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What are searches when buying a house?

Your property search may be over when your offer has been accepted, but other searches will begin. If there are any issues affecting the property, such as flood risk or planning proposals, they will be identified in the conveyancing searches.

Your conveyancing solicitors will conduct all the searches you need, such as local authority searches, an environmental search and water and drainage searches, as well as other types of searches.

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Do I have to do searches before buying a home?

Not personally, unless you feel the need to. A mortgage provider will insist on the property searches and local searches as a condition of lending, but it will be the responsibility of the conveyancing solicitors to conduct the searches as part of the conveyancing process.

What are the main searches undertaken?

Conveyancing solicitors will conduct a number of main property searches after an offer has been accepted:

Local authority searches

Is the property listed? Does it sit in a conservation area? What is the property’s planning history? The local searches will look at these issues along with building control issues, highway issues, railway schemes or any pollution risk that could affect the property.

Environmental searches

The environmental search will establish if there are any environmental issues relating to the property, such as subsidence or evidence of toxic waste or radon gas.

Water and drainage searches

The water and drainage search confirms whether the property is connected to the public sewage system and mains water supply, and the location of the sewer and the public drains. The water and drainage search will also identify the water company responsible for the water supply, and if permission is required from the water company if you wish to extend the property.

The Land Registry search

This search checks that the owners of the property are who they say they are. It is made at the Land Registry and checks the title plan and title register, before transferring the ownership to the buyer.

Flood risk search

The flood risk is part of the environmental search and finds out if there are any flooding issues affecting the property. Is the home in a flood plain, or has there been past incidents of flooding in the immediate local area? If any of these answers are ‘yes’ then this will affect your ability to insure the property.

Planning searches

No one wants to have a motorway built at the bottom of their garden, or anything that will affect their home’s value. Planning searches will discover if there is any pending planning permission for projects, both big and small, in the vicinity of your property.

Other searches that may be required

Location-specific searches

There will be some types of searches that will relate to the specific property. For example, a house built on land previously used for coal mining may be at risk of subsidence; this would be conducted by the conveyancer in addition to an environmental search.

Commons search

A commons search will assure buyers that the property or land they are buying does not sit within an area of ‘common land’, which gives communities access and usage rights. The Commons Registration Act of 1965 gives local people the right to graze animals and hold village fetes on common land, and restrict the use of vehicles. 

Chancel repair search

Did you know? … Owners of properties in England and Wales may be liable for the repairs of the chancel in some historic churches. This is due to an historical anomaly whereby modern land or property owners still bear the same financial responsibilities that once fell to the parish rector. A chancel repair search will establish if a property has such a liability.

How long do property searches take?

Due to the many different types of searches that conveyancing solicitors have to undertake, there is no hard and fast rule over the time it will take for property searches to be made. Environmental search, water and drainage usually only take a matter of days. However, if more detailed searches are needed, such as chancel repair searches, these could take much longer to be completed. The local searches are generally the last of the standard searches to be returned.

Keep checking with your conveyancing solicitor to speed the searches along.  

Understanding the results of your searches

It is important to understand what to do when a search may return an issue relating to the property. If in doubt always seek the advice of your conveyancing solicitor. They will usually immediately highlight any area of concern and address it with the vendor’s solicitor.

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