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Can I sell a house without deeds?

Are you looking to sell your home? As you may have realised, there are all sorts of forms and certificates you need to provide in order to sell your house, but what about title deeds?

What are title deeds?

Title deeds are the official documents that show the chain of ownership of a property or land (or both, in the case of freehold properties). You can think of it as a bit like the logbook for a car. The title deeds can include house repayments, leases, contracts for sale, Wills and conveyances, as well as details of any restrictions on how the property is to be used.

Having a copy of the property deeds will always be useful because they include things that won’t be stored digitally by HM Land Registry, such as the details of previous owners and legal boundaries.

Do I need the deeds to sell my house?

It’s possible to sell or remortgage a house without the deeds, but you must prove that you own the property before you can do so.

In order to do this, the property must have been digitally registered with HM Land Registry in your name.

What if I don’t have the title deeds?

If you own a property and have never received your title deeds, you should contact whoever acted on your behalf and ask for them to be returned to you. In some cases, the people who sold the property to you may still have the deeds.

There’s no legal requirement for a seller to hand over the title deeds, but most solicitors or conveyancers that are acting on a buyer’s behalf will obtain them as part of their service.

Visiting the website of HM Land Registry will help you to clarify if your property is registered with them.

Property registration became compulsory in England and Wales in 1990. When a property is registered with the Land Registry for the first time, the Land Registry will take a scanned copy of the original title deeds.

If your property is registered with the Land Registry, you don’t need the deeds to confirm your ownership and you are able to sell the property because the Register is the definitive record of ownership for land and property in England and Wales. They will be able to provide the necessary information required in order for you to complete your house sale.

It is the Land Registry’s responsibility to register land and property across England and Wales. Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland have their own separate land registry organisations.

As such, (in England and Wales) if your property is registered, you won’t need paper copies of the deeds.

You can view an electronic copy of any deeds that the Land Registry has on file for your home by searching their property information listing to find your property’s title number. If there is a reference to filed deeds, they will have copies that you will be able to purchase. The deeds could be made up of a number of different documents and this will vary from property to property. The Land Registry website will tell you the total price for copies of all documentation.

If it isn’t registered, you will need to submit the original deeds in order to get your property registered on their system.

Lost deeds and no land registry record

Let’s assume a worst-case scenario where the deeds have been lost and according to HM Land Registry, the property isn’t registered in your name.

There are unregistered properties England and Wales because they have not been remortgaged or sold since 1990. If your property falls into this category and you do not have the original property deeds, what can you do?

There are ways to prove ownership of a property if it is not on the Land Register, depending on your specific circumstances.

The first step is to find the missing deeds and here’s how to go about doing that…

You can contact the solicitor or conveyancer that was used when you (or the owner if you’re acting on behalf of someone else) bought the property because it’s likely they will still have copies of the title deeds on file.

Alternatively, if you took out a mortgage when you bought the property, the deeds may be with your original mortgage lender, or your current lender if you have subsequently remortgaged.

If you have inherited the property, or you’re selling a property via probate, it could be that the solicitor who produced the Will for the deceased person has the deeds stored safely.

On that subject, if you are processing the estate of a deceased person, you will need to apply for probate if you do not already have the authority to sell the house. To have the authority to sell a property on behalf of a living owner, you will need to apply for Lasting Power of Attorney. This gives you the right to make decisions on their behalf if they are not of sound mind and body. The house sale could become an issue of both probate and Power of Attorney in cases where the homeowner has died and their spouse or partner are unable to independently live in the property.

If you are unable to locate the original deeds because they have been lost or destroyed, you will need to apply for ‘first registration’ of the property. This is a complex process and will require the assistance of a solicitor or conveyancer to see it completed.

Depending on the complexity of the situation it can be a lengthy and costly process, so make sure you have factored this into the conveyancing process for the sale of the property. In order to complete the first registration, you will need to provide a statement of truth via an ST3 form and provide accompanying evidence as required.

This evidence can be in the form of mortgage payment records, bank statements, utility bills, buildings insurance policies, electoral roll records, copies of contracts and estate agent property details. Supporting statements from a mortgage provider, solicitor or former and current neighbours can also be considered.

In addition, you will need to:

  • Identify the property to be registered on a plan drawn up when it was built (if possible)
  • Show what you have done to try to locate the missing deeds
  • Provide an account of how and where the deeds came to be lost or destroyed and why they were in this location (such as being with a conveyancer or mortgage provider who has since ceased trading, or suffered fire or flood damage)
  • Show who owned the property when the deeds were lost
  • If applicable, prove there was a mortgage on the property when they were lost and who was paying it

If the deeds went missing or were destroyed while in the custody of a law firm or financial institution, the Land Registry will register the property with an absolute title (providing they are comfortable with the evidence submitted to them). If not, it is usually the case that the property will be registered with a possessory title. However, whichever title is registered with the property, it will make things easier in the future for the homeowner to prove ownership.

A conveyancer is likely to charge fees based on the amount of time it has taken to conduct the investigation and prepare the application to HM Land Registry. On average a reconstitution of title will cost between £500 and £800 (plus VAT) depending on its complexity. Disbursements will also be payable such as the application fee and search fees.

Something else to consider is that it’s quite common for the title deeds to be in a ‘safe place’ with the owners’ Will, so someone with access to the Will (such as a law firm or accountant) could be a good place to start your search.

Any questions?

We hope this article has helped you to understand what you can do if you don’t have the physical deeds and need to sell a property, and see that alternative options are available.

If you have any questions about selling your property, we’ll be happy to have a chat with you. A fast sale and cash buyer like us can buy a property that is registered with HM Land Registry, so even if you cannot track the deeds, we can still make you an offer and purchase your home. Contact us to find out what we can do for you.