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Conveyancing Solicitors: what are searches when buying a house?

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    Buying a new home can be both exciting but also a little scary. It requires professional expertise to make sure the home-buying experience is smooth. Your solicitor or conveyancer should conduct exhaustive property searches of the property you are considering purchasing to protect you against potential issues that could threaten its value and enjoyment.

    The searches when buying a house are essential whether you’re purchasing with or without a mortgage. No one wants any nasty property surprises such as structural issues or problems with the land it sits on. Remember, when it comes to buying a property, the “buyer beware” rule (also known as the caveat emptor rule) stands, so you need to find out about the property as much as possible.

    What Are The Conveyancing Searches?

    Understanding the conveyancing process is a critical element of becoming a homeowner, requiring immense diligence. Your solicitor or conveyancer  will conduct essential property searches to identify any potential issues that could affect the value or enjoyment of the property you’re buying, whether or not financing is involved. Such diligence must always be carried out regardless of whether you are buying with a mortgage or cash. This will help you avoid any surprises that could come up related to its structure or land holdings that could be costly and stressful.

    The types of searches conducted can vary, but they typically include the following:

    • Local Authority Searches: Uncovers any planning, legal, or financial issues held by the local council regarding the property.
    • Environmental Searches: Assesses potential environmental risks, like flooding or land contamination.
    • Land Registry Searches: Confirms the property’s legal ownership and any existing rights or restrictions.
    • Water Authority Searches: Determines how the property connects to public sewers and water supply with information provided by the local water company.
    • Flood Risk Reports: Provides detailed insights into any flood risks associated with the property.
    • Location-Specific Searches: Includes additional checks relevant to the property’s location, such as mining or subsidence risks.
    • Chancel Repair Searches: Reveals any potential liabilities for church repairs.

    Understanding what these searches entail and the estimated timeframes involved can help set appropriate expectations and plans more efficiently. Each search’s duration may depend on factors such as local authority workloads, the type of search performed, and its property’s location.

    At the bottom of this page, you can find a comprehensive overview that provides an accurate picture of timeframes for each type of search, equipping you with all of the knowledge required for an enjoyable property-buying journey without surprises and unexpected events.

    what are searches when buying a house

    Local authority search

    Local authority searches are the most essential property searches carried out by your conveyancer. It will look at all the information held by the local authority relating to being a home buyer. The purpose of a local authority search is to uncover any potential issues with the property. Local authority searches are broken down into two sets of searches, which include the following:

    CON29 – Enquiries of the Local Authority Form

    One set of local authority searches, known as the CON29 (Enquiries of the Local Authority Form) will cover information relating to proposals for various planning decisions and development plans, for example, new roads, schools, or rail schemes. It will also cover current planning permission relating to the property itself.

    LLC1 – The Official Certificate of Search Form

    The second set of searches, known as the LLC1 (The Official Certificate of Search Form) is designed to uncover if the property is classed as an area of importance, for example, if it is based in a conservation area, subject to a tree preservation order, or if it is a listed building.

    Property Conveyancing Searches

    The search results must uncover as much information about the current state of the property as well as what could happen to the property in the future before your conveyancer exchange contracts. Any information that you do not know at this point but comes to light later could affect your use of the property.

    For example, if the property is in a conservation area, and you want to renovate or build an extension to the property, there will be several restrictions around the changes you are allowed to make. Or if you find the property is near a new road in the initial planning permission and stages, this might hinder your enjoyment of the property.

    Local authority searches can take between 1 and 6 weeks to complete and typically costs between £70 and £400, but this depends on the local authority the property is located in.

    Land Registry searches

    This search consists of your conveyancing solicitor checking the “title register” and “title plan” at the Land Registry. The purpose of this research is to prove that the current owner owns the property they are selling. The sale is not able to go ahead until this has been completed.

    Title Register

    The “title register” will tell you about the property seller who previously owned the property, the price they paid for it, any charges or debts registered against the property, and details about any rights of way over the property.

    Title Plan

    The “title plan” is a map that shows the location of the property and the general boundaries of the property.

    These searches usually take place just before the legal completion of the purchase. The conveyancer then registers your ownership of the property which ensures you have the exclusive rights of the ownership, which costs approximately £3 each.

