Even if you’ve never bought a house before, the chances are you’ve heard of title deeds. You may have even seen some the last time you played a game of Monopoly. They’re an essential document intended to establish the identity of a property owner in England and Wales. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the importance of title deeds, what they’re used for, and the different types.
Title deeds contain some of the most basic information available about a property. On a title deed, you will see details of the property’s tenure (i.e. whether it’s freehold or leasehold), as well as whether any property boundaries exist. The legal owner/s of the property will be listed on the title deed, as will any restrictions (usually related to rights of access and the use of the property). Charges will also be explained, including your mortgage lender’s details.
The most common use of title deeds is when there’s a legal dispute about a property. Their value is in determining and legally confirming who owns the property and the land, who will have access rights, and all of the bodies with a financial interest in the property and the land itself.
However, although title deeds will have a breakdown of property boundaries, they are rarely precise. So there can be some confusion over who has the right of way or whether you or your neighbour are responsible for boundary maintenance (who repairs a wind-damaged bordering fence, for example).
Related reading: Dispute Resolution
When the Land Registry registers a property, they have a range of classes of title. The vast majority of titles are classed as “title absolute”. This is as definitive as a title deed gets and confirms who owns the property and any caveats relating to it.
Then there’s a “possessory title”. This means the person living in the property isn’t named on the title deed, and there could be a few reasons for this. A possessory title is most commonly granted when a homeowner cannot demonstrate any documentary evidence that they own a property (this can happen if the original title deeds are lost or destroyed).
A possessory title might also be granted if someone claims “adverse ownership” of either land or property (i.e, ownership based on the occupation of the property). The most well-known example of this is squatter’s rights, but not every property owner with a possessory title is squatting! However, the biggest difference between a title absolute and a possessory title is that the former can’t be disputed while the latter can.
Possessory titles can be upgraded to title absolute once the Land Registry has seen documents about property ownership. Unfortunately, if you’re trying to sell a home with a possessory title, you’ll usually need to set a much lower asking price.
In the 1980s, the UK government decided all property in the country had to be registered with the Land Registry. So if your home hasn’t been bought or sold since then, it may not be registered with the Land Registry at all.
As title deeds are stored electronically with the Land Registry, paper copies are no longer the necessity they used to be, although a mortgage lender may hold paper copies of the register, along with the mortgage deeds, until a charge is paid off. In some cases, your conveyancing solicitor will hold the title deeds on your behalf, although this is no longer as common as it used to be.
However, as long as your home is registered with the Land Registry, there isn’t often much need to have your original title deeds. Some people like to have theirs for decorative purposes, and you can easily find copies of your title deeds by going online and doing a search for your property.
If you just want a copy of your title deeds for peace of mind or to frame and put on the wall, it only costs £3. Those copies aren’t legally binding, though, so if you want something for legal reasons, you’ll need to order HM Land Registry official copies of the title deeds. To do so, you’ll need to fill out the OC1 form.
It’s important to understand what covenants (legally binding restrictions) are involved with the property. These will be listed on the title deeds. They include any legal restrictions on what can and cannot be done to or with the property. Those covenants are commonly based on the following:
If you breach title deed covenants, you could face some serious fines. For example, if you build an extension or any other kind of building work that’s in breach of a covenant, you may be forced to demolish it and pay for the covenant breach.
Something to be aware of is that if you do break a covenant and there are no complaints (from neighbours, for example), you might be able to get away with it. If there are no complaints for a long time (this varies according to the type of breach), you may even be able to have the covenant altered on the title deeds.
There’s also the option to have a restrictive covenant lifted if you believe it to be unreasonable or unfair. The problem with this option is that it can take a long time and get very expensive. That’s why most mortgage lenders advise you not to buy a property with restrictive covenants.
As part of the conveyancing process, your solicitor will check the title deeds for the property. They will determine that the property seller is the legal owner of the property you want to buy, and they will check for any covenants.
If your conveyancing solicitor misses a covenant or doesn’t let you know about them, you can make a complaint. The maximum compensation you can get for this is £50,000.
There are lots of times when you might want to remove or add someone’s name to a title deed — if you get married or divorced or are buying someone out of their portion of the property, for example. This is a lot easier than you might assume.
If you want to add or remove someone from a title deed, you simply fill out an application form. Your conveyancing solicitor can do this on your behalf. The cost of changing the names on a title deed is fairly low — just £20 if you do it all online and £40 for a posted application.
You can buy a property if it doesn’t have title deeds, but this is a major risk. The Latin phrase caveat emptor means “buyer beware”, and it’s particularly relevant because if you buy a home without title deeds, you might not be aware of any covenants on that property.
If you’re considering buying a new home, but it doesn’t have title deeds, talk to your solicitor. They will know to be even more thorough when conducting property searches and could save you thousands of pounds. You can also ask the person selling the property to get indemnity insurance so any problems with covenants can be covered.
While you can sell a property without title deeds, it will get much more complicated. The conveyancing solicitor will be required to conduct more in-depth searches, and you may be asked to provide possessory title deeds to show the property is yours. There will inevitably be a lot more work to do, and there’s also the fact your asking price will usually be expected to be much lower.
It’s not often you’ll have to worry about title deeds, as your conveyancing solicitor will tend to do everything on your behalf. That’s why it’s so important you know how to find the best conveyancing solicitor.
At Lockings, we have years of experience helping buyers and sellers. As conveyancing specialists, we know the common mistakes and the best options for all kinds of property sales and purchases. If you’re thinking of buying your first home or considering selling your family property, Lockings has the expertise you need.
Simply contact our friendly office team and arrange a free, no-obligation chat, and find out all you need to know about your next steps. Let us help you make buying or selling your home the stress-free experience we know it can be.