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How to speed up local authority searches

Troy Stevens 10 May 2022

Before you exchange contracts on that dream home, the local authority searches must be carried out

These are a necessary part of home buying, and woe betide anyone who skips them.

But do they really have to take so long? Let’s find out how to speed this up.

What is a local authority search?

After having your offer accepted on a property, it’s highly advisable to order a local authority search. This is actually a condition of most mortgage offers – but even if you’re a cash buyer, you should never go without one. 

The local authority search is a comprehensive check of records and databases held by the authority responsible for the property. The search looks for any restrictions or obligations – either on the property itself, the land it’s built on or the surrounding area – which might affect the property’s status or value.

Two searches are generally required as standard:

LLC1 – this checks the HM Land Registry. It checks for Local Land Charges registered against the property or land, such as whether it’s a listed building, if it’s situated in a conservation area or if there are light obstruction notices.

CON29 – this checks statutory and public registers for things like local building plans, road and rail proposals, regulations breaches or planning permission breaches, traffic schemes and contaminated land.

There are also optional extra searches that won’t apply to every property, such as flooding and mining searches. Your solicitor or conveyancer will advise whether any of these apply to you.

Why is the local authority search taking so long?

It usually depends on the type of search being carried out. 

There are two types – an official search which is carried out by the council on your behalf, and a personal search, which you can conduct yourself or through an external agency. 

The official type tends to take longer. This is simply because things generally take more time when done via local authority compared to checking data yourself or using a private agency.

Done via the local council, property searches can take at least 20 working days – that’s at least a month added to your waiting time before completion day. 

How to speed up local authority searches

By all means, chase the council, but don’t be surprised if you can’t speak to someone right away. Local authorities are frequently stretched for resources or understaffed. The Covid pandemic certainly didn’t help, and some councils saw their lead times for local authority searches increasing. 

You can ask the council how long they expect your searches to take. If you feel you’re at risk of losing your dream property due to council waiting times, consult with your conveyancer to see if a private search might be a better option.

Private searches use the same forms, and the same data and records are checked, so there should be no difference in the results. They tend to be cheaper than official searches, too.

You should make sure that your mortgage lender accepts both official and private searches – your conveyancing solicitor will be able to advise on this.

Can I get my money back if the sale falls through?

You can look at paying around £200 for local authority searches. 

Unfortunately, nothing is stopping the seller from pulling out after accepting your offer, meaning the money you’ve spent on conveyancing is lost. You might even fall victim to gazumping – where the seller later accepts another offer after initially accepting yours – or perhaps the conveyancing or house survey process will uncover something which means your purchase can’t go ahead. 

If you’ve got Home Buyers’ Protection Insurance in place, you can claim back fees you’ve already spent on the sale, including conveyancing fees, solicitor’s fees and mortgage arrangement fees. Then, if yours is among the 1 in 4 house sales that fall through in the UK, you can relax knowing that you won’t have lost money and time.

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