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How Long After Searches to Exchange?

Emma Lunn

Written by

3rd Aug 2021 (Last updated on 21st Sep 2021) 5 minute read

Typically, it takes three to six weeks for searches to be returned to your conveyancer. But how long searches take is largely out of your conveyancer’s control – it depends on how long it takes for the different bodies to respond.

Ideally your solicitor will begin the searches as soon as instructed, that way the reports being sent from the various authorities will arrive about the same time as your mortgage offer, so the purchase can proceed.

If you’re buying with a mortgage you can’t skip getting searches done – your lender will want to see the results as it impacts how suitable the property is for a mortgage.

What are Pre-contract Enquiries?

When you agree to buy or sell a property, the sale will be agreed ‘subject to contract’.

Anything described as ‘pre-contract’ takes place before contracts are exchanged. This stage is when your conveyancer will do most of their work.

This involves raising pre-contract enquiries relating to the title, rights and obligations over the property and/or underlying land. Many of the enquiries are based on standard forms provided by the Law Society.

Common pre-contact enquiries relate to:

  • Boundary checks and allocated parking spaces
  • Shared gas, electric and water/drainage supplies
  • Land restrictions such as shared access or rights of way
  • Constraints on altering the property, for example if the property is a listed building
  • Historical building work and relevant planning permission
  • Building regulations and certifications such as for the electric, gas or windows
  • Issues flagged up in the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
  • Leasehold terms and costs

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What are Conveyancing Searches?

There are five main types of conveyancing search:

  • Environmental
  • Water and drainage
  • Local authority
  • Land Registry
  • Chancel repair liability

Environmental searches

These look at certain risks including flooding, subsidence and contaminated land. They will also look at things like energy schemes such as wind turbines in or near the property. Search providers get this information from data held by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Environmental searches will also show if there are any gas hazards and landfill sites nearby.

The property will either pass or fail environmental searches. Some issues may be "in need of further investigation". If a property fails the environmental searches it may be difficult to get a mortgage.

Water and drainage searches

A water and drainage report is put together by the local water authority based on the address of the property. It will include things like whether the property is connected to the mains water supply, and whether foul and surface water drainage is into a public or private drainage system.

If a property has a private drainage system, instead of being connected to the public system, the owner will have to pay for maintenance of this.

Local authority searches

Local authority searches are compiled by the council where the property is located. The report will include information about the planning history for the property, including the building control records for any work previously carried out.

Local authority searches will check whether the relevant consent and permission was obtained for any work or alterations – if it wasn’t it could become a problem for you when you own the property.

Local authority searches will also reveal any proposals for new roads, rail schemes, schools or other planning decisions in the area. Also included is whether the property is a listed building, located in a conservation area, or subject to a tree preservation order.

Land Registry

This search checks the up-to-date title register and title plan at the Land Registry. It will confirm the current owner actually owns the property they are selling, and usually takes place just before completion of the purchase.

Chancel repair liability

Chancel repairs relate to ancient laws about the liability to pay for the upkeep of the local church. The chancel is the easterly portion of a church where the altar is situated.

Chancel repair liability tends to apply to older homes, rather than more recently built properties. However, it’s still a risk that needs to be assessed before you buy a property.

If a chancel repairs liability exists, you will usually need to get an indemnity insurance policy to protect both you and your lender to cover any costs should such a claim be made.

How much do searches cost?

You will normally need to pay your solicitor for searches upfront – searches normally total about £300 and will be included in your quote for conveyancing costs.

Once the searches are carried out, you won’t get this money back if the property purchase later falls through or you withdraw.

In theory you can apply for searches yourself but it’s best to get a solicitor to do it as they will know how to interpret the results.

How long do property searches take when buying a house?

The quicker your solicitor starts the searches the better. They normally take a few weeks but response times vary between organisations. Typically, the local authority search will take longer than the others.

Your mortgage lender will want to see the search results to assess whether the property is suitable security for a loan. You won’t get a mortgage offer until the searches are complete.

Technically, if you are a cash buyer without a mortgage, you don’t necessarily have to get searches done. However, this could be false economy in the long run if it later turns out there are issues with the property you didn’t know about.

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What Happens After the Searches Have Been Done?

Once the searches are complete, your conveyancer will examine the details of each search and send you a detailed report highlighting any potential issues you should be concerned about.

These might include flood risks, evidence of subsidence in the area, any compulsory purchase orders or enforcement notices, and any infrastructure work to be undertaken by the local authority which could affect the property.

You may use things that come up in the searches to renegotiate the price you’re paying for the property – for example, if you have to pay for maintenance of a private drainage system.

Once both you and your mortgage lender are happy with the searches, the purchase can move forward to exchange of contracts.

What Can Delay the Exchange of Contracts?

Things that can delay exchange of contracts include:

  • Delays further down the chain
  • Waiting for pre-contract enquiries or searches to be returned
  • Queries about the lease (if a leasehold property)
  • Issues with the mortgage offer
  • Buyer or seller hesitation
  • Slow solicitors

How Long From the Solicitor Searches to Completion?

Moving house in the UK is notoriously slow. It usually takes a minimum of three months from the searches being requested and completion of the transaction.

Learn More About Conveyancing

This article is part of our conveyancing guide. Next, we take a look at how to show proof of funds when buying a house. To learn more read what are proof of funds when buying a house.

Emma Lunn

Written by Emma Lunn

Freelance Personal Finance Journalist,

Emma Lunn is an award-winning journalist who specialises in personal finance, consumer issues and property.

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