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Conveyancing: Personal searches vs. Official searchesShould a conveyancer carry out a personal search or a full official search Before I attempt to answer that question, I will explain the difference between the two.

An official search is submitted to a Local Authority (LA) for their staff to complete from the information kept by the LA. A personal search is carried out by the employee of a search provider, who visits the council office and inspects and records the information kept by the LA.

The LA would be held responsible for any losses incurred as a result of a search being completed incorrectly. On the other hand, the search company would be held liable for any errors made by their employee and, as a result, maintain professional indemnity, specialist search and run-off cover insurance in order to provide the highest levels of consumer protection.

Personal searches came into being back in the 80's when LAs were taking weeks, if not months, to return a completed search, and these delays were causing transactions to abort. Personal searches were always quicker and more cost effective than the more traditional official search. However, they were not always as accurate as they should have been.

There was a time when many lenders would not rely on the results of a personal search because of the perception that this type of search was unreliable. That mindset has now changed and as long as the conveyancer (and the client) is prepared to accept the results of a personal search, the majority of lenders will allow one to be carried out.

Indeed times have changed, many LAs have improved their turnaround times and most search providers have improved the accuracy of their searches. The question now is down to personal choice and price. There are over 350 LAs and most charge different prices for providing a search, ranging from £40.00 to over £250.00. The key benefit of a personal search is that the conveyancer will know what it will cost, no matter which LA stores the required information.

My own preference is a personal search carried out by a recognised and reputable search company. This is because an official search that was once returned to me by an LA in the West Country was incorrect. It did not include an entry informing me that the property was of special architectural and historic interest. As it turned out, my clients had wrongly installed double glazing during their period of ownership. Sorting that mess out with the LA and my clients, who were then trying to sell the property, was a nightmare. I would much rather have dealt with a commercially aware search provider and their insurers. That being said, many conveyancers are so set in their ways that they would still not entertain commissioning a personal search.

An issue on the horizon, if the Government has its way, is that the Land Registry could start being the main provider of part of the information contained in a search. To my mind (and the minds of many others), that is a nonsense. There is nothing wrong with the way searches are obtained now, whether your preference is personal or official. The Government is also considering privatising all or part of the Land Registry, which could have serious ramifications for the whole of the property industry.

I would like to thank search provider, Search Acumen, for providing me with some of the facts and figures contained in this article. Andy Sommerville of Search Acumen adds: Having robust and quality control procedures is now a given. Now is the time for innovation to provide intelligent based' search information that delivers benefit to the estate agent, conveyancer and the consumer.

*Rob Hailstone is founder of the Bold Legal Group. If you have any questions about searches or any other conveyancing matters, you can contact him at: rh@boldgroup.co.uk.

Comments

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    Approximately one third of all Local Authority searches completed are regulated personal searches and this means that since the year 2000 roughly 5,000,000 house purchases have relied upon private search companies to provide due diligence information. One would expect there would have been a bigger outcry had these products not been suitable given the sheer scale of their use. In addition more and more Local Authorities are coming under budgetary and resource pressures and as the housing market volumes increase over the next few years they are unlikely be able to scale back up to previous (pre-credit crunch) staffing levels. It will therefore be even more important to have an alternative to the direct official search request in order to prevent house buyers suffering delays (and therefore pressuring already busy conveyancers) whilst moving into their new home. Irrespective of a service provider being a private business or a local authority, it is about combining experience, expertise, quality of training, customer service, integrity, effective use of technology, and robust processes to deliver what the client wants. Clients should be given a choice.

    • 08 July 2014 09:42 AM
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    Tim, you are a dinosaur. Most major lenders accept regulated personal searches. The indemnity attached protects them against errors even by the council, which are common, The benefits to the conveyancer are many. Standardisation of costs, ordering, delivery, payment, presentation, and service. If you have ever had query on a council search you will know what I mean about service. Most conveyancers purchase other searches. Mining, water, chancel, environmental, money laundering and others. You cannot get these from the council but a private search company will provide them all with one request AND let you pay on account. If ir were not for private search companies like mine you would still be waiting twelve weeks for your printed search to arrive in the post instead of down loading it from your desktop. Smell the coffee.

    • 04 July 2014 08:50 AM
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    For once, we will have to agree to disagree on this one Tim.

    • 02 July 2014 20:35 PM
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    Once the Land Registry take over Official Seatrches, I would hope personal searches become a thing of the past.

    I would certainly never want to carry out a personal search. Never without full written client authority based on a run down of the risks, checking if my client's Lender will even allow it in the CML Handbook, and frankly there being no alternative (i.e speed of the Council).

    I suspect few conveyancers tell their clients they are not using an official Council search but instead have a non-Council employee visit the Council and interpret the Council records.

    Sadly, there will be a negligence case at some point for not using the Official Search, or without client consent - but not on my/my client's watch.

    • 02 July 2014 11:34 AM
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