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The Searches when Buying a House

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You’ve found the dream property, and your offer accepted but what comes next? What are the searches done when buying a house? Typically, what happens next in the conveyancing process involves searches on and around the property. Let’s take a closer look at what these searches are and why they’re important in the house buying process.

Are searches necessary when buying a house?

If you’re buying with a mortgage, searches are a requirement. Lenders request them to safeguard their investment. Searches can reveal essential information, flagging up any issues that could affect your enjoyment of the property, or its resale value.

Do I need searches when buying a house for cash?

If you’re buying a house with cash, searches aren’t obligatory since it’s your own money at risk, not a lender’s. Even though you’re a cash buyer, searches are still advised. You may not have a mortgage lender requiring them, but you’d still want to know if there are any issues with the property. This so to prevent any costly issues from cropping up later. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The main searches when buying a house?

Your solicitor will handle the searches on your behalf and interpret the results for you, flagging any issues that need attention.

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There are three main searches your solicitor will undertake when you’re buying a property:

Local authority searches when buying a house

A local authority search looks into any planning issues. Planning restrictions, or issues like road schemes that could affect the property. For example, if the property is in the vicinity of a planning proposal for a new motorway nearby this could significantly affect your quality of life and potentially the value of the property. In such a scenario, you have a few options like pulling out of the purchase altogether, renegotiating the price or if you’re okay with the revelation, you might choose to continue with the purchase as planned.

Water and drainage search when buying a house

This looks at where your water comes from and where the wastewater goes. It also identifies who supplies your water and if the property is on a water meter or water rates.

If a search reveals a public sewer ran under the property this could cause issues if you wanted to extend the property at any point so it’s worth knowing in advance.

Environmental search when buying a house

Environmental searches look at potential land issues such as flood risk, subsidence, land contamination or landslide issues.

If any of the above issues were red flagged, then you may find that your mortgage lender will not approve your mortgage application to buy the property.

Your solicitor is your main point of contact for any questions or concerns. But of course, the seller’s estate agent will always be on hand to assist and answer any questions raised during the property searches.

Other property searches when buying a house

Beyond the big three, additional searches may be recommended by your solicitor based on the property’s location and type. For example:

Chancel repair liability

This checks whether the property is liable for contributions toward repairs to a nearby church. The liability dates back to medieval times but can still be enforced today. If your property falls under this category, you might be on the hook for unexpected church repair bills. Best to know about it upfront, right?

Mining search when buying a house

If the property is located in an area with a history of mining, this search is crucial. It will reveal whether the property is at risk of being affected by mining-related issues, such as subsidence. With the UK’s extensive mining history, this is particularly relevant in regions like Cornwall and the North. Knowing this information beforehand can save you from potential structural issues and financial headaches down the line.

Flood risk assessment

Given the increasingly unpredictable weather, flood risk assessments are becoming increasingly relevant. This search provides an analysis of how likely the property is to flood. The potential sources of flooding (like rivers or seas), and the impact of any flood defences.

Who pays for searches and what do they cost?

As the homebuyer you will be liable to pay for property searches when buying a house and the cost per search varies council by council.

As a guide, you can expect to pay the following:

Local authority search£15 to £250
Water and drainage£50 to £200
Environmental searches£20 to £100
Chancel search£20 to £100
Mining search£25+
Flood search£30 to £70

The above estimates do not include VAT

How long do property searches take?

Searches can take anywhere between 24 hours to 6 weeks! There is currently quite a disparity across local authorities so be aware of what these are as you approach this stage of the conveyancing process.

HM Land Registry is working with local authorities in England and Wales to standardise a digital local land charges register with information in one accessible place. This means that if your local authority is on this platform you can get these searches done instantly!

Check to find out if your local authority is already part of this program.

Once the searches are done it is down to how proactive your solicitor is in reviewing them and feeding back to you on the results.

A proactive solicitor on your team is really important to keep the momentum going.

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What happens after searches are done when buying a house?

After your solicitor receives and reviews all the search results, you’ll be briefed on any issues. If all is clear, you move towards exchanging contracts. If any issues are raised, you may want to readdress these with the seller or their estate agent.

Next steps

If you’re unsure about which searches when buying a house, speak to your solicitor. And keep in regular contact with the sales agent who will also play a crucial role in keeping the process moving.

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Last Updated: November 22nd, 2023

Phil Spencer

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