• Compare agents
  • Online valuation
  • Explore my area
  • Home toolkit
  • News & guides
  • Estate agents by area
  • Sold house prices by area
Estate agents by area
Search by Location or Name
  • Selling guides
  • Estate agent guides
  • Mortgage advice
  • Conveyancing guides
  • Property news
  • See All News & Guides
Sign in
Agent shortlist
© GetAgent Limited 2024
  1. Blog
  2. What are searches when buying a house?
Conveyancing help and guides
29 January 2024

What are searches when buying a house?

Kimberley Taylor
Writer & Researcher

Table of contents

  1. 1. What are searches when buying a house?
  2. 2. Do you have to carry out searches when buying a property?
  3. 3. Local authority search
  4. 4. Environmental searches
  5. 5. Water and drainage searches
  6. 6. Land registry search
  7. 7. How much do property searches cost?
  8. 8. How long do conveyancing searches take?
  9. 9. Other searches
  10. 10. Summary: Property searches are essential!

Property searches (or conveyancing searches) are a key part of the conveyancing process.

Buying a property is a huge investment, and you want to make sure you're putting your faith (and your money!) into the right one.

A property search can reveal important information about the local area, infrastructure, environmental risks, as well as any potential new developments in the vicinity.

It's much better to know these things before you become the legal owner of the property so you can back out of the purchase if you find something you think may be a deal breaker.

After all, you don't want a nasty shock just after completion day!

Let's take a look at what property searches are when buying a house, how much they cost and how long they take.

What are searches when buying a house?

When you're buying a property, your solicitor must carry out searches and checks on the local area around the home.

Homebuyers get these property searches done to check if there are any future planning developments or historical problems in the area that might negatively affect the home you want to buy.

If you're buying a house with a mortgage, you're legally required to carry out property searches. And although they're optional for cash buyers, it's always recommended to get the priority searches done so you know everything you need to know about the property you're buying.

Some homes will need more searches than others, but most homes will need to have the main searches: local authority, environmental, and water and drainage searches.

Do you have to carry out searches when buying a property?

If you're buying a home with a mortgage, you are legally obliged to carry out property searches.

The bank or building society lending you the funds need to be sure there aren't any issues with the property that could affect its value.

However, cash buyers aren't legally required to carry out searches because no one is lending them the funds to purchase the property - it's all up to your judgement as it's your money.

Solicitors will always recommend you still carry out property searches as a cash buyer. After all, you don't want to suffer any nasty surprises about your property after you've moved in.

A local authority search looks into a number of different issues, but the main searches include:

  • Planning issues.
  • Highway and road issues.
  • Rail schemes.
  • Building control issues.
  • Pollution issues.
  • Whether the home is listed, in a conservation area or part of a tree preservation order.

Local authority searches are often regarded as the most important of all the conveyancing searches. Your solicitor will carry out local searches by going through records from the local authorities.

They'll look out for any property developments in the area, planning consents and permissions, and whether or not the property is listed or in a conservation area.

Local authority searches will also reveal who's responsible for maintaining roads and paths adjoining the property.

Local authority searches cost between £70 and £400 and can take anywhere between one and six weeks, depending on where your property is located.

Environmental searches

An environmental search will investigate any issues or risks to do with the land within 500 metres of the property, from flood and landslide issues to subsidence and contaminated land issues. They'll also check for ground stability, landslips, and whether the property is on a flood plain.

If any of the properties built on the land previously were used for industrial purposes, toxic substances could stay in the ground and cause serious issues for you and your property.

An environmental search will also reveal if there are any gas hazards or even a landfill site in the local area.

Environmental searches are really important: if they're not carried out, your bank might not confirm your mortgage.

And if you don't spot these problems at the time of purchase, it could be near impossible to sell it further down the line. Even worse, they could become health hazards.

Water and drainage searches

A water and drainage search will check if the home is connected to public drains, a public sewer and a public water supply.

If drainage searches find public drains or sewers running through the property, this could cause issues if you want to dig foundations for an extension.

That's why it's really important for any potential future planning developments that know exactly what you're investing in.

They'll also check where the public sewer is located and where the drainage pipes are, as well as any permission requirements from the local water company to extend the property if they own the water mains, sewers or pipes that run through it.

Water and drainage searches also reveal if the water supply is metered or rateable.

A land registry search checks the title register and title plan at the Land Registry. This will give you a full run down on who owns the property (and proves the seller actually owns the property they're selling).

A land registry search will usually take place just before the legal completion of the house purchase, and you can't go ahead with the sale until this property search has been done.

After this, your solicitor will register you as the owner of the property, which ensures you have ownership rights.

A land registry search costs about £4 per search.

Bankruptcy searches

A bankruptcy search will ensure the seller isn't bankrupt. If they were, they wouldn't be entitled to sell the property as it might be used as collateral to repay their debts.

How much do property searches cost?

Property searches cost differently depending on your local council. For local authority searches, environmental searches, and water and drainage searches, you'll pay between £250 and £300.

A land registry search costs between £4 and £8.

Take a look at an approximated breakdown:

Search TypeEstimated cost
Local authority search£50-£250
Water and drainage search£50-£100
Environmental search£25-£60
Flood risk indicator (copy)£10
Flooding search£20-£50
Title register (copy)£4-£8
Chancel repair search£20-£90
Mining search£25-£120
Title plan (copy)£4-£8
Indemnity insurance£30-£300
Bankruptcy search£2 per person

How long do conveyancing searches take?

