Searches and surveys - Downsizing - First time buyer

What are conveyancing searches and are they necessary?

5 min read

Conveyancing searches, also known as property searches, are enquiries made by your conveyancer on your behalf. Continue reading to find out more about the different types of searches there are, and why they are so important.

  • Amy Colton, Conveyancing Manager and qualified solicitor
    Amy Colton

    Conveyancing Manager

    Published April 24th 2024

young home buyer looking at her property searches relieved that no issues have been raised

When you buy a house, your conveyancer will order conveyancing searches which look for various issues in the local area or with the property, that may impact your purchase. Find out more about what conveyancing searches are and the different searches you will need when buying a house.

In this article:

What are conveyancing searches?

Conveyancing searches, also known as property searches, are enquiries made by your conveyancer to various local authorities when buying a house, to find out more information about the property and land it sits on.

Why are they important?

Searches help you to make a completely informed decision about the property you are purchasing. They are designed to protect you, and your finances and may help to stop you from purchasing a property that may lose value in future or may even be harmful to your health.

What are the different types of searches?

There are multiple property searches that you can get when buying a house. Some of which are mandatory for all properties, and others which are only relevant on certain property types, or for certain locations.

The three main searches when buying a house are:

Environmental search

This search looks at whether the property you are purchasing is built on or near contaminated land or water, as well as the risk of potential landslips or flooding. Find out more about environmental searches.

Local authority search

This search reviews all the information the local authority holds on the house you’re buying. It provides a detailed view of the property and some general information about its surrounding area. It also includes the water and drainage search, which establishes where your water comes from and whether they are any public drains running though the property or land. Find out more about local authority searches.

Land registry search

This search confirms the legal ownership of the property and checks for any existing mortgages or charges against the property. It also provides information on property boundaries and any rights of way or other restrictions that may apply. Find out more about land registry searches.

What other conveyancing searches are there?

Mining search

This search checks whether the property has been built on land where there has been historic mining, as this increases the risk of subsidence.

Flood search

This search is required in areas prone to flooding to assess the likelihood and risks of flooding affecting the property.

Chancel liability search

If you buy a house which is within the medieval parishes of a church, you may need this search to check if you are liable to contribute towards the cost of repairs to the church. Although most of these liabilities no longer exist, some properties may still have this liability. If your house is one of the few that still remain liable, you may want to take out an indemnity insurance policy to help cover you against future costs.

Planning search

This search checks the planning history of the properties in the surrounding neighbourhood.

How much do conveyancing searches cost?

The cost of conveyancing searches can range from £250 to £450 depending on the location and your property. A typical search pack will include the local authority search, the environmental search and the water and drainage search and will cost around £295, with the cost for any additional searches being added onto this.

How long do conveyancing searches take to come back?

There are more than 340 local authorities across the UK and they each manage property searches differently. This means that turnaround time can be anything from 48 hours to several weeks.

Some local authorities work mainly online, sending search results via an online portal or email, which can speed up the process slightly. Whereas some authorities still work offline. Your conveyancer will have an in-depth knowledge of likely timescales.

What happens after conveyancing searches come back?

Your searches need to be completed, reviewed and ‘approved’ before you can exchange contracts. This means that when a search comes back, your conveyancer will pick out anything that may be of concern and will share it with you, as well as raising enquiries with the seller’s solicitor.

We would usually expect a handful of enquiries from each search pack and depending on the seriousness of the enquiries raised may mean you wish to withdraw your offer on the property.

Are property searches mandatory?

Buying a house with a mortgage

Conveyancing searches are compulsory when buying a house using a mortgage. Mortgage lenders will insist that searches are conducted, as they have a large stake in your property and will want to be sure that the money they are lending you will not be invested into a property that has a higher chance of being worth less in future. Your lender will tell your conveyancer what searches to run, and these will be checked before they release your funds.

Cash buyers

If you're buying a house with cash, you have the option to not get most searches, or to cherry-pick only the ones you want. Although the majority of conveyancing searches are not compulsory, it’s still a good idea to get them anyway to avoid the risk of:

  • A devalued property (for example, because the loft conversion cannot legally be used as a habitable space).

  • Living on land that may be contaminated (for example, from past industrial works).

  • Finding out that the house isn’t connected to mains water, and only has access to a very limited natural water supply.

It’s important to note that certain searches, such as Land Registry searches, are required for all purchases.

Conveyancing searches FAQs:

Who pays for conveyancing searches?

Searches are paid for, and then owned by, the buyer of the property.

How long are searches valid for?

Conveyancing searches generally expire after six months. If you’re buying with a mortgage, your lender will only allow completion of the mortgage to take place if the searches are still in date.

Can searches be fast tracked?

Generally, conveyancing searches cannot be fast-tracked, although a small number of local authorities can offer it as a paid additional service. For more information on timings, it’s best to speak to your conveyancer. Dealing with local authorities on a regular basis, they will be able to provide more information on your specific local authority, including indicative timings.

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