Before a buyer can exchange a contract with the seller to signify their commitment to acquire a property, they need to make certain that they have gathered as much info on it as possible.
This is where the ‘property searches’ comes into play.
Searches refer to inquiries made by licensed conveyancers or solicitors on behalf of a buyer to several authorities. It involves getting in touch with organizations or departments that may possess information on the property you want to acquire. It could also include checking on the land where a property sits or into numerous factors that could directly or indirectly impact it.
Is It Necessary to Conduct Searches When Acquiring a Home?
From our point of view, yes it is! We would, however, like to point out that these searches aren’t in any way compulsory.
Using a Mortgage
- Whenever you buy a house using a mortgage, it means that the property is owned by two parties—you and the lender.
- In case something occurs and the financial institution is forced to repossess it, they may have to put it back on sale. If this happens, lenders will ensure that the sale happens without any prolonged problems that could be attached to the residence.
- As such, the conveyancer will receive detailed instructions from the lender informing them of the searches that they need to conduct. This has to happen before the mortgage funds can get released to you.
- When it comes to cash acquisitions, buyers won’t have to deal with lenders who will insist on getting the final word on everything. This means that you are at liberty to order as few or as many searches as you fancy.
- Having said this, it doesn’t make sense for you to attempt to save a few hundred pounds by limiting the searches conducted. Some of these searches will assist you to avoid issues that could cost tens of thousands of pounds at a future date. Try to order as many searches as you can think of to reduce future risks.
The Bottom Line
Purchasing a property means that you will be buying more than just the physical building. You have to understand that you are committing to acquire something that could have been used by the current owners to secure debt. Additionally, some illegal changes could also have been commissioned. And this is not forgetting the possibility of encountering high-risk issues, e.g., flooding.
Searches are, therefore, used to showcase essential information on unseen risks that are attached to the acquisition of a given asset.
Failure to carry out a comprehensive search means that you will likely be buying a property that:
- Currently sits on land that was previously under commercial or industrial use, and may as such have become contaminated. Contamination may be from gases, arsenic, solvents, or asbestos that may pollute surrounding water or cause harm to the ecosystem.
- Experiences regular flooding, implying that it may be difficult to insure it. In some cases, you may not manage to secure it at all.
- Has a wind farm, new road, housing estate, tramline, or train being constructed close to it. This could positively or adversely affect its purchase price, as well as its future resale value.
- Has been used to secure a loan and which you may have to repay once you have acquired the property in question.
- May end up suddenly developing a hole in its back garden because of the collapse of a mineshaft.
While you may have just managed to find your dream house, failing to order the correct number of searches on this property will mean that you will end with a house that:
- Is impossible or altogether difficult to insure
- Can’t be sold if an interested buyer manages to conduct proper due diligence
- Is not worth the amount that you spent on its acquisition
What Type of Searches Do do You Require?
Eventually, the searches that you will need to order will be dependent on where the property that you want to buy is located. Many searches tend to be location-specific.
Working with a professional and certified conveyancer means that you will receive advice that is specific to its location.
Certain locations are known to have problems related to mining, and will, therefore, require a coal search; while some will have certain ongoing issues with local churches that require surrounding property owners to fund their activities.
This is not forgetting developments undertaken in new areas that are susceptible to flooding implying that the maps are always changing.
How Many Searches Are Done When Buying a House?
There are three main types of search when buying a house.
- Local Authority Searches
- Environmental Searches
- Water & Drainage Searches
Common Types of Searches Undertaken When Buying a Property
Regardless of the location of your property, you will need to order a minimum of 3 searches. These are:
- Local Authority Searches
It’s a search that is meant to highlight:
- Pollution issues
- Planning issues
- Highway issues
- Building control issues
- Environmental Searches
These searches are used to highlight:
- Contaminated land issues
- Flooding issues
- Subsidence issues
- Landslide issues
- Water and Drainage Searches
This particular collection of searches is conducted at the local water company. It’s used to highlight:
- Whether a new owner needs to seek permission from the local water company before they can extend the size of their house
- Who owns and operates the piping, drains, and sewer system
- The exact location of public drainage and sewerage systems
- Whether a house has a connection to the public water supply & sewer system
- If the water supply is rateable or metered
When Should You Order the Searches?
Traditionally, many of these searches are requested or ordered when the offer to acquire a property is formally accepted.
At this stage, it will be fair to assume that you have already hired a team of conveyancing solicitors who will act as your representatives. You should also have sent the solicitors the search deposit monies which ranges between £250 to £300.
Certain specific searches, e.g., the HS2 as well as other in-depth flood-related searches may have to wait until a later date. Most of these will only be carried out after it has become apparent that extra information is needed to assist in completing the legal process, which may be over and above the norm.
Once the contract exchanges have occurred, you can now go ahead and order the pre-completion searches.
