In summary, no they are not always necessary. If you are a cash buyer and you know the area very well, you may decide to proceed without searches. However, you may find that a few hundred pounds spent on searches is a worthwhile expense when considering the cost of a home that could be hundreds of thousands of pounds.
We would always highly recommend taking out searches of the local area to be sure that the investment in your property is protected, for example, if there is the chance of subsidence caused by an old underground coal mine, high risk of flooding or a severe pollution incident you may decide not to purchase this particular property. Without conducting searches you would not be aware of this and may face the risk in future of your property subsiding, flooding or you becoming unwell, or getting hit with the bill for clean up.
If you are taking out a mortgage to purchase your property, your lender will likely insist that searches are necessary. 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. It also may be beneficial for your health to understand whether any toxic chemicals may be present in the land – for example arsenic, lead or other toxins left from any historical industrial works or even pollution. These chemicals can potentially seep into the land and in a worst case scenario may be present in the soil in your garden.
Let’s first cover what searches actually are, so that if you are a cash buyer you can make the decision for yourself:
What do conveyancing searches cover when buying a house?
Let’s first clarify that searches and surveys are two different things; searches cover the local area and a survey will cover the physical property. Searches are usually compulsory when a mortgage is being used, and surveys are entirely the buyers choice and will help to assess whether the property will need lots of maintenance in the near future i.e. roof repairs, rising damp or wood worm treatment.
Conveyancing searches cover:
Local authority searches –
Showing development, new roads, new buildings or planning permissions already accepted or refused for your property.
This checks for any flooding or contamination of the land, for example whether any industrial or chemical based activities were there previously. The cost of cleaning up contaminated land can run with the property title so you need to be sure that you aren’t going to be receiving a huge bill in the near future.
Water authority searches –
This search will confirm that the property is plumbed in to water supply and sewage connections and show the approximate location of drains and pipes.
Land registry searches –
Checking that the seller actually owns the property and that it is registered in their name.
Why are conveyancing searches so important?
Ultimately, searches help you to make a completely informed decision about the property you are about to purchase and are a necessary process if you’re buying with a mortgage. They are designed to protect you, your finances and your health and may help to stop you from purchasing a property that may lose value in future or may even be harmful to your health – for example in the event that lead, arsenic or mercury are found to lie within the land.
What happens after conveyancing searches come back?
Your conveyancer will pick out anything that may be of a concern and will share this 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. (In this instance, you would be covered by our No Move No Fee guarantee).
Can local conveyancing searches be fast tracked?
In most cases, unfortunately not. Different local authorities will have different turnaround times – some are really quick but others could take weeks and weeks. We do keep a log of how long each authority tends to take, as due to our size it is likely that we have had a transaction within each local authority area at some point. Your conveyancer may be able to give you an indication of how long your local authority may take to return searches. In some cases, we may be able to request a fast track service if your local authority offer it, although please bear in mind they will likely charge you an additional fee for turning this around quickly.
Do conveyancing searches expire?
Yes, they do. Conveyancing searches are relevant for a period of 6 months, and if you are buying with a mortgage your lender will be specifically looking at the age of any searches conducted on the property to be sure they are up to date.
Can I do my own conveyancing searches?
We would recommend against this. Local reports need a special knowledge set in order to execute a search properly, and anything concerning that is shown in the searches will be spotted by your conveyancer. We have a duty to our clients to notify you of anything, so you can rest assured that you’ll be legally protected in this case – whereas requesting searches yourself removes this layer of protection. It may also be the case that search companies or local authorities may charge you a higher fee as an individual than you may pay through a conveyancing firm or solicitor.