Simple Guide:
Conveyancing Searches

Everything you need to know...

2023 update

Page highlights
  • Which searches you need (and why)
  • How much they should costs (and how long they take)
  • How to stay on top of your solicitor


What are conveyancing property searches?

Before you become committed to buying a property (by exchanging contracts), you need to know as much as possible about it.

Especially anything that may affect its future value or your enjoyment of it.

Enter ‘searches‘.

These are enquires made on your behalf by your solicitor / licensed conveyancer to various authorities that hold information about your property, the land it sits on or factors that may directly (or indirectly) effect it.

Are searches necessary when buying a house?

In our opinion, yes!

But they’re not always compulsory…

Buying with a mortgage

  • When a property is bought with a mortgage, you as a buyer own that property with the lender.
  • If something happens and the lender needs to repossess and sell the property on, they will want to make sure that they do so without any lingering issues attached to the property.
  • As a result, your lender will tell your conveyancer what searches need to be ordered and checked before they will release your mortgage funds.

Buying with 100% cash

  • If you are buying with cash, you don’t have a lender calling the shots. You’re free to order as many or as few searches as you like.
  • That said, saving a few hundred quid by not purchasing the searches recommended to you by your conveyancer, only to later find out about problems which could cost you thousands – if not tens of thousands – is just not worth the risk.

Bottom Line

When buying a property, you’re not just buying a building…

You’re buying something, which may have debt secured against it, changes made to it illegally or high risk of potential problems such as flooding or subsidence affecting it.

Searches = Vital information highlighting potential unseen risks attached to a property purchase

Without searches you could end up with a property which:

  • Regularly floods, meaning insurance is difficult, if not impossible, to secure
  • Has a debt attached to it which you will take over if you continue to buy the property without having the debt rectified before your purchase
  • Ends up with a sudden hole in the back garden due to a mineshaft collapsing
  • Has a new road, train, tramline, housing estate, wind farm planned nearby, which could adversely – or positively – affect the price you finally pay for the property
  • Sits on land which was previously used for industrial purposes and may be contaminated with arsenic, asbestos, solvents or gases that could cause harm or pollute surrounding water

Although you may have found the home of your dreams, not having the right checks on the property through searches could mean you end up with a property which:

  • Is difficult or impossible to insure
  • You paid too much for
  • Is unsaleable if the next buyer carries out the correct due diligence


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What searches do you need?

Ultimately this depends on the location of the property you’re buying.

Most searches are location specific and your conveyancer will advise what searches are required for your property in it’s specific location.

Some locations are well known to have issues with mining, so need a coal search; others may have had issues with local churches having to be funded by nearby homeowners; while new areas now subject to flooding mean maps are constantly changing.

The 3 main searches done when buying a house

No matter where your property is located, here are the three main searches you’ll need as a minimum:

1. Local Authority searches

This search highlights:

  • Planning issues
  • Building control issues
  • Highways issues
  • Pollution issues

2. Environmental searches

This search highlights:

  • Flooding issues
  • Landslide issues
  • Subsidence issues
  • Contaminated land issues

3. Water and drainage searches

This search enquiry is made to the local water company and highlights:

  • Who owns and maintains the sewers, drains & piping
  • If the property is connected to a public water supply and sewer
  • Whether the water supply is metered or rateable
  • The location of public sewer and drainage pipes
  • Whether you’ll need permission from the water company to extend the home

When are searches ordered?

Most searches are ordered / requested as soon after you’ve had your offer formally accepted.

This is assuming you’ve already instructed conveyancing solicitors to represent you, and you’ve sent them your search deposit monies (approx. £250-£300).

Some specific searches such as HS2 or more in-depth flooding searches may not be requested until later in the legal process when it becomes apparent that additional information is required over and above the norm.

Pre-completion searches are ordered after exchange of contracts has taken place.

How much do searches cost?

Local Authority Search£60-£230Varies by council
Water and Drainage Search£50-£100
Environmental Search£25-£60Up to £180 if lots of land
Flooding Search£20-£50
Mining Search£25-£120More if lots of land
Chancel Search£20-£90
Bankruptcy Search£2 (per name)
Indemnity Insurance£30-£300
Title register (online copy)£3
Title plan (online copy)£2.50+VAT
Flood risk indicator (online copy)£9+VAT
Title register (official copy)£7
Title plan (official copy)£7

How long do property searches take?