    Environmental Search

    This is another crucial search, especially in light of modern weather conditions, for example, flash floods. The purpose of an environmental search is to flag up any risks, for example, if the property is in an area that is classed as a flooding risk, or if the property is built on potentially contaminated land that could affect the structural integrity of the property.

    As many properties are built on land that was previously used for industrial purposes, there is a potential for toxic substances to remain in the ground. The environmental search could also flag up any potential landfill sites or gas hazards in the local area.

    Environmental searches search can be a stipulation of the mortgage lender and could impact your ability to get the loan if you do not carry it out. If there are no issues uncovered before taking ownership of the property, but you discover issues, later on, this could result in the property not being suitable for the market and can be harder to sell because it is an environmental or health hazard therefore an environmental search could save future issues.

    Flood Risks

    In light of the high risk of flooding over recent years, a basic flood report might not be enough to uncover everything about the flood risks from the sea or river or the risk of flooding from rainwater. This is where a flood risk report can highlight all of the appropriate risks.

    Flood Risk Report

    A flood risk report could alert you to the risks of not being able to secure any insurance from floods. If a property you are determined to buy is at risk this will show in the search results, and therefore make the property uninsurable. You could be in danger of paying too much for the property and struggle to sell the house later on, especially if mortgage companies are not willing to risk their finances on the purchase. The report covers three key areas:

    • The rivers and the sea, and sometimes provide maps.
    • Surface and groundwater flooding risk. This will highlight if the property is at risk of flooding due to huge amounts of rain that doesn’t drain away quickly enough, or by pipes cracking or flooding the area. Surface water flooding is where water doesn’t drain away fast enough, and groundwater flooding happens when the water table rises above ground level.
    • The third component is the insurance rating, which is a useful indicator if the insurance will cost more than your budget. It will also let you know if there are any flood defenses in place.

    An environmental search can cost between £25 and £60, or up to £180 if there is a large area of land.

    A flooding search can cost between £20 to £50, as well as £9 plus VAT for an online copy of a flood risk indicator.

    Water authority searches

    Water authority searches aim to establish if the property is connected to the mains water supply and the location of the water mains. The water authority search also reveals if any public drains or sewers are running through the property, how the property drainage system works if the water supply is metered, as well as who is responsible for the maintenance and repair.

    This search is essential because if there are any public drains or sewers on the property it may have an impact on any building work you would like to do in the future, such as an extension. If you discover a drain running underneath a part of the property you plan to extend, you will likely need the water supplier’s permission. If they refuse your request, this could affect your decision to purchase the property.

    Also, if the property is not connected to any mains or public draining system, you will need to be aware of any additional costs involved in maintaining and running the property. It is crucial to know the length of drainage you are responsible for against the water company, as this will determine how much insurance coverage you should get. For example, if there are any issues with collapsed drains, this could have a knock-on effect that can cause subsidence or tree roots near the property to cause leaks, resulting in additional costs to get right.

    Water and drainage search

    A water and drainage search can be carried out if there is any concern that the property is close to public sewers or water mains or even running through the property boundaries.

    The cost for a water authority search typically ranges between £50 to £100 for a search.

    Location-specific searches

    The searches are only carried out if deemed necessary by the conveyancing solicitor. It is conducted on a case-by-case basis. For example, if you are considering becoming a home buyer in a location used for coal mining, the conveyancer may want to check if the property is at risk of any adverse conditions such as subsidence.

    The purpose of these searches is to ascertain if there are any issues based on the land itself. If the property was built on land previously used for coal mining, the conveyancer or solicitor can check if there have been any claims for compensation specifically relating to subsidence in the past.

    Chancel repair search

    If you’re purchasing a property near a church, a chancel repair search establishes if you are liable for any cost to repair the church. This harks back to the Middle Ages when property owners were responsible for repairing a church chancel rather than the monasteries themselves. While in October 2013, there was a law change, stipulating that the church has to establish and lodge liability with the Land Registry.

    There are certain circumstances where the church can insist the owner of a property is liable for any church repairs, even if the liability has not been registered. This may seem absurd in the 21st century, but many people have been caught out by this issue.

    It is estimated that around half a million properties in England and Wales could be affected, even if liability is not mentioned in the title. And chancel repair doesn’t just apply to old properties; it applies to the land it is on.

