Conveyancing Searches – Becoming a Property Detective

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Hello again.  I hope you are all well and looking forward to spring.  Today I’m going to be talking about searches; the kind you do when you’re buying a house. ‘What searches can I do on a house?’ I hear you ask. Well, practically any searches you want to do, within reason, from trawling the National Archives census records, to searching a map called ‘Bomb Sight’ to find out if your prospective home was ever bombed in the second world war. There is even a website called ‘Housecreep’ in the USA where you can find out if a property has a curious, haunted or criminal history!

But on a more serious note, what are the standard, mainstream searches that most people should do when buying a new house? Well, if you’re getting a mortgage you will certainly need at least three; the local authority search, the environmental search and the water and drainage search. There’s a good reason lenders ask for these; they contain a wealth of useful information. They may be an extra expense you’d rather not pay when you are forking out for a new house, costing around £120 for a local authority search, around £60 for water and drainage and roughly the same for an environmental search but they are a worthwhile investment when you consider what you could save.  Here’s a quick look at what they do and how they can help you.

Firstly, the Local Authority Search. This will tell you if there are any financial charges against the property – this is very important! You don’t want to move in to find out you have to pay thousands of pounds towards a community infrastructure levy scheme you didn’t know existed! It also covers roads and footpaths next to the property, are they publicly maintained, or do you have to pay the upkeep yourself? Is a main road or a railway going to be built next to your new home? Or will the local authority stop you cutting down that large tree in the front garden with its long roots that creep ever closer to your new front door?

A drainage and water search is what it says on the tin. This search gives you information about the water supply and sewer connections to your future property. You need to know what drainage and water services you have because if a search shows that the property does not have mains drainage then you will need a septic tank or another disposal facility. You will be responsible for the maintenance of these and you may need discharge consents. Also, if there is a public drain on the property you will need a build over agreement to build an extension on it.

Finally, the environmental search.  Although this does not actually involve a physical survey, it uses past records of land and ordnance survey maps to show you the risk of flooding, radon, subsidence, and contamination in the area of the property. You can then decide if the environment is right for you and your family.  Are there any pylons or landfill sites nearby, for example? What kind of educational facilities does the local neighbourhood have?  

If you are a cash buyer you do not have to get these searches done, but in my opinion, they are highly valuable and to be recommended.  There have been cases of people buying houses only to find they have been built on contaminated sites that could cause serious illnesses or on flood planes that have turned their gardens into rivers. Isn’t it worth paying £60 to search before you buy?

Anne-Marie Norman

Anne-Marie has worked for over twenty years in the legal profession and has a wealth of experience in all aspects of residential conveyancing. Anne-Marie did her first degree in English and Drama at Exeter University, followed by a degree in Law at London University. She is a graduate member of The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and belongs to their Conveyancing Specialist Reference Group.
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