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What searches are done when buying a house?

Nobody wants a surprise motorway running through their back garden. That's why property searches are essential for the home you're planning to buy.

Guest Author
Words by: Matilda Battersby


Once you've found the home you want and instructed a solicitor, the first thing they'll get cracking with is the property searches.

Searches are done to make sure the home you're buying isn't about to have a major road built right next to it, be overshadowed by a block of flats or submerged in a flood, among other things.

1. What are ‘searches’ when buying a home?

Searches are checks on the local area of the home you want to buy and they're carried out by your solicitor. 

They're basically done to check if any future planning developments or historical problems in the area might affect the home you're buying.

If you’re buying with a mortgage, searches are mandatory. For cash buyers, they're optional.

But whatever your situation, it's important to find out as much as you possibly can about any property you're buying.

2. What are the main searches?

Not every home will require every search, and some homes will need more searches than others.

But the majority of homes will need to have local authority, environment and water and drainage searches.

Local authority searches

Local authority searches look into:

  • Planning issues

  • Building control issues

  • Highways issues

  • Rail schemes

  • Pollution issues

  • Whether the home is listed, in a conservation area or subject to a tree preservation order.

They're designed to uncover any potential issues relating to roads, rail and building work that might be planned or already underway around your dream pad.

Environmental searches

Environmental searches look into:

  • Flooding issues

  • Landslide issues

  • Subsidence issues

  • Contaminated land issues

They'll also reveal if there are any gas hazards or landfill sites in the area.

Your bank may not confirm your mortgage until the environmental searches are carried out.

If issues aren't uncovered before you take ownership of the property, you could find yourself with a flat or house that is impossible to sell on further down the line.

Water and drainage searches

Water and drainage searches check:

  • That the home is connected to a public water supply and sewer

  • Where that public sewer is and where the drainage pipes are

  • And if you’d need permission from the water company to extend the home

As well as revealing how the drainage systems work and which water company is responsible for it, these searches also show if there are any public drains or sewers running through the property.

That could be an issue if you plan to dig foundations for your dream extension, so very handy to know in advance.

They'll also reveal if the water supply is metered or rateable.

The Land Registry search

This search checks the up-to-date ‘title register’ and ‘title plan’ at the Land Registry.

This is to prove the current owner actually owns the property they're selling. The sale can’t go ahead until this has been done.

This search usually takes place just before legal completion of the purchase. 

Your solicitor will then register you as the owner of the property to ensure you have exclusive rights of ownership.

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3. How much do searches cost?

The cost of searches varies council by council.

For the local authority, environmental and water searches, expect to pay around £250-300.

The Land Registry search is around £4-8. 

Here's an estimated breakdown for search costs:

Search typeCost (estimate)
Local Authority search£50 - £250
Water and Drainage search£50 - £100
Environmental search £25 - £60
Flooding search£20 - £50
Flood risk indicator (copy)£10
Mining search£25 - £120
Chancel search£20 - £90
Title register (copy) £4 - £8
Title plan (copy) £4 - £8
Bankruptcy search£2 per person
Indemnity insurance£30 - £300

4. How long do searches take?

While some searches can be returned within a few days, others can take several weeks. 

So it’s important to know what needs to be done and to be on the case with your solicitor to ensure they are a top priority.

Once your offer has been accepted and you’ve commissioned your survey, find out from your solicitor when the searches will be completed by. 

How does a solicitor help you to buy a house?

Find out more about home surveys in this guide.

5. How can I speed up my searches?

The speed at which the searches are done depends on three things:

  1. The speed at which your solicitor is working through them

  2. The speed at which the council and third parties are responding to queries

  3. The location of your property and the types of searches that need to be carried out

Keep in regular contact with your solicitor so you can chase things up if there are any hold-ups.

And be patient. Solicitors must carry out good due diligence and searches are an important part of that investigation.

6. Do I have to do searches before buying a home?

If you're buying a home with a mortgage then searches are a legal obligation.

That's because banks and building societies want to be sure there aren't any issues which could affect the value of the property they’re lending you money for.

But if you’re a cash buyer (which means you don't need a mortgage), then searches are optional.

Even if you don’t require a mortgage, your solicitor will rightly advise carrying out searches. You don't want any nasty surprises after you move into your new home, believe us.

7. What other searches could I need?

Location-specific searches

Your solicitor will tell you if you need one of these, as they are decided on a case-by-case basis. 

If you're buying in an area formerly used for coal mining, for example, your solicitor might suggest searches to check for past claims for subsidence.

Commons search

This is conducted for homes bordering common land or village greens. 

If any of the land you are proposing to purchase is common land, it will be subject to certain rights and development may not be permitted.

Chancel repair search

If you’re buying a home close to a church, this search establishes if you're liable for the cost of church repair contributions.

Chancel repairs can be super-costly. If you’re set on buying the property, you may be advised to obtain chancel repair insurance to protect both you and your mortgage lender.

8. What if I don’t understand the results of the searches?

When your solicitor gets the results of the searches, they should explain them to you. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s really important you understand exactly what everything means.

It’s your solicitor’s job to highlight any issues, but ultimately it’s your decision whether to proceed with buying the property. So you need to be 100% sure of what’s going on.

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We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.