Are Searches Necessary When Buying A House?

Are Searches Necessary When Buying A House?
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While you may resent paying for them, the question ‘Are searches necessary when buying a house?’ needs a definitive answer. That answer is ‘Yes’ and here we explain why.

Property searches are a crucial and necessary part of the conveyancing process – even though they are not a legal requirement for anyone buying a property.

A conveyancing solicitor will recommend that you carry out searches because you will then find out essential information about the land and property you are wanting to buy.

It’s also worth noting:

  • As a cash buyer: While you have no obligation to do any searches, it’s still an important part of the process.
  • Buying a property with a mortgage: You may not want to, but your lender will probably insist that they are carried out.

The importance of carrying out searches when buying a property

It is always a good idea to carry out searches to assess in what conditions is the property you are going to buy.

Before we go into what searches are and what types there are, let’s first look at why it’s important to do them. Because if we answer our question “Are searches necessary when buying a house?” with yes, then you’ll want to know why.

Searches cover a wide range of potential issues that could impact on the property value and your enjoyment of your new home. For example, the searches might show that a new housing development has been given planning permission in the field behind your house.

You might have decided to buy this house because of the nice views out of your bedroom window. You won’t be happy if one day they suddenly start building new houses. Apart from the loss of view, you will. have put up with the noise of a big building site.

Once you bought the house, there is nothing you can do about it, apart from selling it again. But it will be more difficult to sell it while there is a big building site behind it, and it might also affect the price. A search can warn you about issues like this, so you can evaluate your decision based on this new information.

Different searches will bring up different issues:

  • Mineworks: If your home is in a former mining area, you will want to know about the potential of a mineshaft collapsing
  • Your home may be demolished to make way for a new road, or there could be plans for a pylon or a wind farm next door which could affect the property’s price
  • Being liable to flooding regularly means you may struggle to find home insurance
  • Your property may have been built on contaminated land – such as industrial waste including asbestos

These are all issues that could turn your dream home into a nightmare. But searches can bring these potential problems to the light before you complete the purchase. That’s why searches are necessary when buying a house.

If you are a cash buyer, this is the reason why you should do searches, even if you aren’t legally obliged to do them. And your solicitor will always advise you to carry them out.

So don’t be tempted to try and save money by not carrying out a full search. This will be a false economy should there be a serious issue that will be revealed with a search.

Carrying out the searches will help you make an informed decision about investing money in a property and protect you from future issues.

When buying a property with a mortgage, you don’t really have a choice. Your lender will insist on having searches done, as they are looking to protect their investment.

They will tell your conveyancing solicitors which searches they want carrying out. If you refuse, they won’t lend you the money. It’s as simple as that.

So while searches add to the conveying costs, there are very good reasons why they need to be done before you buy a property.

Damaged contents of our garage after flooding
Our garage flooded in our first property despite the flood search coming back OK.

Our current home is in a county with many areas that are in risk of flooding and do flood every year. We knew that being in a flood-risk area could make getting insurance difficult, or at least expensive.

So the flood risk search was vital for us. Thankfully, it showed that our property actually wasn’t in a risk area, even though we are quite close. And our village does flood every year, even if not as bad as some other areas.

What did also give us peace of mind is that the search also showed that even in the long-term, our property is unlikely to flood. As you can see, for us, this search was vital. Because if the results had been otherwise, we would have to consider our decision.

What are property searches when conveyancing?

Now that we have answered our question “are searches necessary when buying a house?” and also why, let’s look at what they actually are.

Because of the reasons we stated before, it is vital that you know as much as possible about your property, land and surrounding areas before you exchange contracts.

And that’s where searches come in. They are a way of pulling together all the information that is out there about your dream house and area. This will be done by your solicitor, who will order them from the relevant authorities.

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There are three main searches that today are standard for everyone who is buying a house.

Local authority

These are the most important and will highlight:

  • Building control issues
  • Highways issues
  • Any planning issues
  • Pollution problems

Environmental

These are worthwhile for highlighting:

  • Contaminated land issues
  • Potential subsidence problems
  • Flooding problems
  • Landslide issues

Water and drainage

Finally, these are also important to reveal:

  • Where public sewer and drainage pipes are located
  • Whether your water supply is rateable or metered
  • Whether your home is connected to a public water supply
  • Who is responsible for and who owns the drains, sewers and piping
  • Whether permission is needed for extending the property from a water company

There are other searches that a solicitor might advise to be carried out depending on the location of the property. But the above-mentioned tend to be the main ones.

By the way, don’t confuse searches with surveys: A search will investigate the area surrounding your property and will be carried out by your solicitor. A survey is all about the property itself and will be carried out by a qualified surveyor.

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What searches do I need?

Positive Pressure Ventilation System
The presence of a positive pressure ventilation system negated the need for a radon search in our current home.

As you can see there are many different searches available, but which of these do you need?

The searches that you need when buying property will depend on its location. Your solicitor should be able to advise you on which searches are necessary for the property you want to buy.

Not all searches will be necessary for every property. Your solicitor might know that it isn’t a past coal mine area, because they have overseen the conveyancing of other properties in this area. So they might not deem a mining report necessary.

When we bought our current home, the owners told us that they installed a positive pressure vent because they had high radon levels in their previous home.

Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in every home in the UK.

The levels will depend on the ground the house is built on. In some areas the levels are quite high and remedies such as installing a positive pressure vent might be necessary. A radon search will check the levels in the area.

You can also check the government’s free radon map, if you are unsure if you need this search.

Rather than carry out the radon search, the previous owners decided to put in the positive pressure vent. For us, this meant we didn’t need to carry out this search either.

When do I order property searches?

Because some searches can take a while to come back, it is advisable to order them as soon as your offer has been accepted. We always ask our solicitor to order them as soon as possible to avoid any delays to the conveyancing process.

