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What are property searches?

Property searches are essential checks performed by your lawyer before you purchase a property.

They will examine the history of the property, environmental factors, and enquire about any outstanding plans for development in the surrounding areas. 

Read on to learn more about why lawyers need to undertake property searches.


Know the property before you commit

Before you commit to buying a property by exchanging contracts, you need to know as much as possible about it - especially if there is anything that could affect its future value, or your enjoyment of it.

That's why your conveyancer will recommend that property searches are undertaken. And if you are taking out a mortgage on the property, then it’s likely that your mortgage provider will require detailed property searches to be carried out, before agreeing to the mortgage.

Without searches, you could end up as the owner of a property which floods, or has debt attached to it that you will become responsible for. Searches will help to make sure that you don’t have a property that is difficult to insure, that you’ve paid too much for, or is unsaleable in the future.

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Types of property searches

The 3 main types of property searches performed in the UK are:

- A local authority search

- Water and drainage search

- Environmental search

Although there are other types of property searches that can be conducted, these are the standard three which are carried out when you are in the process of buying a house or another residential property.

1. Local authority search

A local authority search is done with the local council and tells you about planning permissions, building regulations, conservations areas, listed buildings, and highways.

It will also tell you if the council has done any work to the property, or lent someone money to do work to the property that needs to be paid back. For example, if a previous owner had the house adapted for an occupier with a special need or disability, and the council paid for that, then they may need to be paid back.

You can arrange to have a search that is carried out by a specialist company (a regulated search), or it can be done by the council directly.

The local authority search typically takes the longest of all the standard property searches. Each council uses different methods to provide the information, and their speed often depends on their staffing levels.

For example, when local services were disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, it could take months to get a local search completed.

If you choose to complete your local search through Eden, we provide an estimated timescale once the property searches are ordered, as well as providing daily or weekly updates on the process of your sale. This means that although the process of local authority searches can be long, you’ll have full visibility of where you’re at in the process.

2. Water and drainage search

A water and drainage search will let you know whether the property is connected to mains water and sewerage, and who owns them. If it isn’t, then there is probably private water supply or sewerage, and your conveyancer will need to find out who owns it and what rights the property has to use it.

This search will also tell you where the drains are. This will be helpful if you are planning an extension, as you are likely to need the water authority’s permission if you want to build over the drains.

3. Environmental search

An environmental search will tell you if the property is likely to flood, if there is potential for landslides, or if there is any contaminated land nearby. Being aware of environmental issues before you commit to buy is essential. Your conveyancer can look into how stable the land around the property is, as well as any history of flooding in the area from local bodies of water.

It is also vital to know about any contaminated land, which can be commonly caused by chemical or agricultural waste. If the person responsible for the contamination cannot be found, the costs of any clean-up may fall to the current property owner. An environmental search can help you to avoid any nasty, costly surprises later down the line.

Specialist property searches

There are also specialist searches for different areas and types of property. Here are a few which may apply to you, depending on the type of property you’re looking to buy, and the layout of the
surrounding area.

Coal mining and brine search

Some areas will have a history of mining. For example, coal mining in South Wales and tin mining in Cornwall. This search will tell you about historic mining, where mine shafts are, and whether this is likely to cause any subsidence to the property.

Planning search

When you do a local authority search, you only get information back about the property you are searching on. This means that if the house you were buying had planning permission to build an
extension, then the report would tell mention that. However, if next door had planning permission, then you wouldn’t find out with a local authority report.

If you want to know if the neighbouring property or adjoining land is going to be developed, then you need a planning search which will cover the area of the property you are buying, and not just that property itself.

Canal and river search

Some people who own properties which back on to rivers, canals, and streams will purchase a property with certain rights – for instance, fishing or mooring. But that property may also have financial responsibilities towards that watercourse.

This search will tell you what rights you have, whether you have any obligation to fund the watercourse, and whether you have the right to use the water for your own purposes (like a water supply).

Utilities search

A utility search locates any buried utilities on a site as electricity cables, gas pipes, fibre-optic cables, and sewers.

A full utility search is essential for anyone wanting to undertake construction on a site, so this report is most suitable for people planning to redevelop a site. It should be done in the design phase, so that any limitations on the design are known from the outset and whether any utilities need to be diverted.

Energy and infrastructure

Just as a property could be in an area affected by historic mining, it could also be in an area of future development for new projects. This search looks out to varying distances to identify projects that might affect a property, such as the HS2 railway project, and fracking.

Additional property searches

Finally, your conveyancer will do some other searches too just before you complete.

