Since 1958 land transactions have had to be registered at Land Registry. Each part of the country become compulsorily registrable in different years. As land is often passed down through families it was later decided to catch family transactions such as property Transfers for no consideration and Assents into the registration legislation.
However, there are still a large number of properties and land which are not registered.
This means the title relies on, often old, paper (or in some cases vellum) deeds which are passed on from owner to owner as the property changes hands. These deeds are added to by a new Conveyance or Transfer each time the property changes hands so the number of deeds increases.
These deeds can often form complex titles using plans which are now so out of date as to be unrecognisable when compared with the land and buildings currently on the ground. Therefore it is important that plans are first checked with Land Registry by the use of the new MapSearch plus by carrying out a full Index Map Search of the land being purchased or transferred.
The investigation of the title can be hampered by the deeds being handwritten and sometimes illegible. Many conveyancers these days do not have experience in dealing with unregistered land because the majority of transactions are already registered.
On registration the salient points of all the deeds are condensed into one document which forms a more cohesive and easily read and structured document. The title will enable the conveyancer to quickly identify the current owners, their status, whether there are any charges (or mortgages) over the property and if any other third parties might have an interest in the property (such as a management company who take a yearly charge for example) Matters such as a bankruptcy or a matrimonial notice protecting a spouses interest will also be placed on the Register. In unregistered conveyancing these matters would need to be gleaned from various different sources which are not easily identifiable from an initial reading
Any conveyancer would need to check each document chronologically starting from a period from at least 15 years ago and ensure there is an unbroken chain of title from then until the present time. The Epitome or Abstract of Title provided to the buyers solicitors should contain copies of all these deeds and each deed would ned to be checked carefully to ascertain what rights the property benefits from and what rights are given for the benefit of other property and also what covenants affect the land. The conveyancing process will also check to establish that the root is a good root of title, ensure the deeds are all legally executed and that any stamp has been paid, check there are no Insolvency Act considerations and judge whether the title is free from defects.
It will be necessary to consider other points such as how any co-owners hold and whether any of the parties named in the final deed are able to transfer the property or whether parties are deceased or have married, in which case further evidence showing a devolution of title may be required.
In cases where only a sale of part of the land is being made only copies of the original deeds will be supplied. The original deeds will remain with the seller until the final parcel of land has been sold.
Often a seller will be asked to register land as a pre-condition of the selling procedure. This gives certainty to the buyer that there will be no difficult questions raised by Land Registry when making application for First Registration. If issues of title or plans are not clear and have to be dealt with after completion this can cause problems as the money has already changed hands and therefore registration is required in order to protect the new owner’s interests. Also the leverage on the seller to produce documentation or new plans has gone, the money having already been paid over.
Generally speaking, first registrations are completed without hitch. However, be warned Land Registry take much longer to deal with a first registration and time should be allowed not only for this but also for the conveyancer to complete a full investigation
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