What are conveyancing searches and why do you need them?

Gillian Hibbard

Read our definitive guide to conveyancing searches by our newest conveyancing recruit, solicitor Gillian Hibbard. Gillian is based in Kingsbridge and services conveyancing clients in the whole of South Devon, including Totnes, Salcombe, Torquay, Ashburton, Modbury, Buckfastleigh, Exeter and Ivybridge.

Conveyancing Searches - why you need them

The first thing all solicitors do when you instruct them to do your conveyancing for you is ask for money. It’s a depressing start, and I appreciate that. However, that money isn’t for your solicitor. It’s to pay for the searches.

Searches are required by lenders, so if you are having a mortgage you really have no option, but it is with good cause. They reveal a vast amount about the property that even the seller may not know. And why do you need to know this stuff? Here are some examples:

  • If the seller has done work on the property that is not approved by Building Regulations, it may be substandard, and could breach planning legislation. You are very unlikely to get mortgage against the property, and you will probably struggle to sell it;
  • If the property is not abutting a road maintained by the Highways Authority, you may be given a bill for your share of the maintenance of that accessway;
  • You may have a public right of way along the rear boundary of your property, which you are required to keep open and well maintained; and
  • You may have wanted to do some small building work to the property under ‘Permitted Development’ rights, but you won’t know if this right has been removed, or if work has already been done to the house which has used up that right. This means you will have to put in a full planning application for any works you wish to do to the Property.

Any of these could sway your decision to buy the property.

The three key searches are:

Local Authority Search

This is the number one search to have. It tells you the following:

  • Any planning applications made against the property, whether approved or otherwise;
  • Any local government agreements, usually connected with developers, but often affecting simple plots of land. Copies of these agreements will then usually be sought to check the buyer’s liabilities;
  • Any Listed Building consents, or certificates of lawfulness which have been issued or refused;
  • Any Building Regulation Certificates that have been issued. This can also be useful if the buyer knows that work has been done to the property but no certificates show up on the search;
  • Whether the adjoining road is adopted by the Highways Authority or privately owned, which would enable you to ask who maintains the road, and check your direct access to a public highway;
  • Any public rights of way that may cross the land or run nearby;
  • Any traffic schemes, such as loading bays, or restricted access at specific times, which is very useful in city centres; and
  • Whether the property is in a Conservation Area or not, which affects any future planning applications and restrictions on development.

A word of warning on these searches: some local authorities can take up to 4 or 5 weeks at times to get these results back to the solicitor, so please get these requested as early as possible so as not to hold up your purchase, and more importantly, your chain.

Environmental Search

These are returned almost immediately and give an overview of:

  • River, Coastal and Surface water flooding;
  • Contaminated Land nearby, such as landfill, petrol stations, industrial parks;
  • Natural Ground Subsidence including proximity to any mining sites; and
  • Energy – i.e. proposed or existing solar farms, wind farms, or shale gas wells.

Drainage and Water Search

This search is also returned almost immediately and will tell you where the property connects to the mains pipes for sewage and mains water. It includes maps and plans. It will also, critically, show up if the property is NOT connected to the mains services.

It may seem unlikely, but I have had a client trying to buy a property which the Water Authority said was not connected when the property clearly was. It turned out that the seller had connected themselves into the mains foul sewage without telling the Authority.

Other Searches

There are others that may be of interest if you live in specific areas, i.e. you may want a tin mining search if you are in Cornwall, or coal mining search in Yorkshire. You may want a specific energy search if you think you live near a fracking or wind turbine site, or a detailed Planning Search if there are rumours of a nearby Tesco Store being built. I can let you know what might be needed or useful when we come to order the key searches.

Do I Really Need Property Searches?

The only circumstances where you could do without your searches are where you have no lender. But even then, no solicitor would recommend it. You may have seen the recent episode of Grand Designs where the owners didn’t realise that they had to pay £40,000 to connect to mains services because the property was so far away from the mains pipes. They did not get their searches done when they bought it.

Or you could avoid searches on a re-mortgage by getting ‘no search insurance’ which may protect you against some unknown risks that you would have known about, had you done searches. But beware, not all lenders will accept this.

So now, when I ask you for £300 on account to get your searches, you will at least know what you are paying for and the wealth of information it is buying.

Contact Gillian today for a free quote for your conveyancing.