How Much Will You Spend On Searches?
|Local Authority Search
|Varies from council to council
|Water & Drainage Search
|Up to £180 for lots of lands
|More when there are lots of lands
|£2 for each name
|Title Register (Online Copy)
|Title Plan (Online Copy)
|Flood Risk Indicator (Online Copy)
|Title Register (Online Copy)
|Title Plan (Official Copy)
How Long Does It Take to Conduct Property Searches?
|10 Days to Several Months
|Chancel Repair Search
|Commons registration search
|Water and registration search
|Preliminary inquiries to seller’s solicitor
|Local authority searches
|Land registry priority searches
|Contaminated land search
|Mining, coal, clay, and brine search
Note: Local Searches Can Take a Long Time to Complete
In the last few years, there has been talk of privatising the Land Registry, which so happens to be the main facilitator of all the property authority property searches.
The implication has been that certain local authorities haven’t been as focussed as they were before in terms of performing the work charged to this department. In some authorities, this has led to the departure of valuable and highly skilled personnel who are yet to get replaced due to persistent cutbacks.
A combination of these issues, as well as the varying methods used by local authorities to communicate and generate searches, has led to a dramatic increase in the turnaround time. It’s worth noting that some local authorities still rely on the post office to communicate the search results.
For instance, a study was undertaken in Dorset in 2016 established that searches took as long as 17 weeks for them to be completed. This is close to four months, a factor that led to severe delays.
In 2015, the TM Group had provided an estimate that indicated that it would take between two days and more than forty-two days for Local Authority Searches to be completed.
The good news is that The Land Registry has been made aware of this and is committed to taking action that will lead to improved turnaround time. Hopefully, we will start to experience quicker turnaround time in the coming days.
Local Authority Searches
These searches aim to identify any details related to the property that may be held in council records such as the Local Land Charges Register.
Normally, these searches are conducted in two ways:
- LLC1 (the Official Certificate of Search Form)
- CON29 (Enquiries of the Local Authority Form)
An LLC1 search is intended to assist in highlighting:
- Listed building or conservation area status
- Tree preservation orders
For the CON29, its objective is to highlight:
- Contaminated land
- Planning applications about the property
- Nearby road schemes
- Building control history
- Restrictions related to permitted developments
- Any enforcement actions
For properties that may be found to be on the path of smaller local changes or an HS2, this search will assist in establishing whether there is an available compensation scheme or a compulsory purchase order.
Where to Get them?
Note that there exist two different kinds of Local Authority searches. There’s the standard Council Local Authority search that any person can easily secure, and the second search is the one secured from a Local Authority by a firm that has been registered by the PCCB (Property Codes Compliance Board).
This second search tends to come with additional reassurance that it will be covered by the insurance company if certain details aren’t included. Compensation will be made even if a company goes bankrupt.
All firms that have been registered with the PCCB have to register with the TPO (The Property Ombudsman) redress program. What this means is that if you discover an issue after buying the property, and the complaints mechanism put in place by the company prove unsatisfactory, you are free to source views from a third party.
The views are provided free of charge and may lead to compensation of up to £5,000. Generally, the following are the primary ways that you can use to get a Local Authority Search:
- Directly from the authority
- Through a company that specializes in Local Authority Searches, and which happens to be a member of COPSO, IPSA, and is registered with PCCB.
Do you need to get it?
The conveyancer will recommend that you get it while a mortgage lender will insist that it’s acquired.
Difference Between a Personal Local Authority Search and an Official Search
Previously, the searches used to be termed as either ‘official’ or ‘personal.’ Today, the ‘personal’ searches are referred to as ‘regulated’ and the ‘official’ searches’ as the ‘council’ searches.
- Official searches (past)—Council Searches (present)
- Personal searches (past)—Regulated Searches (present)
The Council searches can only be performed by personnel who have been employed by the Local Authority. Once they are completed, the conveyancer gets to receive them ‘as is.’
On the other hand,
The Regulated searches are undertaken by professionals working for companies in the search industry, who have an idea of what they are looking for.
Professionals or experts performing the searches can also request additional information or provide a recommendation that this information is sought. All this is done to ensure that the house you want to acquire is safe and secure.
A regulated search will normally have an insurance policy that is attached to it. In case a buyer isn’t happy with a company, or if the complaint they have filed isn’t addressed adequately, they are free to head to the TPO (The Property Ombudsman) to make their complaint known.
Search companies additionally make certain that all the searches are of use to both the buyers and legal companies. This is achieved by:
- Ensuring that all the searches get standardized
- Providing summaries that capture all the essential details needed by legal firms. This is meant to guarantee that vital information will not be misplaced.Why Do the Costs of Conducting the Searches Vary from One Council to Another?
Each local authority is tasked with the responsibility of determining how much their searches will cost. It also means that the authorities may employ different systems when producing the results.
For this reason, the costs will normally vary from as low as £30 to around £300.
Nonetheless, certain legal firms have entered into national agreements with local search companies. This means that such firms only get to pay a fixed rate for each search conducted, regardless of where it occurs.
In the end, some firms may end up paying more than others while others may end up paying less. It’s a process that assists to make the searches fairer for all involved.
For How Long Will the Local Search Remain Valid for?
All Local Authority Searches should have been placed or commissioned within six months for them to be considered valid during completion.
Simply put, if a buyer placed a search order in January, completion will be needed by the time June is coming to an end, or else another search will have to be undertaken.
