Property Searches: The Local Authority Search
Property Searches or Conveyancing Searches are specific enquiries made by a Conveyancing Solicitor with relevant authorities in order to establish some key facts about the property you are looking to purchase. In this article, we going to look at one of the main searches carried out on the majority of houses being bought, the Local Authority Search, also known as the local property search.
What is a Local Property Search?
At the appropriate stage in a property transaction, your conveyancer will either instruct the Land Charges department within the respective Local Authority where you are purchasing or is carried out by a specialist search provider to conduct the Local Property Search. It is usually the same Local Council that you will pay your council tax to and will handle your weekly bin collection. In some cases, where a property falls on a boundary between two Local Authorities, searches may need to be carried out with both councils.
What information does a Local Property Search reveal?
Each Local property search is split into two main parts. The first is the Local Land Charge Register search (LLC1) and reveals information about specific Land Charges registered against a particular property or the land it is built upon, such as Tree Preservation Orders or enforcement notices. The second part is the CON29 section which focuses on practical aspects of the property such as roads, railways, conservation areas and also current and historical planning.
Financial Charges and Enforcement Notices – These are charges or notices registered against the property by the County Council or Local Authority. An example maybe where works have been carried out to a property and the correct planning consent has not been obtained, or if a condition of a planning permission has been breached.
Tree Preservation Order – This is an order placed upon a particular tree or piece of woodland to protect it from destruction or harm. TPOs are decided upon by the Local Authority’s designated Tree Officer. You can apply to have one placed on a particular tree and if a TPO has been granted, then specific permission must be obtained before any works are carried out to a tree, even for something as simple as lopping or pruning. If the correct permission is not granted, then the offender can expect to receive a substantial fine.
Listed Buildings – A local property search will reveal if the property as a whole or in part is a designated Listed Building. Read more on listed buildings in our article covering the matter here.
Conservation Area – Across England and Wales, there are specialist conservation areas, or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is therefore unavoidable that some properties fall within these designated areas. Whilst living in these beautiful locations has many advantages, it is important you know what you are purchasing as the ability to obtain planning permission in such areas can be tricky and when permission is granted, it is often with strict conditions. There are 46 AONB in the UK and examples include the Chilterns, Cotswolds, Downs, Howardian Hills, Lincolnshire Wolds, Wye Valley and Forest of Bowland.
Road Networks – Local searches reveal the nearest roads to a property and whether they are publicly owned and therefore maintained by the Local Council and Highways Agency, or are they private roads. Although in urban areas this may seem obvious, it is not unusual for a rear access or alleyway to be privately maintained which then results in a potential maintenance cost to you as a property owner who has rights over the private road.
Planning History – The local search reveals the planning history of the property (and others in the block if it is a leasehold property). You can use this information as confirmation that the relevant planning permission was sought prior to work commencing. This links to any financial charges or enforcement notices placed upon a property
Building Control History – For new work or alterations carried out on a property, the relevant building control and building regulation certificates must be obtained. The purpose of this is confirm that specific standards have been met when the work was carried out and it was carried out by a competent person, adequately covered and has the expertise to carry out the work to a required standard. Examples include extensions, new build homes, loft conversions, heating system fittings and replacements of kitchens and bathrooms. It is important to ensure that the correct certificates were issued before you purchase a property.
Traffic Schemes – Not all properties come with designated parking such as a driveway or designated parking space. This is especially important in urban areas to know whether your property falls within a pedestrian zone or has permit parking. This allows you to be prepared for living at the property and if parking is essential to you, then it may affect your decision to purchase the property.
Smoke Control Order – If a property falls within a Smoke Control Zone, there are particular steps you must take to ensure this is not breached. The rules in the main refer to the use of open fires, log burners or stoves. There are specific requirements on the type of fuel that can be burnt in these areas. There are also set regulations for bonfires and similar burning of garden waste. The following website details a variety of useful information regarding the types of fuel you can use where there are limitations affecting a property in this regard.
Do I need a Local Property Search?
Property searches are always recommended no matter what you are buying or how well you think you know the property. Local Authority information can change all the time and so it is important to have the most up to date information before committing to purchase a property.
If you are buying with a mortgage, then you will not have an option. Your mortgage lender will require the main searches, being Local Authority, Drainage and Water, and Environmental Searches as a minimum, with more specific searches being required in certain areas of the country or following certain findings on the main searches. There are certain instances where you may be able to obtain indemnity insurance (lender permitting) however, most indemnity insurance policies require your conveyancer to warrant that they are not aware of any adverse matters affecting the property. Naturally, a Conveyancer cannot give such a warranty as they have not themselves resided at the property in most cases and therefore, this is not a viable option in practice.
If you are buying in cash, then you have the option not to carry out searches. It is important to discuss your options with your conveyancing solicitor to make sure you fully understand the different options available to you so you can make an informed decision.
Whilst in most cases, nothing ominous is revealed on a local property search, information gathered during the search can be used to renegotiate an offer on a property if something detrimental is discovered. It can also highlight risks which may affect a decision to buy the particular property or in a particular area.
What is the difference between an Official and Personal Search?
Official searches are carried out by the conveyancer submitting an application directly to the relevant Local Council or Authority. Employees within the relevant Local Authority then carry out the search and supply a written report to your conveyancer. Time frames are very much dependent on the workload of the specific Local Authority and can span several weeks.
A Personal Search is carried out by a third part organisation independent of the council. Specialist individuals attend the Local Authority and make their own investigations with the records held, then producing the search report which is then sent to your conveyancer.
The information revealed with both these searches are identical although the Official Local Authority search tends to be a lot more expensive than a Personal Search. The advantage with an official search is that, since it is the Land Charges department which conducts the search themselves (and does not require a personal agent whose availability and when such an agent can secure an appointment at the Land Charges department to inspect the archives, dictate the turnaround time for the search result being returned), official searches tend to be returned quicker.
Although in some cases, the wait for the Local Authority search result can frustrating, the information yielded can be vital in making a decision about a property and more practical considerations of preparing to live there. Mortgage lenders place a lot of reliance on searches and therefore will request a search if you intend on purchasing with a mortgage.
Talk to your conveyancing team about the searches and any concerns you have.