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Why can’t local councils do something to provide quicker replies to local searches?

Waiting for replies to local searches still appears to be one of the most frequent causes of hold-ups when buying a home, according to many Conveyancing Solicitors. Why this should continue to be the case is something of a puzzle – some local councils just don’t appear to realise the need to provide a quicker service for homebuyers.

Anyone buying a property is advised to have a local search carried out. If a buyer is getting a mortgage, then a search will invariably be required by the lender, so Conveyancing Solicitors are obliged to do searches in most cases.

The problem for buyers’ Solicitors is that they have no control over how long searches will take. They have to be sent to the council for the area in which the property is located, and although the searches are in a standard form, each council has its own methods of dealing with applications. Some – often the ones with the highest charges! – are very slow at returning replies, causing delays to buyers and sellers alike.

It has to be said that many councils do provide an excellent service, and turn round applications within a few days. Many councils have computerised their search departments, and now accept and return searches electronically, avoiding postal delays. If some can do this, there seems to be no excuse for other councils not to provide the same level of service for homebuyers.

The government has put pressure on councils to provide a better service, but some continue to give this very low priority, despite that fact that the fees they charge should cover their costs.

A glimmer of hope as the Land Registry plans a central system

It is welcome news that the land registry is investigating the possibility of setting up a digitised central register of the information required on local searches. They are working with a number of councils to see if it will be possible to provide a system so that councils can transmit all the necessary information easily.

If this system can be implemented on a wide scale, the registry hopes that search information can then be obtained online, and at a standard fee.

The land registry’s initiative is to be welcomed – but even if it is possible to set up a viable system, it will take some years before it becomes available throughout the country.

Why searches are needed?

Buyers often query why these searches are needed. The fact is that the enquiries on the form cover a wide range of legal matters affecting properties about which the council is required to keep records. They include wide-ranging questions on such things as roads and planned highway schemes, planning and building regulation records, previous improvement grants, conservation areas and compulsory purchase orders.

It is true that it is extremely rare for a search to show anything which would really stop a buyer going ahead – such as plans for a new motorway going slap through the middle of the house – but when this does happen the buyer is going to be grateful that they had the information before completing the purchase. So it is better to be safe than to be sorry!

Replies frequently mention things that buyers will wish to be aware of, even if they still go ahead with the purchase – for instance plans to introduce new parking restrictions in the road. They may also mention matters which may require further investigation, such as conditions contained in a planning consent. The buyer’s Conveyancing Solicitor will want a copy of the conditions, as they could affect the buyer if for example they restricted a further extension of the property.

Quicker ways of doing things, but only for cash buyers

There are quicker options to carrying out a traditional local search, but these may not be available to some buyers. Cash buyers can elect not to have any search done, but then they will run the risk that there could be something registered that seriously affects the property or reduces its value. To guard against this, buyers can arrange indemnity insurance, which usually costs much less than the search fees.  

Another way of getting search results quickly is for the buyers’ Solicitors to arrange a personal search. This means that someone, usually a specialist search agent, will go to the council offices, inspect their records and make a note of the relevant information.  

While this can be quicker than a traditional search, it often costs more. Councils often restrict the range of information which they will provide, so the search is less useful. Also many lenders do not accept these personal searches.

With Fridaysmove you can be sure of getting a Conveyancing Solicitor who will do everything possible to get search replies as quickly as possible, and get you moving fast.  

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