1-10 days10 days - several months
Water and drainage searchPreliminary enquiries to seller's solicitor
Environmental searchLocal authority searches
Chancel repair searchCommons registration search
Flooding search
Contaminated land search
Coal, brine, clay and tin mining search
Bankruptcy search
Indemnity Insurance
Title searches
Land Registry priority searches

Beware: Local Authority searches can take forever

Over the last few years, the Land Registry – the main provider of local authority searches, via local authorities – has been under threat of privatisation.

This has meant there has been little focus in some local authorities on the work that this department does and in some cases, this has meant that valuable, skilled staff have left and, due to cutbacks, not been replaced.

As a result of these issues and also the different methods local authorities use to generate and communicate searches (some still use post!), the turnaround time of Local Authority Searches now varies quite dramatically across the country.

In 2016 for example, Dorset was found to be taking 17 weeks – nearly 4 months – to return Local Authority Searches, causing severe delays.

In the previous year, TM Group estimated that the Local Authority Searches would take anything from 2 days to over 42 days.

Thankfully, The Land Registry is starting to take action and hopefully we can look forward to quicker turnaround times in the not too distant future.

Local authority searches

This uncovers information about your property held in the Local Land Charges Register and other council records.

Typically this search will be in two parts:

  1. LLC1 (the Official Certificate of Search Form)
  2. CON29 (Enquiries of the Local Authority Form)

The LLC1 highlights:

  • Tree preservation orders
  • Conservation area or listed building status

The CON29 highlights:

  • Planning applications relevant to the property
  • Building control history
  • Any enforcement action
  • Restrictions on permitted development
  • Nearby road schemes
  • Contaminated land

If your property is on the path of something like HS2 or a smaller local change, it will discover if there is a compulsory purchase order or compensation scheme available.

Where to get them?

There are two types of Local Authority search, a generic Council Local Authority search which anyone can secure and then there is a search secured from the Local Authority by a company that is a registered with the Property Codes Compliance Board (PCCB).

The latter comes with more reassurance in that it is covered by insurance should certain information not be given, even if the company goes bust.

All companies that are registered with the PCCB sign up to The Property Ombudsman (TPO) redress scheme so, if there is an issue once you have purchased the property and the companies complaints system is not satisfactory, you can secure, free of charge, a third party view which can also compensate you up to £5,000.

Typically there are three ways to get hold of a Local Authority Search:

  1. Directly from the Local Authority
  2. Via a specialist search company which is a member of IPSA, COPSO and registered with the PCCB.

Do I really need it?


A lender will insist on it and your conveyancer will recommend it.

What’s the difference between an official and a personal Local Authority Search?

In the past, searches were referred to as either ‘personal ‘ or ‘official’.

Now ‘personal’ searches are called ‘regulated’ while ‘official’ searches are called ‘council’ searches.

  • Personal searches (past) => Regulated searches (present)
  • Official searches (past) => Council searches (present)

Council searches are carried out by staff employed at the Local Authority and sent on ‘as is’ to your conveyancer.

In contrast…

Regulated searches are carried out by experts who work for search companies that know what to look for.

They may request further information, or recommend it is sought, to be sure the property you want to buy is safe.

Regulated searches also have insurance policies attached to them. If you are not happy with the company, and your complaint is not dealt with satisfactorily, you can make an independent complaint to The Property Ombudsman (TPO).

Professional search companies also ensure that searches are as useful as possible to both legal companies and buyers, by:

  • Making sure searches are standardised
  • Giving summaries of the most pertinent information required by the legal company, so there is less chance important information is missed.

Why do search costs vary from council to council?

Local authorities determine the cost of their own searches and can have very different systems to produce them.

As a result, costs vary from under £30 to just under £300.

However, some legal companies have national agreements with search companies that allow them to pay a fixed price for the search, wherever it might be.

This means some may pay a bit more while others pay a bit less, making it fairer for everyone.

How long is a local authority search valid for?

Local Authority searches need to have been ordered within the last 6 months to be valid at the time of completion.

So if a search was ordered in January, completion would be required by the end of June or another search would have to be ordered.

