LEGAL SEARCHES – WHY DO WE NEED THEM
I can hear the collective groan at the dreaded words, legal searches, but are they misunderstood. If we know what they were for and what they did would we like them a little bit more and understand why they are so important?
Among many other things that have to be dealt with when we decide to buy or sell a house are the legal searches. What are the legal people actually searching for?
It is normally the buyer’s solicitor who is responsible for making the searches, unless alternatively the seller could provide them in preparation for the sale. What is being looked for is a wide variety of information to ensure that the property you want to buy is free from any problems or issues. As a result of the searches, an informed decision can be made to withdraw rather than incur problems with the property further down the line. On the other hand, if all the searches are clear and positive, you can go ahead and purchase the property knowing all is well.
Searches are a series of questions sent to various people, authorities and places which covering very specific enquiries about the property in question.
The searches include:-
- Local authority searches
- Land registry searches
- Environmental searches
- Water authority searches
- Location specific searches
- Chancel repair searches
Each of these legal searches are necessary if we want peace of mind when buying a property. Without these searches, mortgage providers will not make a mortgage offer. To say nothing of the fact that the results from these searches could bring up, unknown issues which could affect the value of the property if you are a cash buyer.
So what are each of these legal searches for?
The requests for the information are sent to the local authority, who respond by providing an official certificate of search. There are two parts to the search, the first being the LLC1 and the second being known as a CON29 enquiry form. In fact it is these searches which are considered the most important.
The LLC 1 search contains all of the entries listed in the local land charges register which are made against the property you are looking to buy or sell. The point of this search is to reveal details such as tree preservation orders, whether or not the property is a listed building or any enforcement notices registered against the property. The results are very important as there could, in addition, be an enforcement notice of a breach of planning permission with details of the work needed to be undertaken to correct the breach.
The CON29 standard search information will reveal such things as;
- any planning and building decisions and pending applications, whether or not the applications have been granted, issued or refused.
- whether the property has all of its building regulation certificates or notices in respect of works carried out.
- if there is building regulation completion certificate, mortgage lenders will insist on this, particularity if it is a relatively new house.
- Besides all of this information, it reveals any development plans in the area, which could affect your view of the property if there is nearby, for example, a large housing project nearby in the planning stages.
The CON29 search also reveals any roads and public rights of way which may affect or be relevant to the property. Additionally, other information which may affect the property such as nearby road schemes, nearby railway or traffic schemes, outstanding notices against then property could also be revealed. The latter includes such things as notice of coastal erosion which if the property is near the sea is of paramount importance.
Other important information supplied through the CON29 search could be if there is a local authority notice of a planning contravention, or a preservation order against the property. How would you feel if the search revealed that the property was in a conservation area which as a result gives restrictions against the property? Or a compulsory purchase order which has just been filed.
LAND REGISTRY SEARCHES
It is quite amazing how much information is held against a property and it surrounding area.
A land registry search, which is sent to the HM Land Registry, contains all of the documents which details all of the information held about the property.
These documents are the, Title Register, Title Plan and if the property is leasehold details of the lease and the lease plan.
The title document sets out the information of who owns the property and exactly what is included with it. The title plan shows the same information but in an illustrated form. Besides all of that it also details any restrictive covenants or easements held against the property and/or restrictions which could affect the property. An example of an easement could be the right of the electricity company to come onto the property to inspect power lines.
This document is the absolute and only document which proves ownership of the property. Above all no other document will be accepted, by the mortgage lender in respect of registered property.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND WATER AUTHORITY SEARCHES
The results from the environmental search can tell you if the property has been used, in the past, for anything which may have caused contaminated land. Also what it will reveal is if there is any contaminated land in the nearby area.
Furthermore this search will identify if there has been a landfill, waste or other industrial sites nearby and if there was any question of any earlier contamination.
A more recently important issue, raised over the last few years, this search will reveal if the property is considered to be in a flood plain. This can have a very adverse effect on the ability to insure a house against flood damage. It could in certain circumstances prevent a mortgage being offered.
A water authority search actually combines a water and drainage search. Known as a CON29DW and is one of the more newly introduced searches. Only introduced in 2002, it was previously included as part of the local authority search information. However, since water responsibilities were separated from local authority control it has become and extra responsibility for the legal people.
The value of this CON29DW is the provision of the most up to date information on the property’s water supply and sewer connections. It includes information on whether or not the property is fitted with a water meter and the current billing arrangements.
LOCAL AND CHANCEL REPAIR SEARCHES
Location specific legal searches are not always thought necessary but in instances where mining has taken place in the area your lender will require it.
The final search to mention is a Chancel Repair search, it is an absolute throw back to the middle ages. Following a number of serious litigation cases, it is now considered a must for older properties. Since 2013, the law required churches to establish their rights of chancellery repair then lodge the liability with the land registry. Thus the element of surprise is now limited. Before 2013 you could have owned a property for 50 years and find yourself served with a bill for repairing the local church steeple. There was one notorious case found against a property owner, who had no option, after much litigation, but to pay up costs of the repairs to the church ( Cantlow PCC -v-Wallbank ).
Now if a Chancel Repair search finds responsibility attached to a property, there is suitable insurance which can cover the liability at a reasonable cost.
HOW LONG DO THESE SEARCHES TAKE?
The time is dependant on a number of matters, most particularly where the property is. Often the results of the searches can take up to three weeks but differ widely between authorities. Also if your searches are requested in the height of the holiday season, when staff are on holiday, they may take longer than at other times.
Often the best way to speed up the length of time these searches take is to keep in touch with your solicitor/conveyancer and ask if they have put in the requests and remind him to chase up the replies.
If you require any further details on any of the legal searches noted above, please feel free to contact our team at Express Conveyancing who are happy to explain these to you.