Nevertheless, with each passing day, there’s new planning being applied. As such, there are likely to be changes taking place continuously.
If the purchase process appears to be dragging on, hold consultations with the conveyancer to determine whether there is a need for you to start applying for additional up to date searches.
It refers to checks related to the Title Plan and the Title Register.
Where to get them
The two documents are brought via the official Land Registry website with each costing around £3.
Note that this will need to be requested by the conveyancer and not by you.
What does it tell you?
A title register is intended to tell you:
- All the details related to any rights of way existing over this property
- The person/s who previously occupied or owned the house
- What debts or charges have been registered against that particular property
- The amount that the previous owners paid to acquire it.
A title plan is a map that is meant to show:
- The general property boundaries
- Where a property is located
Do you require it?
Yes, there is a need for you to obtain it, as it’s an essential search meant to show that the seller is the legally recognized owner of the house in question and can as such sell it to you.
Water & Drainage Search
According to The Law Society, all potential buyers should order this search. From the existing searches, you and the legal companies can choose two which include:
- CON29DW—the search is prepared by the local water firm
- Regulated Water & Drainage Searches—this one is created by the search firms
Where to get them
The two searches can either be bought directly from a water company or a search company or indirectly through a legal company.
What Is It Intended to Tell You?
After you have purchased a property, the last thing you will want to worry about is whether the residence has been hooked into the public drains and the mains water supply.
Nevertheless, these details are important to buyers, more so if there are plans to extend the property. When drains are running beneath the planned extension, permission will need to be obtained from the supplier.
If a supplier doesn’t offer permission, this may have an impact on your decision to acquire that property. On the other hand, if you realize that it isn’t connected to the public and mains drainage system, you will need to make inquiries on the additional costs involved in running and maintaining that property.
Do you need it?
Yes, you do. You have to know how water will get into and out of your property. It will be particularly significant to understand the length of drainage that falls under your responsibility and the one that of the water company. From this information, you will get to decide the kind of insurance cover you have to get.
For instance, collapsed drains tend to be expensive, particularly when they cause a house to subside. Additionally, the tree roots present may also cause the development of leaks that may end up costing thousands of pounds to fix.
The nature of the environmental searches is likely to differ from one search provider to the next. According to the Law Society, one of the checks that must be performed involves establishing whether the area where a house was constructed sits near a landfill or is a contaminated piece of land. It will also check whether it’s close to a waste management site.
Where to get the searches
It’s possible to purchase varying environmental search packages online through search companies or water companies.
What do the searches tell you?
Apart from establishing whether the property was constructed on a landfill site, a waste management site, or near contaminated land, the search also performs a basic check to determine whether subsidence, landslip, or flooding may pose a problem.
A local authority search will not assist in revealing some of these factors.
Do you need it?
There’s a chance that you have a good knowledge of the land where the property sits as well as that of the surrounding area.
While you may have a good history of this land, there’s always a possibility that you don’t know everything that has occurred on it over the years. As such, taking into account the minor costs of having the searches done, it doesn’t make any economic sense for you to skip it, considering that you will be spending up to six figures to buy the home.
Flood Risk Report
A basic flood report isn’t sufficient to uncover the reality about potential risks of flooding from the sea or the river from runoff rainwater.
A detailed flood risk report will showcase all these risks.
What’s even more important is that it gets to alert you of all the risks that may come from your inability or unwillingness to obtain flooding insurance.
Recent estimates indicate that as many as two hundred thousand homeowners are unable to secure sufficient protection from floods. Make it a point to confirm whether that property that you want to buy is insurable. If it’s not, you may risk overpaying for it, and may in the future pose a challenge to resell it. Most mortgage companies will not be willing to advance money for such a property.
Where to get it?
Buyers can purchase flood risk reports via the internet from specialist search companies or water companies.
What do the searches tell you?
A bespoke flood risk report will provide you with advice on areas such as:
- The risk of flooding (rivers and the sea)—In some cases, a report may also provide you with a map of that specific area.
- Surface and groundwater—It’s common for an individual to assume that houses are flooded from the sea or a nearby river. But the reality is that flooding may occur because of the presence of runoff water that isn’t being drained quickly. Surface water refers to water that can’t drain off fast enough causing the ‘water table’ to begin rising above the ground surface
- insurance rating—This report will be useful if that area has a known history of flooding. You can use this rating as an indication of whether you are going to be forced to pay higher insurance premiums than your budget allows.
Do you need it?
This is one of those things that will come down to your knowledge of the region. If you don’t have much information to rely on, consult with your RICS surveyor, the real estate agents, and the conveyancer.
It’s advisable to chat with people who have lived in the area for long to obtain their input on matters related to flooding. It will enable you to determine whether the area is prone to flooding and if it is, whether the property you want to buy has ever been affected.
‘Buyer beware’ is a major principle of the conveyancing laws. For this reason, the searches mentioned above will play an important role in helping a buyer (you) to understand all the risks that could be attached to that property. From the searches, you get to learn about the risks of flooding and also receive a warning about potential issues that a seller should resolve before the transaction can proceed.