However, every day new planning is applied for and what happens to an area can change…

Talk to your conveyancer if your purchase is dragging on to see if you should be applying for any more up-to-date searches.

Title searches

These are checks made of the Title register and Title plan.

Where to get them?

Both documents are purchased through Land Registry website (at £3 each) and will be ordered by your conveyancer.

What will this search tell you?

The title register will tell you:

  • Who previously owned the property
  • What price they paid for it
  • What charges or debts are registered against the property
  • Give details about any rights of way over the property

The title plan is a map that shows:

  • The location of the property
  • The general boundaries of the property

Do I need it?

Yes this is an essential search to prove the seller is the legal owner of the property and has the right to sell it to you.

Water and drainage search

The Law Society recommend all purchasers have this search and there are two which legal companies – and you – can choose from:

  • Regulated Drainage and Water Searches – created by search companies
  • CON29DW – which is compiled by the local water company

Where to get them

Either search can be purchased via your legal company or directly from a search company or the water company local to your property.

What will this search tell you?

When you buy a home, the last thing you are likely to be thinking about is whether it is hooked up to the mains water supply and public drains.

However, this is essential information for buyers, especially if you are planning an extension.

If the drains run underneath your planned extension, you are likely to require the water supplier’s permission.

If they say no, this may affect your decision to buy the property or not.

Alternatively if the property is not connected to the mains and public drainage system, you need to be aware of any extra costs involved in maintaining and running the property.

Do I need it?

Absolutely! You need to know exactly how water gets to and from your property.

What is especially important is to know what length of drainage you are responsible for versus the water company so you can decide if and how much insurance you cover you should get.

For example, collapsed drains can be expensive, especially if they cause properties to subside or tree roots can cause leaks which can cost a fortune to put right.

Environmental search

Environmental searches can vary from one search provider to another.

One check, which is considered a must by the Law Society, is running a report to establish if a property has been built on contaminated land or is near a landfill or waste management site.

Where to get them?

Different environmental search packages can be bought online via water companies or search companies.

What will this search tell you?

In addition to identifying if the land a property is built on or near to contaminated land, a waste or landfill site, it also does a basic check for possible flooding and if landslip or subsidence might be an issue.

None of these things are revealed if you just have the local authority search.

Do I need it?

It might be you know the property and the land well and are relatively sure of its history.

However, it is unlikely you know everything that happened on the property over time, so, considering the small costs involved, it would seem to be a false economy to skip the environmental search when spending 5 or 6 figures on a home.

Flood risk report

In view of the higher risk of flooding over recent years, a basic flood report may not be sufficient to uncover the truth about current flood risk from the river or sea, or about the risk of flooding from rainwater.

A flood risk report will highlight all of these risks.

Most importantly, a flood risk report will alert you to the risks of not being able to secure insurance from flooding.

It is estimated, around 200,000 householders could find it difficult if not impossible to secure flood protection.

If a property you may have set your heart on is at risk and uninsurable, this means you may be in danger of overpaying for the property and could mean it is impossible to sell on, especially if mortgage companies will not risk their money on the purchase.

Where to get them?

Flood risk reports can be bought online via water companies or specialist search companies.

What will this search tell you?

More bespoke flood searches will advise on:

Rivers and the sea (risk of flooding) – sometimes providing maps, although you can look at this for free prior to making an offer:

Surface and ground water (risk of flooding) – most people think properties are flooded from a river or the sea, but in actual fact it may well be that the property is flooded due to huge amounts of rain which doesn’t drain away quickly enough or just by pipes cracking and ‘flooding’ an area.

Surface water is where it doesn’t drain away fast enough, while ground water flooding happens when the ‘water table’ rises above the ground.

Insurance rating – if the area is known to flood, this will be a useful indicator of whether the insurance is likely to much higher than you have budgeted for.

It will also let you know if flood defences are in place – millions have been poured into flood defences to keep down the cost of damage to properties, people’s livelihood and the local economy and this may help to reduce the likelihood of future flooding.

Do I need it?

This is really down to how well you know the local area.

If you are unsure about the flood risk take advice from your conveyancer, the estate agents and also your RICS surveyor.

It’s always worth chatting to people who already live in the road or nearby to ask if they have ever been at risk and if so, how far the flooding spread and whether the property you are looking to buy was affected.

