Finding Missing Property Owners

Finding missing property owners is something anyone can do. It is a matter of following a few straightforward steps. However, it can be difficult to trace some particular property owners.

This post was originally posted on the 27/07/2019 and updated on the 20/12/2019

Who owns that property? That is perhaps a question you have asked a hundred times about an empty, derelict or rundown property.

Perhaps you would like to buy the property – or at least find out how much it is selling for.

If it is a property in your street, you may be concerned that it is an eye sore and bringing down the value of the street.

But how do you go about finding who owns that property that has been empty for years?

Thankfully, the ownership of most properties in England & Wales is registered at HM Land Registry.  Ownership of a property, if registered, is therefore public information. If the ownership of a property is not registered at HM Land Registry, you will need to use alternative methods to identify the owner.

This blog looks at ten steps you can take to find the owner of an abandoned or empty property, what it might cost you to do so and your chances of success.

Finding missing property owners: 10 steps:

1  Knock on the door!
2  Speak to neighbours
3  Contact local letting and estate agents
4  Speak to the post person
5  Ask at the local shops
6  Speak to people in the pub
7  Grab hold of any passing senior!
8  Address a letter to the occupier
9  Do a Land Registry ownership search
10 Use a professional search agent

1  Knock on the door!

Don’t ignore the obvious. A property may look uninhabited and you may not have seen anyone coming or going in years. However, there is nothing to lose in knocking on the door.

The property could be occupied by trespassers. As people with access to mail, they may have information about the owner or an agent of the owner.

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2  Speak to neighbours

You will of course be most interested in speaking to immediate neighbours, especially the people living next door.

Of course, in all your conversations in your attempt to find the owner, you will want to be discreet, courteous and affable.

Don’t be surprised if some neighbours are unhelpful or even hostile.

Ideally you will want to find out the name and contact details of the missing owner. However, any information you can gather may be of use.

For instance, if you find out that the property was most recently rented, you may be able to trace the letting agent and make further progress from there.

Try to speak to neighbours who have lived in the area for a very long time. You should have a very good chance of uncovering at least some useful information which you can work with – such as details of relatives.

If you learn that the owner has died, you can open a line of enquiry by obtaining a copy of the death certificate. Further, consider any will or grant of probate that can be obtained online.

Where you don’t feel able to deal with these matters yourself, you can engage a specialist agent or solicitor to assist you. That will of course involve charges, but you can ask for a fixed fee quote so that you know the sum payable from the outset.

READ: Probate property rocks (the steps and benefits when buying probate property)

3  Contact local letting and estate agents

Even if you have no information leading to a specific letting or estate agent, you can still contact agents on a speculative basis. Inform them that you are interested in buying the property.

Contact all the agents in the area. If you know the property was most recently rented, concentrate on letting agents.

Once agents learn that you are a potential buyer, they will see the opportunity of a fee. That may encourage them to speak to others in the trade who may have useful information.

At the same time as contacting agents, contact the local council in case the property is owned by it.

Since agents are in the business of selling and renting properties, there will be a strong chance that at least one agent will prove helpful in some way or the other.

It will however be time-consuming to speak to all local agents – even in a small town, and not all of them will be willing to help you fully.

An agent with information as to the identity or whereabouts of a missing owner may want to withhold it until they can secure their opportunity to earn a commission.

 

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4  Speak to the post person

Talking to the post person is worth a try, especially if they have been delivering mail in the area for years.

This however is a long shot as clearly post persons are bound by rules and there will be a limit to the information they can divulge.

READ: Buying a UK property (must know steps when buying in the UK)

5  Ask at the local shops

Speak to all local shopkeepers to see what you can uncover. Naturally you are most likely to gather useful information from shops which have been operating in the area for many years.

Even if a shop keeper does not know the whereabouts of the owner, they could talk to customers who may have useful information.

6  Speak to people in the pub

The local pub is always a great place to look for information, especially after a few pints have been downed!

