pole and with a mission to determine the position of our house on its plot. This was looking good. Halfway round the house, they downed tools. They’d run out of batteries. They assured us that they’d be back and beat a rapid retreat before we could imprison them in the boiler room. They’d heard horror stories about us enraged Brits. True to their word, they returned to finish the job. Three months later.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Our friend was apoplectic on the phone: “Have you heard what they’ve done? Have you heard?” All bank accounts were frozen in Cyprus, investors were to stump up for the island’s woes; the EU big boys were intent on making an example out of Cyprus. The Title Deeds issue plunged in priority.
In sharp contrast to the frenzied media portrayal of demonstrations, rampaging crowds and desperate queues building up before empty cash machines, the locals simply shrugged and headed to the beaches clutching armfuls of kites, to take part in the annual Green Monday kite-flying tradition. The expat community rallied, too. We drove away from the houses we did not own, past the banks we could not access, and hit the beaches; we may not be able to fly off the island (flights were heaving), but we could fly a kite.
A few weeks ago, we were eating lunch by the harbour when my husband’s mobile phone trilled. He answered, lowered the handset and picked up a stray chip. “We can go and pick up our full Title Deeds.” We shrugged and ordered another Keo beer. No rush.