Conveyancing searches, also known as property searches, are enquiries into a property you plan to purchase to identify more information and potential risks. Your conveyancer will conduct these searches with public authorities at the start of the conveyancing process.
Do I need a conveyancing search?
If you are buying with a mortgage, the lender will almost certainly require conveyancing searches to be carried out. But even if you’re a cash buyer without a lender insisting on it, for your own security and peace of mind, it is generally recommended that you should still do them. As a cash buyer, you can choose how many or how few property searches you have.
Searches are the only reliable way of receiving certain important information that isn’t covered elsewhere in the conveyancing process. For instance, a basic survey deals with the physical condition of the property, but it doesn’t investigate potential issues linked to previous use of the land (you need an environmental search for this).
Likewise, the seller’s information pack covers a lot of detail, but it won’t flag up things like upcoming road schemes and planning permissions impacting the property, i.e. the type of issues covered in local authority searches. For the purchaser of a property, you will want to be made aware of any potential issues affecting the property, so your conveyancer will commission searches on the key risks relating to the property and report back to the purchaser with their findings. There are different search packs available, but you should note that the law firm will charge the third-party cost of the specific search pack to the purchaser.
Without conveyancing searches, you could commit to a property worth considerably less than you thought. These problems can be costly to fix post-purchase; they can make it harder to sell and more expensive to insure. So in practical terms, dealing with the risks which searches can raise is essential.
What about insuring against these risks?
However, there is an alternative and much quicker way of resolving these search-related risks. Rather than spend time researching the possibility of later issues arising that could cost you money to fix, a search indemnity policy allows you to insure yourself against that risk instead.
A search indemnity can be obtained by your conveyancer within a few days, and in the very unlikely event of experiencing an issue at a later date, it will compensate you for the difference between the price you paid for your property and any reduced value that results from previously unidentified issues (such as a public right of way) which would have been revealed in a traditional search pack.
Muve recommends the OneSearch Express product in this regard. Alongside the indemnity, this includes a property data report that provides over 70% of the data generally obtained from local authorities for your conveyancer to review.
Most lenders accept search indemnity, but in the event your bank or building society does not, then we will use a search pack instead. So whatever your situation, we can ensure the search-related issues are addressed.
What are the different search packs available?
If you do want to go down the traditional search pack route, Muve offers two options. The first is the ‘essential’ pack which includes the two vital searches required by almost all lenders - local authority and water. The second is an ‘enhanced’ search pack’ which contains the essential searches, plus flood, environmental, and chancel insurance. We’ll get onto the different searches a little bit further down this article.
We will use a ‘personal’ search in regard to the local authority element. However, suppose the local authority in question is experiencing significant delays at the time of your transaction. In that case, we may switch to an ‘official’ search pack, which can be quicker but more expensive.
The search pack we recommend for your transaction will be listed on your quote. It is important to note that the essential (personal) search pack will typically be used if there is no deadline for the transaction to be complete.
What do conveyancing searches include?
The searches you require will depend on your property location and type. Here’s an overview of the main ones:
Local authority search
There are two parts to this, referred to as LLC1 and CON29.
LLC1 (Local Land Charge Register) tells you if the property is a listed building, it’s in a conservation area, it is in need of an improvement or renovation grant, and if it is impacted by tree preservation or smoke control orders. Let’s say you plan to install double glazing post-purchase, but the property is in a conservation area. Any changes will need to be kept in line with the area's character. This could make things more difficult or expensive than you first thought.
CON29 results focus on planning applications relevant to the property, nearby road or rail schemes, building control history and any enforcement action, restrictions on permitted development and issues with contaminated land. For instance, if a new housing development is in the offing next to the property that could impact its value, this search should flag it up.
This search is carried out through a specialist environment agency. It flags whether the previous land use on and around the property poses environmental risks. This includes the risk of landslips, subsidence, contaminated land or the presence of radon, floods, ground stability and energy infrastructures such as solar or wind farms.
Environmental searches can warn you of the risk of problems that can be very expensive to fix, such as major underpinning works to deal with subsidence.
Water and drainage search
A water and drainage search is completed in conjunction with your local water provider. It confirms whether the property's sewers, drains and piping are all the water supplier's responsibility. The search, therefore, gives you vital reassurance that you will not be hit by additional maintenance costs for your water supply.
The water and drainage search also highlights the presence of public drains on your property. Depending on proximity, this could affect your plans for things like property extensions and putting up outbuildings.
If you are buying with a mortgage, you are required to accept this search by your lender. However, cash buyers are not required to buy this search, although they are advised to get it for peace of mind.
This search is recommended if your property is located on or near a site of previous or current mining activity, as this may severely reduce the property's value and is likely to affect the building's insurance premiums.
A mining search is usually carried out with The Coal Authority. This sets out whether the property has been, or is likely to be, affected by damage or hazards as a result of mining in the area. As a result of old tunnels and shafts caving in, subsidence is the most significant risk. If there’s a potential problem, the report can give you a vital heads-up on what it might mean in terms of damage, insurance, and repair costs.
The risk of flooding has become a major problem for property owners. The Environment Agency estimates that one in six properties in England and Wales are at risk of flooding. If the Environmental Search reveals that the property is on a flood plain, or if there is any other suggestion that the home is at risk, a Flood Risk Search will be recommended by your conveyancer.
Chancel repair liability is the legal obligation of property owners to pay for future repairs to the parish church. This is because liability is passed on to you when you purchase a chancel property.
There are usually two types of chancel searches; basic chancel check services reveal whether the property is within the boundary of a parish that could charge for repairs of the chancel, whereas a full chancel search reveals minute details of the obligation of the land to the church.
If you choose the ‘enhanced search pack’, rather than carrying out the search to determine whether insurance is required, we will simply take out the insurance as a precaution, which is ultimately cheaper.
How much do conveyancing searches cost?
The cost of conveyancing searches varies due to the property and type. The average price of a search package is typically between £200 and £450 based on location, conveyancer and the number of searches you require. Depending on the council, local authority searches cost between £50 and £250. Environmental searches are typically in the region of £50, while water and drainage searches are between £50 and £100. Depending largely on the size of the area of land that needs to be investigated, a mining search can cost between £25 and £120.
How long do conveyancing searches take?
For the environmental, water & drainage and most other specialist searches, you can expect the results to be available within 1 to 10 days of submitting the request.
With local authority searches, it all depends on the council. Some can usually turn around a search within ten days, while others can typically take a few weeks or more. However, it depends on how fast the relevant authority takes action and how many searches they carry out per month.
How can I keep the transaction moving?
Throughout the process, a good conveyancer is always proactive in keeping things moving for you, keeping you updated, and getting an estimated delivery time for your local search results. You can find out more information here on how long the full conveyancing process usually takes.
Suppose the wait times will likely lead to a significant hold-up, or you have a deadline for completion in mind that a delay could threaten. In that case, your conveyancer may suggest obtaining a local search indemnity policy instead of the full search results, subject to your lender’s acceptance (in the event you are using a mortgage).
As mentioned above, Muve is very comfortable working with search indemnity policies and will be able to help you in this instance.
Overall, waiting around for search results and dealing with any findings can feel like a needless formality, pushing back the exchange of contracts even further. However, it’s far better to be aware of any problems before you commit, rather than nasty surprises later on! So we always recommend that clients use a search indemnity or a search pack to mitigate these potential issues.