Keep in mind that solicitors will ask you to pay a deposit to carry out the searches. Make sure you pay this as soon as possible, so your solicitor can order the searches.

In some cases specialised searches might become necessary later down the line. This normally happens when something has come up where more information is needed. However, these cases tend to be quite rare.

We have bought several homes over the years, and we never needed a specialised search further down the line.

How much will a property search cost?

A property search will have some costs associated, so account for them in your budget.

The cost of searches will vary, so there is no fixed answer, but here we give a good idea of how much you should be expecting to pay. [PRICES UPDATED IN 2024]

Local authority search £60-£400

These can take from one week and up to six weeks, and in some cases several months, and cost up to £400 depending on the authority.

Water and drainage search £50-£100

The water and drainage authority search will pinpoint where your water is coming from, and whether there are drains on your property. The location of these drains may affect potential future building work.

Environmental search £25-£180

Environmental searches will establish whether the property you want to buy is on a safe brownfield land.

In other words, it will identify either built on or near to, contaminated water and land – or is even an old landfill site. This is important to highlight whether there’s the potential for toxic substances to be remaining in the ground.

A common contaminant in brownfield sites is asbestos which was used as a primary building and insulation material (Hellawell & Hughes, 2021). Its harmful effects even extended to individuals who had indirect exposure to the toxic asbestos fibres (Goswami et al., 2013).

The higher end will apply if you are buying a property with a lot of land attached to it.

Flooding search £20-£50

Knowing whether your home is liable to flooding from rivers or the sea is important.

It’s also important to consider if your area is at risk of pluvial flooding. This is usually common in low-lying urban areas where drainage systems can be overwhelmed due to extreme rainfall and the demands of a dense population (Miller & Hutchins, 2017).

Mining search £20-£120

This will be part of a location-specific search to determine, for example, whether the area was used for mining, and whether there is a risk of subsidence.

According to various data points analysed by Landmark Information in 2017, a third of England and Wales’ residential properties are within proximity of historic mining activity. Out of 385 Local Authority areas, 95 had more than half of residential properties within 250 metres of mining activity.

So, this is an important search that must not be overlooked. If you are buying a house with a lot of land, the price might be higher.

Chancel search £20-£100

A quick check to find out whether you will be responsible for paying for Parish church repairs.

Other searches when buying a property

Other searches when buying a property include:

  • Bankruptcy search £2 per name
  • Indemnity insurance £30-£300

A general indemnity insurance policy will cover you against a specific risk that is associated with your property, including contaminated land, leasehold issues and chancel repair.

  • Land Registry £3 for only copy and £7 for official copy

A Land Registry check is simply proving that the property seller is the actual legal owner of that property.

  • Title plan £2.50 plus VAT for only copy and £7 for official copy
  • Flood risk indicator copy £9 plus VAT

Also, the chancel search does sound unusual, but this will reveal whether your property is located within a parish boundary, so they could levy a charge for repairs of the chancel or church.

The bottom line is that you should budget for all checks to cost between £100 and £400.

Most solicitors will have a fixed price for a search package. When we bought our current home in 2021, we paid £350 for the searches. This included all the standard searches that are done for most homes.

How long do searches take?

It depends on many different factors but searches can take between two and three weeks to complete.

There is no set timescale for how long a property search will take to complete, most of them will be done quickly, but the obstacle may be the local authority.

On average, it can take between two and three weeks to complete, though your conveyancer will be relying on how long an external body will take to produce information.

It’s always a good idea when hiring a conveyancing solicitor to keep in regular touch to ensure they have put in the relevant requests, and you can chase them up for answers if there is a delay.

When buying our current home, one of the searches took a very long time to come back. We had to call the local authority to check with them. It turned out that there was some technical issue, which meant the search order never reached them.

Our solicitor had to re-submit the order. After that it was done very quickly. It’s always good to keep on the ball with this, as otherwise it could cause major delays.

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How to deal with problems found in searches

Should there be a problem found when you search, then this is where you rely on your conveyancer or solicitor.

You will need their expertise, and they may even recommend that you do not buy the property if the problem is particularly acute. However, often there is a solution.

When we bought one of our previous homes, one of the searches revealed that the extension of the house didn’t have planning permission. This meant that the council could potentially order us to tear it down.

Our solicitor made us aware of the fact and gave us two options: we could ask the seller to take out indemnity insurance for it. This would mean that if the council were to order the demolishment, at least we would be covered financially.

The second option was to take out the insurance ourselves. We opted for the latter, as it wasn’t very expensive, and we didn’t want to start new negotiations, as we wanted to keep the process moving.

Are searches necessary when buying a house?

As we have seen, a search will either highlight a potential problem that may save you money in the long term or reveal there are no issues to worry about.

So even though you are not legally obliged, especially if you are a cash buyer, to carry out any searches, we would recommend to still do them because they are very important.

It may throw up an issue that you can take back to the seller, so you can ask them to lower the price or undertake remedial action.

The final point is that you should have a RICS surveyor undertake the full survey they offer, and not opt for the cheaper surveys that are available to bring peace of mind when buying a property.

More information

Your estate agent will probably recommend a conveyancer, but a good place to check and find a reputable conveyancing solicitor is to use our handy comparison tool.

Authors

  • Steve Lumley

    Steve Lumley has years of experience writing about property. His output has covered everything from property investment, news for landlords and student tenants to articles on how to run a successful portfolio and starting out as a property investor. He has also written several books on the subject.

    View all posts
  • Paul James

    Paul James, is a marketing expert with a passion for property. As well as being a property investor, Paul has also worked within the marketing departments of some of the UK’s leading estate agents. Paul is the founder of Property Road.

    View all posts
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