What are conveyancing searches?
Property searches (also known as conveyancing searches) are enquiries made by your solicitor to find out more information about a property you plan to purchase. As part of the home-buying process, your conveyancer will carry out a variety of 'searches' with the local authority and other parties.
The main searches when buying a property are:
- Local Authority
- Water and Property
They typically include aspects such as whether planning permission may be granted for a future development that would negatively impact your property, the quality of the ground on which your house is built, or details of common drains and access rights.
The conveyancing searches should be completed and approved before you exchange contracts and legally commit yourself to purchasing the property, as they may highlight planning or structural issues that could either affect the value of the property, or result in additional costs further down the line.
How long do Conveyancing Searches take?
There are over 340 local authorities across the UK and searches are managed differently in each, so turnaround time can take anything from 48 hours to several weeks.
Local searches can vary due to the method in which your local authority return search results. For example, if you receive your search results electronically via an online portal or email this will be much quicker than by post.
Many local authorities only have small teams working in the Land Charges departments, so during busy periods it could take longer for them to return your search results.
Local Authority Searches
A local authority search will provide you with detailed information about your property and the surrounding areas. This will give you peace of mind before going ahead with the purchase of your new home and ensure you avoid any nasty surprises in the future.
There are two parts to a local authority search, a LLC1 result and a CON29 result.
The LLC1 results will tell you if the property:
- Is a listed building
- Is located in a conservation area
- Is situated in a tree preservation order area
- Needs an improvement or renovation grant
- Is in a smoke control area
Any future development plans that could affect your property are assessed by CON29. The CON29 results are broken down into two different parts (required and optional). The required results will reveal:
- Proposals for new roads or traffic schemes
- Contaminated land
- Planning decisions affecting your property
- Building regulations
- If your property is in a Radon affected area
From time to time additional information may be required using the CON29 form. Examples include road proposals by private bodies, completion notices, land maintenance notices and environmental and pollution notices. CON29 works to assess any changes that could be made in the near future that may affect your property.
Water, drainage and other property searches
It is also recommended for First Time Buyers to apply to the local water company responsible for the property asking for confirmation that the sewers, drains and piping are maintained by them. A water and drainage search carried out by your conveyancer will also highlight the proximity of the property to public sewers and whether the property has a sewer running within the boundaries of the property.
An environmental search identifies whether the previous land use of the property creates a potential environmental risk. This type of search will highlight issues including:
- Contaminated land due to historic landfills and waste sites
- The risk of flooding from nearby rivers or seas
In certain cases, your conveyancer may recommend carrying out the following non-routine searches, depending on the location of the property:
If a property borders with common land, a village green or is in a rural area a search is recommended in accordance with the Commons Registration Act 1965. This property search should also be carried out when purchasing agricultural land.
A mining search is required if the property is situated in an area of previous or current mining history and is at risk of being built on unstable ground. This search is largely carried out for the benefit of the mortgage lender.
This is a search that should be taken when dealing with unregistered land, detailing any bankruptcy proceedings attributed to the owner of the land. It will also highlight if there are any restrictions on the use of land, estate contracts and mortgages.
Chancel repair liability
All parochial church councils in England and Wales were given until October 2013 to identify and register any land bound to chancel repair liability. This information is kept by the Land Registry and stored on the Title Register database, so if you buy or inherit a property and you live within the parishes of the church, it is worth checking if you are liable to contribute towards the cost of repairs to the church.
First Time Buyers should be mindful that property searches, by their nature, will often flag up things about a property you might not have previously considered. It is therefore very important to discuss the results with your conveyancer, and to seek other opinions from people with knowledge of the buying process and the local area.
Updated October 2022 by Jeremy Greer