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What are Conveyancing Searches?

Everything you could ever want to know about conveyancing searches. Conveyancing Searches are often poorly explained to home buyers by Solicitors. Searches are enquiries submitted to various authorities which provide you with more information about the property you plan to purchase. The authorities include Local Councils, the Environmental Agency, and Coal & Water Authorities. Searches provide crucial information relating to the property, for example whether or not the road serving it is a publicly adopted highway, whether there are any mineshafts in the immediate vicinity, whether it is subject to any planning enforcement notices etc. . During the conveyancing process, your Solicitor will conduct these searches on your behalf. The subject of searches can become quite involved so if you would like to speak to us about searches then please call us on 0800 038 6446. It should be noted that searches are intended only to cover the legal aspects of a conveyancing purchase – conveyancing lawyers do not requisition a survey and will not report on the physical state of the property.

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Do I actually need searches? If you are buying without a mortgage you don’t technically need searchesAlthough, arguably, one would be ill-advised to do so, a cash purchaser is perfectly entitled to proceed without searches being carried out. As an alternative one may wish to purchase indemnity insurance, or simply ignore the issue altogether. If buying with a mortgage however, the purchaser is under an obligation to the lender to obtain conveyancing searches. Historically some lenders have accepted indemnity insurance as an alternative to searches. This is rarely the case now and in any event the insurance would only cover any loss of value to a property, or any essential expenses, resulting from something which would have been revealed had a search been carried out.  It does not prevent any action being taken and does not provide compensation for any resultant inconvenience.  What Searches do I need?The Council for Mortgage Lenders Instructions confirm that “all conveyancing searches a prudent solicitor would carry out” are required in a purchase conveyancing transaction. All conveyancing purchase transactions will require at least a land registry priority search to be carried out prior to completion and, if mortgage lender finance is required, satisfactory search results for at least a local authority search (whether personal or official), a drainage and water search, an Environmental Search and a Chancel repair search. In instances where the searches have been provided by unregulated or insured parties, or the searches are deemed to be out of date under Council for Mortgage Lenders Instructions to Conveyancing Lawyers or are in any way unacceptable in this regard it will be for your solicitor to remedy the situation by way of arrangement of indemnity insurance covering your mortgage lender or by obtaining new conveyancing search results at additional cost to you including additional disbursement fees.  All Chancel Check searches containing a risk of potential liability will require indemnity insurance to be placed on risk for the protection of you and your mortgage lender.  The particular searches you require will depend on the location of the property, and though most searches are optional, it is best practice to acquire them. Bear in mind that some searches are enforced by lenders and that your solicitor will be in breach of the Council for Mortgage Lenders (CML) guidelines if they do not get them. Different lenders will require different searches but the following searches are required in almost all cases by lenders and it is best practice to acquire them:1. Local Authority Search (LAS)This search provides information relating to the property that you are buying, and does not cover the surrounding area. A LAS can be more or less detailed but the “standard” LAS CON29R contains:

  • A list of relevant entries in the Local Charges Register
  • Information on planning applications relevant to the property (granted or refused)
  • Building control history
  • Any enforcement action
  • Restrictions on permitted development
  • Nearby road schemes
  • Contaminated land
  • Radon gas information 
  • You can ask additional questions relating to public rights of way, areas of outstanding beauty, pipeline and pollution notices, or town/village greens. This is called a Con29 Optional form or a “Con29o”.
  • The Local Authority Search is required by all lenders if you are obtaining a mortgage. Some lenders may accept a personal search and some will want an official Con29r search.

