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Don’t lose the plot – checking title plans before buying a house

Including a plan of the property in all registered titles is one of the better features of modern conveyancing. When buying any property, be it studio flat or country estate, buyers should always take care to check that the title plan correctly shows what they think they are buying. If you are not sure, tell your Conveyancing Solicitor so that a further check can be made.  

The land registry plan is an integral part of a title, and shows the extent of the property by red edging. (Occasionally a title plan will show some land edged green – this shows an area which has been removed from the title. ) 

If a plan does not show some land within the red edging on the plan then that land is not part of the title, and will not be included in a sale. You could also have problems if the title plan includes some extra land which does not lie within the property’s fences.

Not checking the title plan can cost you money

The Legal Ombudsman’s 2012 report on complaints about residential Conveyancing is rather ominously entitled ‘Losing the Plot. ‘ It highlights some cases where the title plans did not include all the land that the buyers thought they were getting. As they had told their Conveyancing Solicitors that the plans were OK, the buyers were not able to get compensation.

The report observed that ‘customers must set out their expectations from the start and ensure they’re diligent in checking paperwork, and … Land Registry plans. ‘.

Conveyancing Solicitors should send purchasers a copy of the title plan before contracts are exchanged, and ask then to confirm that it correctly shows the property. The plan may only be sent with the full report on title – as this is usually a lengthy document with many attachments, it is easy to overlook it. So it is better to get a title plan early on, and check it as soon as possible.

Ask your Solicitor to send you a copy plan as soon as they receive it from the sellers’ lawyers. You should check the plan against the actual property – another visit may be required. It is also worth checking the plan against the description and any plans in the sales agent’s brochure, as sometimes agents refer to features such as parking spaces which are not actually included in the title.  

Tell your solicitor or surveyor if you think the plan is wrong

In case of doubt, speak to your solicitor. You might also need to refer any discrepancies to your surveyor – a piece of garden or a parking space which doesn’t belong to the seller could make a substantial difference to the price. It is much better to delay exchanging contracts by a few days to sort things out then to charge ahead and find that you have not bought what you thought you were getting.

Buyers may not be familiar with reading property plans, but cannot assume that their Conveyancing Solicitors will necessarily spot any problem with plans. Buyers are expected to have seen the property they are buying, but the Solicitor will not have done this and will rely on the client to tell him or her if they think something is wrong.

One quick way to check title plans with the property boundaries is to have a look at the satellite photos available on several websites. But caution is needed, as these photos may have been taken some time ago, and the precise position of boundary features such as fences is often obscured by foliage. It is always best to go and look at the property again if you have any doubts.

The plans which the land registry uses are based on Ordnance Survey (OS) plans, which can only show physical features (such as fences, walls or hedges) existing on the ground. If there is no such feature marking all or part of the boundary between two properties ( e.g. on modern open-plan developments) the registry will plot the position of the legal boundary by reference to plot plans attached to the original transfers of the properties. (More detailed information about the registry’s plans can be found in their public guide

Some property titles do include land which lies outside the fences. For a footpath at the side or back of a house might be wholly or partly included in the title. If other owners will have rights over the footpath, this will be referred to in the title.  

Title plans do not usually show any measurements. So if you want to compare the plan with measurements on the ground, you first need to acquire a scale ruler. These can be bought in high-street stationers; they are calibrated in a range of map scales, the ones used by the land registry are mostly 1:1250 and 1:2500 (i.e. 1 cm on the plan represents 12. 5 metres or 25 metres on the ground. ) 

Because plans are on a fairly small scale, they cannot always show very small boundary details. For example, it may be possible to show a dog-leg in a fence on a plan at scale 1:1250 but not at the scale of 1:2500, where the fence would be shown as a straight line. A small porch may fall within the tolerances applying to the scale of map and not appear on the plan.  

When buying a flat or apartment you should also check the plan of the property contained in the lease, as well as the description in the body of the lease. This can be important as sometimes flats include an attic or cellar conversion but the original lease did not include the attic or cellar.

Checking plans for new-build properties

If you are buying a new-build home then the contract package from the builder’s Solicitors should include a scale plan showing the extent of the plot. In the case of a flat, the plan should indicate on which floor the property is located, and in the case of a split-level apartment separate plans for each floor are required. If at all possible such plans should be checked with the property on the ground, but this may not be possible if it has not been fenced or constructed before exchanging contracts.

Developers are now recommended to have estate layout plans approved by the land registry before plots are sold, and if this has been done the property Conveyancing is made easier. Regrettably some developers do not do this, in which case a buyer’s Solicitor will have to ensure that the plans satisfy the current land registry requirements.

When registering titles to newly-built properties the registry does not arrange for surveys to be carried out. Instead plot boundaries are plotted on title plans from the transfer plans, and boundaries are indicated by broken lines. These may be subject to adjustment when the OS eventually surveys the area after the development has been completed and located the actual position of property fences.

Should you find that you are buying one of the few residential properties which still have an unregistered title, you would not necessarily find any plan at all on the old deeds. This can be a considerable problem, and buyer’s Conveyancing Solicitors often now ask sellers to get their title registered first before proceeding.

Title plans cannot be amended easily

A final word – land registry title plans do not always show boundaries as they exist. Sometimes this is because fences have been moved – either by agreement or otherwise – or because nature has intervened, as when a river has changed its course. The registry does not easily alter or amend title plans, but may be prepared to do so in some cases. It is always best if any such problems can be sorted out before a property is sold, rather than buying it and assuming (or hoping) that this can be done later on.

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