Conveyancing Searches And COVID-19

Property Searches are an important part of most residential property transactions.  Delays with the return of property searches is one key factor for sales taking longer to complete and that’s even before a pandemic is added to the equation. Here we will explain what property searches are, how they are initiated, why delays can occur and what can be done to speed up the process.

Can Property Search providers continue to operate during lockdown?

The demand for searches has undergone significant digital transformation over the past 10 years but some Local Authorities have still been operating on wholly paper-based systems. Along with increased volumes created by the stamp-duty holiday, this has lengthened the time it takes to complete some property searches during lockdown.

What Are Property Searches?

After you have made an offer on a house, your conveyancing solicitor will order a series of property searches which are enquiries designed to find out more information about the property you plan to purchase. As part of the home-buying process, your solicitor will carry out a variety of ‘searches’ with the local authority and other parties.
The main searches when buying a property are:

  1. Local Authority
  2. Drainage and Water
  3. Environmental

Searches typically include enquiries such as whether planning permission may be granted for a future development that would negatively impact your property, the quality of the ground on which your house is built, whether your property is at risk of flood, or details of common drains and access rights.

  • Local Authority Search

This is normally submitted by your solicitor with a location plan. The first search is a search of the local land charges register and shows, for example, if the property is a listed building or in a conservation or smoke control zone.

The second search details any restrictions or obligations related to the land a property is built on. It could have preservation orders, conservation areas and conditions imposed on planning permissions.

  • Drainage And Water Search

This search is made to confirm whether a property is connected to a public sewer, septic tank or other disposal facility. It will also confirm if the property is connected to a public or private water supply and it details how the property is billed for water and its disposal.

Finally, the report will confirm if the property is close to or affected by water mains or public sewers.

  • Environmental Searches

An environmental search is carried out by a specialist company and involves an examination of past land use. Checks are made as to whether the land is likely to be contaminated as defined by the Environmental Protection Act 1990.  It does not involve a physical inspection of the site.

Search results often result in further queries. There may be detailed analysis needed, region-specific reports are also a possibility. This is one of the reasons why delays can occur as a result of the production of property searches.
Conveyancing quotes may vary depending on the complexity of your purchase, where you live and the conveyancing solicitor choose.

The Process

Property Searches are usually ordered by the buyer’s solicitor after an offer has been accepted. There can be quite a time lapse between a property receiving an offer and the Solicitor being in a position to order searches which can be one of the main causes of delay. Enquire about property searches and how long they take when you compare conveyancing solicitors.

Property Search suppliers collate information for a specific property from a range of sources.  This is increasingly done digitally with the solicitor providing the details of the property they require a search for, and the results are returned via a search providers platform or email. In this regard, the pandemic might not cause the hold ups you might expect.

The Cost Of Property Searches

Property Searches usually cost between £200 and £350 depending on the location of the property and the kind of risks it’s exposed to. If, for example, the property is in an area that has been associated with mining in the past, additional reports may be required meaning further costs to the buyer.


The time it takes to complete a Property Search however will vary significantly throughout England and Wales. Providers are reliant on Local Authorities who all operate to different timelines. The slowest can take as long as 4 months to return search results. Further delays will often occur during peak holiday periods.

Conveyancing Solicitors will be up to date with Local Authority turnaround times in their area so in this regard you might be interested in comparing local conveyancing solicitors.

Further delays can also occur due to the time it takes to respond to the buyers queries on search results.  A Buyer may be concerned about la local landfill or flood risk, rights of way or subsidence issues.

Most professionals working in the residential property sector are more than aware of the need to speed up transactions and reduce fall throughs, especially with the looming deadline to the stamp duty holiday.

Ordering searches up front can speed up the process and it can also ensure that fall throughs are reduced by alerting buyers to an issue that could prevent a transaction progressing at a far earlier point in the process.

Can I Speed The Process Up?

Homebuyers are encouraged to compare and instruct their conveyancing solicitor and pay for their searches as soon as their offer is accepted. Potential buyers viewing properties might even decide to compare and select their conveyancing solicitor before they make an offer. This will ensure they can act quickly once they’ve had an offer accepted.

It’s also a good opportunity for you to refer buyers to compare conveyancing quotes to discover who provides an trusted and efficient service.

Conveyancers acting for purchasers should also take a flexible approach to the search products and providers they use, deploying the fastest solution available, and where appropriate, deploy search delay insurance products. These are which are usually available when placing the order for searches for a small additional charge.

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