Tom Knightley – Trainee Solicitor in our Property department – asks: Why do solicitors want to do property searches?

Property searches form a crucial part of the conveyancing process – whether in respect of commercial or residential properties – because they identify the significance of various common risks to the property that you propose to purchase or lease. Whilst these documents are not exactly what a (sane) reader would consider to be a thrilling series of page-turners, carefully considering the information they contain and taking appropriate measures could save you tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of pounds. Once you know the risks associated with a given property, action can be taken to minimize them before you become responsible.

Below is a (very brief!) summary of which searches are usually undertaken before purchasing a property, and why:

Chancel Check

A Chancel Check search reveals whether a property is located in an area where there is a potential risk of chancel repair liability. What is a chancel repair liability? In medieval times, the costs of repairing a church building were borne by the Parishioners. Essentially, someone who owned a property in a given Parish could be charged by the local Church (by virtue of their property ownership) to pay for repair works. These arrangements have continued in many parts of the country until today, but certain developments mean that the number of people who could be liable is decreasing. It is now incredibly rare that a chancel repair liability would be enforced, but it could be a very expensive outlay for the property owner (potentially coming to tens of thousands of pounds).

Local Authority Search

The purpose of a Local Search is to find out if any matters have been registered with the Local Authority which are likely to adversely affect the property or its use.  This search reveals any schemes or proposals by the Local Authority or any other public bodies which might affect the property if implemented, such as: local development plans, road maintenance/adoption responsibilities, filings related to planning permission and building regulations (it is therefore possible to see if significant construction work has been completed at the property), listed buildings and tree preservation orders, and areas designated for compulsory purchase (HS2-related proposals are currently a very common result).

Coal Authority Search

This search provides information which relates to past, present and future mining operations in the area in which the property is situated. Such operations can result in subsidence, and consequential damage to the property can, or may have already, occurred.

Drainage Search

A drainage search, which is submitted to the local Water Authority, ascertains the position of the nearest public sewer which serves the subject property. The public sewer is maintained at the expense of the Water Authority, whilst drains connecting the property to the public sewer are typically private drains. Private drains are maintainable at the expense of the person whose property they serve.

Environmental Search

It is now possible to find out whether a property is located in an area in which (among other things):

  • Flooding has taken place.
  • Land contamination has taken place.
  • Land has been used for tipping.
  • Land has been used for the storage, manufacture or reprocessing of harmful, toxic or radioactive materials.

A buyer needs to know about these matters mainly because they want to live somewhere safe. Additionally, if they find that your land is contaminated, the local authority can make you pay for it to be cleaned up. Obviously, it is better to find out about such issues before buying so that you can either walk away from the deal, insist that the seller pays for the clean-up before you buy the property, or at least arrange for insurance.

For more information about Tom and his work, please click HERE.

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