Buying a Home: What are Searches?
As part of the conveyancing process in a standard residential property purchase, we carry out 3 searches and obtain an indemnity insurance policy. We carry out a Local Authority Search, a Drainage and Water Search and an Environmental Search.
Please note that a lender will require these to be carried out as part of the legal work that we do in connection with a mortgage. If you are a cash buyer, you have the freedom to choose which searches we carry out. We would always recommend that all searches are obtained, so that you have as much information as possible to assist you with your purchase, and will assume that you wish us to carry out the usual searches unless you specifically instruct us otherwise.
What is a Local Authority Search?
This is a search carried out with the Local Authority where the Property is situated rather than with the Local Authority where your solicitor is located. As such, the price of this search varies depending on the Local Authority and is reviewed each financial year. For example, searches in Exeter are currently slightly more expensive than searches in East Devon, and local authorities in London charge significantly higher fees.
The purpose of this search is twofold, the first is to establish the planning and building regulations history and status of the Property, and the second is to establish whether the Local Authority are aware of any improvements/alterations to the transport network or similar which may affect the Property and therefore may impact on your decision to purchase the Property.
We check the planning and building regulations history of the Property to ensure that any works which have been done to the Property have been carried out correctly. In the event that an extension has been put up without planning permission, the local authority could take action against the owner of the Property at the time they decide to take action, not against the person who owned the Property at the time the extension was constructed. As such, we need to be able to advise you if there is the possibility of any action being taken against you for works which a previous owner has carried out. The local authority have a limited amount of time to take action (except in exceptional circumstances) so it may be that we can advise you that the likelihood of enforcement action is minimal.
Similarly, we need to be able to advise if works have been carried out in accordance with building regulations as the local authority may request that works are brought 'up to spec' as a condition of permitting any works which you wish to carry out. Works which were not carried out in accordance with building regulations may not have been carried out safely, or in accordance with good practice of the construction industry. As such, we investigate the building regulations history so that we can advise you of any potential implications (either financial implications or safety implications) for you.
This search also reveals whether the Property is in a Conservation Area, affected by a Tree Preservation Order or is a Listed Building, all of which may have an impact on how the Property can be used, altered and/or developed.
Regarding proposals which may affect the Property, the Local Search will not detail planning permissions which have been submitted on neighbouring or nearby land (a separate planning search is available at an additional cost if this is something that specifically concerns you) but the Local Search will detail if the Local Authority have plans to ,for example, widen an existing road or build a new road, build a railway or compulsorily purchase all or part of the Property as part of development works for the wider area. Clearly we need to be able to advise you of this, as any proposals to say build a dual carriageway through the rear garden of the Property and neighbouring properties would have a significant impact on the value of the Property and would almost certainly affect your decision to purchase the Property at the price that you had previously agreed (or withdraw from the purchase altogether).
What is a Drainage and Water Search?
This is a search carried out with the company who provide water and sewerage services to the Property and is carried out firstly to confirm that the Property is connected to, and billed for, mains water and sewerage, and secondly to establish the approximate route of any pipes and drains which may run through the Property. This is important as the water companies will, as a general rule, not permit new buildings to be constructed over or within 3 metres of existing drains and sewers, so your plans for an extension to the Property after completion may be curtailed either by the water company refusing to permit the works, or advising that they will only permit them if you relocate the sewer at your expense.
If it turns out that the Property is not connected to mains water and/or drainage, there are additional enquiries that we raise with the Seller's solicitors to be able to fully report to you on the Property.
What is an Environmental Search?
This is a search which reviews data from various sources (both historical and contemporary) to be able to provide us with information on a number of things, including flood risk, ground stability issues, whether there are plans to build any energy infrastructures near the Property (such a wind turbine in the neighbour's field) and whether the land is designated as contaminated.
This last point is incredibly important as the obligation to pay for clean-up of contaminated land falls can fall on the owner/occupier of the contaminated land, rather than on the person who caused the contamination. In the event that the Property is viewed as contaminated land, we therefore wish to advise you that there is the possibility of a large clean-up bill being presented as this may affect your decision to purchase the Property.
What is Chancel Indemnity Insurance?
Chancel repair is a historic obligation affecting some properties requiring the owner of the affected properties to contribute towards church repairs. Many parishes have since made a statement on record that they do not intend to enforce this obligation. Some parishes have not made such a statement, and therefore the possibility remains that some properties may be subject to an obligation to contribute towards church repairs, which can run into the thousands.
Historically, solicitors used to carry out a chancel search (at a cost of approx. £24.00) and then take out an indemnity insurance policy if the search revealed that there was a possibility of the Property being subject to chancel repairs. We have now been able to obtain a chancel insurance policy which costs £11.50 per property, so it is cheaper to obtain a policy on every property than it is to carry out a search to establish whether a policy is required. In the event that the local parish church do attempt to invoke the chancel repair liability, then the insurance policy will bear the cost either of the works, or in liaising with the local parish to arrange a settlement. In the event that the church does not contact you, then the policy will have no effect, and can simply remain with your deeds until you come to sell the Property.
If you have any queries regarding the process of purchasing a new home or the searches that are undertaken please do not hesitate to contact our conveyancing team.