Can Real Estate Be Sold Using Only a Photocopy of the Certificate of Title?

Technically, no. But practically, possibly yes.

You cannot complete the transfer of ownership of a property via sale, using only a photocopy of the Certificate of Title. But unfortunately, that doesn’t stop unscrupulous scammers. They still try to sell real estate they either don’t own, or don’t have the authority to sell. And sometimes, they succeed. This happens only when the buyer doesn’t have any idea what he is doing.

Let me clarify that – the sale can happen, but not the transfer of ownership.

The real owner doesn’t really have to worry about losing ownership to this property. The validity of his title is not affected by the fraudulent sale because that fraudulent sale is void from the beginning. The real problem is borne only by the unsuspecting buyer who did not know any better.

Why it cannot be done

Apart from the fact that this is against the law, there at least two big reasons why it cannot be done. These are the following procedural technicalities:

  1. In the first place, no person can just go to the concerned government offices and transact about a sale of a property to which they are not a party, except when the person is authorized by either the buyer or the seller. In order to successfully transfer a real property to the name of the buyer, you need to deal with at least the following government offices:

    • Bureau of Internal Revenue
    • Registry of Deeds
    • City/Municipality Assessor
    • City/Municipality Treasurer

    These government offices will not transact with just anyone about a sale of a real property. There are only two groups of people that they will transact with when it comes to these things. They are:

    1. The parties themselves – either the Buyer or the Seller; or
    2. The properly authorized representative of either one, or both of the parties

    If a person is selling a property that’s not under his name, the least of the documents that he should show the buyer is the document authorizing him to offer the subject property for sale. This document may be entitled “Authority to Sell” or “Special Power of Attorney”, or “Listing Agreement”, or something similar.

    The important thing to look for is that it says in the body of the document that its holder is authorized to sell or offer the subject property for sale. This document should be signed by the owner himself — the person whose name appears on the Certificate of Title.

    If the person posing as the seller doesn’t have the authorization of the real owner, he cannot sign the Deed of Sale himself. Even if he does sign it, that will not be honored by the government agencies or anyone else. Because he is not the named owner in the Title and he doesn’t have the authorization of the owner.

    It will all be the same even if the buyer himself will try to register that Deed of Sale with the Registry of Deeds or pay the taxes in BIR.

    Going back, if the seller is a fraud and he only has a photocopy of the Certificate of Title, it is very likely that he also doesn’t have proper authorization from the real owner. Hence, the transfer of ownership will really not be successful.

  2. Secondly, even supposing that the fraudulent seller faked the authorization from the real owner, the transfer will still fail because the original owner’s duplicate of the Certificate of Title, is one of the main requirements for transferring ownership. (Update: as pointed out in the comments below, to be technically correct, what I mean here is requirements for transferring registration.)

    This second reason is really the main reason why you cannot sell real estate with just a photocopy of the Title. Well, “selling” itself might be possible if the buyer is really that stupid to give away his money over just a piece of photocopy. But not the actual transfer of ownership. And yes, I said stupid, because no person in his right mind will pay any considerable amount without first requiring the original document.

How scammers are able to do it anyway

Despite being technically impossible, fraudsters still try to do it. And sometimes, they succeed because even in this “information age”, some people are still naive enough to be fooled by simple scams like this. In most cases, these criminals can only prey on the most gullible victims.

We’ve also heard stories about more elaborate schemes that involve “contact persons inside” the government agencies. Some involve the use of seemingly genuine but actually fake “originals” of Certificates of Title. But these are not the cases I’m talking about in this article. I’m talking specifically about the use of only photocopies of the Title to sell a property.

As to how these scammers are able to convince their victims, I have no idea.

What should a buyer do then?

It’s just very simple to avoid getting scammed this way. If someone is offering to sell you a property, always require the original of the Certificate of Title before giving them your money.

Just to clarify, it’s quite common and actually practical for sellers to initially show only the photocopies. But this is just during the initial talks or negotiations. When you are already finalizing the transaction, only give away your money when the seller is able to provide you the original documents, most importantly, the Title.

And if you’d like to be really sure about the authenticity of the Title, you can verify it yourself with the relevant government agencies. Or if you’d rather have professionals do it for you, you may avail of Title verification services like what we provide here at PPE.

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Nimrod Flores
Nimrod Flores
Nimrod is the co-founder of PPE Inc. and our Tech Officer. His experience in real estate started when he bought a tax-delinquent property auctioned by the government back in 2007. He’s currently studying law at the San Beda College of Law.