Search properly or pay the price

When you are discussing the costs of buying a house or flat with your solicitor, he or she should mention searches.  If you are getting a mortgage to help fund your purchase, your solicitor is obliged to carry out all necessary searches to satisfy the lender’s requirements.  What is necessary comes down to the judgment and experience of your lawyer but there are good practical reasons not to scrimp when it comes to ordering searches and reports relevant to what you are buying.  Not all conveyancing solicitors offer the full range of searches buyers may need, but, for about £350, the most switched on lawyer can get you the following:

  1. A Local Search from the Council – this trawls various departments for information mainly relating to the property itself.  These include highways, planning and building control.  It is amazing how often a strip of land used for access to a property turns out not to be part of the public highway.  This and the absence of planning permission and/or building regulation consent for extensions and alterations are the signals for your solicitor to dig deeper with their enquiries.
  2. A Development Assessment Report – launched just over year ago, this will reveal planning permissions for development or redevelopment of sites close to the property you are buying.  It will spell out the type of use envisaged and density of development.  It will also comment upon development potential, such as the scope for reviving expired permissions.  That lovely open view at the back of the house which makes it so attractive to buy may not be lovely and open for much longer!  Or the neighbouring property with the big garden could be the subject of a planning application to squeeze in more houses than you thought possible.
  3. An Environmental Search – these vary in the detail they will unearth but the best will do much more than just say whether there is a risk the property has been built on or is close to polluted land.  An Environmental Search can flag up potential flood risk, the existence of sites for wind turbines, solar farms and those on which fracking licences have been granted.  More detailed reports can be obtained for as little as £15 plus VAT to investigate further but only if the right type of search is commissioned in the first place.
  4. Water & Drainage Search – this searches the records of utility companies responsible for water and drainage services to the property.  Besides establishing whether it is connected to mains water (metered supply or paying water rates) and mains foul and surface water drainage, one of the most useful aspects is to discover whether mains service media pass through the property itself.  Building over or close to mains services needs permission from the utility company, so it is as well to be forewarned before you buy and find that the rear extension you intend to add will be over a mains sewer and the utility company wants you to pay to divert it.
  5. Chancelcheck – while the number of properties actually liable to contribute to the cost of maintaining the local medieval church chancel appears small, there are many more that fall within the boundaries of a parish where there is potential liability to contribute.  Knowing whether this applies to the property you want to buy before contracts are exchanged will enable your solicitor to set up an inexpensive indemnity insurance policy as a solution.

Although all of the above searches may have to be done because your lender says so, the information they provide could make the difference between your deciding whether your dream house could become a potential nightmare.  It is as well to employ solicitors who stay up to speed with the frequently changing range of searches and reports available.

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