Land Registry search

Your seller’s conveyancer will give your conveyancer the Land Registry documents for the property at the outset of your transaction. Before you complete, your conveyancer will do a search at the Land Registry to make sure nothing has changed on those documents in the meantime, and to obtain a priority period over those documents. A priority period means that no-one else can lodge anything at the Land Registry until the property has been put in your name.

Bankruptcy search

Your mortgage provider will want to know that you aren’t bankrupt before they give you the mortgage funds. Your conveyancer will do a search to confirm this.

Lender search

Your conveyancer will check your mortgage provider’s conditions for lending money at the outset of your transaction. They will do a check before you complete to make sure that these haven’t changed.

Lawyer checker

Criminals see the sending of completion monies as an opportunity to try to intercept communications.
Therefore, before we send any money to another lawyer, we do a check on the bank account details that they’ve sent us to make sure that they are valid.


Property searches - FAQs

Why are property searches important?

Property searches will help to make you aware of any issues with a property before you commit to buy. For instance, what planning permissions the house has, or any environmental risks such as flooding or subsidence.

Property searches allow buyers to make informed decisions about a property, by making them aware of possible issues that wouldn’t be obvious on a first, or even second or third viewing.

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Can you buy a house without a property search?

Although it is possible to complete a house purchase without a property search, it is not recommended practice to do so. Property searches establish any major issues with the property, so you can make an informed decision before exchanging contracts with the seller and committing to buy.

If you are planning to get a mortgage to fund your house purchase, your mortgage provider will require property searches to be done before agreeing to drawdown on the loan. In this case, you will need to perform property searches in order to buy the property, or find another way to fund the purchase.

What can property searches reveal?

There are a number of different property searches that can be performed on a home. However, the standard information a property search will reveal includes:

- Building regulations and planning permissions
- Connection to both water mains and sewerage
- Proximity to conservation areas or highways
- Risk of flooding or subsidence
- Areas of contaminated land
- Outstanding debts associated with the property

If you are purchasing property in an area previously associated with coal mining, or close to lakes, rivers, or heritage sites, there are a number of specialist property searches that your conveyancer can conduct on your behalf too.

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Can property searches be done online?

Because property searches rely primarily on data research conducted by third parties, as well as getting in contact with the local authority, most aspects of a property search can now be completed online.

However, if the result of a search, such as an environmental search require further investigation, then a specialist may need to visit the site in-person to carry out these checks.

How long do property searches take?

Once your conveyancer has requested a search, it takes an average of 6 to 8 weeks for the information to be made available. The information in the report may lead to more questions being asked of the seller via their conveyancer to clarify the search result. The search result and the replies to those questions will then need to be compiled into a report and shared with the buyer, before they can decide whether they wish to proceed with their purchase.

The time it takes to conduct a property search can vary, depending on your local authority. If they are experiencing a higher or lower volume of property search requests than usual, this can affect how long the property search will take.


When are property searches completed?

Property searches are typically completed over a period of a few weeks. Your conveyancer can request the property search shortly after the buyer has accepted your offer. Or, if you want to be sure you have a mortgage in place, then the searches can be ordered once your mortgage offer is in place.

Once the property search is completed and a report compiled, you will be given the results of the property search and can make a final decision to proceed with the purchase before exchanging contracts with the seller.

Can property searches be fast-tracked?

Although the duration of most property searches rely on the efficiency of the local authority, some councils in the UK have the option to fast-track your property search for an additional fee.

If you are in the position where you need to move home quickly, this is something you can discuss with your conveyancer. However, it may not be possible in all cases.

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Do property searches expire?

Although property searches do not expire, it is better to get an up-to-date property search, in case anything has changed since the previous one was conducted. Most mortgage lenders require searches to be less than 3 months old.

For instance, the local authority might have changed their planning policy, or the environmental landscape around the property may have changed and increased the risks of flooding.

An up-to-date property search ensures you are making your final decision to buy a property based on the best information available.

How can I find a trusted conveyancer in my area?

To find a trusted conveyancer, it’s a good idea to look at reviews left by other customers and see what they have to say about their experience. You should also check to make sure the conveyancing service is properly certified by an organisation like the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC).

If you don’t have a conveyancer in mind, or are looking for a more modern and streamlined purchasing process, an online service such as Eden could be the perfect fit for you.

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Eden: Your trusted online conveyancing service

If you’re looking for a hassle-free conveyancing service, which will provide expert guidance and visibility over the entire process of purchasing a property, then look no further.

At Eden, we are proud to pair our housing law expertise, with an all-in-one platform which allows you to track your purchase journey and keep all your important documents in one place.

Whether you’re a first-time buyer or selling your home, our team of experienced conveyancers are on hand to help. Find out more about the benefits of our online conveyancing service, or get an instant quote from us today.