Purchasing property: What do house searches entail?

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February 18, 2015 | By Sarah Cookson |

February 18, 2015 | By Sarah Cookson |

If you are buying a home in West Yorkshire, it is standard practice to have a Local Authority Water and Drainage Search and Coal Search. There is a cost involved, so you may wonder – do you actually have to go through with searches?

Prices for searches vary from area to area and Council to Council. When you send us your query, a Conveyancer will give you a quotation based on the current prices, so that you are aware of the costs from the outset.

If you are a cash buyer and do not wish to undertake and pay for these searches you can instruct your Solicitor not to do so. However, it is more than likely that the Solicitor will ask you for an indemnity in case there are losses as a result of this decision. If you are arranging a mortgage, the lender will always insist that you have these searches done.

Official searches vs personal searches

When I first qualified in 1985, local searches in North Yorkshire were taking up to twelve weeks to be returned and at least six weeks elsewhere. To circumvent this delay it became possible to order personal searches, which not only cost less but were much quicker. This involved the appointment of an agent who would visit the Council offices to obtain the necessary information.

Personal searches have one disadvantage over official searches: The agent does not have access to all Council records and the replies are not those of the Council, so there is a greater room for error. Personal searches have to be backed by insurance so that if the agent made a mistake you would receive financial compensation for any loss.

Most Councils have now brought down the cost of an official search and also improved their response time. However, it is still possible to order personal searches and we can look into different pricing structures for you.

As a home owner you may prefer to have the official response from the Council, as opposed to relying on an insurance backed product. As an investor it may be that the financial implications have a greater bearing on your choice of search.  The Law Society recommends all home owners to obtain an official search.

Types of property searches

Coal Authority Search

A Coal Authority Search will reveal whether the property is close to a mine shaft, which can put off buyers, or, whether there is any historical subsidence damage in respect of which compensation has been paid or is due.

Water and Drainage Search

A Water and Drainage Search can reveal whether the property is serviced by a water meter and the location of that water meter, whether the property is at risk of internal flooding due to overloaded public sewers and whether the water supply meets current health standards.  The plans at the back of the search will identify the proximity of the public sewer and clean water network. The cost of this type of search has increased significantly over the years, but it now provides a lot of valuable information that is not just of a legal nature.

Environmental Search

More recently Environmental Searches have become popular.  Although most lenders do not require these searches to be undertaken on your behalf we believe that it is a good idea to have one, so that, even if you are not worried about the result, we can at least advise you as to what a buyer from you will discover.

We had one incident of a seller, who had happily lived in his property for 25 years on a modern housing estate, losing a buyer because the buyer conducted an Environmental Search which revealed that his property was built over an industrial tank.  Our quotation will include the price for an Environmental Search and it is important that you compare like for like, if shopping around.

A good investment

We have been careful to select the most informative type of Environmental Search, which will cover whether your property is affected by contaminated land, natural ground subsidence and river, coastal and surface water flooding. There are yet further optional searches that we can undertake on your behalf which will assist in putting you on notice should your property be close to the High Speed 2 Network or to any submitted planning applications that could detract from the amenities to the property.

Searches are always a good investment because the principle “buyer beware” still stands. As the buyer in a property transaction you will have no comeback on the seller if you have not investigated these matters for yourself.

For advice on the legal aspects of buying property, including detailed advice on available searches, contact Switalskis specialist Conveyancers. Call 0800 138 0458 or complete our contact form and we will get back to you.

Sarah Cookson

Sarah is a solicitor and director of Switalskis with responsibility for our conveyancing department across all of our offices. She has worked in conveyancing since 1999, qualifying as a solicitor in 2004. Sarah's profile

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