Buying a House > Selling a House > Title Deeds

Title Deeds may put you in mind of scrolls, parchment and Victorian intrigue – but, as with so many things, the reality is more prosaic. Which is probably a good thing, as exchanging property is eventful enough as it is!

First things first, let’s get the terminology out of the way. A Title is your legal right to own a property. A Deed is a legal document that lays out your Title.

Physical Deeds were a necessity in years gone by, when no central register of property ownership existed. Nowadays though, they are no longer required to prove your Title (i.e. your right to own a property). This is because, since 1990, HM Land Registry (HMLR) has tracked property transactions centrally. Of course, there are still plenty of physical documents knocking about but don’t panic if you can’t find them … The overwhelming likelihood is that your Title will be safely registered with the Land Registry.

And there’s more good news – the only times you’re going to need to think about title deeds are when it comes to selling your house or buying a new one.

Title Deeds and Selling your House

When someone sells or gifts** a property, the title to that property is transferred to a new owner. But for this to happen, the existing owner must prove they held that title in the first place – generally by refering to HMLR’s central property register.

Since 1990, it has been a legal requirement to register all newly acquired or newly mortgaged property with HM Land Registry. What this means in practical terms is that any property bought or mortgaged since 1990 will already be on the register. As a result of this, unregistered properties are a diminishing breed – with all new-build properties getting registered.

However, there are still plenty of unregistered properties out there. According to the Land Registry’s 2017/18 Annual Report, 14.6% of land in England and Wales remains unregistered. In order to sell in these cases, the seller will first have to register the property with the HMLR – and this is where the original, physical Deeds come into play.

** gifts of property via transfer of title deeds are exempt from stamp duty (sdlt)

Registering your Property with HMLR

You can easily check whether your property is registered already on the HM Land Registry Website. This register is public and free to search, though note that you will have to pay an admin fee to actually view your Title documents. Generally speaking, these will be: a Title Register, a Title Plan and a Flood Risk Indicator.

  • Title Register – this costs £3 and tells you a property’s title number, who owns it, how much it was bought for and whether it’s a freehold or a leasehold tenure. If there’s a mortgage on the property, the title register will also tell you the name and address of the lender.
  • Title Plan – this costs £3 and indicates the boundaries and location of the property
  • Flood Risk Indicator – this costs £9 and gives you the likelihood of the land or property flooding
  • If you have them, physical Title Deeds may contain further information about your property, such as a complete chain of ownership through time (including conveyances, contracts for sale, wills, mortgages and leases).

If your property isn’t registered with HMLR, this needn’t be immediate cause for concern. However, to avoid any potential difficulties with selling, gifting or remortgaging, it is recommended to register as soon as possible, and for this you will need to locate your physical Title Deeds. Here are 6 simple steps for registering your property with HMLR:

    1. Search the register to check whether your property is registered already
    2. Apply for a search from the Land Charges Department (this will look for any previous owners since 1925)
    3. Compile your physical deeds (if it’s not indicated by the deeds, prepare a scale plan showing the lay of the land)
    4. Fill out 2 copies of the list of documents form
    5. Determine your registration fee (this depends on how much your property is worth)
    6. Send your physical deeds, forms and fee to HM Land Registry:

HM Land Registry Citizen Centre
PO Box 74
Gloucester
GL14 9BB

What Happens If I Can’t Find my Paper Title Deeds?

If you need to register your property with HMLR for the first time, you’re going to need your physical deeds. But what happens if you can’t find these? Well, there’s a chance they will be with the conveyancer or the mortgage provider with whose assistance you first bought your property – so check with them first before you write off the deeds as lost.

And ultimately, even in the event of irrecoverable deeds, you can still sell your property. Rather than an absolute title, you will need to apply for a possessory title or qualified title. A possessory title is typically what you need in the event of lost deeds but it also applies if you are looking to acquire land by “adverse possession” or squatting. Qualified titles are rarer and indicate that HMLR holds some reservations as to the full validity of your title.

A possessory title can be transferred to a new owner in exactly the same way as an absolute title. But be warned: some buyers (and their mortgage lenders) may be put off by any hint of controversy as to who the rightful owner of the property is. No-one wants to spend the sort of money involved in a house purchase and then have a clutch of rival owners – genuine or bogus – coming forward. So the lack of an absolute title can still jeopardise the sale or lead to a diminution in the property’s value.

If you have a possessory title, you can apply to upgrade your title after 12 years – another reason buyers will be less keen to take such properties on board.

Buying a House: Registering your Title

So, your property is now registered, one way or another, with HM Land Registry. What happens next?

Well, your solicitor or conveyancer will obtain a copy of the deeds from HMLR and send it to your buyer’s solicitor. Firstly, they will confirm your ownership and right to sell. Secondly, they will register the buyer’s title with HMRC. If the buyer is buying with a mortgage, this will also be registered against the title. And there you have it: the legal transfer of the property is complete.

Buying property is an admin-heavy process. And, while the title deed is one of the most important papers, it is not the only one you need to hold onto. Other documentation relating to contracts, planning, property searches and consents is useful to keep hold of. You never know – it come in useful down the line when it’s your turn to sell.


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