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Property Searches: What are they and why might you need or want them?

Searches are recommended as part of a well-informed commercial property acquisition i.e. a purchase or lease. We outline the different type of searches and their relevance below.

Local Search: This only shows entries kept by the Local Authority (of the area where the property’s situated) which directly affect the property. It doesn’t give information about neighbouring property. The standard enquiries cover:

• Planning and Building Regulations – applications and decisions relating to construction, alterations, signage, use of premises; known infringements of Building Regulations and/or the Planning Acts;

• Roads – whether the road serving the property is adopted i.e. whether general public rights of way exist and the road is maintainable at public expense;

• General matters – whether the land is near to any nearby road/railway/traffic schemes; whether the property is listed or in a conservation area or subject to a compulsory purchase order.

Bespoke additional enquiries can be raised where appropriate e.g. to establish whether a property comprising of open land is registered as a village green.

Water and Drainage Search: This confirms whether: the property is connected to mains drainage for foul and surface water; there’s a mains water supply to the property; charges are made on a measured basis; and there’s been any failure of water quality tests. The search result plan shows the location of adopted drains, sewers and water mains (it doesn’t show the route of drains through the property unless they’re adopted).

Mining Search: This is required where the property’s in a known mining area. It reveals any history of mining and whether coal exists there which may be worked in the future, subject to the necessary licences. It says whether the property is likely to be influenced by past, present or future mining and whether any claim has ever been made for damage due to past mining activity e.g. subsidence. In some areas a “Cheshire Brine” search may be flagged as being appropriate (in respect of brine mining).

Environmental Search: Now that it’s not only a case of “polluter pays” for cleaning up contaminated land, but also, potentially “land owner or occupier pays”, this search could forewarn you of a costly clean-up bill.
It’s a desktop search; there’s no site visit and no soil samples are taken. It reveals whether any past or present use of the land is likely to be a source of contamination, but not necessarily whether any action has been taken to ‘clean up’ the site. The result is based on the likely risk of contamination and whether there’s a chance this could affect the value or saleability of the property. If the result reveals that ‘further action’ is required, it may be necessary to engage a specialist to attend the site, analyse soil samples and advise on the necessary remediation work and likely cost. This could perhaps then form a ground for re-negotiation of the purchase price.

Chancel Liability Search: Chancel liability is an historical liability requiring the owners of land which formerly had ‘tithe responsibilities’ given by the local church, to continue to pay towards the cost of any repairs to the church chancel. It sounds an unlikely claim, but has happened in recent years! If a possible responsibility is revealed, common practice is to put in place a (relatively inexpensive) legal indemnity insurance policy.

Alert area searches: A property could be within a zone of possible influence by bespoke matters such as oil and gas exploration (fracking), HS2 (high speed rail), wind farms etc. We benefit from an alert system which highlights the need to make further investigations for such properties.

Is it obligatory to carry out searches?

If you’re purchasing a property using bank funding to be secured on the property you’ll have to carry out all relevant searches, because all mainstream lenders require full due diligence to be undertaken. Otherwise, it’s at your discretion whether you carry out all, some or none of the searches. We can guide you in making this decision.

How long do searches take and what do they cost?

Timing can depend on the relevant local authority and the national volume of property transactions. It’s unusual for search results to take longer than two weeks from request.
We obtain an itemised search costing for you once we know the full property address and postcode (we’ll also need a plan if the property’s hard to identify from its address). It’s not unusual for full commercial searches to cost between £550 – £750 plus VAT (we don’t add any uplift to the search fees).

28 May 2015. This factsheet contains general overview information only. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon, as legal advice. You should consult a suitably qualified lawyer on any specific legal problem or matter.

For further information please contact Helen:

Helen Marsh
D: 0161 358 0544
T: 0161 358 0545

8-10 Exchange Street
Manchester, M2 7HA