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Buying a property with a mystery piece of land at the bottom of the garden...

(21 Posts)
indecisiveingrid Mon 25-Apr-16 14:17:05

We had our offer accepted on a house last week. The first viewing was with the vendor who explained the last 6ft of the garden belonged to their elderly neighbour who didn't like gardening so they agreed to look after it for them. The vendor said he'd thought about buying it off them in the past to make things official but didn't feel the need.
Second viewing was with the estate agent, a small post had been put up to show where the garden really ends. I mentioned that the vendor had said we might be able to buy this from the neighbour in the future but the estate agent looked confused and couldn't confirm anything.
So today, I thought I'd do a little digging to find out how much the piece of land might be to buy. I entered the neighbours details onto the title deeds website and to my surprise it doesn't belong to them. So I tried the neighbours to the other side and the two houses that have gardens backing onto this property and it's not on any of their title deeds. I called the council & they said it didn't belong to them, and finally I called the estate agents who said we would have to instruct our solicitor to do further searches.
Is there anything more I can do to find this out without involving solicitors?
If I'm honest, its slightly putting me off buying the property and I don't want to instruct solicitors if we have to pull out of the house purchase.

HereIAm20 Mon 25-Apr-16 14:23:38

How long have the sellers been looking after it because it is possible that they have already obtained ownership by way of adverse possession?

RicStar Mon 25-Apr-16 14:33:05

We have a random unregistered bit of land at the end of our garden. No suggestion that anyone know who owns it though. We took indeminity insurance for it (cost split with vendor) on purchase.

ABetaDad1 Mon 25-Apr-16 14:33:46

Are you sure this little bit of land isn't being held back by the vendor as a 'ransom strip'? That is a sliver of land that prevents you accessing a road or another piece of land beyond the end of your garden. If you don't own it you won't be able to cross it but the actual owner will.

Personally I would not buy the house until the vendor comes up with proof of title as to who owns that land. It is not your job to find out. I really think there is more to this than the nice old neighbour who doesnt really like gardening.

It will cause all sorts of problems - that's a guarantee.

indecisiveingrid Mon 25-Apr-16 14:43:33

The vendors have owned this property since 1999, not sure how long they've been looking after it.
The piece of land is literally a 6x4 plot at the bottom of the garden, it would make sense if the house behind it owned the land but they don't.
The vendor wouldn't gain anything by keeping this land for themselves as they could only access if via this garden, the two neighbouring gardens or the house behind it but they are all fenced off.

Jobseekernightmare Mon 25-Apr-16 14:45:23

If you can't find the owner, then the vendor should apply for adverse possession (I don't think it transfers but it might, so check) adverse possession now needs a reasonable attempt to contact owner.

what do land registry say? Its only £2 to find out.

If it's fenced off as if it's yours and owner contacted, its pretty much yours but you have to prevent access by fencing it off to other routes onto it.

If old neighbour hasn't applied for adverse possession and vendor maintaining it, then the case for neighbour is weak. Email vendor and ask if you've got it right that they have been maintaining it.

indecisiveingrid Mon 25-Apr-16 14:49:49

It costs £3 to check the title deeds of a property. I have done so for the property in question, the two neighbours & the two houses with gardens backing onto this piece of Land to no avail.

steppemum Mon 25-Apr-16 14:51:14

I used to own a flat, with a piece of random land behind the garden, no own used it, no-one knew whose it was.

The key things are:

1. If you had to put a fence across at the end of your actual garden, is the garden big enough for you? (without the random strip)
2. Can you access anywhere else from this strip, so that it could be sold as a building plot?
3. (for your solicitors) does anyone have any rights of access across your land to this bit of land?

If the answer to all those is OK, (ie yes, no, no) there is no reason not to go ahead and buy the house, with the land as it actually is.

You can then look into trying to buy the extra, but on the understanding you may never be able to. That means you could use it, but at any point the owner could ask for it back.

Palomb Mon 25-Apr-16 14:54:48

I'm in the process of buying a house with a similar set up althugh in our case the vendors has actually legitimately bought the land from a neighbour.

In our case the land has its own title deed, it hasn't been attached to the existing one.

Someone must own it. Do any of the neighbors by properties have anything similar. Sometimes people shorten their garden and use the bit over the fence as their own personal dumping ground. Maybe that's happened at some point in the past? How old is the house?

anotherdayanothersquabble Mon 25-Apr-16 14:57:06

If it wasn't part of the sale, would you still want the house?

indecisiveingrid Mon 25-Apr-16 15:04:12

To be honest the garden is smaller than we would've liked but the house is ideal, so if we could have the extra bit of land then it would be great. (hence why I'm investigating)

Every other garden in the surrounding area (that I've checked the title deeds for) seem pretty straight forward. This house literally has a rectangle plot at the bottom separate from everyone else's gardens.

