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What are property searches and why should they be carried out?


There is a lot to consider when you are looking to purchase or lease a property, especially around searches. Jess Woodman, paralegal in our commercial property team, looks at the common questions surrounding due diligence when investigating a property.

Why we would recommend carrying out property searches.

When purchasing or leasing a property, the onus is on you to investigate the property. You may have heard this principle be referred to as ‘caveat emptor’ which means ‘let the buyer beware’.

As a purchaser or tenant, you enter into a contract for the sale/lease of land at your own risk. Therefore, it is your responsibility to ensure you fully investigate before exchanging contracts and satisfy yourself on matters that affect the property.

Should any issues be identified after completion of the transaction, it would be too late to raise these with the seller/landlord.

An investigation of the property will typically include the following:

  •  An investigation of the title.
  • A physical inspection of the property.
  • A survey.
  • A valuation.
  • Pre-contract enquiries.
  • Property searches.

What are the standard searches and what do they reveal?

Search quotes are bespoke and different searches may be suggested depending on the location and type of property and transaction.

Here are some of the standard searches and what they tell you about the property:

  • Commercial drainage and water search: This will reveal matters such as whether a property is connected to the mains water supply and mains drainage and the location of public sewers.
  • Environmental search: This can be used to establish the risk of land being contaminated.
  • Coal mining search: This will confirm whether the property is in an area where coal mining has taken place or is likely to take place in the future, subject to the necessary licences. It can also indicate whether the property has been affected by subsidence as the result of underground works.
  • Chancel repair search: This shows whether the owner of a property may be liable to contribute towards the cost of repairs to the chancel of a parish church.
  • Local authority search (including any optional and additional enquiries): This reveals important information such as planning permissions and building regulation consents.
  • Local land charges search: This shows matters such as compulsory purchase orders, tree preservation orders, planning enforcement notices and financial charges registered against a property.
  • Highways search: This will reveal the extent of the adopted highways in the vicinity of the property.
  • Utilities search: This will ask the relevant utility providers to search their records to confirm if there is any apparatus belonging to the utility companies (including in respect of gas and electricity) in the vicinity of the property.

How long do they take and how much do they cost?

Timescales can vary greatly depending upon the local authority, however, it is unusual for search results to take more than three weeks from the date of commission.

The costs of the searches vary for each transaction/property. In general, commercial searches can at the time of writing (dependent upon the extent of land and current/proposed use) cost anything up to, or over, £900.

Are there any alternatives?

In certain situations, a purchaser/tenant may be able to take out an indemnity policy for no searches.

It is not guaranteed that an insurer will cover this risk for every transaction type/property, and it is important to note that indemnity policies will be subject to various exclusions or conditions.

We offer various due diligence service options for each type of transaction and can alter our fee estimates based on your requirements. If you would like to speak to our commercial property team, please call 01772 258321.

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