What are Searches when Buying a House? | Property Searches

What are Conveyancing Searches?

When you’re interested in buying a property, you want to find out as much as you can about it before proceeding into the contract phase. This is because you might discover some variables down the line that could affect the home’s future market value or your living conditions. 

This is where conveyancing property searches come in. These searches are enquiries made by a solicitor on your behalf to the respective authorities that have the information about the property, its land and any other relevant factors.  

There are 3 main searches included in this process: Local Authority, Water and Drainage, and Environmental

These searches typically cover details such as whether or not planning permission will be granted for a future development that would have a negative impact on your home, the condition of the ground on which the property is built, or information regarding common drains and access rights. 

As already mentioned, it’s imperative that conveyancing searches are completed and approved before you exchange contracts and legally bind yourself to the purchase of a house. This is because the searches can reveal planning or structural problems that can negatively affect the property’s value or cause additional costs for you in the future. 

Are these Searches a Requirement when Buying a House?

Conveyancing searches aren’t always compulsory or necessary, but they’re recommended. What’s more, if you’re taking out a mortgage for your house purchase, the lender or bank will likely insist that you do a conveyancing search. Because they have a significant stake in your property, they will want assurance that the money they’re lending is invested well into a property that will increase in worth as the years go by. Moreover, in a mortgage situation, you essentially share that property with the lender. So, if there’s a scenario where the lender needs to repossess and sell the house to someone else, they want peace of mind from any existing issues that might be attached to the property. The lender will therefore inform your conveyancer on the required searches that need to be done before they release your mortgage funds. 

Alternatively, if you’re buying a house purely with cash, you won’t have a mortgage lender who’s in charge of the searches. This frees you up to do as many searches as you want to. A word of caution, however, whilst ignoring any searches that your conveyancer recommends might save you a few hundred pounds in expenses, there’s a giant risk that you could then discover a problem with the land or property that costs you thousands. It’s just not worth it.   

The other aspect to consider is your health. A search will inform you on any potential toxic chemicals that may be present in the land ground you’re on. If it’s an area where there were previous industrial factories, toxins like arsenic or lead could still be lying around. What you don’t want is these chemicals seeping into the ground and appearing in your garden soil.  

With all of this in consideration, what it means is that buying a property doesn’t simply mean buying the house. When buying a new property, you may find that there is pre-existing debt secured against it, or a history of unlawful changes that have been made to it, or perhaps it’s in a high risk area where things like flooding can affect it.  

Searches vs Surveys

There may be a bit of confusion around this distinction, so for clarification: searches are for the local area and surveys concern the physical property itself. Whilst searches are highly recommended and often compulsory, surveys are more up to the buyer. They will help determine how much maintenance the house might need after it’s bought, such as tiles on the roof that need fixed or developing damp in the boiling cupboard.  

What Happens If I Don’t Do Any Searches?

As mentioned there are risks you could encounter if you don’t do any searches. Your house could regularly flood, and along with this, insurance would be very difficult to secure. Or it might have debt that accompanies it which you then have to take upon yourself if you decide to buy the property without having rectified the debt before purchasing.

You could suddenly find a crater in your garden because there was a mineshaft underneath that collapsed and hadn’t been accounted for. 

Or perhaps a few months down the line, you find that there’s a new road or wind farm that’s implemented and it affects not only your living experience but the price of your property too.  

Now, it’s understandable, you’ve found an amazing place, it all seems great and you just want to buy it. But, spending a little on these searches means that you can avoid getting stuck with a house which is an insurance nightmare, is actually overpriced and can’t be sold to the next buyer who does some proper searches into it. 

Can I Speed up the Process?

For the most part, no. The turnaround times depend on which local authority you’re with. Some can be very fast but others might take several weeks. Your best bet is to ask your conveyancer if they can give an estimate on how long the local authority will take to return the searches. It’s possible that your local authority may offer a fast track service but this likely cost an additional fee. 

Local Authority Searches 

A local authority search makes up one of the main components of a conveyancing search. They will give you in depth information on your property and its surrounding area. They’ll also save you from any unwanted surprises popping up in the future. 

A local authority search is comprised of two parts, an LLC1 result and a CON29 result. In an LLC1 result you find the following information:

  • If your property is a listed building
  • If it’s situated in a conservation area
  • If it’s located in a tree preservation order area
  • Whether or not it needs an improvement or renovation grant
  • If it’s in a smoke control area

When it comes to future development plans that could have an effect on your property, this is all assessed by CON29. The results in a CON29 are sectioned into two parts – required and optional. In the required results you’ll find:

  • Proposals for new roads or traffic schemes
  • Contaminated land
  • Planning decisions affecting your property
  • Building regulations
  • If your property is in a Radon affected area

There are times when further types of information might need to be ascertained using the CON29 form. For example, private bodies proposing new roads, completion notices, land maintenance notices and environmental and pollution notices. CON29 is concerned with assessing any potential changes that may occur in the future that could affect your house.  

