Should 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.