Contact one of our advisors now Call 0800 088 6004


Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

When purchasing a property or committing yourself to occupation of the same (whether that be on a lease, licence or otherwise) it is always a good idea to fully investigate matters affecting that property.

Such investigations will take place during the “pre-exchange” or “pre-contract” part of the transaction. This is because the legal principle of caveat emptor (otherwise known as “buyer beware”) establishes that it is the responsibility of the buyer to check whether there are any legal issues relating to the property. Once contracts have exchanged, you are committed to either buying or occupying the property and you cannot withdraw from the transaction on the basis of anything that would have been revealed by any searches undertaken prior to exchange.

Searches are investigations carried out externally by a third party and tend to be what is known as a “desktop search”, i.e. they do not visit the site, but instead provide a report on the basis of historic data for the land or building in question.  Searches can be instructed on a wide range of potential issues – and it will vary from property to property as to what would be considered necessary. For example, if you were aware that the property was in a well-known mining area you would consider investigating the proximity of any former mines to the property or assessing the ground stability to see if the property will be affected by any natural ground movement.

Should the searches reveal anything of concern before exchange, then you have the opportunity to ask the seller to address that issue, renegotiate the price on this basis, or to ultimately withdraw from the transaction.

If you proceed without searches, then you are open to the risk of any future liability or subsequent costs of the same. Depending on the issue at hand, the cost liability could be substantial and well in excess of the costs of investigating pre-exchange.

Ultimately, there are three searches which are considered to be relevant to almost every transaction and any potential lender is almost guaranteed to insist on these being instructed; a local authority search, an environmental search and a water and drainage search.

Local Authority Search

A local authority search reveals important information about what may affect the property, including:

  • Local land charges that are registered against the property (these can include compulsory purchase orders, tree preservation orders, planning enforcement notices or any registered financial charges).
  • Planning permissions or building regulation consent granted.
  • Any restrictions on permitted development.
  • Whether the roads are adopted and maintainable at the public expense.
  • Any proposed road or railway schemes within 200m of the property.
  • Whether any part of the property is registered as common land or as a town or village green.

Environmental Search

This will reveal the past uses of the land and any land in the vicinity of the property and whether such uses are likely to have caused any potential contamination.

This is important as if a local authority determines the land is contaminated, and the party who caused or knowingly permitted the contamination cannot be found, then the current owner or occupied can be required to remedy the contamination at their expense, and the costs implication of this can be substantial. 

Water & Drainage Search

This search shows whether a property is connected to the mains water supply and mains drainage/sewerage. It will also reveal the location of any sewer, water main, or surface water drain within the boundary of the property; identify any potential cost implications concerning those connections (i.e. to contribute to maintenance of a private sewer); or any other matters that may restrict development of the property.

Other Searches

A non-exhaustive list of the types of other searches that can be instructed are as follows:

  • Flood Risk – this gives an assessment of the four main types of flooding (river, coastal, groundwater and surface water).
  • Coal Mining – this provides details of any past, present or future coal mining activity at the property.
  • Chancel Repair – this identifies if the property is situated in a parish which has the potential for chancel repair liability.
  • Land Charges – where the property is unregistered then this will reveal any third party interest over the property.

It is always advisable you proceed with any transaction with as much knowledge of the property you are looking to purchase or occupy as you can get.

Our specialist team at Wilson Browne can help you to assess the relevance of any of the above-searches to a particular property and to help you understand your options.

Ellie Tait


Ellie Tait


Ellie is a solicitor currently working in the Commercial Property team at our Corby Office. Prior to joining the Commercial Property team Ellie has gained experience working in Commercial Litigation and Clinical Negligence.