What are title deeds?

Title deeds are an important part of any property sale or purchase. Without them, you are unable to evidence a change of ownership.

This guide will help you to understand exactly what title deeds are and the role they play in a property sale.

what are title deeds

Title deeds (also known as property deeds), are paper documents used to show a property’s ownership history. Historically, when a property or a piece of land was purchased, the property deed for the property was passed to the new owner. 

The Land Registry was set up in 1862 to provide a record of land ownership. It began keeping copies of deeds to prove ownership and provide an easy way to track down the owner of a particular property or piece of land.

Things have moved on a little in recent years. In 2003, the Land Registry began moving everything over to an online system. Nowadays, everything is recorded digitally and the Land Registry no longer keeps any paper copies of property deeds.

Transferring of property deeds remains a central part of the legal process of buying or selling a property. Property deeds may also need to be referred to when seeking planning permission for certain development projects.

What do property deeds look like?

If you purchased your property after 2013, you’re unlikely to have seen any physical title deeds for it. All property deeds are now kept as digital scanned documents. 

Title deeds track the history of property ownership and may include other legal paperwork such as contracts for sale, wills, mortgages and leases.

Where are title deeds kept?

Electronic copies of property deeds are stored by Land Registry, but they no longer keep paper copies.

Original property deeds are usually stored with a solicitor or conveyancer who acted on the last sale of the property. Alternatively, you may find they have been retained by your mortgage provider if you have a mortgage on the property.
If you would like to see a digital copy of the title deeds, you can request a copy on the Land Registry website. You will be required to pay a small fee of £30-£50, depending on whether you require a basic or comprehensive copy of the title deeds.

Can I remove a name from the property deeds?

There are a few reasons why you may need to remove or change a name on the title deeds. This may include a death or divorce.

If you need to change the information on the title deeds, simply follow these steps:

  1. Fill in an AP1 application form to change the register
  2. Sign the transfer deed
  3. Take an ID1 form to your solicitor with two appropriate forms of identification
  4. Send the completed forms to the Land Registry

If you have a mortgage on your property, you will need consent from your mortgage lender before removing a name from the title deeds. Your solicitor will be able to offer advice on this.

What happens if I can’t find my title deeds?

If you can’t find your property deeds when you do a search with Land Registry, your first step should be to contact the solicitor you used when you purchased the property. 

Providing your solicitor has the original title deeds documents, you should be able to apply to register with Land Registry so they are able to create a digital copy of your title deeds.

What if my solicitor doesn’t have the deeds?

If your solicitor does not have the original property deeds, you’ll need to contact Land Registry. You should inform them that the title deeds have been lost. You will then be required to follow these steps:

  1. Provide evidence to Land Registry about how the title deeds have been lost. This should include information about who was last known to hold the deeds. They will also want to know how they came to be lost or destroyed.
  2. Try to reconstruct the title deeds. You can do this by tracking down any draft paperwork with conveyancers and solicitors. You can put these together to construct a draft history of property ownership. 
  3. Provide proof of your identity and evidence of your association with the property.

Title absolute vs possessory title

Ordinarily, homeowners will have a ‘title absolute’. This means, when the title was first registers with Land Registry, the title deeds were checked and can be guaranteed.

If it is not possible to offer title absolute because the title deeds are missing, properties can be registered with possessory title only. This means the person listed is currently occupying the land but there is no documented evidence of land ownership.

A possessory title can be superseded if someone else is able to produce deeds that prove ownership of the property.

If a possessory title has been in place for 12 years without a claim of ownership being made by anyone else, the title will be upgraded to title absolute.

Having a possessory title rather than title absolute is likely to affect the value of your property. It may also make it difficult to sell the property. It is possible to purchase an indemnity insurance policy to cover any risk associated with the possessory title. This may offer enough reassurance to buyers and lenders to allow a sale to proceed, but that will depend on your buyer and their lender.

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