What are conveyancing searches?
Conveyancing searches (also known as property searches) are enquiries made by your conveyancing solicitor to find out more information about a property you plan to purchase. They work with the Local Authority and other parties to find out the information they need.
The main searches when buying a property are:
- Local Authority
- Water and Property
These searches will be returned to you before you exchange contracts, as after that point you cannot pull out of the purchase.
What should you ask about your conveyancing search?
Your conveyancing solicitor should talk you through all the findings of their searches, but there are some key things you should make sure to find out. If you don’t get this information from the searches upfront, be sure to ask about it.
Future building developments - Is anything going to be built near your property that would affect your desire to buy it? The conveyancing searches may not always highlight plans for local developments that may affect the desirability of the home. This could impact you, or your ability to sell in the future. For example, there may be plans for a big estate or a major road/railway being built but they may not have planning yet and so won't appear in searches.
Ask your conveyancer if they can find out this information via the Local Plan and see what changes the area is expecting over the next 5+ years. It may also be worth asking neighbours if they plan on doing any work to their houses (e.g. extensions) as this may affect the property as well.
Flooding – Due to climate change, this has become much more of an issue recently. Make sure you get an accurate picture of flood risks. Even if the search says not, it may be worth checking with neighbours whether flooding has affected them in the past, or looking at reports from previous winters in local newspapers. Your property may not be a flood risk itself, but you may find nearby routes are blocked off.
Contamination issues – Contamination from substances like Radon can affect the safety of a home, and therefore its value. Make sure that the right things are being done to protect you if this is found in the search. It doesn't always have to be a dealbreaker, but know what you're getting into.
Drainage - If you plan to extend at some point, you will have to get permission from the water company if you want to build over their drains/move anything they own. Your search might give you some more information on whether that will be possible and what things you would be building over. It may also highlight if there are any issues with drains, especially if you have an access/manhole cover in your garden/on your property.
Subsidence – Subsidence can really affect the structural integrity of the building. Even after it's treated by underpinning, the value of the home will go down and insurance premiums will go up. Make sure your searches have highlighted anything that could cause subsidence, or subsidence that may have happened in the past.
Access - Is there access given somewhere in your property to people you don't expect? For example, will there be people walking past your kitchen window, or will you have shared drive access? If things like this would bother you it's helpful to ask about them when your searches come back.
Bills – Some properties may come with additional bills you may not have heard of, for example chancel repair bills (contributing to the upkeep of a local church or its grounds). Ask if your search has highlighted all the expenses that come with the home.
The key questions that are always worth asking your conveyancer when searches come back are 'what won't they tell me?' and ‘what else might I need to know?’ Always get all your answers in writing so if anything happens later, you have some evidence of the findings.
Useful things to know about searches
You will have to pay for searches, and it is your decision which searches you have done. Sometimes you can get a package of all of them or you can buy individually.
Your conveyancing company will typically advise which searches you should have. This should come from their local knowledge, as every area has it's own issues. For example, some areas will be more likely to flood, and some spaces may have previously been industrial sites which could have been contaminated.
When the searches come back, most, but not all have:
a. A summary of any issues
b. A traffic light system helping to highlight the issues
Remember your conveyancer will go through these with you and it's their job to advise if there are any concerns.
The return of your property searches before you exchange contracts with the homeowner will be your last chance to decide if you want to buy a property. Therefore, though its unlikely anything too bad will crop up, it's vital you ask questions and get as much information out of them as possible, so that you know everything about the house you want to own.