MaryPoppinsPenguins Mon 25-Apr-16 15:10:20

I'd just continue to use it if it's as you described, seems unlikely anyone is going to claim a tiny square of land at the end of your garden? And if they do, then you just fence it.

StKildasNun Mon 25-Apr-16 15:13:32

Did it have an Anderson shelter on it - or was it the waste tip? are there any abandoned mines in the area?

I am naturally suspicious and would be wary. You don't want landed with bills for clearing waste asbestos or something.
You need a map of the area before the houses were built. Not sure where you would get that. Maybe try the planning dept.

slicedfinger Mon 25-Apr-16 15:17:13

DB sold his house recently and had a similar strip. After months of to-ing and fro-ing with solicitors, it turned out that it was his all along (houses built in 1880) and that the story about a bit of his garden actually belonging to next door was just one of those daft stories that had grown legs over time. His bit was about 0.5m x 15m though. The solicitors thought it may just be that the original drawings were so old and small that the exact line of the boundary had become blurred as it were.

It saved him a lot of expense though! The owner of the house next door (who had never even lived there!) wanted £5k to get it "signed over to him once and for all". We're really glad he didn't give in!

indecisiveingrid Mon 25-Apr-16 15:49:24

I can't seem to find any map archives of the area. Google map does an archived street view but it only goes back to 2008!

TheCrowFromBelow Mon 25-Apr-16 15:58:22

i know you've spent s fortune with them already but land registry has a Map search
It sounds like it is a separately registered parcel of land.

origamiwarrior Mon 25-Apr-16 15:59:58

We had similar, although ours is a small sliver at the front of our house on our driveway where no previous owners had ever noticed it during conveyencing, but my DH did as he is forensic about title!

You need to speak to Land Registry to confirm that this is 'unregistered' land. I recall you can do a 'pinpoint' search (not the correct term) but where you give the grid reference to Land Registry and they will tell you if the land is registered or not. Call their general helpdesk number and explain what you have already done (i.e. purchased the deeds for each possible owner) and you might hit lucky and get an advisor who will look at it for you there and then without charging another £3 (we did).

If the land is 'unregistered' then you are in a good position to claim adverse possession once you own the house. You need to get your vendor to write you a letter stating how many years they have had exclusive and unopposed use of the land for (your conveyancing solicitor will be able to advise on wording). This will count towards the 12 years use you'll need to demonstrate to claim adverse possession. Once the 12 years are up you can make a claim to the Land Registry.

You can get an indemnity policy to cover the land (i.e. will pay out if anyone suddenly turns up and says it is theirs) for a couple of hundred £ but such policies usually becomes void once you speak up and try to regularise the matter (when making an adverse possession claim, the Land Registry will write to all 'possible owners', i.e. all the neighbours). However, by talking directly to an underwriter, I was actually able to get a indemnity policy to cover us before AND during an adverse possession claim. Even though we're well over the 12 years, we haven't bothered doing anything (as a claim costs money) and continue to enjoy the land as before.

Palomb Mon 25-Apr-16 16:12:18

My local council website has a local map section that's really useful for that kind of thing. It goes right back to 17c . You out you postcode it and it overlays the historic maps.

indecisiveingrid Mon 25-Apr-16 16:17:16

Thanks all,
The current owner has lived in the property for the last 16 years and says he has 'looked after' the land for his neighbour so I wonder if he has the right to claim adverse possession now?
I wonder if the neighbour actually thinks he owns the land!

Jobseekernightmare Mon 25-Apr-16 16:41:56

Yes he does. The use of the land has to be 'as if it is owned'

origamiwarrior Mon 25-Apr-16 16:42:13

He does have the right to claim it now then (it is only 12 years needed) but a claim is a fairly long drawn-out process (months to years) so I doubt he'll want to do it now when he's trying to sell his house (and obviously an unresolved adverse possession claim will put buyers off!). But the time he has accrued passes down to the next owner ('successor in title') so you could do make a claim once you are owner.

I've just looked back at my correspondence about this, our underwriter (it was Aviva) wanted to see the statement from the vendors (and actually asked them to delete a paragraph she didn't like!) and also the aerial photos which showed the land was fenced in and clearly part of our driveway. The policy cost £350 for a £550K house. But that was to cover us before and during an adverse possession claim, and specifies that it covers us erecting a garage on the unregistered land (something else we haven't done!) so might be cheaper if you have no intention of building on it.

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