A guide to the searches required when buying a residential property

When considering the purchase of a residential property, clients often ask what searches are involved during the conveyancing process and why they are required.

Here, Elizabeth Kelly, a conveyancer in WHN’s residential property team, offers a short guide to explain the key searches involved.

Searches are an essential part of buying property as they provide crucial information about the property and highlight potential issues that could impact the transaction. The standard searches which are usually required are set out below.

Local authority search (LLC1 and CON29R)

This search is obtained from the local authority. It provides essential information as to whether the local authority holds any financial charges over the property, along with other charges, including information on any planning permission, building regulation approvals, restrictions on developments (conservation areas or Article 4 Directions – ART4), road schemes, road adoption, and contaminated land.

The LLC1, is a search of the Local Land Charges Registers. The CON29 enquiry form provides prospective house buyers with information relating to the property being searched and in some cases the area where the property is located.

Environmental search

Environmental search providers will assess historical records to identify potential risks like contamination of land, flooding, radon gas, subsidence, ground stability, energy infrastructure (for example wind farms and power stations) and other environmental factors. These are commonly known as environmental searches and are essential to evade unforeseen issues that could lead to financial loss or health risks.

Drainage and water search (CON29DW)

This will be obtained from the Water Authority. For example in the North West, this is United Utilities. The search provides essential information as to whether the property is connected to the mains water supply and public sewers for the disposal of foul water and surface water. It advises on the charges payable and if it has a metered supply.

In addition, plans are also included indicating where the pipework runs in relation to the property. This is crucial information, especially if there has been an extension or if you intend to extend the property in the future, as you would need to ensure that nothing is constructed over any public sewers or water mains. A Build Over Agreement would be needed from the Water Authority in these circumstances.

Official coal mining residential search (CON29M)

If the property falls within a coal mining area, our team will carry out this search with the Coal Authority to check historical mining activity and whether the property is near any seams of coal or pit shafts. It also indicates whether any property in the area has suffered damage through mining activities or the owners have claimed compensation in respect of damage.

The search result also includes insurance to cover damages for matters which are not revealed by the search, but that may emerge at a later date and affect the value of the property.

Chancel repair liability

Chancel repair liability is an ancient interest and, according to the National Archives, potentially benefits some 5,200 pre-reformation churches in England and Wales. The liability means that the Parochial Church Council can demand that the owners of former rectoral land should pay towards the cost of repairing the Church Chancel.

This liability stays with the land, regardless of whether the owner was aware of the liability.

Choosing the right provider for search information

With so many questions and queries to uncover, WHN uses official search services from the relevant authorities to provide search information. Official searches are extremely accurate, provide fuller information, and allow easier recourse in the event of a mistake being made.

Search services are also offered via personal search agencies, but they are not usually as thorough as official searches. Personal search agents are simply unable to access all the necessary data to answer the required information, and often they rely on insurance protection to cover any missed or misinterpreted information.

By contrast, official authorities are directly liable for any losses incurred as a result of an incorrect search result.

It should also be noted that some mortgage lenders will not accept personal searches.

A standard set of searches is a requirement of mortgage lenders. If you are a cash buyer, you can opt not to have the searches carried out, but we would advise against this due to the important information they provide.

If you choose not to undertake any of the searches you still purchase the property subject to any information that would have been revealed by them.

Search timescales and costs

Depending on the property and where it is located, there are other specific searches that can be carried out if necessary. If we consider other searches are relevant, we will advise you on this.

Search results usually come back within a couple of weeks, but it is dependent on the authority conducting the searches.

Fees are set by the service provider and any changes to these fees are beyond our control. However, a standard bundle of searches costs approximately £400 including vat.

Based at WHN’s Rawtenstall office, Elizabeth specialises in residential conveyancing, dealing with all aspects of the process of selling and purchasing homes. If you are thinking of purchasing a property and wish to seek further advice regarding the necessary searches, please contact Elizabeth on 01706 225621 or visit our Residential Conveyancing page to find out more about how we can help.