    It is important to think carefully about the purchase, especially if information comes back that you are liable, as repairing chancels can be costly. If you are looking at buying a house despite being liable, you may wish to obtain chancel repair insurance, as this protects you and mortgage lenders, and usually costs around £30, while the check costs between £20 and £90.

    Commons search

    This is a search that is sometimes conducted in rural areas. The search aims to double-check if the land where you are buying a house is classed as what is called “common land,” which is land that is owned collectively by several people or a person, which other people have some traditional rights, for example, if they allow livestock to graze upon it.

    If you are looking at being a home buyer in a rural area, the searches will tell you the rights the local community has to the land you are purchasing, as they may be able to use it for a footpath, or could run local events, like a village fete.

    Development Plans

    If the property you are looking at is situated near a village green or common, this is an essential search, because if any of the land you want to purchase is classed as common land, you may not be able to develop upon it.

    how long do house searches take

    How Long Do House Searches Take?

    There is no hard and fast rule regarding the length of conveyancing searches. Typically, solicitor’s searches take between 8 and 14 weeks to complete, assuming there are no further complications. However, it is challenging to provide a very specific timescale for conveyancing searches, as this varies based on the conveyancing solicitor, the property’s location, and the specific type of search being conducted.

    For instance, local authority searches can take anywhere from 48 hours to several weeks, significantly influenced by the local council’s workload. Similarly, environmental searches and water and drainage searches are often completed within 10 days, but these are just averages and the actual time can vary.

    Here’s a closer look at the estimated durations for each type of search, based on the additional details:

    • Local Authority Searches: 2 days to 8 months, reflecting the variability in local councils’ efficiency and workload.
    • Environmental Searches: 24 hours to 10 days, with possible extensions if detailed investigations are required.
    • Land Registry Searches: Generally swift, about 1 to 2 days, thanks to digital record accessibility.
    • Water Authority Searches: Up to 10 days, depending on the specific queries and the water company’s response times.
    • Flood Risk Reports: Typically included within environmental searches; completion time ranges from 1 to 5 days.
    • Location-Specific Searches (e.g., Mining, Radon): These can vary significantly; up to several weeks for detailed investigations.

    Given these durations, it’s essential to initiate property searches as early as possible and maintain regular communication with your conveyancer or solicitor to help mitigate any delays. This proactive approach ensures all relevant searches are conducted promptly, allowing you to navigate through the complexities of the conveyancing process more smoothly. As you can see, many aspects of solicitors’ searches and conveyancing searches must be considered, especially when the searches are conducted via a third party. Regular contact with your conveyancer or solicitor is crucial to ensure all relevant requests are submitted, and any delays are promptly addressed.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Local authority, environmental, and water authority searches are standard. Additional searches may include flood risk, land registry, and location-specific searches like a mining search.

    Once completed, property searches reveal any legal, environmental, or planning issues with the property, informing the buyer of potential risks before proceeding to exchange contracts.

    Yes, searches are crucial for uncovering potential issues that could affect the property's value or your ability to enjoy it, making them essential for informed decision-making. Although you can carry out personal searches these often will not be accepted by a mortgage provider therefore it makes sense that these are done by your conveyancers.

    The exchange of contracts typically occurs several weeks after searches are completed, allowing time for any issues to be addressed and financing to be confirmed.

    Conveyancing searches involve checking local authority records, environmental risks, water authority details, and other factors that might impact the property's value and usability.

    The three main searches are local authority search, environmental search, and water and drainage search, each revealing different potential issues with the property.

    The cost varies by location and search type, but overall, conveyancing searches cost from £200 to £400, sometimes more for comprehensive searches.

    The duration can vary widely from a few days to several months, depending on the type of search and the efficiency of the local authorities involved.

    Local authority searches can take the longest, especially in areas with high demand or less efficient council processes, potentially stretching from a few weeks to several months.

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    Steve Roberts (MAQ)
    Steve Roberts (MAQ)

    Stephen Roberts MAQ is the founder of YesCanDo Money, one of the UK's largest no-fee mortgage brokers. With more than 30 years of hands-on experience in the mortgage industry, Steve really knows the ins and outs of mortgages. He's become a trusted expert and authority in the field, thanks to his deep understanding of the mortgage landscape. Speak to Steve or a member of his knowledgeable team today by completing our contact form:

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