Where to get one for your home

On top of there being two stages to a Local Authority search, there’s also two types you can get. There’s a generic Council Local Authority search which is open to everyone, and there’s a search done by an external company who are registered with the Property Codes Compliance Board. 

Opting for a search with a PCCB registered company is more reliable because it’s covered by insurance in the event that any necessary information isn’t given. Moreover, every company registered with PCCB also signs up to The Property Ombudsman (TPO) redress scheme. This means that if a problem occurs after you’ve bought the house and you’re satisfied with their response, you’re entitled to a third party’s investigation which can compensate you up to £5,000. 

How does a personal Local Authority Search differ from one that’s officially ascertained? 

There’s been a change of lingo in this space in recent years. What used to be ‘personal’ and ‘official’ is now ‘regulated’ and ‘council’. Personal searches = regulated searches; official searches = council searches. 

Regulated searches are done by specialists from search companies that know exactly what to look for. 

Whereas, with council searches it’s staff employed at the Local Authority who are running the search. It’s likely this will be less a thorough process than the regulated alternative. 

In a regulated search, the company will be more proactive in seeking as much information as they can, to ensure that the property you’re buying is safe. Furthermore, these companies tend to make sure that searches are as accessible and understandable as possible for conveyancers and buyers alike. For example, they ensure that the searches are standardised and provide summaries of the information that’s of highest priority to the conveyancer. This prevents any crucial from being neglected. 

Environmental Searches

Environmental searches can look quite different, depending on the search provider. However, one of the searches that is deemed crucial by the Law society, is to run a report that investigates the quality of the land the property is built on; specifically if it’s contaminated, or near a landfill or waste management site.

Where are Environmental Searches accessed?

You can buy environmental search packages online from various water companies or search companies.

What’s found in these searches?

On top of ascertaining whether or not your property’s land is contaminated, things such as the likelihood of flooding and the possibilities of any landslip or subsidence are investigated. 

How necessary is this? Well, there’s only so much you’re likely to know about a property and its history. So, despite the fee of the environmental search, it’s worth getting an in-depth investigation into the property’s land.

Water and drainage search

It is recommended by The Law Society that these searches are completed for all new purchases. There are again, two types: Regulated Drainage and Water Searches, done by search companies; and CON29DW which is a search compiled by the local water company.

Where can you get them?

These searches can be bought with your conveyancer or directly from a search company or water company. 

What you’ll find out

Water and drainage searches will give you peace of mind from any concerns regarding your water supply, such as if it’s correctly connected to the mains and public drains. This information is also important because, let’s say you want to build an extension, if any drains run underneath that area, you’ll likely need the water supplier’s permission to continue. The result of this outcome can drastically affect your decision on buying the property. 

Moreover, if the property isn’t connected to the mains and public drains, there will be extra costs required to maintain your household which you should be aware of.

Knowing how water enters and leaves your property is also vital. Especially, being aware of the length of drainage that you’re responsible for versus what part the water company is responsible for. This can help your decision on the insurance you take out to cover it. Why insurance? Well, a dismantled drain can be costly, especially if properties subside because of it. Furthermore, tree roots can also cause leaks and block drains which can be a lot of money to amend.  

Other Searches

We’ve covered the most pressing searches that appear when buying a house, but there are times when these other contenders might rear their heads. Depending on your location, your conveyancer might recommend some of these to you.

Commons registration 

In the event that a property borders with variables such as common land or a village green, or is situated in a rural area, commons registration searches are recommended. These searches should also be employed when buying agricultural land.  This is in accordance with the Commons Registration Act of 1965 and only affects England and Wales. 

Mining Search

These searches are needed if your property is located in an area that has a history of mining. This is because the property could be at risk of being built on unstable foundations. These searches are mostly carried out for the mortgage lender’s peace of mind. 

Land charges 

In the event that you have to deal with unregistered land, these searches should be taken. They will reveal any bankruptcy proceedings attributed to the landowner, as well as any restrictions on the land’s usage, estate contracts and mortgages. 

Chancel repair liability 

This is a legal obligation for certain property owners in England and Wales to pay for repairs to a local parish church. If a property is owned on land that was once rectorial, it’s possible that they’ve taken on responsibility to contribute towards repair work done by the chancel of the Church of England or Wales. 

In England and Wales, all parochial church councils were given the deadline of October 2013 to identify and register any land bound to chancel repair liability. The Land Registry are the body that record this information and store it on the Title Register database. Thus, if you buy or inherit a house and live within the parishes of the church, we recommend verifying if you have any contribution obligations for the church’s repairs. 

Before You Purchase Your Property

As a buyer, and especially a first time buyer, it’s important to know that all of these searches are likely to reveal problems with a property that you may not have previously thought about. For this reason, you should talk to your conveyancer about the results and get some insight from others with a little expertise in the buying process in the property’s local area. 

Hiring a conveyancing solicitor for your property purchase is a crucial part of the process, so make sure you choose wisely and get your money’s worth.