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Understanding the Distinction: Agreement to Sell Doesn't Transfer Ownership Rights or Confer Title

By - King Stubb & Kasiva on November 27, 2023


The legal nuances pertaining to the transfer of ownership rights and title can be intricate and subtle in the context of real estate transactions. One important point that is frequently misinterpreted is that an "Agreement to Sell" does not automatically confer title or transfer ownership.[1] This fundamental idea shapes the dynamics of real estate transactions and the parties' respective legal obligations, with substantial ramifications for both buyers and sellers.

The Agreement to Sell: A Preliminary Contract

An "Agreement to Sell" is a draught agreement that outlines the terms and conditions of the sale of real estate and is signed by both the buyer and the seller.[2] Although this agreement is an important part of the property transaction process, it is important to understand that it does not actually create the ownership transfer or give the buyer title.

The Agreement to Sell basically lays out the terms, conditions, and deadlines for the future sale, acting as a road map. It usually contains information on the purchase price, the terms of the payments, the date of possession, and any special requirements that must be fulfilled in order for the transaction to go through. That being said, the seller still owns the property until the next steps are finished.[3]

The Significance of Title in Real Estate Transactions

Title refers to a property's legal ownership and includes all related rights, interests, and responsibilities. To be deemed legitimate, a property transaction must have a clear and marketable title. A number of legal procedures are involved in the title transfer process to guarantee that the buyer obtains complete ownership rights free from any encumbrances.[4]

Challenges in Assuming Ownership Through Agreement to Sell

Legal issues may arise from the misconception that an agreement to sell automatically grants ownership rights. There may be disagreements and monetary losses if a buyer believes they have ownership based only on the agreement and neglects to take the required legal steps to transfer the title.

One widespread misperception is that ownership of the property is implied by possession. Possession and ownership, however, are two different legal ideas.[5] The act of occupying a property without completing the necessary formalities to transfer title does not confer legal ownership rights upon the occupant.

The Consequences of Misinterpreting the Agreement

Misunderstanding the Agreement to Sell as a final conveyance of ownership by parties to a real estate transaction can result in a number of problems, such as disagreements, monetary losses, and delays in the actual transfer of property.

It can be dangerous for buyers to assume ownership based only on the agreement. They might have trouble proving their ownership rights if the legal procedures to transfer title are not followed. On the other hand, sellers may face challenges if purchasers neglect to fulfil their contractual obligations because they anticipate instant ownership.

Protecting the Interests of Both Parties

Understanding the various stages of a real estate transaction is essential for both buyers and sellers in order to prevent miscommunication and legal issues. The Agreement to Sell lays the foundation for the transaction, but more actions are needed to actually transfer ownership and give the buyer title.

To make sure the property they intend to buy has a clear and marketable title, buyers should perform due diligence. This entails carefully reviewing property records, verifying the legitimacy of the transaction, and making sure the property is free of liens or other legal issues.

Conversely, sellers ought to be open and honest about the procedures that go into transferring a piece of real estate. It can be helpful to control buyer expectations and avoid misunderstandings by clearly defining the legal requirements and deadlines.

The Role of Sale Deed in Transferring Ownership

The Sale Deed is the essential document that makes the real ownership transfer possible.[6] The Sale Deed is a formal legal document that certifies the actual transfer of ownership from the seller to the buyer, as opposed to the Agreement to Sell, which is only a preliminary contract.

The property's specifics, the buyer and seller's identities, the sale consideration, and any other pertinent terms and conditions are all included in the Sale Deed. For the transfer to be deemed lawful, the Sale Deed needs to be registered with the appropriate government agency after being signed by both parties.

The Supreme Court on the Issue

The Supreme Court heard a case involving an Agreement to Sell dated May 28, 1990 in Munshimappa v. M. Rama Reddy[7]. According to the agreement, Munshimappa, the appellant, was given possession of the property for the sum of Rs. 23,000. The appellant alleged that the respondents postponed execution even though the Karnataka Prevention of Fragmentation and Consolidation of Holdings Act, 1996 forbade registering the sale deed.

The sale deed was repeatedly requested by the appellant following the repeal of the Fragmentation Act on February 5, 1991. Due to the respondents' denial, a lawsuit for specific performance was filed on October 1, 2001, after a legal notice was sent on September 3, 2001.

Due to a lapse in the statute of limitations and uncertainties regarding the Agreement's execution, the Trial Court dismissed the lawsuit. Nonetheless, the First Appellate Court granted the appeal, finding that the lawsuit was filed within the allotted time.

On November 10, 2010, the High Court ruled in a Second Appeal that the Agreement to Sell was null and void due to its violation of the Fragmentation Act. This ruling was reversed by the Supreme Court, which made it clear that the Agreement to Sell does not transfer ownership and cannot be in violation of the Fragmentation Act. The court held that the suit for specific performance could be decreed without legal issues, emphasising the repeal of the Fragmentation Act.


It is critical to realise that a property does not automatically acquire title or ownership rights just because an agreement to sell is in place. Even though this preliminary contract is an important part of the real estate transaction process, the ownership transfer cannot be completed without further legal procedures, most notably the execution and registration of a Sale Deed.

For both buyers and sellers, misreading the Agreement to Sell can result in a wide range of legal issues as well as monetary losses. All parties involved must be aware of the various stages of the process and seek legal counsel as needed in order to guarantee a seamless and legally sound property transaction. Everyone involved will have a more secure and satisfying real estate transaction experience if there is clear communication, transparency, and adherence to the law.


What is an "Agreement to Sell"?

An "Agreement to Sell" is a preliminary contract signed by both the buyer and seller, outlining terms and conditions for the sale of real estate. However, it does not automatically transfer ownership or confer title.

Does the Agreement to Sell transfer ownership?

No, the Agreement to Sell does not transfer ownership rights or confer title. It acts as a roadmap for the transaction, detailing purchase terms, payment conditions, possession date, and special requirements.

What is the significance of "Title" in real estate transactions?

Title refers to legal ownership, including rights, interests, and responsibilities. A clear and marketable title is crucial for a legitimate property transaction.








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