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Can You Sell a House Without the Deeds?

It is not uncommon for a house owner who is considering selling their property asset to worry if they cannot find the title deeds and that this may prevent them from putting their place on the market.  If you are in this situation, please be reassured that there are several courses of action that can be taken, and the matter can be resolved.  In this article, we will explain what is meant by deeds, why they are important, and whether you need deeds to sell your property.

22 September 2021
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What are property deeds?

Property deeds refer to the paperwork showing the chain of ownership of land and property.  These typically include:

  • mortgages secured on the property
  • conveyances – showing the transfer of ownership
  • contracts for sale
  • wills
  • leases
  • details of covenants

When a property is registered with HM Land Registry, these are referred to as title deeds and are scanned and stored in a digital form.  As such, the Land Registry does not keep a physical copy of deed documents.

In addition to the above, it is also useful to retain other useful documents, which, while not technically part of the deeds, may be important when it comes to selling a property; these may include listed building consent, planning permission, and new build guarantees.

Do I need to keep a copy of my property’s deeds?

Technically no, but it is much easier if your conveyancer can access the deeds for the property.  This does not mean you necessarily need to have the physical deed, however.  If your property is registered with HM Land Registry, they will have the deeds anyway and can provide these in digital form.  In some cases, if you don’t have the deeds, you may be able to request these from the Solicitor or mortgage lender who dealt with your original house purchase.   

What can I do if the deeds cannot be found?

If you cannot find the deeds and the property is not registered with HM Land Registry, the next course of action will be to apply to register your property with them.  The Land Registry have a specific process for the first registration of a property where deeds are lost or destroyed.  Their guidance states that in accordance with rule 27 of the Land Registration Rules 2003, “You may apply for first registration of land if the title deeds have been lost or destroyed. HM Land Registry has special requirements and procedures for these applications, which are set out in this guide”.  An experienced property law Solicitor can complete this process on your behalf

How can I apply for first registration of my property without deeds?

It is important to note that each first registration whereby the deeds have been lost or destroyed will be considered by the Land Registry on an individual basis.  To lodge an application for first registration, two forms must be completed (form FR1 and form DL), and you will need to pay a fee.  You may also need to provide statutory declarations, statements of truth or certificates (from you as the property owner and from conveyancers and lenders).  The property law Solicitor handling your registration process will be able to advise which of these will be required.  
Crucially, you will need to provide details of how and why the deeds are not available and provide evidence of your identity.  As the Land Registry state, “HM Land Registry requires a full, factual account of the events that have occurred leading to the loss or destruction of the deeds and other matters relevant to the title. The person with the best knowledge of the particular matters described must give the account”.  The extent of the detail required by the Land Registry here is quite extensive, as they will want to know (please note this list is not exhaustive – please refer to the Land Registry website for more information):

  • who last had possession of the deeds 
  • where the deeds were held when they were lost or destroyed
  • why they held the deeds
  • when, where and how the loss or destruction of the deeds happened
  • what efforts have been made to recover the deeds

What happens if the Land Registry are not satisfied with the explanation given?

If the reason for the loss or destruction of the deeds cannot be satisfactorily proven, the Land Registry may only give ‘possessory title’.  Possessory title effectively means that the person first registering the property did not have sufficient evidence of their eligibility for an absolute title.  This doesn’t prevent you from selling a house, but it can make the process harder as the buyer will need to satisfy themselves by carrying out due diligence that the ownership of the property is valid.  This may also have an adverse impact on the market value of the property.  For this reason, it is important to provide enough detail regarding the reasons for not having the deeds in order to gain absolute title.  

Final words

Applying to the Land Registry for first registration of title where you do not have access to the deeds is by no means a straightforward process and needs the involvement of an experienced property law Solicitor who can ensure that enough evidence and information is provided to meet their requirements.  That said, with a well prepared and backed up application, it is perfectly possible to gain full absolute title in this situation, enabling you to sell your property without the complications associated with missing deeds.

Guillaumes LLP Solicitors is a full-service law firm based in Weybridge, Surrey.  We have a highly experienced property law team who can assist you with all matters relating to missing deeds and first registration with HM Land Registry.  To make an appointment, please call us on 01932 840 111.