Q. If you own a property that is currently unregistered, is there any value in voluntarily registering it?
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A. Although a central register of the ownership of all property has been in preparation for well over a century, it was left up to individual counties and other responsible local authorities to decide when they joined the scheme. So, it was only in 1990 that registration finally became compulsory in all parts of England and Wales – and then only when properties were sold or acquired new owners. As a result, around 30% of property is still unregistered – mainly because it hasn’t been sold or transferred for years and years.
If you currently own such a property, is it worth voluntarily registering it – particularly if a system already exists to ensure that this eventually happens in any case?
Broadly speaking, the answer is yes – for two main reasons:
Firstly, formal registration gives you far greater certainty and security regarding ownership of what is probably your single most valuable asset. Over the years, title deeds and other traditional proofs of ownership can all too easily go missing – and then you could be seriously stuck, particularly if there were to be any dispute over title, fraudulent or otherwise. Far safer and more reliable for your ownership to be a matter of official, central record.
Secondly, the simple fact is that it is considerably more complicated, time-consuming and expensive to sell a property that is unregistered, since the solicitors or conveyancers concerned first have to wade through mountains of old documents to establish legal title, rather than simply contacting the Land Registry for the relevant reference number. What’s more, the vast majority of buyers now expect a property to be registered. However irrational, they may be put off altogether by the prospect of buying something that somehow seems to have slipped through the official net!
On balance then, I would certainly recommend voluntary registration. You can handle the whole thing yourself – the Land Registry provides a useful pack including all the relevant forms, which you can get by ringing 0800 432 0432 or emailing email@example.com. However, most people prefer to seek legal advice on what can be quite a complex process. Either way, there is a sliding scale of charges involved, depending on the value of the property.