Legal searches explained

Finding out exactly what you're buying before you sign the contract

Before you can exchange contracts, your solicitor or licensed conveyancer needs to make a number of legal checks, enquiries and searches. Here's a plain and simple guide to some of these and to what they're looking for.

Local authority searches

These are a check against any planning proposals and ownership responsibilities that might affect the property you're buying. Checks include, but aren't limited to:

  • Are there any plans for a major road to be built nearby?
  • Who is responsible for the roads and footpaths?
  • Does the property have any planning permission restrictions, e.g. is it in a conservation area?
  • Will there be changes to public rights of way or land use?

Enquiries to the seller's solicitor or licensed conveyancer

Your solicitor or licensed conveyancer will send an extensive set of preliminary enquiries to the seller's solicitor or licensed conveyancer. Enquiries include:

  • Disputes - have there been any disputes with neighbours?
  • Boundaries - what are the boundaries of the property and who is responsible for the maintenance of hedges and fences?
  • Planning constraints and permissions - have any additions or alterations made to the property met with local planning requirements?
  • Rights of way - are there any shared rights of access with a neighbour to a garden or driveway?
  • Restrictive covenants - do the deeds specify anything in particular such as no pets or not painting the house a different colour to others in the street?
  • Guarantees and insurance policies - is the property covered by NHBC or any other guarantees?
  • Services - do the utilities come via a neighbour's property or shared in any way?

Other searches

Depending on the age or location of the property you're buying, your solicitor or licensed conveyancer may recommend carrying out extra searches. In addition, your mortgage lender may also insist on further searches. These could include:

  • Environmental search - is there any environmental risk from the land such as contamination from a previous use?
  • Mining search - is the property in an area with a mining history?

The content of this article is believed to be correct at the time of publication and is provided for general information purposes. When buying or selling a property you should obtain appropriate professional advice and this article is not intended as any substitute for or supplement to that advice and must not be relied upon as such