Conveyancing Blog: What is an Unregistered Property?

When buying or selling property, how the title to the property is evidenced will be slightly different depending upon whether it is registered or unregistered.

Currently approx 85% of property and land in England and Wales is registered.

Registered Property

It might sound complicated but in short, registering property officially records its ownership with HM Land Registry. This electronic register  provides details, at that point in time, of the ownership of a property. The Register will also show any interests that benefit or burden the, for example details of any registered mortgages or charges.

Unregistered Property

Unregistered property is quite simply property that has not been registered with the Land Registry yet. Proof of ownership will be evidenced by a bundle of title documents or deeds.

Historically such deeds would have been required to be produced whenever there was a “dealing” with the property, for example, a change of ownership.

The seller (via their conveyancer) of unregistered property must provide evidence of title to the buyer by showing physical, documentary evidence of ownership from at least 15 years beforehand, right up to the present day. In conveyancing terms, this is also known as “deducing title”. The logic behind this is that, if at least 15 years of ownership can be established, then it is safe to assume the seller has sufficient title to the property and a right to sell it. Therefore, the risk of a third party having a claim to the property or land is reduced.

Registering Property

The registration of property/land is essentially the modernisation of the old traditional system of title deeds and documents. Once registered, there is no longer a need to physically produce any original title deeds to a property. The seller will (via their conveyancer) simply download a copy of the Register and Plan from the Land Registry to prove evidence of the title to the buyer.

The Register can also be accessed by members of the public.   This brings with it its own issues for example the potential for a fraudulent transfer or quite simply whether or not you have a mortgage and how much you paid for the property being in the public domain.

That said, having a bundle of deeds as proof of ownership can of course be problematic. They may be lost or accidentally destroyed making proving title to the land difficult.

It may be just some of the title deeds are missing which can cause issues with identifying the appropriate rights or even the extent of land, leading to an investigation as to where these may be. They should of course be with the current owner but potentially could still be held by the previous one, or a multitude of local authorities who, at some point, have had interest in that parcel of land. There’s no telling either how far back any records might go.

The Land Registry essentially acts as a giant database of land/property ownership, making the process of looking up who owns what much more streamlined for conveyancers, builders, local authorities and members of the public. The government are aiming for 100% comprehensive registration in England and Wales by 2030.

Until such point the two systems of conveyancing will continue to run alongside each other.

A simple search of the Land Registry’s index map will reveal whether land is registered or unregistered.

Is Registration Compulsory

Several pieces of legislation have been passed in this respect, the most important of which is the Land Registration Act of 2002. This made registration compulsory in the following circumstances:

  • When ownership of a property changes hands – such as through buying, selling, inheritance, or gifting;
  • When a property is leased to a tenant for more than seven years;
  • When a property is mortgaged.

These events will “trigger” first registration of the property. Property does not have to be registered in order for it to be sold. However the original title deeds and documents have to be available and produced.

Selling unregistered property

If you are considering selling property in the near future and it is currently unregistered it would be sensible to consider instructing your conveyancer early to ensure everything is in order with the title deeds. You may wish to register the property voluntarily to iron out any difficulties before a sale is agreed; this is not essential and you should consider how long the process will take if time is of the essence.

As the Register is public, this can increase the risk of a fraudulent attempt to transfer ownership. That said, registration can provide protection from  fraudulent activity. You can sign up for “property alerts” whereby you will be alerted by the Land Registry if anyone attempts to make changes to the Register and certain restrictions may be added to prevent dispositions. This is of particular importance if you are not living at the property.


Our residential conveyancing team are experienced in dealing with registered or unregistered property.  If you are selling or purchasing, get in touch with our friendly residential conveyancing on 01904 624903 and they will be happy to help.

Amanda Alden