What are conveyancing searches?

Property searches are a key part of the property buying process. They are carried out by a conveyancing solicitor on behalf of the buyer and the mortgage lender. They provide essential information about the property and the surrounding area and are designed to protect the buyer and the lender from issues that could affect the value of the property or make a property difficult to insure when they come to own it.   

Information about the property will be provided by searches and pre-contract enquiries. They come via the seller’s conveyancer to the buyer’s conveyancers and then to the buyer to complete.

Are searches necessary when buying a property?  

Searches are essential if you are buying a property with a mortgage, as the lender will not proceed without them. If you are purchasing a property as a cash buyer, then you don't technically need searches. However, as searches are designed to provide essential information about a property, it would be ill-advised not to do them on such an important purchase.  

What searches do I need?  

There are three main searches required when buying a property: Local Authority, Environmental and Water and Drainage:  

Local Authority Searches  

The Local Authority searches fall into two categories:   

  1. The first is a Land Registry check. This ensures that the seller is the legal owner of the property and the search is compulsory by law. It gives information that is registered against the property for example:
If the property is in a conservation area or a listed building
If there are any tree protection orders
If there are any planning agreements in place  

  

2. The second search is providing answers to a standard set of enquiries as set by the Law Society. For example:

The planning history of the property such as if there was a loft conversion or extension
Building regulation or certificate documentation to support this.   
New road or rail scheme proposals
Public footpaths and right of way
Pending planning decisions such as new housing schemes
Environmental factors such as if the property is on contaminated land or in a radon gas affected area  

  

Environmental Searches   

Environmental searches look at the wider surrounding environment and are more in-depth than what is covered in the Local Authority environmental searches. Matters investigated include:

Flooding This will look at the risk of river, coastal or groundwater flooding as well as historical flood events. If a flooding risk is identified a further report may be required.
Contaminated Land this looks at the potential sites within a reasonable distance that could cause contamination of the property and its land. This will include landfill sites and industrial sites, for example.
Subsidence this examines the risk of ground subsidence and will detail factors such as soil type and location of trees close to the property.
Energy this looks at energy in terms of existing or proposed energy sites, such as, power stations and wind farms.

  

Water and Drainage Searches

Water and drainage searches cover information about the water supply and sewer connections to and around the property. It is not a legal requirement to have this but is often mandatory from mortgage lenders. The results may give rise to needing further investigation. It provides information such as:

Drainage connections and distance to the public sewers within the boundary and near to the property, risk of flooding due to overloaded public sewers.
Water Connection to the mains water supply, foul and surface water drainage, water pressure, quality of drinking water.
Location A map of the public sewers and waterworks.
Responsibility It will give the name and details of the companies responsible for the sewerage and water services for the property and who will be raising the bills.  

  

Other Searches  

Depending on the location of the property, other searches may be carried out (e.g. coal mine searches) as well as additional local authority questions such as common land, public footpaths etc. The buyer’s conveyancing solicitor will advise if these are needed.   

How much do searches cost?

The cost of searches will vary depending on what searches you need, which conveyancing firm you use, and which Local Authority is providing the information. Charges can range from  £60 to  £350 per search, with some conveyancing firms providing a package to get a competitive overall price.

How long do searches take?

Searches can take around 3 to 8 weeks on average, but this will be heavily dependent on the Local Authority providing them and how quickly the required information is provided by the seller. Once the searches are completed, the conveyancer will review them, provide a report, and detail any potential problems. This can also add to the overall time taken.   

  

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