What is an Environmental Search?
An environmental search is an integral part of the conveyancing process when you buy a property. Its purpose is to establish whether the property has been built on contaminated land or if the area’s susceptible to the risk of flooding, landslides and subsidence.
It will also check if the property resides in a radon-gas affected area and whether the land was ever previously used as an industrial or landfill site.
Your solicitor will instruct an environmental agency to carry out the search (Groundsure, Homecheck or Landmark, for example). The cost is typically around £50 to £100 for a standard search and they usually take anywhere from a couple of days up to two weeks to report back.
Why is an environmental search so important?
Issues relating to the environment are becoming more and more of a priority in the minds of property buyers, particularly as climate change events continue to dominate news headlines.
From a practical perspective, an environmental search can uncover important information which could result in large costs being incurred by a property owner if they’re deemed responsible for cleaning up land found to be hazardous or highly toxic at a later date. Also, an area prone to flooding or landslides will have a negative effect on insurance premiums.
If you’re using a mortgage to complete a purchase, your lender will not release any of the funds until an environmental search has been done and they’re satisfied there’s no risk to the future value of the property.
What happens if an environmental search identifies potential risks?
In the event an environmental search returns information which raises concerns it’s likely the lender will ask your solicitor to organise further searches on the surrounding area before they can complete your mortgage application.
For example, if a search highlights a history of flooding on or near where the property is built, your lender may want to see a more in-depth flooding search completed in order to check river and coastal data in the area and look into insurance records to establish how many previous claims have been made.
The worst case scenario is your mortgage lender declines to proceed any further with the application on the basis that the risk to the property value is simply too high, bringing an end to the purchase. Alternatively, rather than declining completely, the lender may see the risks as high enough to decrease the amount of the loan originally agreed.
On a positive note, this could actually give you the opportunity to renegotiate the sale price with the seller, armed with the evidence produced from the search results.
How does it differ from other conveyancing searches?
In addition to a title search on the land registry, there are three main conveyancing searches your solicitor will complete:
Each search serves a purpose different to the others and all are considered mandatory by mortgage lenders. A water authority search, for example, focuses solely on how the water supply enters and leaves a property.
Whilst the local authority and environmental search share a common link, in the sense they both return information relating to the surrounding area and how this can affect the property value, the focus of a local authority search is mainly on planning permissions, transport links and any preservation orders. An environmental search looks at the potential risks of flooding, landslides, subsidence and land contamination.