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What checks and searches are needed when buying a house?

View profile for Bakshi Dhanda
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If you buy a toaster or a coat from a retailer and it doesn't quite feel right, you can usually go back to the place you bought them and ask for a refund. Unfortunately, the same principle does not apply to purchasing a property.  

When you buy a property, you do so under the principle of ‘caveat emptor’ or ‘buyer beware’. This means it is your responsibility, as the purchaser, to check the quality and suitability of the property before you agree to buy it.

If you later find a problem with the property, such damp, subsidence, local planning developments in the area such as a refuse collection center being built opposite your property or a leaking roof, there is usually little you can do about it. If the property is a new build, you may be able to get some problems put right under the warranty if it is less than 10 years old, but for older houses, you will normally be stuck covering the cost of repairs yourself. This isn't ideal, especially if you have not budgeted for this.

This is why it is absolutely essential that the right checks and searches are carried out before you exchange. This gives you an opportunity to identify any potential problems and guide you to make an informed decision.

The exact checks and searches you need will depend on the type of property and its location, which is something you should discuss with your conveyancing solicitor.

Common conveyancing checks and searches

The following are some of the most common types of searches your solicitor should carry out for you during the conveyancing process that takes place before you exchange contracts.

Local Authority Search (LAS) – Provides essential information about the property and the surrounding area. Issues a LAS will uncover include if the property is listed, subject to a compulsory purchase order or in a conservation area, any plans for new property developments or roads nearby and if there are any issues with contaminated land in the local area.

Water & Drainage Search – Identifies who is responsible for any sewers, drains and piping the property relies on and whether any sewers run under the boundaries of the property.

Environmental Search – Highlights whether there are any potential environmental risks to the property, including landslides,  subsidence, contaminated land and flooding.

Flood Report – Reveals whether the property has been flooded within the last 75 years, any potential risk of flooding and any issues with getting insurance on the property as a result. Recommended when the property is near a river or there has been a history of flooding in the area.

Mining Search – Identifies whether coal or brine mining has taken place in the local area and whether there is any risk of subsidence to the property as a result. Only required in areas with a history of coal or brine mining, which your solicitor should be able to advise you about.

Chanel Repair Search – Tells you if you will be liable as the owner of the property to contribute to the repair of any nearby churches. This can affect properties within the parish of churches built before 1536 and is often not recorded on a property’s title deeds, meaning the only way to know for sure is with a chancel repair search.

Building surveys

It is strongly recommended to have a professional surveyor (who should be a Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) member) inspect the property before you buy. There are several different types of survey you can have, which vary in the level of scrutiny they provide and in their cost.

A Condition Report is the most basic option. Each part of the property is ranked using a traffic light system, with green indicating that an area seems okay, orange that there may be some issues and red meaning serious repairs are needed.

A HomeBuyers Report is more detailed and will identify major issues, such as damp or subsidence, as well as a valuation of the property. A HomeBuyers Report is non-intrusive, meaning the surveyor will not move furniture, lift floorboards or in any other way look ‘below the surface’ of the property.

A Building Survey is the most comprehensive type of survey. The surveyor will check in lofts, under floorboards, above ceilings etc. as well as providing specific advice on any repairs needed and their likely cost. This type of survey is strongly advised for older properties and where you have specific concerns about the state of a property.

Get reliable conveyancing for your new home

Gepp Solicitors is home to the Conveyancing Quality Scheme accredited residential property team who offer fast, reliable and cost-effective conveyancing services.

Whether you are buying, selling, remortgaging or need help with any other type of residential property transaction, we can guide you through the process, keeping you safe and helping to avoid any unexpected problems after the deal is done.

To find out more about our conveyancing services, call us now on 01245 343980 or email newbusiness@gepp.co.uk.

This article should not be used as legal advice.