The home buying process involves a number of key processes. When you have instructed a solicitor or conveyancer, they need to conduct numerous property searches before you can go ahead with your property purchase. Searches are a necessity if you are a home buyer with a mortgage because building societies and banks need to be sure there are no issues that may affect the value of the property they are lending money towards.
Even if you do not require a mortgage, it is still recommended that you carry out a conveyancing search as this will make sure that, as the owner of the property, you don’t have any nasty surprises, especially when it comes to property structure or problems with the land it is built on. 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 as much as possible.
What searches are involved in conveyancing?
When you instruct a conveyancing solicitor and the conveyancing process goes ahead, there are a number of different types of property searches the conveyancer will conduct, including the following.
Local authority searches
This is the most essential search 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 includes 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.
It is crucial that the search results 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 a number of restrictions around the changes you are allowed to make. Or if you find the property is near to 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.
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.
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.
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.
This search may 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 prior to 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.
In light of a 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 defences 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 there are any public drains or sewers 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, it’s likely you will 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 to the property to cause leaks, resulting in additional costs to get right.
The cost for a water authority search typically ranges between £50 to £100 for a search.
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 in close proximity to 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, where 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 actually applies to the land it is on. Whether a buying a house is in a town or newly built, you could be liable.
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.
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 a number of 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.
If the property you are looking at is situated near to 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 conveyancing searches take?
There is no hard and fast rule with regards to the length of conveyancing searches. Typically, the solicitor’s searches take between 2 and 3 weeks to complete but this is if there are no further issues. It is difficult to give a very specific time scale for conveyancing searches, as this will depend on the conveyancing solicitor, the location of the property, as well as the type of search that needs conducting.
Additionally, you may have to factor in the length of time it takes for external bodies to produce the essential information. Some local authorities can return the authority search within a few days, but others could take several weeks. It is important to lodge the appropriate funds with your conveyancer as early as possible and request that the property searches are carried out quickly so they can get things in motion as this will reduce any delays in the process. Usually, the best way to speed up the process is to maintain regular contact with your solicitor.
As you can see, there are many aspects of solicitors’ searches and conveyancing searches. While you might be chomping at the bit to get to your new property, there are a number of things to consider, especially when the searches are conducted via a third party. Regular contact with your conveyancer or solicitor is crucial, so you can guarantee they have put in all of the relevant requests, and if there are any delays, they can chase them up.