These are standard forms of enquiry sent to local authorities and other bodies to find out various bits of information about the property. In most cases searches cannot be applied for until we have received the contract and a plan of the property from the seller’s solicitor. We will also need the buyer to pay us the search fees in advance. Results usually take between 2 and 3 weeks to come through. There are various types of search, the most important being:
The local search
This consists of a long list of questions addressed to the local council and covers such matters as:
- Are the roads leading up to the property private, or are they public highways maintained at public expense by the local highways authority?
- Are there any financial charges affecting the property – e.g. a repayable improvement grant?
- Is there a breach of planning control?
- Are there proposals for new roads nearby?
- Is the property in a conservation area?
Buyers should note that the search does not cover other people’s properties; so for example, a planning application for adjoining land would not show up on the search result. If this is a matter of concern it is possible to have a planning search carried out, but do remember that a search is essentially a “snapshot in time” and a planning application could be made the day after the search was carried out which would, of course, not be revealed by it.
An Official search is submitted to a Local Authority (LA) for their staff to complete from the information kept by the LA. A Personal search is carried out by the employee of a search provider, who visits the council office and inspects and records the information kept by the LA.
The LA would be held responsible for any losses incurred as a result of a search being completed incorrectly. On the other hand, the search company would be held liable for any errors made by their employee and, as a result, maintain professional indemnity, specialist search and run-off cover insurance in order to provide the highest levels of consumer protection.
Personal searches came into being back in the 80’s when LAs were taking weeks, if not months, to return a completed search, and these delays were causing transactions to abort. Personal searches were always quicker and more cost effective than the more traditional official search. However, they were not always as accurate as they should have been, many lenders would not rely on the results of a personal search because of the perception that this type of search was unreliable but if personal searches are carried out by a reputable and properly insured agent then they can be just as acceptable.
That mind-set has now changed and as long as the conveyancer (and the client) is prepared to accept the results of a personal search the majority of lenders will now allow one to be carried out. The question now is down to personal choice and price. There are over 350 LAs and most charge different prices for providing a search. We still find the timescales for LAs vary significantly. The key benefit of a personal search is that the conveyancer (and client) will know what it will cost and have a clearer indication on timescales, no matter which LA stores the required information.
We use a range of reputable and properly insured agents to carry out personal searches on all transactions, as we believe this balances the commercial aspects in they afford adequate protection, give certainty on price and timescales for completion. As a consequence, we will instruct an agent to conduct a personal search on your behalf unless you specifically request an Official search when returning your client care pack.
The drainage search
This shows whether the property is connected to mains services for foul and surface water drainage and a useful plan incorporated in the search shows whether and public drains or sewers run under the land. This may be important to you if you wish to extend the property as special consideration needs to be given to building over drains and sewers.
The environmental search
This deals with a number of issues, probably the most important being whether or not the property is affected by contamination issues. The property might, for example, have been built near the site of an old factory which may have caused toxins to enter the land. Not only might these be harmful to health, but in certain cases the owner of the land may be ordered to clean it up even though the owner did not cause the pollution in the first place. The cost of this clean-up operation may be significant. Other issues revealed by the search relate to the risk of flooding, planning applications relating to properties within a 200 metres radius of the property, or whether the property is in an area which may be affected by radon gas emissions.
The Flood Report
The purpose of a flood report is to establish whether the property is at risk of flooding. Whilst an environmental search covers basic flood risk, the flood report focuses on flood risk issues in more detail. Properties at flood risk do not need to be close to a river or the sea or on low lying ground to be exposed to flood risk. Surface water, groundwater and overflowing sewers are major causes of flooding. The Environment Agency currently estimates that 1 in 6 properties in England are now at risk from flooding.
Apart from the physical impact of floods, if a property is at risk of flooding it may be difficult to obtain a mortgage, obtain suitable insurance cover and/or sell the property.
It is always prudent to carry out a mining search for properties in the traditional mining areas of the country. The search reveals whether the property is at risk from past or present mining operations.
Chancel repairs insurance
Chancel repair liability is a liability on some property owners to fund repairs to the chancel of the church. Rather than carry out searches, which can be expensive, we have taken the decision to take out a policy of indemnity insurance on behalf of all purchasers to cover any potential liability. The premiums start at £12.50 which is cheaper than the cost of the most basic chancel check search.