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Do I need to carry out property searches?

property on a laptop - property searches

Do I need to carry out property searches?

We are often asked, “Do I need to carry out property searches?” by clients wanting to proceed to a speedy exchange.

If you are seeking to buy a property with a mortgage, your lender will require searches to be carried out. The main searches that nearly all mortgage providers require are Local Authority, Water and Drainage, Environmental, and Chancel Repair. There can then be additional searches which depend upon the location of the property and what is happening nearby, such as Coal Mining, High Speed 2 (HS2) and Crossrail and Plan Search, to name just a few.

HS2 and Crossrail and Plan searches may be required depending on where the property is located. If a property is located close to the HS2 route, it may be affected by the construction and operation of the railway line. As a result, buyers and mortgage lenders may wish to obtain an HS2 search to determine whether the property is likely to be affected by noise, vibration, or other issues associated with the railway. However, even if you are not buying your purchase with the aid of a mortgage, we still strongly recommend that you obtain the following searches:

Local search

The local search provides information about the property’s history and potential restrictions or issues that could impact its value or use. This includes whether anyone has ever applied for and been given planning permission and building regulation consent for the property. Such items may adversely affect the value or enjoyment of the property or could involve you in unexpected cost.

It will also reveal:

  • whether the council has responsibility for the road on which the property stands.
  • whether the property is in a smoke control area, so only smokeless fuel may be burned at the property.
  • whether the property is in a conservation area which places restrictions on building and demolition works.
  • whether there is a tree preservation order in place which may affect some of the trees at the property and prevent you from lopping, topping, or felling any trees; and
  • whether the property is within an area where the local authority has imposed controls over houses with multiple occupations. Failure to register a property as HMO could lead to prosecution and a fine.

Water and Drainage search

The Drainage Search result shows the location of the public sewers in the vicinity of the property.

A satisfactory search will show:

  • Foul and surface water drainage from the property into a public sewer.
  • The property is connected to the water mains.
  • If there are any main drained running through the property which may hinder future plans to extend your property.

The Water and Drainage Search does not show or discuss:

  • The state and condition of the drains and sewers. Therefore, you will need to commission a separate drains test expert if you wish to make further investigations into the state and condition of the drains, to satisfy yourself that there is nothing of concern to you. Any test of this nature should be carried out prior to exchange so that an adverse test result can be used, if you require, to try and negotiate a contribution towards the cost of drainage repairs or a reduction in the purchase price.
  • The location or state and condition of the private drains and sewers, leading from your property to the public sewer. From 1st October 2011 the law changed to provide for the water authority to take responsibility for any shared drains and sewers serving properties and not just the public sewer as before. You will continue to take responsibility for any private drains and sewers which exclusively serve the property, however, but only to such point as they meet shared of public drains and sewers.

Environmental search

Did you know, owners and/or occupiers of land which is found to have been contaminated can now be required to pay for and carry out any necessary clear-up operation upon the land?  This applies even if the owner of the land is not responsible for the contaminating activity!

As the consequences of contamination can be expensive, should either the local authority requires remediation, or any third party claim compensation from you as a result of pollution emanating from the property, we undertake an environmental search as a matter of course. If the land does not constitute “contaminated land” under the Act, this does not mean that there is no risk of any future liability owing to any potential contamination on the land – even if that contamination is not so bad as to class the land as contaminated for the purpose of that Act.

I should point out, however, that contamination is not a static condition – pollution and contamination do spread and so a clear environmental search result now does not mean that there will never be any contamination. If you acquire land which is contaminated, you can be liable under legal nuisance, if any contamination is caused to adjoining land by reason of escape of noxious substances.


Chancel search

Chancel repair liability is a liability for which properties within a “tithe district” or parish may have a liability to contribute towards the cost of repair and maintenance of the local church chancel (the eastern part of a Christian church where the altar stands).  Over the years church records have been poorly kept and maintained and it has been difficult and expensive to ascertain whether or not such liability exists for surrounding properties.  However, this ancient law was not an issue until in a case in 2003 the Church of England demanded repairs of a total cost of £95000 from a couple who owned a nearby farm.

However, the chancel repair liability search confirms if there is a potential liability.  Where the search reveals an entry, it shows that the property is located within a parish that could charge for repairs to the chancel.  It does not show whether or not the property you are buying is located on land that has this responsibility but does indicate a certain level of risk.

Property law can be complex and specific to individual circumstances, so it is always advisable to seek professional legal advice when buying or selling property in the UK.

If you would like any more information in relation to this article then please feel free to contact me: Telephone – 020 8221 8041, via email here, or visit my profile.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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