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How Long After Searches to Exchange?

Emma Lunn

Written by

3rd Aug 2021 (Last updated on 9th Mar 2022) 5 minute read

It can take 1-3 weeks to move between the searches and the exchange of contracts. However, this can vary as it depends on how long it takes for the different bodies to respond.

Ideally, your solicitor will begin the searches as soon as instructed. This means the reports sent from the various authorities will arrive about the same time as your mortgage offer so the purchase can proceed. This is why a reliable and trusted conveyancer is essential.

This article will cover the following:
  1. What are Pre-contract Enquiries?
  2. What are Conveyancing Searches?
  3. How Much Do Searches Cost?
  4. How Long Do Searches Take When Buying a House?
  5. What Happens After Conveyancing Searches Are Done?
  6. What Can Delay the Exchange of Contracts?
  7. How Long After Searches to Completion?
  8. Learn More About Conveyancing

What are Pre-contract Enquiries?

Anything described as ‘pre-contract’ takes place before contracts are exchanged. 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-contract 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?

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

There are 5 main types of conveyancing searches:

  • 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 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 any evidence of gas hazards and landfill sites nearby. The property will either pass or fail environmental searches. If a property fails the environmental searches it may be difficult to get a mortgage.

To learn more, read what is an environmental search?

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 state whether the property is connected to the mains water supply. It will also say whether foul and surface water drainage is a public or private drainage system.

If a property has a private drainage system the owner will have to pay for the maintenance.

Local authority searches

Local authority searches are compiled by the local council. The report will include:

  • The planning history for the property - including building control records for any work previously carried out.
  • Whether the relevant consent and permissions were obtained for work or alterations - if it wasn’t, it could become a problem for you when you own the property.
  • Proposals for new roads, rail schemes, schools or other planning decisions in the area.
  • Whether the property is a listed building, located in a conservation area or subject to a tree preservation order.

To learn more, read what is a local authority search?

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. It usually takes place just before the 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. This search tends to apply to older homes. However, it’s still a risk that needs to be assessed before you buy a property.

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

To learn more, read what is chancel repair liability?

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How Much Do Searches Cost?

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

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

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 Searches Take When Buying a House?

It takes 3-6 weeks for searches to be returned to your conveyancer. But response times vary between organisations.

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.

If you’re 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.

What Happens After Conveyancing Searches Are Done?

Your conveyancer will examine the results and send you a detailed report that will highlight potential issues you should be concerned about.

These might include flood risks, evidence of subsidence, compulsory purchase orders or enforcement notices. It could also include any infrastructure work to be undertaken by the local authority.

You may use the results to renegotiate the price of 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 the exchange of contracts.

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What Can Delay the Exchange of Contracts?

Things that can delay the exchange of contracts include:

  • Delays further down the property 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 After Searches to Completion?

It takes a minimum of 3 months from the searches being requested to the 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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