Chancel repair liability search

This is an unusual but necessary search for some properties.

It checks if a property is liable for the cost of repairs for the local parish church.

You may think this is a ridiculous scenario in the 21st Century, but plenty of people have been caught by this issue and it is estimated that around half a million properties in England and Wales could be affected, even if the liability is not mentioned in the title.

It doesn’t just apply to old properties as it actually applies to the land it sits on, so whether a property is in a town or newly built, you may still be liable.

Where to get them?

Your conveyancer will order this for you from a specialist search provider.

What will this search tell you?

The chancel repair liability check will definitively tell you whether you’ll be required to chip in for the maintenance of the parish church.

What is important is to understand whether the check is thorough enough and goes far enough geographically to be sure you are not liable.

Typically a certificate is given confirming there is no risk identified, or it will say there is a liability.

Do I need it?

This depends on the local area you are buying in and it should be something your conveyancer will have picked up on either from the seller’s solicitors or by reading the legal paperwork associated with the property.

How can my parish force me to pay for church repairs?

Some people think that the rights of the church to apply this charge have been abolished, but they hasn’t.

What has changed is that the church had to register their interest on the title of properties affected by October 2013.

It doesn’t mean they cannot impose the charge in future, however indemnity insurance cover is available (£15-£25), should you need to protect yourself from future risk.

Canal & river search

This search (also known as Rivers Authority search) is very similar to the search for chancel repairs.

Some people who own properties, which back onto rivers, canals or streams, will purchase a property with certain rights (e.g., fishing or mooring) – but also financial responsibilities.

Where to get them?

Your conveyancer will order it from a specialist search provider.

What will this search tell you?

The Canal and River Trust search will advise of what rights you have such as fishing or mooring rights for boats, even being allowed to use the waterways for drainage and to secure water for your own purposes.

However in return for these rights, it may well be that you have to fund the bank and waterway, which passes your property.

Alternatively, this part of the river or stream may even not be your property at all and owned by the Environment Agency.

Do I need it?

This will be fairly specific to your property and if the property you want to buy is near a waterway.

Your legal company and surveyor should be able to advise on whether to order it or not.

Commons registration search

This is a search sometimes used in rural areas to double check whether land being bought with the property is classed as ‘common land’ according to the Commons Registration Act 1965.

Where to get them?

These can be secured if required by your legal company or via search companies.

What will this search tell you?

What this search will tell you is what rights the local community have to the land you are buying.

They might be able to use it for a footpath or indeed have grazing or rights to run a local fete!

Do I need it?

Yes if the property is situated next to (or near) a village common or village green.

Coal mining & brine search

Fortunately this is a relatively easy search as mines in the UK are well mapped!

This search is often sold with a subsidence search too.

Examples of areas which are typically subject to mining issues include Cornwall and Nottingham.

Where to get them?

These can be secured if required by your legal company or via search companies, but your legal company will normally know if mining searches are required.

What will this search tell you?

What the search looks for is whether there is a problem with the land the property sits on, for example have other addresses nearby made claims?

If a specific problem has been identified, it may need further reports to identify the real problem and what needs to be done to free you of the risk, or insure you against it.

Do I need it?

This is determined by where you are buying and your conveyancer will advise you.

Land registry pre-completion searches

These searches are made after exchange of contracts to make sure nothing has changed with regard to the property or your ability to purchase the property.

They include:

  • Bankruptcy Search (K16)
  • Land Charges Search (K15)
  • Official Search of Whole with Priority (OS1)
  • Official Search of Part with Priority (OS2)
  • Official Search of Whole or Part without Priority (OS3)

Where to get them?

Your conveyancer will order them from HM Land Registry.

What will these searches tell you?

Bankruptcy searches establish whether you are (or are about to become), bankrupt.

It’s a specific check to see if you are creditworthy, making sure your lender is loaning money to someone who has no prior history of not being able to repay loans, such as being bankrupt.

The search typically goes back five years.

Priority searches are last-minute checks the title of the property hasn’t changed in any way since the official copy of the Title Register was obtained early on in the conveyancing process.

The government advises this is applied for five days before completion, to allow time for the official search certificate to arrive.

As well as updating the details of the property’s title, this search also ‘freezes’ the title, so no further changes can be made to it for 30 business days.

