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A guide to property searches

What are property searches?

Property searches, also known as conveyancing searches, are carried out on your behalf by a solicitor on the property you are buying to check that there are no nasty surprises before you purchase. This includes local, drainage, environmental and locality searches. These searches are carried out on third parties, such as the local authority, to discover things that may not otherwise be obvious, and could have a negative impact on your property.

Searches are carried out before exchange of contracts in case they turn up anything that may affect the value of the house or may create costs for you later down the line. Our conveyancers will identify any areas of concern and explain them before you are legally bound to buy the property.

Local authority searches

This search gives information on a wide range of issues in relation to your property. Such as conservation areas, any planning permission for the property, proximity to rail lines, road works and more. Our conveyancer will contact the local authority for you, so you do not have to worry about carrying out these searches yourself. The conveyancer can, at your request, also enquire about any surrounding land or property, as if there were to be built on it could greatly impact not only the value or your home but also how happy you are living there. There are also the options to ask for additional searches (which can sometimes be at an additional cost or only relevant if they are revealed on the title), such as:
  • Rights of way through your land
  • Boundaries with neighbouring properties
  • Any ongoing disputes
  • Any planning constraints or current planning permission in place 
As costs can vary between local authorities it is best to check whether the local authority search costs are fixed or unfixed for your area. 

Water and drainage searches

A search by your conveyancer with your local water provider will confirm whether piping, drains and sewers are maintained by them. It will also highlight how close the house is to public sewers, and/or whether there is a sewer within the boundaries of the property.  This may affect your ability to extend the property.

Environmental search

An environmental search of your property will uncover whether there are any potential environmental risks. For instance, if there is any risk of the ground slipping away due to subsidence, landslides, or whether there is a risk of flooding (e.g. if there are any nearby rivers or seas that may overflow in bad weather). They will also check whether the land is contaminated as a result of historical waste and landfill sites as this check is required by some mortgage providers.

Further searches may also be carried out depending on where your property is located, such as:
  • Coal or brine mining search: If your property is located in an area with current or historical mines then it is at risk of being built on unstable ground and as such this must be checked. Some mortgage providers will have this search as a compulsory requirement for coal mining areas. 
  • Land charges: This is undertaken when dealing with unregistered land, and will highlight any estate contracts, restrictions on the use of the land, or any current mortgages. 
  • Chancel repair liability: As a result of a law dating back to the 4th century you may be liable to pay for any repairs to your local church if you live within the parishes. A check by our conveyancing team will determine if you have this responsibility. 
  • British waterways search: If the property is next to a canal or river this search will likely be done. The search, also known as a Rivers Authority search, will determine ownership and responsibility of the riverbank. Along with any rights to mooring and fishing, or whether you can extract water or use it for drainage. 
  • Flood report:  This will determine whether the property has been flooded in the past 70 years, or whether there is a potential flood risk to the property in the future. 
  • Commons registration search:  This is to show whether the land you are purchasing is registered under the Common Registration Act 1965. If your land is registered under this it may mean that you have to pay to use it, or it may affect any future planning permission you might wish to obtain. 
What happens if I don’t get a property search done?

Most lenders will require searches to be carried out on a purchase before they will lend.  If you are buying without the help of a mortgage it may be that you wish to save money by not having conveyancing searches carried out, however this could end up costing you more money in the long term if it turns out that there is an issue with the property that a search could have picked up on.  It's worth having searches done - a house is a big investment and you don’t want to lose out for the sake of a small fee.

How much do property searches cost?

Property searches typically cost from £250-£300 -  our conveyancing solicitors charge a set rate of £225 + VAT. This ensures that you are not left with any nasty surprises when it comes to the bill. 




Note: First4Lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances and not rely on First4Lawyers’ information alone.
* All details and pricing are correct at time of last update. First4Lawyers and their partners are not tax advisors and we recommend you seek appropriate independent financial advice before making any decisions that relate to tax and property.

 Last updated: November 2017