Although rural Norfolk became an area of compulsory first registration in 1989 (and Norwich earlier than that) there are still private properties in Norfolk which remain unregistered. This is simply because the obligation to register is triggered by a dealing with the property – such as a sale or mortgage or change of ownership on inheritance – and until a “trigger event” occurs, there is no compulsion on the owner to register their ownership. However it is possible to apply for registration on a voluntary basis – in the absence of a “trigger event” – and there are good reasons why owners of unregistered properties should consider doing so.
Firstly, a registered title is easier to deal with and registration makes future transactions simpler and generally quicker.
Secondly the registration process makes sure that any queries on the title, such as poor plans or missing covenants, are resolved when there is no great urgency, ensuring that if the property is sold or mortgaged in the future, the title is good and problem free and the sale or mortgage is not delayed by issues which registration can solve. Unregistered properties, by definition, haven’t changed hands for nearly thirty years – sometimes a lot longer – and the quality of plans has improved very much in this time. Titles are more fully investigated now than they were thirty years ago and minor problems on a title, like missing covenants, which would not have been regarded as a “deal breaker” thirty years ago, are now unacceptable to buyers and lenders and require a remedy. Registration doesn’t produce a solution in itself. If an old deed, containing covenants which affect the property, is missing, registration doesn’t of itself, conjure up the deed by magic. But it enables the problem to be considered and evaluated in a calm way and owners to be advised on the alternative methods which may be available for addressing the issue. Sometimes it is possible to obtain copy deeds from the Land Registry, by checking on neighbouring titles. Some covenants required to be registered, to be enforceable on a subsequent owner, and checking on this can establish that the covenants are no longer binding because of lack of registration and changes of ownership since. This all takes time and this isn’t a problem when a sale or mortgage is not dependent on the outcome and the owners aren’t in a hurry.
Thirdly, registration protects the title and ensures that no-one else can register ownership, either fraudulently or accidentally by, for example, registering an adjoining property with in inaccurate plan which encroaches. Property fraudsters can target unregistered properties quite easily, as it is possible to carry out a simple search at the Land Registry to identify those properties which are currently unregistered.
Fourthly, conveyancers are losing the skill and knowledge to deal with unregistered titles. Anyone training in the last twenty years will have trained to deal with registered land mainly or exclusively and conveyancing firms are increasingly unwilling to take on unregistered conveyancing. If acting for a buyer of a property which is unregistered they may insist on the seller registering their ownership before advising their client to proceed. First registrations are taking several months at the moment and so the sale of the property could be considerably delayed.
The actual process of registration is relatively straight forward. The Land Registry require to see certified copies of all the deeds and confirmation of the identity of the person claiming to own the property. An accurate plan of the property is needed, and there are minimum requirements as to the standard and scale of the plan. Any discrepancy in the full names of the owner has to be explained and if appropriate evidenced.
The Registry charges a fee which is based on the current value of the property. The fees for voluntary first registrations are discounted from the normal fees, to encourage the owners of unregistered properties to apply for registration. For a property worth up to £100k, the discounted fee is £60. For a property worth up to £200k the fee is £140 and for a property worth up to £500k the fee is £200.
Once a property has been registered the original deeds become largely irrelevant. Some people like to retain the original deeds but they are no longer essential to prove ownership. The register is the proof of ownership and copies of the register can be easily obtained. The owner’s address needs to be kept up to date at the registry and if an owner has more than one address it is wise for them all to be noted on the register. Once registered the title is guaranteed by the Land Registry and providing the owner acts honestly and takes reasonable precautions to protect themselves, the owner is protected against property fraud.
So, all in all, registration provides an owner with peace of mind.
This article aims to supply general information but it is not intended to constitute advice. Every effort is made to ensure that the law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead. However, no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy. Always seek specific advice.
Capron & Helliwell Solicitors offer a range of legal services at the firm’s Stalham and Wroxham offices near North Walsham and Norwich in Norfolk. The firm specialises in areas including family law, conveyancing and private client law including wills and probate. Capron & Helliwell Solicitors offer free family law clinics – please call 01692 581231 for further details or to make an appointment