A guide to local authority searches and other searches when buying a property
Local Authority search is probably the most important search that can be carried out on a property and if you are buying with a mortgage you will have to have this search done. If you are buying without a mortgage, you can choose not to have the search done, but we would always advise you to do it. It can reveal a lot of useful information about the property that could potentially make you want to change your offer or even pull out of the purchase.
What’s included in a local authority search?
There are two parts to a local authority search – a LLC1 and a CON29.
The LLC1 – Local Land Charge Register search – covers any charges or attendant restrictions relating to land or property. These can include whether the property is:
- a listed building
- located in a conservation area
- subject to a tree protection order
- in need of improvement or renovation grant
- or situated in a smoke control zone
The form also covers planning agreements and conditional planning permissions.
So, for example, if you suddenly find out from doing the search that the property you are about to buy is in a conservation area, you made decide you no longer wish to proceed with the transaction, as it will be hard to get planning permission to do any extensions.
All LLC1 registrations are legally binding on successive owners. So, if the information is available on the search, you are bound by it, even if you bought the property without having a search done.
The second part of the search – the CON29 – supplies information relating to public highways, proposals for new roads, rail schemes or planning decisions that could affect the property. So, you may find out from this that there is about to be a motorway built near your new home, you may decide you don’t want to proceed.
The search will also show outstanding statutory notices, breaches of planning or building regulations or the existence of a compulsory purchase order. Environmental factors, such as whether the house stands on contaminated land or in a Radon gas-affected area are also covered.
If, for example, the previous owners are in breach of planning, and this has been discovered by the local authority it will be on the search and will affect you. If you buy the house without the breach being rectified, the local authority can pursue you, as if you had caused the breach.
What isn’t included in a local authority search?
There are a number of additional reports which provide information that is not covered by the standard local authority search. This means that if you have those additional searches done, there will be extra fees. The need for the additional searches will depend on where the property is located, what advice your solicitor gives you and what the requirements of your mortgage company are.
What are the additional searches?
The CON29 (O) optional form which deals with applications on roads proposed by private bodies, completion notices, land maintenance notices and environmental and pollution notices
Environmental searches (to determine a risk of flooding for example, as well as the proximity of any waste sites or potentially contaminated sites)
Water authority searches (which show any public sewers within the boundaries of the property which could impact upon future building or development)
Chancel Repair reports (to determine if your property is liable for church repair contributions).
It’s worth noting the additional searches, such as mining searches, flood searches and energy and infrastructure searches are determined by the locality of the property, rather than just the conveyancer or lender. For example, a mining search may be required if the property is in a mining area (rather than because the conveyancer or lender insist one is done in every case).
What’s the difference between official searches and personal searches?
There are two different types of land authority searches- official and personal.
The ‘official’ method involves sending forms directly to the local authority where a search is conducted by a council staff member from the Local Land Charges Register. This is then signed and stamped by a council officer.
The ‘personal’ method is conducted by an external agency unaffiliated with the council and working ‘independently’ from the same Register. In many cases, these searches are quicker and cheaper than an official application and are covered by specific information accuracy insurance policies as well as employer error liability. Despite the protection, many mortgage companies prefer an official search, as information provided by the Council itself is always seen as more reliable. Personal searches are most commonly used when the Council has a backlog and the search is urgent but will still need the approval of the mortgage company.
Some solicitors believe that an official search places greater emphasis upon comprehensibility, local authority liability and regulatory Search Code compliance over speed of return. Nevertheless, most industry veterans agree that the standard and accuracy of personal reports has risen substantially in the past decade and argue that reputable, commercially aware search companies often provide a greater level of control, accountability and flexibility than council searches (as well as financial and time saving benefits). The rule of thumb in such cases should be to consult with your conveyancing solicitor and consider all possibilities.
In any case, whether an official or personal search is done is often determined more by the mortgage lender. The conveyancing solicitor will have to check the Council of Mortgage Lender’s Handbook to see which searches the individual lender accepts.
How much will a search cost?
Fees are subject to a wide range of variables. If you have chosen a local authority search for example, you could be charged anywhere between £50 and £250 (as at today’s date) depending on the local authority. Additional fees also differ accordingly, so be sure to consult your local authority website, but on average drainage reports will currently cost between £30-40 plus VAT, whilst environmental reports current cost between £30-35 plus VAT. Private search company fees usually range between £75- £120 for a standard search.
Alternatively, you could purchase a fixed fee ‘bundle’ package from your conveyancing solicitor to cover the four main report criteria (Local Authority, Drainage and Water, Environmental and Chancel reports). These usually cost around £200-260 at today’s rates, but the main advantage is that they will cover local authority costs even if the combined total exceeds the paid fee. You can also conduct a personal search yourself for free, but this is not recommended as local reports require specialist knowledge to execute a search properly.
What can go wrong?
There are a few factors to consider before taking your Local Authority report at face value. Firstly, it is important to remember that local searches are often relevant to your property or street alone and might not cover developments located a short distance away (or even next door). Reports can vary, so always be sure to check the area remit of your search or make additional enquiries at your local council. For example, you can search most planning applications by postcode on the local authority website for the area in which you are buying. Secondly, it’s worth remembering that any planning proposals submitted after your search will not be covered.
Do I need to get a search if I’m buying without a mortgage?
Buyers who aren’t taking out a mortgage do not necessarily have to conduct a search, but most conveyancing solicitors will recommend that they do so. If the client elects not to carry out local authority searches then the conveyancer may recommend No Search Indemnity Insurance as an alternative.
How long do local authority searches take?
The timescale on searches can vary significantly, from 48 hours to six weeks! Mitigating factors can include whether the results are sent via email, online or by post; seasonal demand levels and (most importantly) staffing levels.
Disclaimer – our articles are designed to give you guidance and information. There is no substitute for proper direct advice, particularly as everyone’s circumstances are different. If anything in this article may affect you, please contact us for advice that is specific to your circumstances.