What are Searches and why do we need them

Published on Jun 13, 2022 by Carol Scott on Conveyancing

What are Searches and why do we need them?

As a Solicitor, I am frequently asked why we carry out searches when acting on the purchase of a property.  Under English law, the principle of ‘Caveat Emptor’ applies which means ‘buyer beware’. The legal onus is on the buyer to investigate the title and, alongside the review of the legal title, we apply to various third parties for information they might hold about the property.

The type of search we apply for depends on the location of the property and we can undertake a broad range of specific searches covering issues such as coal mining, tin mining, radon and brine.  Your Solicitor will note the location of the property and decide which searches are needed on a case by case basis.

If you are obtaining a mortgage, your mortgage lender will insist upon searches being obtained. If you are a cash buyer and do not have a mortgage, it is entirely your choice as to whether searches are purchased. That said, we would always recommend you do - when purchasing a property you are making a big financial commitment and it is always advisable to have all information to hand from all available sources before proceeding.

As a minimum, we would apply for a Local Authority Search, an Environmental Search and a Water & Drainage Search. I have set out below a basic explanation of each Search:

Local Authority search – this checks records held by the Local Authority. The search covers around 90 questions and includes whether the property is on a publicly maintained road, whether any Planning Permissions or Building Regulation approvals have been issued and whether any road or traffic schemes are proposed for the vicinity. This enables us to warn you of fundamental potential issues which could affect the value of the property such as whether you are likely to be liable for future road repairs (if it is an un adopted road), whether any extension at the property is likely to be subject to enforcement action (if it does not have the appropriate planning permission) and whether a new road is due to be built close by.

Environmental Search – this covers the environmental history and land use of the property, for example whether the property has been built on previously in-filled or contaminated land, or whether it has flooded historically. Under environmental legislation, if land is deemed to be contaminated and the primary culprit cannot be traced, the obligation falls on the land owner to pay the clean up costs which can be huge. As such, this search is vital before committing to a purchase.

Water & Drainage search – this tells us whether the property is connected to mains water and mains drainage, whether any mains pipes run under the property you are buying and how the water and drainage charges are levied. If a property has a private water supply or private drainage, there can be serious practical and legal ramifications so it is vital to have this information prior to exchange so further appropriate enquiries can be made, such as whether any private drainage system has the necessary Environment Agency consent to discharge. If it does not, you might end up paying the bill for resolving this after you move in.

Carol Scott is a Residential Conveyancing Solicitor based in our Southampton office. We also have offices in Totton & Hythe. For all your conveyancing needs contact us at enquiries@c-g-m.co.uk