Residential Property expert, Paul Boucher explains why searches are necessary and why they are important in the conveyancing process.
Buying a house is a very exciting time, but the process itself can often seem quite complicated. Many things need to be dealt with and arranged, including finance and mortgages, surveys, property taxes - and conveyancing searches.
Searches carried out by a conveyancing solicitor are enquiries made on the buyer’s behalf to find out more information about the property, looking at aspects such as planning permission, access rights, drainage, and so on.
In this article, we will look at some of the different types of information sought via conveyancing searches, and what these mean for you as the buyer.
Why are conveyancing searches carried out?
When a conveyancing solicitor conducts searches, they make enquiries to various authorities to request more information on the property.
Standard conveyancing searches include:
- The local authority search: This is a request made to the council about matters such as the Local Charges Register, applications for planning permission (whether granted or refused), nearby roads and railway tracks, whether the property might be situated in a conservation area or on contaminated land, and so on.
- The land registry search: This is a check to make sure that the seller legitimately owns the property and has the right to sell it.
- The water and drainage search: This involves contacting the water company responsible for the property to ask about the water supply and how sewage is handled (including where the public sewers are in relation to the property), the location of the water mains, and so on.
- The environmental search: This will look for risks in the immediate vicinity of the property, such as subsidence, flooding, landfills, waste sites or contaminated areas.
In addition to these searches, there are additional checks that may be made by a conveyancer depending on the situation.
For example, if the property is located in an area with a history of mining, the solicitor may produce a mining report to check for the location of underground works or mine entrances that may pose a risk for subsidence (or if there have been any claims for subsidence in the past).
However, the buyer should be aware that a conveyancer does not conduct surveys into the physical condition of the property, and is instead focused only on legal aspects of the transaction. The buyer should instruct an independent surveyor in addition to working with a conveyancing solicitor.
Are conveyancing searches compulsory?
For buyers who are making their purchase with a mortgage, conveyancing searches must be carried out as an obligation to the lender.
In some cases a mortgage lender may be willing to accept an indemnity insurance policy in place of searches, although this is increasingly uncommon.
A cash purchaser without need of a mortgage is not technically required to obtain searches, although it is inadvisable to proceed without doing so. The principle of "caveat emptor" - or "buyer beware" - is very relevant here, and buyers should strive to be very certain of the facts before entering into a binding property contract.
In most cases, the cost of obtaining searches is quite a small amount in comparison to the expense of buying a property outright, and the potential risks far outweigh the modest savings that would result from opting to forgo them.
What happens when the results are received?
Often, the searches come back with no major concerns highlighted. However, when significant issues are discovered it may be necessary to take action.
In some situations, the buyer's solicitor will raise questions with the seller, and (depending on context) work with them to resolve the issue. Some matters may be resolved by liaising with the local authority - whereas others may require a lengthy investigation to ensure the protection of the buyer and their mortgage provider.
It may be prudent to arrange indemnity insurance to cover against specific issues that emerge as a result of the searches. For example, if the seller is unable to provide a building regulation certificate there is a chance the buyer could be liable for costs in the future if their local authority pursues a claim against them for not having it. Indemnity insurance could be used in this situation to cover the buyer in the event of such costs.
Issues highlighted as a result of conveyancing searches may sometimes be useful as a bargaining tool to negotiate a price adjustment on the property.
How much do conveyancing searches cost?
The cost of obtaining conveyancing searches can vary from situation to situation, and may depend on factors such as what the local council charges, who the water authority is, and so on. It may also depend on whether optional searches are required (a mining search, for example, might be anything from £25 to £100 or more), and whether or not indemnity insurance is thought to be necessary.
In most cases the combined cost of the search is between £200 and £500. The bulk of this will be for the local authority searches, which may cost upwards of £200 by themselves.
While they may seem like just another expense in the house-buying process, conveyancing searches are very important. Without them, the buyer might unknowingly commit themselves to the purchase of a house with major issues - causing many headaches, expenses, or even health problems down the line.
By working with an experienced conveyancing solicitor, a buyer can make sure that no stone has been left unturned to ensure their new home is fully suitable, legal, and safe for use.