Is the owner himself bound to produce any documents?
Yes. A person, representing himself as the owner, has to show the intending purchaser the document under which he claims ownership and seeks to establish and support his title to the property.
How many documents of title should the owner normally have in his possession and how far back should these go?
The owner is, normally, supposed to have, not only, the document under which he claims his ownership but also the documents on basis of which his transferor and the preceding transferors dealt with the property from time to time. In practice, these usually go back to the beginning of the nineteenth century.
For what period should one normally make enquiries, investigate and scrutinize the documents? What are these documents generally known as?
Investigation is normally for about a period of 30 to 40 years before the date of the current transaction. These documents are technically known as ‘title deeds’.
If the owner is unable to produce any originals of the title deeds and the title deeds that he has are only photocopies/certified copies of the originals, what should be done?
It is not uncommon for the parties to be unable to produce the originals. In such a case, a thorough enquiry and examination must be made as to what has and/or what may have happened to the originals. If the originals are found to be lost or misplaced or destroyed, the owners should be called upon to give a suitable indemnity against any loss or damage that the buyer may suffer in the event of any third party making an adverse and/or wrong claim to the property. There is also another reason for caution:
A seller, sometimes, cannot produce the original title deeds because he has deposited these with a bank or financial institution to create a mortgage on the property. This is known as a mortgage by deposit of title deeds. It does not require a registered deed, like other forms of mortgage, and is a preferred means of creating a security, for this very reason. A property which is mortgaged, continues to carry the burden of the mortgage even after it is sold until the mortgage is redeemed (i.e. paid off). The existence of the mortgage should not come as a nasty surprise to a purchaser who buys in good faith since the purchaser will, then, become liable to pay off the mortgage.