The definitive guide to property searches

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Property searches explained

Property searches are a key step in buying a house. They take place after you’ve had an offer accepted and are among the first jobs your solicitor or conveyancer will take on.

There are several different types of property search, some of which are more essential than others. All help to give you a complete picture of the property you’re purchasing and help you decide if you want to proceed.

What are property searches?

When it comes to buying a property, the onus is on the buyer to uncover as much information as they can. ‘Buyer beware’ means that there’s no obligation on the seller to tell you everything you need to know about the property, but rather that it’s up to you to ask the right questions.

This is why property searches are so important. Property searches show you in detail any risks or changes associated with your property and its surrounding area.

Searches are a requirement if you are buying a property with a mortgage but aren’t necessary if you’re paying in cash. However because property searches uncover problems with the property or the surrounding area, even if you’re paying cash a search can help save you a headache further down the line.

If the searches flag any issues with the property, a mortgage lender may not grant the mortgage. If you’re buying with cash and choose not to have searches, you may be left with a property which is difficult to sell.

These are the searches that are most important when buying a property:

Local authority searches

There are two key components to local authority searches. One will look at planning permissions related to the property you’re buying, giving you an idea if there’s potential to make changes like an extension or loft renovation.

Another search will tell you if the property is listed or in a conservation area. These types of properties often come with a list of things you can and cannot do to the property to maintain its original appearance. This can include not making changes to the exterior, only making changes that keep within the feel of a local area, and not chopping down protected trees.

The second branch of local authority searches will look at proposals. This can include plans to build new train lines, schools, roads and property developments. It gives you an idea of how the area around your property could change over the years. So if the property overlooks rolling green fields, local authority searches will tell you if any plans could change that.

You can request a generic local authority search yourself without going through a solicitor. However, if you use a company that is registered with the Property Codes Compliance Board (PCCB) you will have certain reassurances. For example, if certain information isn’t given and an issue arises once you’ve purchased the property, the company should be covered by insurance and you may be entitled to compensation. Companies registered with the PCCB also know what to look out for in searches, the extra information required, and the right questions to ask. So it’s worth finding a conveyancer who has these accreditations, especially if the property you’re buying is, for example, listed.

Local authority searches are valid for 6 months, so if your purchase is taking longer to complete than anticipated, you may need to instruct your solicitor or conveyancer to update the searches.

Environmental searches

Environmental searches look at the land your property is on. These searches flag if the property is at risk of flooding or subsidence.

Environmental searches also look at gas hazards, giving you an indication of air quality and also show if there are landfill sites in the area.

Environmental searches won’t necessarily make or break your mortgage offer, but they may give you an idea of how insurable your property is. For instance, if it’s likely to flood, you’ll find your insurance premiums are high.

Water searches

These searches show if your property is connected to the mains water supply, where the water mains are, and if the supply is metered or not.

It also shows the vicinity of public drains or sewers, how your property’s drainage system works, and who is responsible for the maintenance and repair.

Land Registry search

This is one of the last searches that take place. It checks the title register and title plan to ensure the seller definitely owns the property.

This often happens just before the legal completion of the sale, as at the same time, your solicitor will register your ownership of the property.

There are also final pre-completion Land Registry checks which happen after contracts are exchanged and ensure nothing has changed with the property or your ability to buy the property. A lot of these are just double checking that nothing has changed and that you’re okay to complete. This is a necessary search.

Additional searches

Location-specific searches are on a case-by-case basis and your solicitor will advise if they’re necessary. Basically, if your property is in a specific area and the environmental report highlights causes for concern, your solicitor will recommend location-specific searches.

This can include looking in-depth at the risk of subsidence and if there have been any claims for compensation in the past. A location-specific search may also include a flood risk report or a canal and river search.

Commons searches are conducted if your property borders on common land like a village green. If any of the common land is included in your purchase, it will come with certain regulations and you may not be able to develop.

Chancel repair searches are very specific and help establish if you’re liable for the cost of church repairs if the property is close by. If you are liable for costs, think very carefully about the purchase because these repairs can become very very expensive.

How long do property searches take?

The vast majority of property searches take up to 10 days. But local authority searches and commons registration searches can take up to several months depending on how complex the purchase is.

In exceptional circumstances such as interruptions to the market or a backlog of surveys, you might find property searches take longer. Your solicitor or conveyancer should be able to advise you of the timeline.

What to look for in searches

Once the searches are complete, you should receive a copy of the report. This can be a lot of information to take in so always make sure you talk to your conveyancer or solicitor so you can fully understand the findings.

The reports may highlight the key areas that could affect your decision to buy a property. Property searches won’t necessarily pick up everything, but the findings should be enough to help you make an informed decision. Your solicitor or conveyancer will make recommendations, but ultimately it’s your decision as to whether you proceed with the purchase or not.

How long after searches to exchange

After your searches have come back and you’re happy with the findings, both sides will agree on a completion date. So the time taken to exchange is really up to you!

You solicitor will ring you on the day to agree to exchange contracts. They must obtain this permission on the day so stand by your phone.

Got questions about conveyancing or searches? Get in touch with our conveyancing department and we’ll be happy to help.

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