While searches are required if you buy a house with a mortgage, they’re not compulsory if you pay cash. When you buy in cash, you’re using your own money, rather than a mortgage lender’s, so the risk (and therefore the decision) is up to you. 

But that doesn’t mean that searches aren't necessary. Even if you’re a cash buyer, it’s still a good idea to get searches done.

Let’s find out why.

What are property searches? 

Property searches are investigations into the local area surrounding your property, carried out by your solicitor. They’re different from surveys, which are all about the property itself.

Mortgage lenders ask for property searches because they can highlight any issues that might have a long-term impact on the value of a property. For example, searches can reveal if there’s a high risk of flooding in a particular area, if the land beneath a house is sinking because of its proximity to an old mine, or if a new road or motorway is likely to be built nearby.

Without this information, your lender – and, more importantly, you – might invest in a home that could present some serious problems down the line. Ultimately, searches are there to protect you and your investment.

So, what are the different kinds of searches?

  • Local authority search: This involves looking at surrounding roads and infrastructure that may affect your property. It also looks at planning permissions and building regulations on the property that have either been accepted or refused in the past. This search should also make you aware of any potential pollution problems and restrictions over the property, like if it’s a listed building or in a conservation area.
  • Water and drainage search: The Water Authority conducts this search, which lets you know where your property’s sewer and drainage pipes are. The authority will also tell you whether your property is connected to a public water supply that’s maintained at public expense and who owns the drains, sewers and piping. If there’s a public sewer on your property, you’ll need to know this, as it could affect your development plans one day.
  • Environmental search: Contaminated land is one of the main issues that this search explores. A risk management consulting firm will assess whether the land is in good order and whether it’s at any risk from flooding. They’ll also explore potential subsidence, which is about natural ground movement (for example when land caves in or sinks, and the possibility of landslides). 
  • Chancel search: This search checks whether your property is within a parish boundary. If it is, the chancel or church could charge you for any repairs that need to be done. This might sound unusual, but authorities estimate that it affects around half a million properties in England and Wales. This regulation applies to the land, so even if your property is in a town or newly built, you might still be liable.

There are other searches, too, including the canal and river search, the commons registration search, the coal mining and brine search, and the flooding search. Whether you need these will mostly be guided by the location of your property. Your solicitor or conveyancer will be able to advise you.

Always ask your solicitor which searches they’re applying for, just so you’re in the know.

When in the home-buying process are they ordered?

Most searchers are ordered soon after your offer has been accepted. You’ll need a solicitor to manage the process for you, and you’ll need to have paid the deposit for your searches. This will be between £250 and £500.

Try and get the ball rolling as soon as you can, as some searches can take a while to complete.

Who carries them out?

The authority responsible for carrying out the search depends on the specific search you’re doing. Your solicitor will know who to speak to, will apply for them on your behalf, review them and manage the whole process. 

Gathering all the necessary information, knowing how to interpret the results, and how to respond takes some expertise. Having a solicitor to guide you through this process is invaluable.

How long do they take, and can they be fast-tracked?

How long the search process takes will mostly depend on your local authorities. You can probably expect the search process to take between two to three weeks, but in some cases, it can take quite a bit longer. Your solicitor should be able to give you a more accurate timeline.

If you need to get them done quickly, you might be able to fast-track the process, but this isn’t always possible. If it is, the authority concerned will likely charge you a bit more for this service. 

As the process unfolds, stay in touch with your solicitor regularly. This will help to reassure you that they’ve submitted all the requests, and you can chase them for answers if you feel like too much time has passed. 

How much do they cost?

There’s no fixed answer to the cost of searches. They vary depending on where your property is and the complexity of the search. 

You can probably expect to pay somewhere between £150 and £600 in total. Each Local Authority sets their own fees for the Local authority searches, so the total amount you pay will depend on that. 

There are a few other searches that your solicitor will do on your behalf, but these don’t necessarily relate to your property and the fees are relatively small. 

The search into whether you’re bankrupt or not, for example, costs £2 per name, while the Land Registry search (which prevents anyone from changing the title to the property while you’re in the process of buying it without your knowledge) costs £3. 

Do they expire?

Yes, searches do expire. They’re valid for six months. Your lender will be keeping a close eye on this date, but so will your solicitor. If you’ve got the right support, you should be able to complete the purchase of your house with time to spare. 

It might be tempting to skip this expense if you’re a cash buyer, but it’s probably not worth saving a few hundred pounds when the long-term cost could be many times more. Instead, plan ahead and factor these fees in – they’ll be worth the peace of mind. 

Habito’s home-buying service includes searches and surveys, and our wealth of experience means we’ll be able to advise you on your unique circumstances before, during and after the search process. Get started here – it’s free!