Title deeds explained

Deeds may sound daunting, but is it really that complicated? Read all about title deeds.

Will @ Nested
Property market insight

When you buy a property, it’s not just the bricks and mortar that matters, but the trail of evidence that proves you’re the homeowner.

But what exactly are title deeds and do you need to keep them safe? Find out here.

What is the title deed?

Title deeds are the legal documents which record the ownership of a property and any accompanying land.

Some deeds are stored by HM Land Registry when you register in your name, while others, such as wills and contracts, should be held by you or your solicitor.

Essentially, deeds are the trail of documents that prove a property’s ownership. This can include contracts for sale, mortgages, the lease, conveyancing documents and wills.

Note that a deed is executed with a witness, whereas a contract simply requires a signature.

Who holds the title deeds?

The registration of residential properties has been mandatory in England and Wales since 1990, so unless you’ve owned your home since the days of Duran Duran, the title deeds will be safely recorded by the Land Registry.

If there is a mortgage on the property, your title deeds may be kept by your lender, although this is increasingly rare. You can request photocopies at any time.

Only in exceptional circumstances would you actually need the original copy of the title deeds. For example, if someone has defrauded you and forged your signature, leading to a court case.

What does a title deed look like?

If you’re imagining a yellow-tinged scroll with fancy calligraphy, you might be disappointed.

These days, title deeds are stored electronically, so unless it hasn’t been registered before, you probably won’t have the original deeds yourself.

You just need to ensure that when you buy a property, your solicitor gives you a copy of the ‘registered title’ ideally within a month of completion, though some new leases may take a couple of months.

This document (in PDF form) includes information such as rights of way, who owns the property and whether there is a mortgage or not.

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Do you need deeds to sell a house?

If you’re selling a property, your solicitor will need to produce the deeds for the buyer’s solicitor. The buyer will then review and accept the document, and ask any questions through their solicitor.

The deeds are more than likely to be digitally registered with the Land Registry, in which case you won’t have to do anything. However, if the property is unregistered, the onus is on you, the seller, to produce the original deeds.

If you’re unable to find proof of ownership, you may need to track down the solicitors who oversaw the paperwork at the point of sale. Your solicitor should submit a deeds request form to the Land Registry, but if you’re still unable to find the original deeds, you will need to produce evidence to prove your ownership status.

If you have copies of old title deed documents from the pre-registration days, these are not essential but can prove useful if buyers have questions — about the boundary, for example — which old documents can sometimes shed light on.

It’s a good idea to hold onto the original lease, as in rare circumstances the Land Registry can lose documentation, or scan a document incorrectly. You should make this request through your solicitor, as the Land Registry will automatically destroy any unsolicited post it receives.

How much do the Land Registry charge?

Applications to the Land Registry carry scale 1 and scale 2 fees, for standard and non-standard transactions respectively.

Under scale 1, for a property worth £200,001 to £500,000, the charge is £270. Generally, the fees are cheaper if done electronically. Read the Land Registry charges in full.

Title deeds are made up of several documents — including the title register and title plan — and at present, each document costs £7 for the public to obtain from the Land Registry. The property’s title number is contained within the title plan.

If you need the original deeds to prove your ownership — for example, if you’re involved in a legal case — you will need to have proof of what the original deeds looked like when submitted to the Land Registry, as they no longer store them. Copies of the title deeds carry less weight in court.

Want to know more about the legal side of buying and selling a home? Read our guide to solicitors and conveyancers for more information.

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