Property searches are an important aspect of buying or selling a property. They make sure everyone understands the state of the property from every possible perspective. Property searches reveal whether the property is a listed building, is on contaminated land, or has a private water drainage. Searches provide all sorts of other insights too.

Before you buy a property, you need to know exactly what you’re getting so you can make an offer that is representative of the property’s true value. If you’re selling a property, searches ensure that you can’t get caught out if offers are negotiated back and forth. When everyone knows what’s at stake, agreeing a price is so much easier.

What searches are done when buying a house?

Some property searches are mandatory. They are either a legal requirement or required by your mortgage provider. Other searches are just good sense and help provide peace of mind, or a valuable bargaining chip for negotiation.

Searches can reveal previous unconsidered factors such as ground stability, potential flood risks, hazardous contamination and the location of drains.

The three most common searches are environmental searches, local authority searches and water drainage searches. Other searches include:

  • Chancel repair liability
  • Mining searches
  • Land charges
  • Commons registration

Are searches necessary when buying a house?

The is no legal requirement to do searches when buying a house. Your solicitor or conveyancer will strongly recommend that you do, given the impact it can have on your purchase. Lenders will also insist that some searches be done on the property before they release funds.

Doing searches on a property just makes sense. You’re parting with a great deal of money, so it’s in your favour to find out everything you can about it. Just like reading reviews of a new car, or looking up the facilities at a hotel you’re staying at, property searches tell you more than a casual glance can reveal.

How long do searches take when buying a house?

Typically, it can take between six and eight weeks to do searches when buying a house. More searches will naturally take more time than fewer searches.

The problem with property searches is that they involve third parties that are often outside the control of a buyer, seller or their representatives. In the case of a local authority search, for example, your conveyancer sends an official form to the council and has to wait for the council to return the results of the search.

While electronic form submission is becoming more and more commonplace, not all councils have created digital copies of all their records, particularly of older properties. This can slow down the search process significantly and depends entirely on the local authority and how quickly they can respond to the request.

Types of Searches

Environmental Search

Environmental searches are carried out by a environmental specialists. They use past land use records to check whether the land in question is likely to be contaminated, according to the Environmental Protection Act.

Nowadays when new homes are built on brownfield sites, developers are usually required to carry out investigations such as soil analysis and stability reports before starting building work. In effect, this acts as an environmental search. If any contamination is found, or previous landfill sites revealed, the developers have to carry out remedial works before any construction takes place.

But this has not always happened in the past. If contamination is discovered, homeowners may face a long period of uncertainty while further investigations are carried out. Ultimately, the question of who pays for clearing up the site will arise and may involve years of litigation.

In October 2001 a resident of Ivatt Close, Bawtry, South Yorkshire, uncovered a coal tar pit in his back garden. Covered by wooden boards and a layer of soil, the tar pit was a disposal site for the Bawtry gasworks, which closed in 1965.

A subsequent investigation by Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council determined that the contamination also included nickel and affected parts of two adjacent streets. In total, 47 properties were found to be contaminated to some degree.

The result was a bill of £695,782 to decontaminate the site, a job that took five years to complete.

Local Authority Search

The main purpose of a local authority search is to protect buyers from any unpleasant eventualities that could affect their use and enjoyment of the property or which may have an effect upon its value. The Local Authority Search is made up of a LLC1 form and a CON29 form.

Form LLC1 is a search of the local land charges register. It will tell you whether the property is a listed building, in a conservation area, or under some other form of protection. It will also tell you if any trees on the property are protected by preservation orders.

The CON29 contains a series of enquires. Some apply to all property transactions, while others are optional. These enquires include:

  • Building control history
  • Planning control history
  • Nearby road schemes and motorways
  • Pipelines and hedgerows

Water Drainage Search

This search determines the state of a property’s water supply and drainage. It confirms whether a property is connected to a public sewer, septic tank or other private disposal facilities.

It also confirms whether the property is connected to a public or private water supply and provides details of how the property is billed for its water supply and disposal.

Chancel repair liability

If the property you’re looking to buy is located within a church parish, you may be liable to contribute towards the cost to repairing the church. Chancel repair liability searches check the Land Registry’s Title Register database to see whether your property is liable for church repairs.

Under chancel repair liability, homeowners living within the parishes of churches built before 1536 can be held liable for costs. The law dates back to the time of Henry VIII. While actual claims are rare, they can occur.

In 2009, a Warwickshire couple were forced to sell their home after a losing a battle against chancel repair liability that took 18 years to finally play out and required them to pay £250,000 in legal fees.

Mining searches

There are more and more properties being built in the north of England, a response to increased demand for affordable housing. Some of these properties are being built on land that was previously used for mining.

If you’re looking to buy a property that is located on current or former mining land, a mining search will reveal whether there is a risk of unstable ground beneath the property. This is usually something your mortgage lender is very keen to know about.

Land charges

When dealing with unregistered land, land charge searches will inform you whether there are any restrictions upon it. These could include estate contracts or mortgages. Land charge searches will also reveal any bankruptcy proceedings attributed to the owner of the land.

Commons registration

For properties that border common land, commons registration searches are highly recommended by conveyancers. Common land includes village greens and other patches of rural countryside. If you’re purchasing agricultural land, commons registration searches are usually mandatory.

How much do property searches cost?

Property searches cost between £250 – £300, depending on your situation and the property searches you plan to undertake. Drainage and environmental property searches are usually cheaper, costing between £30-£40.

Some solicitors or conveyancers package up the cost of property searches into a fixed fee. Depending on the cost, this could save you money. But as always, do your homework and shop around.