Searches and surveys - Downsizing

What is an environmental search?

3 min read

An environmental search is one of a number of different property searches. Continue reading to find out what it covers, and why you need one.

  • Abigail Bolton Senior Digital Website and Content Marketing Executive
    Abigail Bolton

    SEO Specialist and Senior Copywriter

    Published March 20th 2024

idyllic houses in a village close with a countryside living environment

Environmental searches are one of the conveyancing searches you’ll need to get when buying a house, and are likely to be a requirement of your mortgage lender. This property search looks at the historical records for your house and the surrounding area, to check the past use for the land on which the house is built.

What is an environmental search?

Environmental searches look at whether the property you are purchasing is built on or near contaminated land or water. It should also pick up any issues such as the risk of potential landslips or flooding from nearby rivers, seas or lakes

Why is an environmental search important?

All conveyancing searches are important as they make you aware of potential issues with your purchase before legal ownership is transferred. An environmental search is important as the provide the below information:

1. Health risks

As environmental searches look at the past use of the land, they can highlight certain factors which could potentially become a serious health risk to you and those living in the house. If the house is built on former industrial land, for example, there could be toxic substances still remaining in the ground.  

2. Insurance risks

The environmental search also indicates whether the property has had any historical issues with flooding. If there are any flooding issues, you may struggle to get buildings insurance, or you may have to pay a premium.

3. Financial risks

Buying a property is one of the biggest financial commitments you can make. If there is anything which could cause you to lose money on this investment, spend money to rectify issues or leave you unable to sell in the future, it’s important to understand this upfront. It’s also important to note that if the original party responsible for any contamination cannot be found the cost for all clean-up activities will sit with the landowner.

What does an environmental search look for?

An environmental search report will cover:

  • Contamination to the land

  • Flood risk

  • Ground stability (i.e. subsidence risk)

  • Historical coal mining

  • Radon gas

  • Energy and infrastructure (e.g. power stations, wind or solar farms)

  • Development constraints

How long does an environmental search take?

An environmental search usually takes around 1–2 weeks to complete, however it could take longer if further information is needed from a specialist body, or there are delays due to market conditions and a higher demand.

What other conveyancing searches will I need?

There are other conveyancing searches you will need to get when buying a house such as a local authority search and a land registry search. All of which a conveyancer will take you through.

For more information on how long conveyancing searches take, who pays for them and the process of dealing with the enquiries, read our conveyancing searches guide.

Who pays for the searches when selling a house?

The cost of conveyancing searches, including the environmental search, is something that the buyer must pay for and then owns. Most searches now are insurance backed in case the search provider has made an error (which is incredibly rare), so the buyer will have the benefit of this as well.

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