What are property searches? Property searches are one of the key parts of the conveyancing process. Yet, for most buyers, these essential enquiries can seem confusing and clouded by legalese that makes your eyes glaze over. Property searches are hugely important. They help your conveyancing solicitor put together all the pieces of a transaction much like a giant jigsaw. Each search provides information about a certain element of the property. When all the details are put together, your solicitor has a complete picture of what the property looks like. Crucially, the area around it is also revealed.
Essential guide to buyer's property searches
Below are the most popular property searches. Some are carried out in virtually all purchases, but some will only be needed for homes in certain areas. Some searches are advisable but not essential - see our detailed explanations for when you might need them. Talk to your conveyancing solicitor to find out how long property searches take. When you run a fixed-fee conveyancing quote here, your legal fees, search fees and disbursements will be clearly shown.
These are the property searches your conveyancing solicitor will normally carry out:
- Local search - to obtain a variety of information from the local council, such as whether the property is affected by plans for a new bypass or a planning enforcement notice.
- Drainage and water search - does the property have mains water and drainage? The local water company will also provide other useful information, such as the position of pipes.
- Environmental search - is the property affected by contamination that could involve costly removal?
- Planning search - find out whether the neighbours have got planning consent for a large extension or if a planning application has just been lodged for a new superstore down the road.
- Flood risk report - check whether the property is at risk from flooding.
- Coal mining, brine pumping, and other mining searches - to find out if the property could be affected by old mine workings or a new opencast mine nearby.
- High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) - reveals if your new home will be affected by new rail line.
- Chancel repair liability search - check you won't be liable to pay for the maintenance of your local church.
- Land registry pre-completion search - make sure the seller still owns the property on completion.
Query could save you making a bad buy
Sellers are under no obligation to give you any information on the property. And even if they reveal some details, the only way to check for accuracy is through those essential searches. Here's an example that could make a world of difference to whether you proceed with a purchase: The place you've fallen in love with has a beautiful extension at the back. What you don't know is that the current owner put up the extension without planning permission. And he has been served with a notice by the council to pull it down. A conveyancing solicitor's query to the council, known as a local search, can reveal all. If you don't find out about an issue with a property until the sale has gone through, you have no comeback - caveat emptor indeed. However, property searches carried out by your conveyancing solicitor through official agencies come with a guarantee.
Are property searches really necessary?
Lenders providing a mortgage will insist on property searches. Discretionary searches are an optional extra and depend on the property's location. You will have to pay extra for discretionary searches. For example, in former mining or heavy industrial areas, coal mining and environmental searches would be advisable. But those might not be necessary in an area with no coal deposits. Those buying with cash could ask their conveyancing solicitor not to bother with property searches. However, that is a risky route because, as we said, searches can reveal any problems affecting the property.
If you don't want to have a local search carried out, talk to your solicitor about taking out search indemnity insurance. This will give you some protection if an issue affecting the property is revealed later. Deciding on searches may depend partly on the location of the property you want to buy. For instance, you won't need a coal mining search in an area where there are no coal deposits. But for a house in an old industrial area, both a coal mining search and an environmental search will often be advisable. Talk to your conveyancing solicitor about the searches you need. They can advise you on what you need and the associated costs.
What each property search does
Local authority search (LAS)
Your mortgage lender will request this search once you have made an offer on a property. It consists of several smaller searches and requests information on any nearby contamination, road schemes or planning works plus a number of other searches.
Drainage and water search
This search will reveal exactly where all drainage systems are around a property. The search also shows if these are at risk of affecting the property in the future and reveal any planning restrictions relating to drains
This search will cover you for any environmental issues within 500 metres of the property. An environmental search looks at everything from flood risk to subsidence. A company that maintains detailed information about previous land uses within the vicinity of a property conducts this search.
This detailed search reveals all details of any existing planning consents of applications within a property's 250-metre radius.
Flood risk report
If the property you want to buy is near a river, coastline or reservoir, the flood risk report exposes any local flooding risk.
Coal mining, brine pumping and other mining searches
Where mining work was common, these searches are essential; for example, Wales (coal) and Cheshire (brine/salt). Excavated tunnels may run beneath a property, putting it at risk of subsidence. So it's essential to know exactly what lies beneath before buying.
High-speed rail (HS2)
HS2 is the high-speed railway that will run from London to Birmingham and the north-west. This search reveals any property affected by the route. The entire project, from phase one to six, will take 20 years to complete.
Chancel repair liability search
A standard part of any conveyancing package in England and Wales. This search explores a building's historic standing in relation to local church repairs. If the property is liable, your solicitor can recommend an insurance package to cover you.
Land Registry pre-completion search
This search will reveal if the seller is the legitimate owner of the property. It also reveals if any bankruptcy has taken place and confirms the property is legally safe to buy.