How to avoid your house being sold from under you

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You may recently have seen in the press that the Reverend Mike Hall was shocked to discover that whilst he was working away in North Wales, someone else had sold his house from under him. And the surprises didn’t end there – the property was now occupied by a builder on behalf of the new owner who had stripped the plaster from the walls, begun to strip out the electric wiring, pulled down a bedroom ceiling, and had removed parts of the kitchen and bathroom along with all his furnishings, carpets and curtains.

Mr Hall bought the house in 1990 after leaving university and starting his first job.

Having been alerted by his neighbours to the fact that there was somebody new in his property, the Reverend drove the 4-hour journey from North Wales to Luton the next morning. On his arrival, the builder fetched the father of the new owner who told him in no uncertain terms to get out of the property as he was trespassing. And when the police were called, they informed him that they couldn’t help and that the house was no longer his.

An investigation of the documents at the Land Registry showed that the house had indeed been transferred on 4 August 2021 into the new owner’s name.

What appears to have occurred is that a fraudster had been able to impersonate Reverend Hall by creating a duplicate driving licence and bank account. As the fraudster knew the property was empty, and because there is no need these days to possess paper Deeds to properties as everything is done online, he was able to pretend to the buyer and the Land Registry that he was the owner and therefore sell the property to the new owner.

Was there anything that the Reverend could have done to avoid this? Whilst it is certainly the case that the keeping of online records makes fraud that much easier, the Land Registry does offer a property alert scheme which enables you to ask them to notify you if any application is made regarding any of your properties.

This means that if you are going to be absent from home for a number of months, or you are a landlord, you can keep an eye on your properties via this service. In our experience, this alert system works very well and if only the Reverend had been aware of its availability then he may well have remained the owner of the house rather than having to rely upon the police to pursue an action against the fraudster.