What are conveyancing searches when buying a home?

Searches give key information on a property but can cause major delays. How much do searches cost? Do you need them? How do you stop them from delaying your move?

Property Search

What are property searches for?

If you are buying a new home your solicitor will carry out various property searches (known as ‘conveyancing searches’) on the property you intend to purchase.

Searches will uncover certain issues about the property and its location, that buyers need to be aware of.

If you are obtaining a mortgage, your lender will need to confirm that the property offers sufficient security for the loan. Mortgage lenders rely on searches to confirm that there aren't any issues that could adversely affect a property's value, before approving a mortgage.

What are the different types of searches?

At the start of a conveyancing transaction, solicitors will apply for the following searches:

Further searches may also be necessary, depending on the location of the property or on the results of the initial searches:

Local Authority Search (LAS)

A Local Authority Search (LAS) provides details about the land and local area for the property you are buying. The search is submitted to the local authority governing the area in which the property is located.

The LAS offers a considerable amount of detail and is comprised of 2 sections:

The CON29

This CON29 gives details on:

  • Any nearby road and traffic schemes and proposals
  • Responsibility for maintenance of roads and footpaths adjoining the property
  • Contaminated land
  • Radon gas information
  • Planning permission that could affect the property

Other questions, such as those relating to road proposals by private bodies, public rights of way and common land (village greens for example), may be investigated as separate options on a 'CON29O' search.

LLC1

The LLC1 is a list of relevant entries in the Local Land Charges Register which are restrictions or prohibitions on the use of the property. As well as planning permission (either granted or refused) relevant to the property these include any:

Do I have to have the Local Authority Search?

If you are obtaining a mortgage, then your lender will require the LAS. If you are a cash-buyer, you could opt-out of the search, although most buyers still prefer the search as it can highlight important information about then property.

Can I do my own local authority search?

If you are a cash buyer, you could. However, it is not advised as any inaccurate/incorrect information will not be indemnified.

What is a personal search?

A personal local authority search is carried out by a private company or personal search agent. The agent will attend the local authority and complete the search from the same register of the information held at the local authority.

Personal searches are typically quicker and more cost-effective than official searches. Personal searches are usually accompanied by an indemnity insurance policy in case the information is incorrect or errors are made.

Most mortgage lenders are happy to accept personal searches.

Personal searches have been around for years and are generally recommended by solicitors as they cause fewer delays in the conveyancing process.

Drainage and Water Search (CON29W)

This search is vital to establish:

  • Whether the water to the property is mains fed or otherwise and the location of the mains
  • If the property is connected to mains drainage and,
  • If there are any public sewers within the property boundary, which may affect any future building work you might plan.

Environmental Search

Environmental searches check whether the property is built on land that is at risk of flooding or landslides, or land that may have previously been used for industrial purposes or landfill.

The search usually covers the land within a 500-metre radius of the property and will reveal whether the land is contaminated (a potential health hazard) and if the property is likely to suffer from subsidence.

Not all mortgage lenders require this search, but it is advisable to check that you are not buying a home that puts you at risk because of these issues.

In addition to the standard property searches, there are a number of other specialist environmental searches that may be required - depending on where the property is located and any issues that could affect it.

Land Registry Search

The Land Registry search is carried out to prove that the vendor of the property is its legal owner. The cost of checking the title register and the title plan held by the registry is around £3 per search. The sale cannot go ahead without this legal check.

Planning Search

Local Authority Searches do not provide a great deal of information about nearby planning consents or applications. A Planning Search gives details of any existing consents or new planning applications, usually within a 250-metre radius of the property.

Flood Risk Search

1 in 6 homes in England and Wales are at risk of flooding. If the standard property searches identify a potential risk of flooding or approximate to water, an additional flood search will be carried out. This search checks river and coastal flood data, the surface water flood risk and any history, and groundwater flooding.

The flood search will look into insurance records to see if there have been any previous claims. It will also advise on the insurability of the property.

Your solicitor may carry also out a British Waterways search if the property is close to a canal or river.

Mining Search

If the property you are intending to buy is in a former mining area you may need to carry out a mining search.

This will establish whether there is any risk from subsidence from underground workings or mine entrances. It will also reveal any previous or outstanding claims for compensation and any repairs that have been necessary.

Chancel Liability Search

Some properties have a potential liability to pay towards the cost of repairs to the local church.

This liability goes back to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and the payment of tithes to the parish.
Without going into too much history it means the owner of land that once belonged to a lay rector still holds an obligation to pay for repairs to the church.

Since October 2013 the law has required churches to establish and lodge liability with the Land Registry. In theory, the liability would show up on the land registry search.

However, the existing records are incomplete and even where liability has not been registered a church may insist on the property owner paying for repairs.

If a search does reveal chancel repair liability you are advised to take out indemnity insurance to cover any claims that may be made in the future.

HS2 Search

High Speed 2 (HS2) is the new rail high-speed rail link being built between London and the North. If the HS2 route passes through or near the property you are buying, it could affect the value of your home. The HS2 search will check the proximity of the route and how it could affect your home.

Radon Gas Search

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It can enter a building from the ground and it has been linked to lung cancer. If the property is located in an area of known Radon gas, or if it is mentioned on the Local Authority Search, then a detailed radon search will be advised.

Transport Searches

If the property is on or near a proposed road or rail scheme route, then a more detailed transport search will be carried out. These searches are specific and include:

  • HS2 Search
  • London Underground Search
  • DLR Search
  • Crossrail Search

Commons Registration Search

This search will identify whether the land being bought is ‘Common Land’. In rural are as common land may allow right of access or usage to other people. This could mean that the village has, for instance, the right to hold the village fete on your front lawn.

What to do if the search results raise issues

Once you have all the facts about the property you plan to buy, you can make an informed decision.

You may decide to live with the issue that the searches have identified. If the risk is more concerning, it could be covered off with an indemnity insurance policy, negotiate a new price or perhaps even walk away from the purchase.

Your solicitor will set out the options and give you a sense of perspective about any issues raised in the searches.

How long does it take to obtain searches?

Most searches can be obtained within a few weeks. Some searches, such as Environmental Searches, can be returned within 48 hours.

Land Registry searches can be obtained instantly online.

Local authority searches can tale around 3-4 weeks - although personal searches are usually faster.

How much do property searches cost?

Depending on the local authority, An official Local Authority Search can cost anywhere between £200 to £400. Buyers will also have to pay the ost of the other searches required.

A personal LAS search is usually faster and cheaper. Most conveyancing solicitors will offer a bundle containing all of the required searches for around £300.

Searches and COVID-19

Even before the pandemic, Local Authority Searches carried out in certain regions had the potential to delay the conveyancing process. COVID safety measures and the unexpected property market boom during the pandemic, mean that Local Authority Searches have been talking anywhere between 5 and 10 weeks to obtain.

It is therefore imperative that conveyancing solicitors apply for searches immediately on instruction to avoid delays.

See also:

What type of home buyers survey should I have?

How to check the local area before buying a house

The essential conveyancing process guide for buyers in 2019.

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Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

Author:
Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher