Why we do searches in Conveyancing?

What are "conveyancing searches"?

The searches are a set of standard enquiries raised by the purchaser's conveyancer with a particular authority, for example the local search is raised with the local council, the drainage & water search with the water authority etc. Conveyancing searches deal only with the legal aspects of the purchase. They are not surveys and will not give information on the physical condition of the property.

What conveyancing searches will I need?

Searches give crucial information regarding the property, for example whether or not the road serving it is a publicly adopted highway, whether there are any mineshafts in the immediate vicinity, whether it is subject to any planning enforcement notices etc so are vital to any prospective purchaser. All purchasers should obtain a local authority search, certainly if purchasing with a mortgage you are obliged to the lender to do so. A drainage & water search is also advisable. Additional searches are required in certain areas, for example a coal mining search may be required in Yorkshire or a tin mining search in Devon or Cornwall. There are many types of conveyancing searches. I have set out a list and brief description of some of the more common searches that are used in every day conveyancing.

Local Authority Search

The local authority search is a search of the local authority's records, including planning, building control, highways department etc. It is a search of the subject property only and does not cover neighbouring properties, so for an example it would not reveal planning applications relating to properties or land in the area. A separate search, known as a Plan Search, would be needed for this.

Drainage & Water Search

This is a search of the water authority's records to check whether the property is connected to mains drainage and to the mains water supply. This information used to form part of the local authority search but it has not been included for many years now.

Why request a Drainage Search?

Some practitioners will inspect a copy of the property's water bill to establish whether it is invoiced for (and presumably therefore connected to) mains water and drainage, or they may ask to see a copy of an old local search which contains the drainage information (though these are quite rare now). Both these approaches however leave unanswered some potentially very important questions, such as whether there is a sewer or main with the boundary of the property, how close the nearest sewer or main is, whether there is a build over agreement in place etc.

Coal Mining Search

This is a search of the coal authority's records of past mining activity to establish whether the property is on land which is at risk from mining subsidence.

Why request a Coal Mining Search?

If the property is in a coal mining area then it may be affected by subsidence caused by underground mining. All mortgage lenders will expect a search to be carried out in order to comply with CML guidelines. The areas where searches may be needed are Yorkshire, Tyneside, Nottinghamshire, parts of the Midlands and Wales (this list is not necessarily exhaustive). To establish whether the property is in an area where a search is required you should contact The Coal Authority. Contact details can be found by clicking the link.

Chancel Repair Liability Search

This is the liability of a property owner to contribute to the cost of repair of the chancel (or steeple) of a church. It dates back to medieval times when the local parish church owned large tracts of land. It would sell off land within its parish on the condition that the purchaser contributed some or all of the cost of chancel repairs in future. These chancel repair liabilities were not always formally recorded by way of a deed since they pre-date the development of the conveyancing system we know today and they were largely forgotten about for many years, until the introduction of the Land Registration Act 2002. Under the act all chancel repair obligations have to be registered at land registry by 2012, otherwise they cease to be enforceable. This has led to the church scouring its archives to find instances where obligations exist and having them registered.

Why order a Chancel Liability Search?

This question has been the source of some debate in recent times. Firstly, there are two levels of chancel liability search. The basic search will cost around £15 and will state whether the property is within a parish where a potential chancel repair liability exists. This does not necessarily mean that the property itself is affected. The companies which provide these searches generally also sell insurance against the risk which has led some to argue that the search results are of little value since the risk is exaggerated in order to sell more insurance. The more in depth chancel liability search will cost about £100 and though more specific to the property, it is still not definitive. If a liability is identified via this search then indemnity insurance cannot be obtained. Having said this, there have been some large claims against home owners recently as the church has sought to register its interests prior to the 2012 deadline. Before ordering the chancel liability search it is worth considering the location of the property and the nature of the estate. The first thing to consider is whether there is actually a medieval church in the vicinity. If the nearest is several miles away then it probably will not have an effect. Secondly, how densely populated is the area? If there are several thousand houses within a two mile radius of the church then remember that the liability will probably be split between all of them. A £10,000 repair bill seems daunting until it is divided by 1000 properties.

Environmental Search

An environmental search is a desktop survey of past uses of the land in order to ascertain whether any past use is likely to have led to contamination. It does not involve a physical inspection.

Why Request an Environmental Search?

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 every local authority in England & Wales is obliged to survey the land under its jurisdiction and compile a register of sites which are found to be contaminated. So far no registers have actually been compiled but once they are the authorities will then have powers to order the owner of any contaminated land to "clean it up". Naturally it is quite possible that the cost of such a clean up operation could run into thousands of pounds. An environmental search looks at past uses of the land to try and establish whether it has ever been used for a purpose which could have contaminated the land. The search contains a lot of information but the most important aspect is the result, which will either be passed or failed. A passed result means that the searcher could not find any evidence of a past contaminative use. A fail means that the land has been used for a purpose which may have caused contamination, such as a chemical works for example. It should be noted however that the result is not definitive - if a past owner of the land has taken action which was never recorded - illegal waste dumping say - then this will not be revealed. Conversely, the records may show that the land was previously used for "non-specific industrial purposes". This could be anything from processing dangerous chemicals to a carpenter's workshop but either way a failed result will be returned because the searcher cannot confidently give a passed certificate. If the purchaser already has a good knowledge of the history of the land then this should be taken into account when considering whether a search is appropriate.