A conveyancer also carries out a variety of “searches” relating to the property’s status and ownership, and other factors. In addition to more obvious enquiries on factors such as land boundaries (including boundary disputes) and planning permissions, here are a few of the conveyancing searches typically carried out for properties in London.
Is the property leasehold or freehold?
Properties in England and Wales fall under one of two types of land tenure: leasehold and freehold. The distinctions between the two are of a legal nature, however it can mean a difference to your rights and responsibilities when you buy a property, including such matters as rights of access and the upkeep of common areas.
As a rule of thumb, traditional houses tend to be freehold while converted properties and developments – which account for a fair proportion of London flats – are often leasehold … although, confusingly, they may sometimes be on a “shared freehold” basis. Your conveyancer will confirm the tenure basis of your new property, and explain what this means for you.
Listed buildings and conservation areas
Many historic properties in England have been designated as listed buildings – classified as Grade I, II* or II – by Historic England (formerly English Heritage). The heritage list aims to preserve the appearance and character of these historically significant buildings, and there are around 600 such properties within the boundaries of Greater London.
Purchasing a listed building involves special responsibilities to maintain and preserve the condition of the property. In addition to individual listed buildings, some entire neighbourhoods are designated as conservation areas. Conservation areas are found throughout London – even in some more suburban boroughs – and special planning controls may affect what you can do to properties bought in these areas.
Certain areas of London have been shown to be at a relatively high risk of flooding, and this has the potential to affect the safety of your property and potentially your home insurance premiums. Your conveyancer will carry out an environmental search which should highlight potential local hazards including flooding. If this is the case, it’s usually worth arranging for your conveyancer to obtain a more detailed flood risk report – these are relatively inexpensive but are often worthwhile if the property is at potential risk.
Rail and road works
It is only fair to the buyer of a property that he or she should be aware of any major works due to be carried out that might either cause significant disruption or affect the value of the property in the longer term. Your conveyancer will conduct various searches to determine whether major public works have received approval or been proposed at local authority level. In most cases such searches will reveal whether your new home is within 200 metres of proposed rail works or the construction or alteration of roads.
Of particular interest to buyers in London and up the core of England, will be the HS2 Railway. Phase One starts at London Euston and reaches the West Midlands. Phase Two links the West Midlands with Manchester and Leeds. London’s Crossrail is currently under construction and will run from Reading to Woolwich in the South East of London, and through East London to Brentford in Essex. Here is a useful link provided by Transport For London https://tfl.gov.uk/info-for/urban-planning-and-construction/conveyancing-searches.
Your conveyancer will carry out a wide range of searches for any factors that may affect you as the new owner of the property. These can range from vital checks on the risk of subsidence in your property, to checking things like Tree Preservation Orders which prevent cutting down or uprooting trees located on your property. The search process typically takes less than a month and is conducted at the same conveyancing stage as the exchange of contracts. While it is often a straightforward affair, it is an important stage in determining your legal rights and obligations as the prospective property owner.