Looking to buy a property? Watch out for any hidden surprises…

When you buy a house, your solicitor or conveyancer must undertake certain searches on your property, so that you discover as much information as possible prior to your commitment to the purchase.

Some searches are compulsory; others are optional depending on where you live and how much additional information you require. If you happen to be in the enviable position of being able to buy without the assistance of a mortgage some searches are discretionary. Of course, it is always our advice to carry out the searches so as to minimise your exposure to risk and ensure that when you come to sell the property you won’t encounter any problems, but if you don't need a mortgage then the choice is ultimately yours.

This article sets out the various searches that may be required as part of the investigation process. The investigation will be carried out by the buyer acquiring the property and focuses on "pre-exchange" searches. The searches that should be undertaken in every transaction before a buyer is contractually bound to purchase the property are as follows:

Local Authority Search

This is the one search that is essentially non-negotiable; even if you are buying without a mortgage it is highly recommended. The result will tell you, amongst other things, if the local authority is planning to do any road expansion works that could affect the property or if the neighbour has permission for a two-storey extension that will plunge your garden into shadows! The benefits cannot be stressed enough, but you should note that the results of this search are only valid for six months for mortgage purposes, and relates only to the property you are buying, not the whole area and it can't disclose any future proposals so if any changes are made to the local authority’s registers after the search is issued then you don't have the right to complain.

It is important that you understand the limitations of the local search. This will not be a search of the whole local area, but will relate purely to the property you are buying. It will not tell us about any developments which may planned or are already approved in the immediate vicinity of the property, other than a construction of a new road within 200 meters of the property. It will not routinely tell us about the location of public paths or bridleways or traffic schemes which may affect the roads where your property lies.

If there is any particular reason that you are buying this property, such as a view, its location, next to open spaces etc, then you should make either your own enquiries of the local authority relevant to your reason for purchase or ask your solicitor to do this, particularly if it relates to any known planned works on adjoining land or development in the area as a whole.

 A local land charges search will identify all the local land charges registered in the local land charges register that affect the property, such as conditions in planning consents, tree and building preservation orders and planning enforcement notices and should be part of every investigation of the property.

Drainage Search

Drainage and water enquiries need to be raised separately and should be part of every property investigation. The enquiries are in a standard form and are raised directly with the relevant Water Authority. The replies will reveal important information about the water and drainage services at the property under investigation. The public sewer map will indicate if there are any public sewers, disposal mains or any other lateral drains within the boundaries of the property.

Index Map Search

An index map search should always be made, where the property is unregistered or includes unregistered land or where the property is being sold by reference to a contract plan that is not the title plan and so may include unregistered land or land comprised in more than one registered title. An index map search will reveal if the property is affected by a registered rent charge or a caution for example.

Mining Searches

This is totally dependent on the area you are buying in. If the area has a previous or current mining history then the search must be carried out for the benefit of you and your mortgage lender. There are various mining searches available depending on the type of mining carried out in the vicinity and your conveyancer will be able to tell you which you need, if any. Coal mining searches are largely concerned with finding out whether the property is affected, has been affected, or may in the future be affected by subsidence as a result of coal mining activity.

Environmental Search

All Local Authorities are obliged to identify any areas of land that may be deemed contaminated land. All of these areas are registered and any works required to rectify it are the responsibility of the land owner. If the site has not previously been identified and you buy a house which is affected, if the person who caused the contamination cannot be identified, it could be you who is required to foot the bill for clean up costs. This search will give you some information about the previous land use so you can decide if there is a risk. It will also tell you if the house is in an area affected by flooding, landslip or subsidence.

Flood searches

It is becoming increasingly important to consider whether a property is at risk of flooding. A flood risk search can assess the risk from river, coastal, surface water and ground water flooding. If your property suffers from flooding this may affect your ability to obtain buildings insurance on acceptable terms.

Chancel Check/Chancel Repair Search

Chancel Repair Liability has become increasingly controversial. The Church of England is entitled in some areas to enforce an ancient right to demand money from landowners as contributions towards the repair of its parish churches. If the property you buy has a liability attached to it,  you could be forced to contribute to such repairs. A simple indemnity policy can protect you against this liability and we can arrange this for you at a relatively low cost.

The information above outlines the most commonly required searches, there are others that are slightly more obscure but it is unlikely that you will need them.

By instructing Sintons you can be confident that we will handle your matter diligently, providing you with all the information you need to understand the process from start to finish.

If you require any further information please feel free to contact us.

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