By the time you’re ready to buy your new home, you’ve probably done a lot of searching – ads in estate agent windows, measuring the distance to work, looking for information about the parks, schools or sports teams...
But after you’ve had your offer accepted, your conveyancing solicitor (who's overseeing the legal side of the purchase) has their own official searches to do. Searches are your solicitor’s way of finding out information about the property. They need to make sure there’s nothing that could derail your property purchase.
Here, we look at the main searches your solicitor will do on your behalf during the conveyancing process – why they’re important, how long they take, and how much you can expect to pay.
Local Authority Searches
The first searches we’ll look at are the ones your solicitor will do through the local council records. These are compulsory – your solicitor won’t let you avoid them, and your lender won’t release the funds for your mortgage until they come back.
What local authority searches are done?
These searches will look for the following issues, which could be very expensive to put right or affect how you use your new home and land.
- Planning Permission: what applications were made? Were they granted? Did the previous owner get permission for the loft conversion or conservatory?
- Local Authority Orders: if the property needs to be renovated, there might be an order from the local authority which states that work takes place before the property deteriorates and puts the neighbours at risk.
If either of these turn up a problem, the maintenance (or the tearing down of an illegal conservatory, for example) would become your problem after you own the house.
- Listed building status: if your house is listed, making any changes to it (even getting new windows) can result in very strict and time-consuming planning applications.
- Tree preservation orders: if there’s a TPO on the tree in your new garden, you can’t cut it down, even if you’d like to.
- Neighbour disputes: how did the previous owners get on with the rest of the street, and might you be dealing with any old grudges when you move in?
- Future developments : is the local authority planning to build a new road, or is the train line at the bottom of the garden in the process of being electrified? Major civil engineering projects might do something to add value to your home in the future (for example, because they’re then better served by public transport), but it could mean disruption for you in the short term. In the case of a significant infrastructure project, the property might also be under a compulsory purchase order.
- Contamination: we’re talking about the history of the building here. The main one is, does it contain asbestos? But if the land was used for industrial purposes before the house was built, there might also be pollution in the soil.
How long do local authority searches take?
The good news is that these searches normally turn around quickly, whether your solicitor goes directly to the local authority or they use a registered company. You should have the results in as little as two working weeks. But take note: if they do discover a problem, the follow-up searches could then extend your wait.
How much do they cost?
These are the most expensive searches you’re likely to do when buying a house. The cost varies depending on the local authority, but they can be between £250 and £300.
Other local searches
Not every local search is compulsory for every property purchase. Either your solicitor will advise you, or it’ll be abundantly clear that you don’t need them. Some additional searches include:
The Chancel Repair Search
It sounds like something from a period drama, but there are older buildings where the deeds dictate that the owner is responsible for contributing to the costs of maintaining the parish church. So if you move to a village, and then a tree falls on the church roof, you’d be expected to put your hand in your pocket.
The Canal and River Search
If there’s a river or a canal at the bottom of your property, you might have to pay the Canal and River Trust to maintain a footpath, use a mooring, or have access to the water at all.
The Commons Registration Search
Sometimes, the local community has the right to use your land. For example, if you have a footpath running through your garden, you can’t forbid people from using it.
Land Registry Searches
HM Land Registry is the government department that deals with title deeds and the ultimate question of who owns what. Your solicitor will contact them to ask an essential question: is your potential future home legally the seller’s to sell?
The title deeds searches cover the questions of:
- Who owns the property right now?
- What did they pay for it, and when?
- Is there any debt secured to the property?
- What are the exact boundaries of the property?
- Who has the right of way?
How long do Land Registry searches take?
Land registry searches are essential. But unfortunately, they’re also the most likely to hold up your property purchase. Sometimes, the results come back within days, but some buyers are left frustrated when they still don’t have answers a month after the initial application.
You are well within your rights to keep chasing your solicitor about these searches if it’s holding up the sale.
How much do they cost?
While the timeframe of the Land Registry Searches can be a headache, the good news is that they usually only cost £2 to 3 each.
Water and Drainage Searches
You might take your mains water supply for granted. You turn on the tap and the water comes out. You pull the plug out of the bath and it runs away again. But for some properties, this isn’t a given. The water and drainage searches aren’t always essential, but some of the questions they answer can be important for your home insurance:
- Will you have to pay extra to have your home connected to mains water, or will you have additional maintenance costs if you have a septic tank rather than being connected to the sewer?
- Where are the drains under your land? This is important if you plan to build or extend your property.
- Who’s responsible for maintaining the drains and where does the water company take over? Tree roots, for example, can cause a lot of damage, and if it’s going to be up to you to fix, you’ll want to take out insurance just in case.
Other environmental searches
Speaking of insurance, depending on your property and how much you can find out from your own research, you might also want to instruct your solicitor to search the risks of:
- Flooding – sea, river and groundwater
- Coal mining shafts
These searches don’t just look for whether your home is at risk, they also find out what efforts the local authority has made to mitigate the risk.
It’s important to have as much information as you can here. Depending on the search results, you might have to pay more for insurance or find yourself unable to insure the property at all.
What happens after the searches?
The ideal scenario of course is that your searches come back clear. If your searches uncover problems, you can make an informed decision about whether you’d still like to buy the home, depending on what it is the searches show.
After the searches are done, you can move on to the exchange of contracts, and you’ll be one step closer to your completion date and moving into your new home.
The road to owning your new home can seem like it’s full of hurdles. Make things easier with Habito’s complete home buying service – searches and surveys included.