Property Searches When Buying a House – What Are They?

Property searches (also known as conveyancing searches) are conducted on most house purchases in the UK. But what are they? In this guide we give you all the information you need on property searches.

26th January, 2022

Property searches (also known as conveyancing searches) are conducted on most house purchases in the UK. But what are they? In this guide we give you all the information you need on property searches. We’ll cover what they are, whether or not you need to get property searches, how long they usually take and what the different types of searches are. We’ll also give an overview of the costs of property searches and what the next steps are after your searches are completed. 

Looking for something specific like the difference between official and personal searches, or wondering do you need searches if you’re a cash buyer? Then use the menu below to find the info you need more easily. Otherwise, read on for our complete guide to property searches! 

 

What are property searches? 

Property searches are checks conducted by a conveyancing solicitor that cover the local area of your property. They are carried out to establish whether or not planned developments or historical issues might impact the house that you’re buying. Conveyancing searches are a great source of information about a property. They usually include whether planning permission will be granted for future developments in the area, if there’s any issues with the quality of the land on which your future home has been built, and they give details of things like drainage and access rights. 

Conveyancing searches are raised before contracts are exchanged. This means that any enquiries relating to the outcome of the searches can be resolved by the vendor (or vendor’s solicitor) before you legally commit yourself to buying the property. It may be that you renegotiate the purchase price of the property based on the outcome of the searches. So it’s important to iron out any details that might negatively impact the value of the property or result in costs later on. 
 
Property searches are conducted by a solicitor
 

Do I need to get property searches? 

It’s highly recommended that you do carry out searches when buying a property. This is because they can surface critical bits of information that will have an impact on the value of your house. However, it’s not always necessary to get conveyancing searches. 

If you’re buying your home using a mortgage, then searches are a legal requirement. This is because lenders also own the property up until the point that you’ve fully repaid your mortgage. They therefore need to ensure that there are no serious issues with the area that could affect the property value should they have to repossess the property and then resell it.

If you’re buying your property using 100% cash funds then you don’t have to conduct property searches. It’s still advisable that you do carry out the searches recommended by your solicitor after they conduct the check on the title deeds of the property. As mentioned before, you don’t want to get lumped with a bill further down the line that could’ve been uncovered in a search before you purchased the property. 

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How long do conveyancing searches take? 

The time taken for searches to be returned will depend to some extent on factors like your property size and type, the type of search, and the method in which they are returned (i.e. email, online portal or mail). The main thing that will dictate how long your property searches take however is local authority staffing levels and demand in the area. 
 
Property searches can take a long time
 
The turnaround time for searches can be extremely quick (as little as 48 hours) but can take much longer. The government target for returning property searches is 10 days. However over the past year search turnaround times have increased quite substantially due to high demand in the housing market. According to recent data published by Property Searches Direct, the average turnaround time for property searches at the beginning of 2022 was 15 days. 

There is a high degree of variance between Local Authorities, with some particularly slow areas. We’ve published the 10 worst offenders below with turnaround times ranging from 40 to 155 (!) working days. 

Council Council Turnaround (Working Days)
London Borough of Hackney 155
Dorset Council (West Dorset District Council) 83
Dorset Council (Weymouth & Portland Borough Council) 65
Dorset Council (North Dorset District Council) 64
Plymouth City Council 55
Dorset Council (Purbeck District Council) 50
Lichfield District Council 45
Wiltshire Council (Unitary) 45
Durham County Council (Unitary) 40
Pembrokeshire County Council 40

You may be wondering how you can speed up your conveyancing searches. There are some actions that you can take. You should make sure that you: 

  • Stay on top of the correspondence with your solicitor to make sure they’re working through the searches quickly. 
  • Maintain a good dialogue with the property vendor so that they will respond to enquiries regarding searches more quickly. 
  • Don’t carry out unnecessary searches. Your solicitor will recommend the searches that they think are required and unless you have a good reason to think you need additional searches, it’s best to stick to these. 

 

Types of searches

There are a number of different types of property search. The four searches that are compulsory if you’re buying a property using a mortgage are below.  

