The frustration and delay of the ‘we are obtaining our title deeds’ letter

21 May 2013

Conveyancing solicitors who act for buyers will invariably receive an initial letter from the seller's conveyancer, not with the legal papers they need to progress the purchase, but with a ‘holding letter’ containing preliminary information, such as the fact that they act, confirmation of the agreed price and most frustratingly that they are “obtaining our clients title deeds and will produce contract papers in due course”.

Arguably a pointless letter. After all, the estate agents will already have stated who the conveyancing solicitors are and they circulated that to everyone.

What the buyer's conveyancer wants is the legal papers, so a combined letter with the introductory niceties and the contracts papers is always the preference. And a more efficient, and arguably a sign of a more dynamic and progressive, conveyancer.

Instead, so often a buyer's conveyancer then has to wait for a second letter to follow, up to two weeks later in many cases, with any actual legal paperwork. All the more frustrating when there are Local Authorities who take weeks to return their conveyancing searches, and the earlier they are applied for with a plan of the property the better.

Yet, the fact is that the majority of land is registered at the Land Registry and all it takes is five minutes for a conveyancing solicitor to access the Land Registry's website and print off the registered title for the property address. The conveyancer can then prepare a contract, a transfer (and they can visit the local Council's website printing off any planning consents) and effectively have prepared more than half the legal papers needed to go to the buyer within minutes.

Some solicitor firms are very switched on and following a telephone call from a person instructing them over the telephone to act for them, they receive consent to visit the Land Registry's website and they can frequently assure the seller that legal papers will go out that very same evening!

True, a second letter still needs to go to the buyer's conveyancer with the element of paperwork which the seller personally has to complete, but that usually follows within days by those dynamic conveyancing firms, and it is the Land Registry title deeds plan in the first letter which is the most crucial to be sent if searches are to get underway.

And true again, the above dynamism cannot take place with unregistered land – unless the lawyer is already holding their clients deeds in their deeds strong room – as unregistered deeds have to be physically located. There is no website to download a copy from. But again, the majority of land transactions which any conveyancer handles are registered ones.

Yet there are conveyancers who will always wait for their clients to sign Terms of Business, to pay money on account of the conveyancer's fees (even to spend £6 downloading a registered title), and to receive identification documents. Only then do they start work however many days later that might be. They will be the ‘holding letter’ style of operation.