Could your home be sold without you knowing?

- Wed 17 Nov 2021

The idea of coming home one day to find your key doesn’t work in the lock and then to see that a complete stranger appears to be living in your home is enough to frighten the life out of most of us, however this is exactly what happened to a gentleman from Luton! Reverend Mike Hall was working away in North Wales when he received a call from a neighbour explaining that someone appeared to be staying in his home. He promptly returned to find he was locked out and the man that answered the door explained his father has recently purchased the house! When checking the land registry title documents, sure enough his name was no longer stated as the owner.

Reverend Mike Hall was a very unfortunate victim of fraud. Someone has stolen his ID and then managed to market the home, find a buyer and then complete the conveyance to transfer the ownership to an innocent buyer who appeared to know nothing about the situation.

Most people are wondering at this stage, how on earth is all of that possible, surely there are various checks during the house selling process that would have prevented this from happening? The answer is yes, there are various checks that if followed correctly would have led to this being spotted, although many estate agents and conveyancing firms will vary in their procedures around identification checks, some have few processes in place at all, which is very concerning.

At the point of instructing a conveyancer, they will check the identification of a client, and are legally obliged to do so before an exchange of contracts can take place, (most will do at the outset before commencing work). Although this will also vary in different conveyancing practices as to how this is done and the level of detail which they will require and how they then process it to ensure their client is indeed, who they say they are.

When being asked to market a home to sell, we at Bradleys Estate Agents ensure we run a stringent check of the sellers’ identification, we then check the name against the land registry database of ownership before we are able to market any home for sale. We are often asked by homeowners why the need for all of the paperwork and ID documents, and often hear clients respond ‘we didn’t have to do this the last time we sold our house’. Hopefully after reading about this, there won’t be too many people questioning the thoroughness of our systems and processes!

A man has since been arrested on suspicion of fraud by false representation in the above matter and they will continue to seek justice, although poor Reverend Mike Hall will have no doubt been caused a huge amount of stress and upheaval as a result and clearly we want to remind people how important it is to follow the systems and procedures of property professionals.

All estate agents are required to register their business with HMRC under the Money Laundering Regulations and you can check on the Supervised Business Register if the estate agent you’re considering instructing, or are have already instructed, is indeed registered to provide peace of mind at what is likely to be a busy and potentially stressful time.

If you wish to protect yourself from strangers downloading your title details from the public records at Land Registry you can create an alert, completely free of charge, by signing up through the following link;