Once bitten twice shy


By Vongai Mpesi

FAILURE is one of the most recurrent obstacles that human beings have to contend with, and I must admit, I am no stranger to failure. 

Over the years, there have been many instances where I failed to get the desired results, but the one that sticks out like a sore thumb is when I got embroiled in a property wrangle, and I eventually threw in the white towel before exhausting all legal remedies. 

I believe this was the biggest mistake in my life, but I have no regrets, because I regard it as the biggest lesson I learned as well. 

However, it would be prudent if I go down memory lane and recount the events as they unfolded. 

About a decade ago, I made a vow to myself that I was going to build a house that I would finance by myself without taking out an expensive mortgage that would enslave me to the bank for the rest of my life. 

That is what I had convinced myself after watching one too many movies chronicling the lives of people who had lost everything they sweated for after arduously breaking their backs to settle their mortgages. 

A handful of relatives and friends who had also hit hard times corroborated my misconception. What a waste of time and effort, I thought to myself. 

Little did I know that a rude awakening awaited me. 

So, I approached what I didn’t know then was a shady estate agent selling properties in a township that I am not going to disclose because just mentioning it is enough to give me a panic attack. 

One of the first mistakes I think I made was to vocalise the fact that I was desperate and wanted to have a house in my name. 

That’s because I was going to be the first among my siblings to own a house, and even though we grew up in abject poverty, I wanted to prove to the entire community that my life would amount to something. 

Clouded by this mindset, my would-be captors got wind of this and decided to dupe me. 

In order to do that, they had to convince me first regarding the legality of the project. 

I was furnished with a site plan for the project, project documents signed by the local government and a bunch of other paperwork that I can’t recall. 

I must admit, the volume of information and documentation that I was shown was actually overwhelming. 

However, at that time, let me be honest, I was convinced I was on the right track. 

‘This is it’, I said to myself, perhaps summoning the guts to fork out my life’s saving to invest in my dream home. 

Before paying for the property, I had to go to the company’s lawyer’s offices and sign some form of commitment. 

The office, located in a plush neighbourhood, was exquisitely furnished. 

There, I met this kind-looking gentleman who took his time to walk me through the paperwork, and about 30 minutes later, I was done. 

I was given the estate agent’s account number and instructed to make a deposit within a week, and inform the property consultant once I had done so in order for them to wrap up the transaction. 

And did I mention that I wanted this to be a surprise, so I intentionally kept everyone in the dark regarding my intentions to purchase a property. 

I remember I went to make the deposit on a windy Thursday morning. 

I woke up humming my favourite church hymn and was in high spirits. 

I made myself an omelette, toast as well as a cup of coffee. I called in sick at work, I was not going to let my dreadful boss ruin my ‘big day’. 

So off to the bank I went, asked to see the branch manager, and informed him of my intentions. 

I was asked if I was certain I wanted to proceed with such a transaction, and I unequivocally said, “Yes.” 

The transaction was above the bank’s daily withdrawal limit, so I had to sign off for it in person, and I guess the branch manager was obligated to check if I was being coerced or in a hostage situation. 

I assured him that there was nothing fishy about my transaction, and I had done the due diligence, something I obviously hadn’t done, but he was now the man standing between me and prosperity, so I thought. 

As soon as I left the bank, I gave the estate agent a ring, and he assured me that I would have the title deeds to the property within a month, though they would try to expedite the process. 

Fast forward, two months down the line, the estate agent’s number was unreachable. 

I did not receive even as much as a receipt for the transaction. 

I went to their office, and was greeted with a sign saying they had moved, and the same number was on the sign informing all and sundry to call for directions. 

I actually bumped into two other people who were looking for the same agency, and when I tried to quiz them what it was in connection with, they simply brushed me off and wouldn’t entertain an irate inquisitive young lady. 

I traced my footsteps back to the estate agent’s lawyers’ office in that leafy neighbourhood, and to my surprise, they had equally taken off and literally vanished into thin air. 

I was dejected. All my sweat had gone down the drain, and even though I was well-aware that we shouldn’t cry over spilt milk, I couldn’t help it. 

When I visited the site, my worst fears were confirmed, someone had erected their property right at the exact spot that I had been told was my vacant lot. 

And to make matters worse, this looked like a legit institution, compared to the bogus agents that moved around with tinted cars without licence plates. 

I must say that I did see the red flags, but I didn’t pay heed to my gut, then. 

Only after I was duped did I start ruing my decision to make such a huge commitment without proper due deligence.

So, if I were to turn back the hands of time, I should have confided in my best friend, as well as at least one family member and maybe asked someone to accompany me to the lot when I first came across the advertisement in a local newspaper. 

For, that, I do take full responsibility and I am kind to myself by acknowledging that I made that decision because I wanted to retain my privacy, particularly pertaining to my finances. 

On a grander scale, I ought to have carried out due diligence. 

Since I am passionate about banking, and having been raised by a grandmother who schooled me in making sound banking decisions, I should have done a background check on the estate agency as well as the project. 

A simple visit to the registrar of deeds office, the central office that manages all the estates in the country and has records of all the developers working on different projects countrywide should have been an eyeopener. 

I really shouldn’t have forked out such a whooping amount without ascertaining the legality of the project as well as the track record of the estate agents. 

A few weeks down the line, a local newspaper revealed that about 100 home seekers had been swindled by the same bogus estate agent and it was established that they had worked in cahoots with corrupt local government officials to steal stamps and forge documents which they used to convince unsuspecting home seekers. 

I do consider this an important lesson because I now know that in life, there are no shortcuts. 

You ought to be wary when something is too good to be true, because it obviously is. 

After that incident, I now tread carefully and do not make hasty decisions based on emotions. 

Whenever possible, I take my time to ponder over important decisions and sleep over them, before committing. 

I also realise that I am not an island, I live in a community with family and friends who want what’s best for me, and consulting them now and again before making big decisions is imperative. 

Obviously, when you seek advice, you will not swallow everything you are told hook, line and sinker. 

However, you also need to be prudent enough to consider the different variables and lay all your options on the table, before settling for what you think is the best decision. However, do remember that there are many ways to skin a cat, so having an alternative plan or a backup will hedge you against risk as you wouldn’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. 

I guess after all is said, once beaten twice shy, I am now wiser.


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