What’s the difference between an official and a personal Local Authority Search?An official search is compiled by the local authority/council, and contains a wide range of detailed information. The only downside is that it can cost up to £285. Fridays have compiled a list of these local authority costs on our website. A personal search is provided by a search company. It will contain most of the information in an official search, but it can be researched from the local authority records by anyone. This means the search company can charge a reduced fee for this service. If you are thinking of getting the information yourself, we would suggest you leave it to the experts. It isn’t easy to understand what you need, and you will end up paying to get the correct information. Remember, both official and local searches will be indemnified – should there be incorrect or inaccurate information on these searches, you will be protected. If you compile the search yourself, you will not!Why do Search costs vary from council to council? In the same way that council tax varies between Local Councils, different Councils charge different amounts. The Fridaysmove Search Bundle is capped at £249 for all of the 4 searches.  No matter what, even in the most expensive Local Authorities, the cost of the search bundle will not exceed £249. 2. Water & Drainage SearchThis will reveal if there are any public sewers within the boundaries of the property, or nearby, which could affect future development or building work. It will show if the property is connected to mains water and drainage, whether the sewers are adopted, and also the location of public water mains.  The solicitor can get a personal drainage search, which could reduce the cost. However, this will often not give the same level of information. 3. Environmental SearchThis is a commonly used search which will identify risks within 500 meters of the property, such as flooding, subsidence, landslides, landfill, waste sites and potentially contaminated sites. This search is required by some mortgage lenders.
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  • 4. Chancel Repair SearchA Chancel Repair Search will show whether a property has a potential liability to contribute to the cost of repairs to the church. Unfortunately, there is no central database to identify properties with chancel repair liability and existing records are incomplete. In some cases, liability will be shown on the charges register at the Land Registry, but this is not always the case. The only definitive way of determining whether there is Chancel Repair liability is via this search. In cases where liability is found, your solicitor will advise indemnity insurance to cover your interest in the event of a claim by the church – this has happened in the case of Aston Cantlow PCC V Wallbank (2003) and the property owner (Mr & Mrs Wallbank) was forced to pay the church a sum of £186, 986. How can my parish force me to pay for church repairs?Chancel Repair dates all the way back to the 4th Century when the church relied upon offerings to sustain its churches. Payment of a tithe (meaning a tenth part of all produce of the land, and profits due to God) was taught as a Christian’s duty to pay to the church. In England, King Athelstan chose to legally enforce this obligation. Since the reformation in the 16th century Church of England and Wales parishes have been ministered by either a vicar, who received a salary, or a rector, who received tithes from the parish. The rector was then expected to pay for the repairs to the chancel of the church, and the parish paid for repairs to the rest. Many monasteries acquired rectorships and as such became liable for chancel repairs. When Henry VIII later dissolved these monasteries and sold their land, the liability for chancel repairs passed to the new landowners. This liability has passed from landowner to landowner, and still exists now. This means an owner of land that once belonged to a lay rector will still hold an obligation to pay this tithe to the church, and you could still have to pay for the repairs to the church. Since the Land Registry Act 2002 (Transitional Provisions), the intention of these searches is to show to a buyer any and all overriding interests of a property, before they purchase the property.  This is still an issue for chancel repair liability, and it is viewed that for 10 years it could continue to be an overriding interest. It will be binding on land even if there is no mention of the liability on the Land Registry. We shall see how this operates in, when notice can be applied to the Land Registry to remove the overriding interest. Watch this space. . . What are the 4 searches included the Fridaysmove Search Bundle?All of the above searches i.e. Local Authority Searches, Water and Drainage Search, Environmental Search and the Chancel repair Search. Additional location related searchesOn rare occasions, additional specialist searches may be required in accordance with the Council for Mortgage Lenders instructions, depending on location of the property. For example, if the property is next to a canal or river, then a British Waterways search should be considered.  Some search results contain information on which solicitors are not qualified to offer any legal advice on. Environmental searches, carried out by solicitors during the conveyancing process, will comment on the position with regards to “Contaminated Land” only. Conveyancers cannot comment on any information contained within the Environmental Report other than to provide a copy and advise whether the land is currently designated as “Contaminated Land” and therefore deemed unsuitable for lending purposes. It is often possible in such cases to remedy the immediate obstacle to proceeding by obtaining an indemnity insurance policy to protect a lender. The indemnity policy will only cover costs incurred if the land proves to be contaminated and may cover some of the costs involved in remedying the situation but is also likely to cover loss of value to the property in this regard. It will never confirm if the land in question is contaminated and represents any hazard to health. When searches provide results that Solicitors are not qualified to advise on, buyers are advised to obtain further opinion from a qualified chartered surveyor or environmental expert to ascertain  whether the search reveals anything which may affect your future enjoyment of the property or the future value of the property. Flood ReportThis will reveal if the property has been flooded in the last 75 years. It will give you information on the potential flood risk and confirm if it may adversely affect your ability to obtain suitable insurance.  It’s worth thinking about if your property is near a river, lake, stream, or even on low ground. (Fridaysmove can help you order a Flood Report too, just call us on 0800 038 6446)Commons Registration SearchThis indicates whether your property abuts a village green or common land, if it is built on previously undeveloped land, or where a verge slip separates the property from a public highway. The search will show whether the land is registered under the Common Registration Act 1965. This may mean you have to pay to use it, or if other people have rights over the land and if it prevents you from obtaining planning permission to develop the land. (Ave. cost £25)Coal Mining & Brine SearchThis search will identify whether your property is in an area where coal or brine mining has occurred, or is likely to take place. In addition, it will reveal the existence of underground coal/brine workings, mine entrances that may cause subsidence, whether compensation for subsidence has been paid in the past or repairs carried out, and if there are any outstanding claims. Don’t worry, though! There are not many hot spots for this kind of search, and your solicitor will know where these are. (Ave. cost £15-£40 -depending on whether a full cert is issued)What happens if a search result raises an issue?There is a tendency to act like an ostrich when buying a property – “don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to”. Often the decision not to get a search is based on buying a property on a tight budget, but this may cost much more in the long-term. In business, they say you should make informed decisions with all of the facts available; buying a home is no different. Your home will be probably the most expensive thing you will buy in your life; costing hundreds of thousands of pounds. Surely spending £240 on searches for peace of mind is a very good investment. Remember, if you do discover something about the property, this information could be used to negotiate a price reduction, or even arrange indemnity insurance to cover for any potential issues should they arise. Is that it?Yes! That’s the long and short of it. There are still searches that may be required, but the best advice we can give is to listen to your solicitor. If they suggest a search it will be for a good reason; it’s better to pay a small amount of money upfront to protect your home, ensuring that it will be safe and sound for the future – with no costly skeletons lurking in the closet!
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