Purchase first steps
On a purchase, the buyer’s solicitor will start to instruct property searches early in the transaction. These searches are an important part of the conveyancing process as they allow the solicitor to build a complete picture of the property and the area around it. The searches are carried out by specialist firms who request the information from the local council, water, and sewerage companies. Some searches are optional, some are essential. It is the position in law that the buyers must satisfy themselves as to the property they are buying, so it is often better to ensure all relevant searches are carried out so any problems are identified before proceeding to the exchange of contracts.
• Local authority search – this is arguably the most important type of search your solicitor will arrange. It will reveal information held by the local authority involving the property, including prospective planning permission or restrictions. They will also show who is responsible for maintaining roads and paths adjoining the property. Local Authority searches can take from one to six weeks to complete and can cost anything between £150 and £400 depending on which authority your property is located in.
• Land Registry searches – your solicitor will need to prove that the property seller is the legal owner of the property you are buying. They do this by checking the ‘title register’ and ‘title plan’ at the Land Registry. These checks cost around £3 each, and are legally required for the sale to go ahead. These are typically provided by the seller’s solicitor to the buyer’s solicitor at the outset of the transaction.
• Environmental searches – an environmental search is important as it will establish whether the property you are buying is built on or near contaminated land or water, or an old landfill site. Your lender may insist that this type of search is carried out before they will offer you a mortgage. The reason this type of search is required is because many properties are built on land which was previously used for industrial purposes, and toxic substances could remain in the ground. If these aren’t uncovered before you take ownership of the property you could find yourself with a home that is impossible to sell later, or even worse is a health hazard. An environmental search should also show whether there is a risk of flooding.
• Water & Drainage authority search – this search will establish where your property is connected to mains water and drainage. It will also show where water comes from and whether there are any public drains on the property. This is vital as if there is one it could affect any building work you want to do in the future, such as an extension.
• Location specific searches – depending on the area where you are buying a property, your solicitor might suggest arranging some additional searches. For example, if you are buying in an area formerly used for mining, you may want to arrange for a mining search to be carried out, to establish whether the home you want to buy has been built on unstable ground and so is at risk of subsidence.
• Chancel repair search – a chancel repair search is necessary to establish whether you will be liable for the cost of repairs to a parish church. During the middle ages, property owners rather than monasteries became responsible for repairing church chancels. Following a law change in October 2013, the church must now establish and lodge liability with the Land Registry, but in certain circumstances the church can still insist a property owner is liable for repairs even if the liability hasn’t been registered. A chancel repair search only costs a few pounds, and you may opt to take out chancel repair insurance instead, which typically costs around £30.
How long do all the above conveyancing searches take? As a rough guide, searches typically take around two to four weeks to complete, but remember that their results may prompt your solicitor to make further enquiries.
Matthew Winder Directer and supervisor of residential conveyancing at Clarkson Hirst Solicitors