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SEARCHES: “To do, or not to do....”

Napthens - February 21st 2012

Contracts for the sale and purchase of land are founded on the legal principle of Caveat Emptor(let the Buyer beware). This is commonly understood to mean that it is the Buyer’s responsibility to investigate title to the property which it is proposing to purchase. 

The principle is subject to the terms of the contract and some limited obligations upon the Seller to disclose some defects in the property.

Why bother with searches at all, and what do they reveal?

In answer to the first question, and here we are only dealing with registered land, the choice is taken away from you if you are purchasing with the benefit of a mortgage. The mortgagee’s instructions will be very clear, and will more often than not provide that the Buyer’s solicitors must undertake all those searches which it considers relevant to the particular property. If you are purchasing with cash, then it is your own decision to make, however, to proceed without searches could possibly result in purchasing a property that is subject to all sorts of problems making it difficult to sell. 

What Searches?

1. Local Authority Search

This is often split into two sections, being (1) a search of the Local Land Charges Register and (2) Local Authority Search. 

In the former, entries that might be revealed include Tree Preservation Orders, planning and enforcement notices, Compulsory Purchase Orders, financial charges, whether the property is listed, and so on. In relation to the Local Authority search, information that may be revealed includes whether any enforcement action or Stop Notices have been issued, whether there are any road schemes anticipated, the planning and building regulations history for the property, whether roads that abut the property are adopted, whether the property is subject to public rights of way, whether it is registered as common land.

2. Drainage and Water Search

This will reveal significantly whether foul and surface water are connected to a public sewer, whether the property is connected to mains water, whether there are drains, pipes etc running through the property, and often the basis for charging for sewerage and water at the property.

3. Desktop Environmental Survey

The search provider will look over the past land uses in order to determine the likelihood of contamination being present, and reach a conclusion about whether further action may be required. 

4. Chancel Liability

Whilst there is no central register, there are search providers who will look into any potential liability to contribute towards the cost of church repairs. 

5. Other Searches

There are a multitude of other searches that can be commissioned, many of which are location specific, for example coal mining which should be undertaken in a coal mining areas, Cheshire Brine, London Transport Search if the property is in London and includes searches of London Underground and Docklands Light Railway, revealing such information as tunnel depths etc. Developers, may want to undertake searches of the National Grid and Regional Grid for electricity lines etc, and the National Grid for gas pipes. In addition, you may want to undertake a flood search or search the index relating to franchises and manors.

The main purpose of all these searches is to find out as much information as is possible about the property before you commit to purchase. Once you have committed to purchase without the benefit of searches, then invariably you will be stuck with anything that would have been revealed in the search, had you undertaken it at the appropriate time.