Once again, you should target establishments which have been around for years. Look out for those customers who seem as if they have lived in the area for ages!

7  Grab hold of any passing senior!

If you are looking for someone who lived in an area long ago, focus on people who have lived in the area for a long time.

That means you will be focusing on seniors – the older the better.

If the property is one you walk past on a regular basis, be alert to the opportunity to question any senior who happens to be passing the property at the same time as you!

When dealing with seniors it is especially important to be disarming, friendly, kind and polite.

This method is a bit of a remote possibility but, given the opportunity, it is certainly worth a try.

READ: Why become a homeowner (the many benefits enjoyed by homeowners)

8  Address a letter to the occupier

Sending a letter to a property known to be unoccupied for years may seem a bit stupid. However, there is always the possibility that someone is checking the property for mail. Further, a Post Office mail redirection service could be in place.

It is also good to persist with this strategy, repeating it every 6 months if you are super keen on getting the property.

The more letters you send, the more likely you are to make contact. Also, if the owner is not minded to sell initially, they may change their mind at a later date. Your repeated contact could mean that your name is the first one that comes to mind when they decide to sell.

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9  Do a Land Registry ownership search

If the property is situated in England or Wales you can try to identify the owner by conducting a search through HM Land Registry for England & Wales.

The Land Registry operates an online property search service. On giving the address of a property, and paying a small fee, you can obtain a register of the property and plan.

The current fees are:

  • £3 for a copy of the register of ownership
  • £3 for a copy of the plan.

The register will give you the “registered proprietor” or owner along with their address. However, the address given is often the property address itself.

Current Land Registry rules do not permit you to use the name of the owner if you decide to write to them at the property. Your letter would need to be addressed to “the owner” or “occupier”.

However, having the name, if you did not have it already, is clearly valuable information in your quest to trace the owner.

Not every single property or piece of land is registered at HM Land Registry. A significant proportion of land and properties in England & Wales is unregistered. In non-registration cases, no ownership details will be available from HM Land Registry. There is not public record of ownership.

It is therefore especially difficult to identify the owner of unregistered land or property.

In such cases, you will have to rely on information gained by your own enquiries – such as by speaking to local people and businesses. If that does not help, you can engage a professional search agent.

Note: Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own land registries which offer a similar service to the Land Registry for England & Wales.

READ: 10 easy ways onto the property ladder (must know ways to become a homeowner)

10  Use a professional search agent

You can use a professional search, enquiry or tracing agent to find the owner of a property. You can engage an agent in the first instance – or you can turn to an agent if your own efforts are unsuccessful.

The fee of a professional agent will depend on how much work they have to put in to find the missing owner. First, the identity of the owner needs to be established. Second, the whereabouts or address of the owner needs to be found. The second task could prove especially challenging and time-consuming.

The  job becomes even more difficult if the owner has died and legal successors have to be traced.

To find an owner, a search agent may:

  • make local enquiries
  • consider historical records
  • contact councils and local authorities
  • make enquiries of the Crown Estate
  • contact local land owners
  • contact utility companies.

In a complex case, tracing an owner using an agent could cost several thousand pounds. In a simple case, it could cost a few hundred pounds.

There is no guarantee that you will be able to trace a particular owner. Bear that in mind if you decide to incur the cost of hiring an agent.

Ideally you should source an agent who will charge a fixed fee for their services. If you engage someone on the basis of an hourly rate, it is prudent to set a limit on the number of hours that can be incurred without your prior authorisation. That way you can control your total outlay.

Engaging an agent is usually the most expensive way to trace a missing property owner. However, in some cases it might be your best chance of doing so successfully.

Conclusion

The amount of time, effort and money you spend on finding a missing owner will very much depend on all the circumstances.

If you are serious about buying the property and are likely to have the finances to do so, you will want to look at all the options. That may include the relatively expensive option of engaging a professional tracing agent.

Have you ever tried to track down the owner of an empty or abandoned property? Were you successful? Please leave your observations or comments below.

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Dalton Barrett
Rebel Property Coach

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