Firstly, before talking about environmental searches, let’s start by covering what conveyancing searches are. These searches are an important part of the house-buying process as they show details about the area, the land and any planning permission or breaches which impact the property in question. In essence, you can view them as showing you everything about the land around and under your property, with the exception of the physical property itself. (To understand the property itself would require a survey, which is optional but recommended).
Conveyancing searches are always needed when buying with a mortgage, as your lender will want to be sure that the property will not suddenly lose value due to any underlying issues, or which would impact their ability to sell should they repossess. If you are a cash buyer, you may choose not to undertake these searches, however, this could put you at risk of either:
- a devalued property (eg because the loft conversion cannot legally be used as habitable space)
- living on land that may be contaminated (eg from previous industrial works); or
- finding out the house isn’t connected to mains water, and only has access to a very limited natural water supply.
What are the different searches?
These conveyancing searches cover:
- Local authority searches – this will show you any historical planning permission that has been accepted or rejected for your property itself, as well as recent building regulation sign offs, listings, conservation areas, greenbelt designation and various other essential pieces of information.
- Environmental searches – these check for any historical flooding or contamination of the local land, for example any serious pollution in the past, or whether any industrial or chemical based activities were there previously.
- 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.
Environmental conveyancing searches – a deeper look
Imagine you find your dream home and you instantly begin planning your future there, thinking about how you might decorate it or the best route for your commute. You have your mortgage approved, put an offer in and it is accepted – great! Now begins the conveyancing process to actually change the ownership of the property to you. Along this journey, conveyancing searches are a major factor which could significantly impact your ability to proceed.
As your conveyancer, we will request all necessary conveyancing searches on the local area to understand everything around your property. This often results in enquiries being raised, and sometimes results in us letting you know that there is something of concern to you, whether this be a financial concern, a health concern or something that may reduce your enjoyment of the property.
For example, if the property is sited on disused mining land that you weren’t aware of, this could result in subsidence or harmful radon gases, which may be both a financial and a health concern. It may be that there were previous industrial works at the site, and harmful chemicals remain in the land. As well as the obvious health concerns, 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. Conveyancing searches will also show us any historical planning permission on the property itself, and whether it was accepted or rejected. We’ll also be able to confirm that the property is plumbed into a water and drainage supply – which may seem obvious in some cases, especially if the property is currently occupied, however it is always worth confirming. We’ll also be able to highlight historical flooding near the property, so that you can enter into the purchase with a full understanding of the area around your new home (and, if applicable, any impact this will have on your buildings insurance).
How long do environmental searches take when buying a property?
Conveyancing searches can often take some time due to the level of detail that is assessed. In general, the length of time it can take can often vary wildly between different local authorities, with some returning searches in as little as 48 hours and others taking several weeks. Although there are more than 340 local authorities across the country, we keep a log of how long each council usually takes to return searches, which your conveyancer may be able to share with you once the process begins. This may help factor in a more realistic exchange and completion date.
What is the next step in buying a house after the searches?
Your conveyancer will update you on the results of the environmental and other searches and whether anything stands out. It is also worth reading through these searches yourself to be absolutely sure that there is nothing unexpected in the area, or any future schemes nearby that may affect you, for example, a new major road or rail scheme at the end of the street.
Once conveyancing searches are returned, there may be some enquiries raised with the sellers solicitor. Once these enquiries are answered, we can usually agree an exchange date and a subsequent completion date. Depending on the size of the chain you are in, you may need to remain flexible here as there may be dates or deadlines that must be met by others involved.
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 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.
Why are property searches important?
As we’ve covered before, they ensure that you (as the buyer of the property) know exactly what you are entering into regarding the local area to be sure that you are protected both financially, from a health perspective and to be sure that your enjoyment of the property will not be affected.
To find out how we can act for you in your property purchase, request a quote and an expert Conveyancing Quote Advisor will be in touch to answer your specific questions.