Do I need them?

  • If you’re taking out a mortgage then a bankruptcy search is needed (your lender will insist on it).
  • If you’re buying the whole of a registered title an OS1 is needed.
  • If buying part of a title (such as a new build plot) an OS2 is required.
  • A K15 is done in place of an OS1/OS2 when purchasing unregistered land.

How to deal with problems found in the searches

It is down to the search company (depending on how the search is secured) and your conveyancer to identify information in the search that may affect your decision as to whether to continue to buy the property or not.

For example, a search might advise that:

  • There is a risk which you couldn’t live with day in and out such as flooding or severe subsidence etc..
  • Potential for a previous extension made to the property being illegal and so have to be pulled down
  • The work you wanted to do to enhance the property isn’t possible
  • A neighbour dispute exists, (e.g. about a boundary or right of way), that you don’t want to inherit
  • There is debt on the property which could become your problem
  • A tree you wanted to take down is protected
  • The rural view you are buying the property for is about to be blocked by a planned housing development
  • Japanese knotweed is prevalent
  • HS2 or other infrastructure is going to go through or past your property

These are just some of the things that searches may uncover and, however much you feel the home is perfect for you, searches are essential to take note of to make sure you know as much about the property as possible and the potential risks attached to the purchase.

What are the responsibilities of my solicitor / conveyancer?

Your conveyancer, together with the search company, is responsible for finding out as much about the property as they advise you are necessary and you agree to pay for.

Always ask your conveyancer – prior to engaging them – what searches they will apply for.

Some conveyancers will cut corners and opt for cheap search products / suppliers that have sub-standard insurance policies or warranties attached to them should something be missed.

For the best protection and service, your conveyancer should use a search provider that is a member of the Council of Property Search Organisations (COPSO) or the Independent Personal Search Agents (IPSA).

This means their work will be monitored by the Property Codes Compliance Board (PCCB) and if something goes wrong and you aren’t happy with the complaints process via the legal/search company, there is a further, free, independent complaints service which can award compensation of up to £5,000 via The Property Ombudsman (TPO).

Limitation of searches

  • It is important to be aware that the searches may not pick up everything, especially if planning permission for something that affects the property is applied for after your searches have been carried out (even the next day).
  • As such, it is still worth asking and doing your own research (local papers can be extremely useful) to find out what planning permission might be applied for, but isn’t yet.
  • It is also always worth visiting the property during rush hour, at the beginning and end of the school day and at pub ‘kicking out’ times (as much as they exist today) to ensure you know what the property will be like to live in at every time of day and night.
  • If your purchase takes some months, it may be worth redoing the search or applying for a specific search such as a planning search or indeed if there is flooding during the purchase process whether this has happened before and is likely to happen again.

Troubleshoot: Problems with Local Authority searches

The main problem with a local authority search is that there are two versions, one ‘regulated’ and one a ‘personal’ search of which the latter has very little cover for buyers should it be inaccurate in anyway.

What are the common problems?

The main problems it can unveil are to do with planning issues that specifically affect your property – not necessarily a big estate that’s going to be built nearby that doesn’t affect your boundary or indeed a property extension planned for next door.

This will need a special ‘planning’ search.

The problem with any planning search is that if planning is applied for the day after, then it won’t be picked up, nor will it tell you if kids hang around on street corners; boy racers chase up and down your road; pub kicking out time is noisy or it is impossible to park anywhere near your home during school time.

Another thing it won’t pick up is whether you are on a bus route or not.

How to deal with them?

If the problem is one which ‘might never happen’ but the fear of it happening is worrying you, it is likely you can purchase an ‘indemnity insurance’.

As with all insurances it isn’t fool-proof but, for example, might cover the costs or a legal battle in the ‘unlikely event’ that an extension which was built some time ago may not have the right paperwork or to sort issues with rights of way, which up until now have not been an issue.

In addition, it is vital that you do as much of your own research as possible, talking to neighbours and making sure you know about any planning which might affect your property. For example, old plans may have been submitted in the past, been rejected, but may be reapplied for when you move in.

Troubleshoot: Problems with Environmental searches

The issue may well be about uncovering environmental problems such as contamination or a flooding incident which wasn’t found during the search.

