When you’re buying a property, your solicitor will ask you to pay some money on account so that they can order your searches. They will also ask you to check the title plan for the property you are buying to make sure that the plan shows the correct position and extent of the property, as this plan will be used to order your searches.

If you are buying a property with the assistance of a mortgage, your mortgage lender will require a full set of searches, which include a local search, a drainage search, and an environmental search. If you are a cash buyer, then searches are discretionary but we always recommend that you carry them out. It is important that you discover as much information about the property, so that you can make an informed decision about whether to proceed with your purchase.

The most important search is the local authority search. This will tell you, amongst other things, whether there have been any planning permissions and building regulation certificates issued in relation to the property, whether the roads and footpaths which give access to the property are maintained at the public expense, whether the property is a listed building or in a conservation area, and whether there are any Tree Preservation Orders in place.

The local search will only reveal information about the property you are buying and won’t tell you about any applications which have been made to neighbouring properties. There are other searches that you can pay for to provide this information, but it’s important that you realise that the local search is specific to the purchase property only.

Your solicitor will check over the local search for you and make sure that all of the entries revealed in the search accord with what we know about the property. They will report to you on the search result so that you understand the information that has been revealed and can confirm that you’re happy with it. If there are any recent planning permissions or building regulation certificates revealed in the search which haven’t been mentioned by the seller’s solicitors, then your solicitor will ask them to provide copies of the relevant documents.

The drainage search will tell you whether the property is connected to the public sewer and to the mains water supply. There will be plans included in the search to show the route of nearby public sewers and water mains, and this must be checked carefully to see if any of the public sewers and water mains fall within the boundaries of the property being purchased. If they do, then you must check to make sure that these have not been built over (unless there is a “build over” agreement in place with the water authority to authorise this) otherwise this could potentially cause problems in the future. The water authority need to be able to access all public sewers and water mains so that they can carry out routine maintenance works and any repair works in cases of emergency.

An environmental search will be carried out to identify whether a property is within an area potentially affected by contaminated land. It will also check the flood levels within the vicinity of the property and let you know if there is a flood risk and, if so, how serious the risk is. If your environmental search does indicate a flood risk then it is recommended that you obtain a specialised flood report, as this will give you more information about whether the flood risk will affect your ability to insure the property and if there are any flood defences in place. The environmental search also lets you know about radon levels in the area.

Some additional searches may be necessary, for example, if you are purchasing a property which lies within a mining area then a mining report will be needed. Here in the north east, coal mining reports are needed on nearly all of the properties that we deal with. In other areas of the country there are other considerations, such as clay and tin.

There are a number of other potential searches that you can carry out, but the local, drainage and environmental searches are the core ones and are vital to provide information to a buyer before they exchange contracts for the purchase of a property. If any issues are shown on your search results you must look into these further by carrying out investigations and speaking to your surveyor about anything that might cause a problem either during your ownership of the property or when you come to sell the property. If the searches do reveal some information that puts you off the property, please remember that you can walk away from a transaction if you haven’t yet exchanged contracts.

Suzanne Dixon is a Senior Associate in the residential conveyancing department at Sintons. To speak to Suzanne, please contact her at or 0191 226 7805.

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