What are “searches” for when buying a Property? Buying a house or land is one of the biggest outlays most people make.  It is important to find out as much as possible about the house or land you plan to buy, before committing to the purchase by exchanging contracts, after which, it is usually impossible to withdraw.

What searches do we recommend? This is much more complex than it may at first appear.  If you need a mortgage to help with your purchase the choice of searches to be made may not be yours, but that of your mortgage provider.  Just like you, the person, Bank or Building Society which is relying upon the property you are buying as security for your loan, wants to be sure that there will be no unpleasant surprises which may devalue the property or make it harder to sell.

Common searches for residential property:

A Local Authority / Local Land Charges search.  This is a search with the local authority for the area where the property is situate, and seeks to find out what interactions there may have been between the local authority and the property owner(s) up to the date of the search.  It will usually reveal any planning permissions or building regulations approvals the property has received as well as whether or not the road or access leading to it is an adopted highway maintainable at public expense. The search may reveal agreements between the local authority and a developer setting out obligations which the owners have to accept in exchange for the planning permission having been given. The search will also show whether there are any current proceedings issued by, or in contemplation of, enforcement of any actions not properly authorised by either planning permission or building regulations.

This search will also show if the property has been found to be potentially subject to public obligations as a result of its current or past use – one of the most important findings will be whether the land may be contaminated land – if it is and the contaminator cannot be found or compelled to “remediate” the contamination at their expense, the local authority can order whoever is the present owner to do so.  Most Local Authorities have not completed the “registers of contaminated land” they are required to compile by Government, but if the property is at risk of contamination further investigation will be money very well spent before committing to the purchase.

This search as well as an environment search will also show whether there is any record of the property being affected by Radon Gas

An Environment search. This search looks at data held, often from historic mappings of the site, showing whether there are any environmental factors which may be likely to affect it. It is common that past industrial uses of a site will show as risk factors and, given that most local authority registers of contaminated land are incomplete, this may be the best gage of whether the land you are planning to buy may later prove to be land the Local Authority will decide is contaminated. This search will also tell you if there are nearby power installations, and whether the property is liable to be flooded (and if there is an identified risk of flood we may recommend a separate “Flood Risk report” is prepared which looks at available flood data in more detail). It will also show if the property is on or near one of the routes for HS2 the proposed high-speed rail link from London to the north west.

A Plans search. This search looks in detail at available planning records for the property and any surrounding properties. This may be a very important search as the planning details from the Local Authority search will be those for the property you are thinking of buying alone, where the Plans search will look at other properties planning entries. This may help a decision to purchase if, for example, you are buying a property with country views, finding out the next field is about to become a housing estate may be very crucial information to you. As with all planning matters the register search companies can search against can only include planning permissions which are already lodged with the local authority. New applications made in the days after the date when a search or Local Authority search are commissioned will not be revealed although in most circumstances new applications will have been notified to the current owners who will have a contractual duty to tell you about them.

A Chancel Repairing Liability search. This search checks to see if the property is in an area where there may be a liability on the owners of properties to pay for the repair of the chancel of the church.  This is a complex and difficult legal concept and the search only reveals whether the parish in which the land is situate is one where there is or isn't a risk. The government tried to make this obligation clearer but the legislation they passed does not stop the liability and will only help where the property has changed hands for money since the 13th October 2013 so if you are buying a property which has an unregistered title or which has not changed hands since the stated date we will always recommend this search.  If the property is shown to be in a "risk" parish then we will also recommend that you instruct us to arrange indemnity insurance to protect you against the risk - the risk itself is miniscule but if the property you are buying is affected by the liability this is open-ended and unlimited and can far exceed the value of the land you are buying. Once a claim is made this attaches to the owners of the land at the date of the claim but is not passed on by the sale of the land.

A Drainage and Water Search.  This search looks at public records to show whether the property is connected to mains water and drainage services. The plans provided with the search will show the approximate routes of pipes and connection points and will also show extraneous information such as whether the water quality meets current standards and whether the water supply is metered.  It will also show where the surface water is discharged to the mains (as distinct from most modern built properties where it is a requirement that surface water is handled locally - usually to soakaways on a per-property basis but sometime to "SUDS" or "Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems" - these are often implemented so that a group of houses built together on an estate share a pond or lagoon to which all of their surface water is discharged but these are usually subject to compliance obligations on the owners of the properties and may entail an ongoing charging arrangement for installing, maintaining or repairing the system.