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What are 'searches' when buying a BTL house?

When buying any residential property, you will need to hire a conveyancing solicitor to carry out the necessary legal requirements. As part of this process, the solicitor will perform various searches. These searches ensure you find out about any potential issues regarding the property before you take ownership. Mortgage lenders also require searches to be carried out to be reassured that there are no risks or issues that could affect the property value. In this article, BTL mortgage broker Rob Gurr looks at different types of searches, why they matter, and how long they take.

Do I have to do searches when buying a house?

Although searches are not mandatory if you buy a property without any external investment (for cash or through the sale of your assets), they are still highly recommended by your conveyancing solicitor. Searches give you essential information about important issues, such as high flood risk, subsidence risk due to underground coal mines, or planning permission for a large development on the property's doorstep, which may make you decide against purchasing the property. 

If you buy a property using a mortgage, then searches are a legal requirement. Based on the type of property, area, and other factors, the mortgage lender will determine what searches they require in order to secure the funds. Of course, you can also ask your conveyancing solicitor to perform any additional searches you would like for peace of mind.

These conveyancing searches aren't always necessary if you know the property, area, and land well. However, they are worth having if you are buying in an area you don't know well. They are usually relatively inexpensive and quick to perform, helping assure you of the quality and longevity of your investment, and making them well worth the time and money when you are investing in a BTL property. If you fail to get a survey, you may find issues once you have taken ownership, making the house difficult or impossible to sell, making your investment worthless.


What types of conveyancing searches are there?

There are several different types of conveyancing searches, also called property searches, that your conveyancing solicitor will perform as part of the property purchase process. Searches cover the local area and are not to be confused with a property survey, which looks at the house's physical condition. 

Local authority searches

The local authority search is possibly the most important conveyancing search. It looks at the information held by the local authority about the property, such as planning permissions and any restrictions held against the property. The search itself will differ in scope and the length of time it will take to complete, depending on the area that you are buying in. Sometimes, turnaround can take a few days, but it can also take weeks to complete. 

A local authority search is a two-part process. One part is an LLC1 (local land charge register) result that looks at any restrictions on the property. It provides information on:

  • if your property is a listed building 
  • enforcement notices
  • if it is in a conservations area 
  • any financial charges registered against the property
  • if it is in a tree preservation order area

The second is the CON29 result. The CON29 is made up of two sections. The first, CON29 R, provides information such as:

  • the property's planning history
  • the property's building control history 
  • traffic schemes
  • who maintains the roads
  • any tree preservation orders 

CON29 O is the second part, which your solicitor can request as optional extras such as:

  • public footpaths
  • road proposals
  • noise amatement zones
  • hazardous substance consents
  • environmental and pollution notices

Costs will vary depending on the property's local authority. 

Land Registry searches

This search examines the legal information about the property as is recorded in the Land Registry office. It checks the up-to-date title register and title plan to prove the legal ownership of the person selling the property.  

A land registry search costs £3 per title register or title plan and can be done easily online via the website. 

Environmental searches

Environmental searches are an equally important part of understanding whether the property you want to purchase will be a sound financial investment. It looks at potential environmental impacts that could not only damage the building but prevent you from either achieving the rental value you need or would put off potential renters entirely!

They'll also look at health hazards such as whether the property has been built on contaminated land, is near a landfill, or is near a waste management site.

In addition to the property itself, the environmental survey will look at issues in a 500-metre range of the property.

Water authority searches

Your local water authority performs searches on where drains and sewer lines exist on the property, and they will outline where your water supply and network lie. This information is essential if you plan to extend the property and for everyday peace of mind if a leak should occur.

Water authority searches can be quite detailed, covering:

  • Whether your property has a public water supply, a private one, or a hybrid system
  • How you are charged for water (either measured on a meter or unmeasured on a rateable value)
  • Whether the property is connected to a public sewer, septic tank or a cesspit
  • If public sewer lines or water mains are running through the property (this may mean that the water company may need access to the property on occasion)

Location-specific searches

Depending on where the property is that you want to buy, your solicitor may recommend additional conveyancing searches. For example, if it is in a former mining district, it can be worthwhile performing a mining search to check for mining-related subsidence, unstable ground, and contamination.

Chancel repair search

Also known as chancel checks, these conveyancing searches relate specifically to pre-Reformation churches and properties in the UK. Properties within these parishes may have fees levied against them to cover the cost of repairs and maintenance for the churches they belong to. It may seem like a strange and outdated law, but it is still enforceable today and is estimated to affect around 500,000 homes or more across the UK, so it is worth doing.

The search will inform you if the property is located within a parish where potential chancel repair liability exists. If there is no liability, the conveyancing solicitor will issue you with a certificate to declare this. If there is a liability, you should speak to your solicitor about chancel liability insurance that can cover any future repair costs, as they can be considerable.

British Waterways Search

This is another search that is similar in some ways to a chancel repair liability search. Also called a Rivers Authority search, this determines if homes and properties backing onto rivers, canals, or streams are in any way financially liable for certain responsibilities (for example, maintenance and repairs) to maintain the waterway. It will also ascertain if your property carries certain rights relating to the waterway, including fishing, drainage, water use, and mooring rights.

Commons registration search

In certain areas, usually rural locations and around village commons, land can be classed as common land rather than fully private land under the Commons Registration Act of 1965. It will determine whether your property is classed as common land, as well as the extent of the rights the local community has to your land. Typical examples may include footpaths, grazing rights, or even the right to host community events.

What to do with the results

The purpose of these conveyancing searches is to assist you in making the most informed decision about buying a property as possible, as well as assisting mortgage companies in determining if a property is a secure investment for mortgage funds. Depending on the search results and your property goals, you can adapt your plans or even cancel your plan to purchase the property. 

For example, if you plan to take down a tree to extend the property and make it a viable BTL investment and find out that the tree is protected, you may decide the property is not the right one for you. Similarly, if you find a high risk of flooding, it might make the property more challenging to rent and more expensive to insure, making it a less profitable investment.

You may also find that the property has much more potential than you first knew, which can make these searches a positive tool. For example, you may find out that a new school is being built in your area, making it much more appealing as a long-term rental for families.

When looking at the results of your searches, it's advisable to note precisely the area that the search covers. Some searches don't extend into the next property, while others extend throughout an entire postcode. Even though you carry out the relevant searches, if you aren't familiar with the local area, don't forget to do your own research to find out more about the area on plans for infrastructure, housing developments, retail centres, and other large projects.