What are conveyancing searches when buying a home?
What are conveyancing property searches, do you have to have them, how much do they cost and how long do they take?
If you are buying a new home, and especially if you need a mortgage, it is essential that your solicitor carries out various property searches (known as ‘conveyancing searches’) on the property you intend to purchase.
Searches will uncover certain issues that you need to be aware of and will reassure your mortgage lender that the property’s value will not be adversely affected before they agree a loan.
The following are the core searches carried out when buying a house:
- Land Registry searches
- Local authority searches
- Water and drainage searches
- Environmental searches
How long does it take to obtain searches?
Some searches take longer than others, depending on the authority involved, plus a solicitor may need to make further enquiries as a result of what is revealed by the initial searches. Estimated search times are discussed in the respective sections below.
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.
Land Registry searches can be obtained instantly online.
Local authority Search
The Local Authority Search (LAS) is completed by then local authority in which the property is located. It offers a considerable amount of detail about the area and the property itself.
The Local Authority Search is comprised of 2 sections;
- 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.
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:
- Listed buildings
- Conservation areas
- Tree preservation orders
- Improvement and renovation grants
- Smoke control zone conditions
- Light obstruction notice conditions
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.
How much does it cost?
Depending on the authority and the information held, the LAS can take up to 7 weeks and cost up to £400.
It is possible to avoid the fees and possible delays resulting from the official local authority search by using a personal search company or agent.
A personal search company can usually obtain the search faster and for less money. Personal searches are now a popular alternative to official searches, assuming that your lender will accept them. Ask your conveyancing solicitor if the lender will accept personal searches.
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.
Water and Drainage
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 searches mainly include investigating 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 land with 500 metres of the property and will reveal whether the land is contaminated (and 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 loses value because of these issues.
Environmental searches are usually returned within 48 hours.
In addition to the standard property searches, there are a number of other specialist searches that may be required - depending on where the property is located and any issues that could affect it:
Chancel Liability Search
Some properties have a potential liability to pay towards the cost of repairs to the local parish 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 then 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.
British Waterways Search
Your solicitor may carry out a British Waterways search if the property is close to a canal or river.
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.
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 a proximity to water, an additional flood search will be carried out. This will look at river and coastal flood data, surface water flood risk and history, and ground water 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.
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.
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 areas 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 when search results raise issues
Once you have all the facts available to help you make a decision you can use that information to arrange indemnity insurance, negotiate a new price or perhaps even walk away from the purchase.
Being able to make an informed choice far outweighs the cost of searches.