Which search should I choose?

Simon David of Thomas Legal on the types of legal searches available to property purchasers

"I am buying a property in glorious countryside but, having spoken to various solicitors, I am very puzzled about which legal searches to have done - they all seem to suggest different ones. I am worried about development around the house and flooding particularly. What do you suggest?"

I do completely sympathise with your predicament as there are many available searches out there in the legal marketplace. It is vitally important that you choose the right ones so that you go into the purchase with your eyes open as to potential issues that could affect your practical enjoyment of the house.

The most important search to carry out is the local authority search. This is a standard set of questions that the local authority will answer and will include information on the planning history, footpaths within the property, any enforcement notices as well as other very relevant information.  Be warned though that the search is only carried out against the house and not surrounding land so you will need to instruct your solicitor to raise a specific question with the local authority about this. 

The best advice is probably for you to chat to a local planning officer directly about any development around the house that you are concerned about as they are usually very helpful. If you don’t have time to do this then instruct your solicitor to do a planning search which will give you some idea of the planning applications made within a certain radius of the house usually over the last five years.

As for the flooding, again do some research yourself as there is lots of information online via websites such as the Environment Agency. Instruct your solicitor to carry out an environmental search and make sure that this will cover flood risk as well as other environmental issues like historic contamination of the land.

What other searches should I think about then if any?

You should get a drainage and water search carried out just to make sure that the property is connected to both and also to see where any pipes are on your land. Remember that if you are looking to extend the house at a later date and you want to build over a sewer pipe, you will need a Build Over Agreement from the relevant water company.

You may have also seen sinkholes mentioned in the press recently where land has simply collapsed very suddenly for no apparent reason. You may want to consider a specialist search to be carried out that looks at historical ground uses around the house such as old quarries or mines as these are often a cause of ground collapse.

Finally, I would also order a search that will cover energy and infrastructure issues like solar farms, wind farms, HS2 and Crossrail. As the drive for alternative clean energy sources gets bigger it is entirely possible that a wind turbine farm could be on your doorstep instead of a housing development.

So what will all this cost?

A comprehensive search pack is going to cost you around £400 approximately. On the basis that you are spending a huge amount of money on buying your property, don’t scrimp on the searches only to find the diggers move in to the field next door the week after you collect the keys to your dream home.

Simon David is Managing Director at Thomas Legal. He was previously a Partner at a large regional firm based in the South West where he headed up a sizeable conveyancing department. Simon’s remit is to ensure that Thomas Legal remain the first and best choice for consumers by exploring cutting edge IT technology and ensuring we deliver the highest standards of service. He is a member of the Management Board of the Conveyancing Association. www.thomaslegalgroup.co.uk