How long property searches take vary from search to search. For some, you can get your search results within a few days, but others can take several weeks. Don't forget that the search results might prompt your solicitor to carry out further searches, which will of course delay the conveyancing process.

You should make sure you know which specific searches take priority so you can get this done as quickly as possible.

You can find out from your solicitor when you'll get your search results once your offer has been accepted and your survey has been commissioned.

Factors that affect the speed of property searches include:

  • The speed at which the council and third parties respond to queries and requests.
  • The speed at which your solicitor works through the searches.
  • Where your property is located.
  • The types of searches that need to be done.

Can you speed property searches up?

Make sure you're communicating regularly with your solicitor so you can chase things if there are any hold ups or delays. It's really important to stay in the loop to avoid delays further down the line.

Also try to be as patient as you can. Your solicitor needs to be thorough with the searches, and they might miss things if they're rushed.

Other searches

As well as the main searches, there are other searches you can choose to carry out, but they may not always be necessary.

Location-specific searches

Your solicitor will tell you if you need any location specific searches, as they really depend on the property you're choosing to purchase.

For example, if you want to buy in an area that used to be used for coal mining, you might want to get a coal mining search to check for any past claims of subsidence.

Commons searches are for properties boarding common land or village greens.

If any of the land you want to buy is common land, you may not get development permission as common land is usually subjected to certain rights and protections.

Commons registration act

Under the Commons Registration Act, certain areas in the UK are protected against building works.

For example, a conservation area or an area of outstanding natural beauty may be protected and property owners will therefore not be granted any planning permission or permitted development rights if they want to carry out works on this type of land.

If you're buying a property close to a church, you'll need to carry out a chancel repair search.

During the middle ages, it wasn't actually the monasteries that were responsible for repairing the church chancels; it was actually property owners.

There was, however, a law change in October 2013 that meant the church must establish and lodge liability with the Land Registry. However, there are still some circumstances in which the church can claim the legal owner of a nearby property is liable for repairs - even if the liability hasn't been registered.

This type of property search will determine whether or not you're liable for the cost of church repair contributions.

A chancel repair search will only cost a few pounds, but it's the actual repairs that could end up costing you a lot of money.

Chancel repairs can be very expensive, so if you really want to buy the property, you'll probably be advised to get chancel repair insurance.

Chancel repair insurance only costs around £30, and will protect you and your mortgage lender, which could save you a lot of money in the long run.

Flood report

A flood search may be recommended for certain properties.

A flood risk search can give you information about any history of flooding in the local area, as well as any potential future flood risk.

Of course, this is really useful to know for safety and property protections.

The flood risk search results will include data about a range of flooding, from river and coastal to groundwater and surface water flood risks.

You'll also get a risk assessment level and information about how easy (or difficult) it is to insure the property.

If the search results come back with a high flood risk, you'll have to report this back to your insurer and your mortgage lender. It may affect your fees.

Quarrying and mining searches

Some areas may have a history of mining or quarrying for a variety of materials including tin, stone, brine, coal and china clay.

A mining search will usually reveal any issues as a result from previous work like old workings near the property or capped mine shafts.

Your conveyancer will tell you whether or not you need any of these specific local searches.

Radon testing

Radon is a radioactive gas. Though it occurs naturally in many areas, there are some parts of the country with higher radon levels.

Sometimes, it can seep into properties and increase the risk of lung cancer if it's present in higher concentrations.

Environmental searches will usually tell you if your property is in a 'Radon Affected Area' (classified by the UK Health Security Agency).

You can ask for a radon test to check how much radon is present in the area, and you can also ask the seller if they've carried out a radon test in the past.

A radon test will usually be done over a three month period, but you can get a shorter ten day test carried out if you're short on time.

If there is a higher than average concentration of radon, remedial action will be needed in order to remove the gas.

Planning searches

A planning search will look for any details about any existing planning consents, as well as any planning applications within a 250 metre radius of the property you want to buy.

Summary: Property searches are essential!

Ultimately, property searches should always be a part of the conveyancing process. Even if you're a cash buyer, it's always better to be completely in the know about your property, so you know exactly what you're investing in, and how sellable it'll be in the future.

After all - you might even find after conveyancing searches that the property isn't worth the purchase price.

For an instant valuation of a property, you can use our Online Valuation Tool. Or if you're looking for a deeper insight, check out our new HouseWorth Tool for an in-depth analysis of your property's value!

How much
is your home worth?

It’s always worth knowing the value of your home. Discover the price of your property with an instant valuation. GetAgent tracks the figures, so you don’t have to.

How much
is your home worth?

It’s always worth knowing the value of your home. Discover the price of your property with an instant valuation. GetAgent tracks the figures, so you don’t have to.

Compare estate agents

It takes 2 minutes.

Related posts
Land Registry Fees
Land Registry Fees
Land Registry fees: A guide for homeowners
Land Registry fees are mandatory payments for registering property changes in the public record, ensuring your ownership is both legally recognised and protected.
Read more
The Estate Agent comparison site
GetAgent LinkedIn iconGetAgent Facebook iconGetAgent X icon

For agents

  • Login
  • How to join

Get in touch

020 3608 6556

Our lines are closed

We are a company registered in England & Wales, company number 09428979.

Privacy policyTerms of use

Copyright © 2024 GetAgent Limited