  • Local Authority Search. Divided into two parts. The local land charges certificate (LLC1) and enquiries of the local authority (CON29). The LLC1 will tell you if the property has debts or charges registered against it, is a listed building, is in a conservation area or subject to a tree preservation order, and is in a smoke control area. The CON29 gives information about whether the property is affected by planned or proposed road or rail schemes nearby, has breached planning permissions or building regulations, is on the contaminated land register, or is in a radon affected area. 
  • Water and Drainage Search. This straightforward search gives information about the property’s proximity to public sewers and water mains, tells you whether the building is connected to a public water supply, and highlights if the house has a public sewer running within its boundaries.   
  • Environmental Search. It’s possible that the property you are buying is built on land that was used in the past for industrial purposes or for landfill. The environmental search shows how the land was used in the past and highlights any risks that the usage might have created. It also surfaces any risk of flooding, landslip and subsidence.  
  • Coal Mining Search. This property search is only required if the property is built on an area that was previously used for coal mining. Activities like this could mean that the ground beneath the property is unstable, which increases the risk of landslip or subsidence. This search highlights those risks. We’ve included an example of this property search to download

There are some additional optional searches that can be carried out in specific instances. 

  • Commons Registration. Carried out if a property borders with common land, this search is recommended per the Commons Registration Act (1965). Solicitors may also recommend this search when purchasing agricultural land. 
  • Land Charges. Conducted when purchasing unregistered land, this search will detail if there are bankruptcy proceedings against the owner of the land. It will also surface restrictions on the use of land. You can also include land registry searches in this category, which are downloaded via the land registry website. 
  • Chancel Repair. If the property that you are buying is within the parishes of the church then there’s a possibility that you will be liable to contribute towards repair and maintenance costs of the church. This property search gives that information. 
  • High Speed Rail Search. This is a relatively new search and checks whether your potential future home will be affected by the planned works of the new high-speed railway (HS2). 

 

How much do property searches cost? 

Similar to search turnaround time, the cost of property searches varies depending on the type of search and the Local Authority that you are purchasing in. It can also depend on the size of the land you need the search conducting on (for example environmental searches on a large piece of land will typically be more expensive). 
 
The cost of property searches varies
 
We’ve published a range of costs taken from The Advisory to give you an idea of how much you can expect to pay for your property searches. 

Type of Search Cost Range
Local Authority £60-£230
Drainage and water £50-£100
Environmental £25-£60
Flood risk £20-£50
Coal and general mining £25-£120
Chancel repair £20-£90
Land registry – title register £3 (online copy) £7 (official copy)
Land registry – title plan £3 (online copy) £7 (official copy)

 

What’s the difference between official and personal searches?

The terminology relating to these searches has changed. Official searches are now known as Council searches, and Personal searches are now known as Regulated searches. 

So what’s the difference between Council and Regulated searches? In short Council searches are conducted by the Local Authority and the information is passed directly to your conveyancing solicitor. Regulated searches are conducted by property experts who work for companies that specialise in the field. These searches are usually quicker than council searches, and have indemnity insurance policies attached to them to indemnify them against any mistake or oversight. Searches conducted by these companies are standardised as they are regulated by The Property Ombudsman (TPO), and they’ll usually summarise the most important information for your solicitor to be able to act more quickly. 

 

What happens after searches are completed?

Assuming there are no major issues surfaced by the conveyancing searches, then the purchase can progress towards the exchange of contracts. However, there will usually be enquiries raised by the buyer’s solicitor about the information contained in the property searches. This is where things can really slow down in a property sale. Enquiries can go back and forth for weeks, and it’s not uncommon for issues raised by property searches to be ‘unsolvable’. This means the buyer drops out of the transaction, and if there’s a property chain in place, it breaks. 

This can be incredibly frustrating as a seller. You’ve gotten so close to the finish line and your sale falls through, leaving you back at square one. At this point you may wish to consider a cash house buyer like SmoothSale. We buy any house in any condition, and because we purchase using our own funds you don’t get bogged down with the normal back and forth that comes as part and parcel of the conveyancing process. Give us a call on 0800 368 8952 or get a cash offer if you want to find out more!

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Sell your house for cash to SmoothSale

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