What are solicitor searches when buying a house?

When you instruct a solicitor to carry out the conveyancing process, they will need to conduct various searches before your property purchase can go through.

Solicitor searches are necessary so that you can find out if there are any issues you need to be aware of before you take ownership of your new home.

They are also required by lenders, who will want to be certain that there’s nothing which could affect the property’s value before they offer you a mortgage.

What searches are involved in conveyancing?

There are several different types of searches your solicitor will conduct when you buy a property.

  • Local authority searches

    Local authority searches are arguably the most important type of search your solicitor will arrange, as they will look at all information held by the local authority involving the property, including any prospective plans for nearby new developments or roads. They will also show who is responsible for maintaining roads and paths adjoining the property. Local Authority searches can take from one to six weeks to complete and can cost anything between £70 and £400 depending which authority your property is located in.

    • Land Registry searches

    Your solicitor will need to prove that the property seller is the legal owner of the property you are buying. They do this by checking the ‘title register’ and ‘title plan’ at the Land Registry. These checks cost around £3 each, and are legally required for the sale to go ahead.

    • Environmental searches

    An environmental search is important as it will establish whether the property you are buying is built on or near contaminated land or water, or an old landfill site. Your lender may insist that this type of search is carried out before they will offer you a mortgage. The reason this type of search is required is because many properties are built on land which was previously used for industrial purposes, and toxic substances could remain in the ground. If these aren’t uncovered before you take ownership of the property you could find yourself with a home that is impossible to sell later, or even worse is a health hazard. An environmental search should also show whether there is a risk of flooding.

    • Water authority searches

    A water authority search will establish where your water comes from and whether there are any public drains on the property. This is vital as if there is one it could affect any building work you want to do in the future, such as an extension.

    • Location specific searches

    Depending on the area where you are buying a property, your solicitor might suggest arranging some additional searches. For example, if you are buying in an area formerly used for mining, you may want to arrange for a mining search to be carried out, to establish whether the home you want to buy has been built on unstable ground and so is at risk of subsidence.

    • Chancel repair search

    A chancel repair search is necessary to establish whether you will be liable for the cost of repairs to a parish church. During the middle ages, property owners rather than monasteries became responsible for repairing church chancels. Following a law change in October 2013, the church must now establish and lodge liability with the Land Registry, but in certain circumstances the church can still insist a property owner is liable for repairs even if the liability hasn’t been registered. A chancel repair search only costs a few pounds and you may opt to take out Chancel repair insurance instead, which typically costs around £20.

    How long do conveyancing searches take?

    It’s difficult to give a specific timescale for conveyancing searches as the length of time they will take depend on your solicitor, where the property is and which earches need to be conducted, as well as how long external bodies take to produce the required information. Some councils respond very quickly to search requests, while others may take weeks.

    As a rough guide, searches typically take around two to three weeks to complete, but remember that their results may prompt your solicitor to make further enquiries.

    Often the best way to speed up the length of time it takes for searches to take place is to keep in regular contact with your solicitor so you can ensure they have put in all the relevant requests, and that they chase them up if there are any delays.

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