It is possible to insure against this, but this may be included in the purchase of the search, so make sure you don’t pay twice unnecessarily.

Troubleshoot: Problems with Seller Enquiries

Seller’s enquiries are always tricky.

The reality is the seller either has the information such as warranties, guarantees, certificates etc. or not.

In some cases, unfortunately, the seller may not be honest about neighbourhood disputes, so you might not find out about them until you move in.

What are the common problems?

Common problems associated with seller’s enquiries are getting the truth and in some cases it is possible to secure copies of planning, building control certificates, guarantees for subsidence, damp renovations or indeed for FENSA certificates if you have had new windows fitted.

How to deal with them?

Some of the issues can be dealt with through insurance, but others you may have to make a decision whether to take the risk that the certificates or information can’t be found.

With regards to neighbourhood issues, it is always worth knocking on neighbours’ doors, popping into the local shop or pub, or go to a church coffee morning to find out more about what’s happening locally, especially if you are likely to have decent or difficult neighbours.

If a sellers has lied to you and this only comes to light after you purchase the property, you may well be able to bring legal action and claim damages against the seller.

Troubleshoot: Problems with Water & Drainage searches

There are many problems which this search can show, which is why it is one of the most important ones to secure and also an essential one for your to read and take note of anything your conveyancer points out might be an issue.

What are the common problems?

The key problems this search can pick up include:

  • Issues with low water pressure, so if you like hot, powerful showers, that might not happen
  • Charges you may not be aware of, or are higher than expected
  • Not being connected to the mains, incurring higher costs of maintenance
  • Potential for sewer flooding which is particularly unpleasant
  • Consent being denied for renovation or extension work you wish to carry out

How to deal with them?

In the main, most water and drainage issues can be fixed – A qualified Watersafe plumber should be able to advise.

However an issue of whether you can extend the property as you wish (due to the position of existing drainage pipes) will be something you will need to sort with your water company, with the help of your legal representative.

The role of indemnity insurance policies

It is possible to secure an indemnity insurance to cover either a general or a specific issue the searches have uncovered.

In many cases you can successfully argue for the seller of the property to bear the cost of buying the policy.

Many potential issues may never become actual problems; indemnity insurance may give you the peace of mind needed to feel comfortable purchasing a property that that does come with a little risk attached.

What are they?

General indemnity insurance policies cover a specific risk associated with the property, such as:

  • Chancel repair – if it isn’t clear that you will owe money at some point for the upkeep of the local church
  • Contaminated land – this might never be an issue but, if it becomes one when you are living there, remedies may be contributed to or paid for
  • Certificate insurance – for example, for lost building control for a new boiler, planning permission or FENSA data
  • Debt issues – if a property has a debt on it and this is called in at a later stage
  • Leasehold issues – such as trying to find the freeholder
  • Party wall issues – if the current owners did work on the property and didn’t get approval from the neighbours, for example a loft extension which affects a terraced or semi-detached property
  • Rights of way issues – often involving a legal dispute which can be insured to pay for
  • Title deeds – these may not be easily traced, so any issues can be insured against

How much do they cost?

Specific insurance can cost up to £100 while a more generic policy is likely to be £200-£300, depending on the value of the property.

It is important to be aware how long the insurance lasts for – 10 years or more? And if there are any restrictions on the policy paying out?

How do I know when one’s needed?

It is your conveyancer’s job to advise if a policy is worth taking out.

For the sake of a few hundred pounds, the recommended policy is likely to be worth paying for as opposed to risking costs which can easily run into thousands, but most importantly cause a lot of stress and hassle and ultimately ruin the enjoyment of you home.

Conclusions & summary

The principle of ‘buyer beware’ is a cornerstone of conveyancing law.

As such, searches play a vital role in helping you (the buyer) understand the risks attached to the property you’re planning on purchasing.

  • In some cases, the search results – such as a high risk of flooding, or limitations regarding an extension you had hoped to build – may change your mind about the purchase.
  • In others, the search results can forewarn you of issues that can be resolved, so you can ask the seller to take the necessary action or lower the price.
  • In other cases, indemnity insurance may be the way forward, so you can proceed with the purchase without worrying out claims being made against you in the future.

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Gavin Brazg

Gavin Brazg

MSc Dip Arch

Founder & CEO

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