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A big part of the conveyancing process is the conveyancing searches. This section tells you all about them. What they are, how and when to order them and how to interpret the results. Each search has its own guide and you'll see they are separated into Standard (should be done in every case), Regional (area specific) and Optional (not essential but often useful tools for the would be purchaser). All buyers should beware that when you buy a property, the law assumes that you have seen the information that would have been revealed by searches whether or not you have actually carried them out, so you buy the property subject to the results.
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This is a search of the water authority's records to check whether the property is connected to mains drainage and to the mains water supply. This information used to form part of the local authority search but it has not been included for many years now.
Some practitioners will inspect a copy of the property's water bill to establish whether it is invoiced for (and presumably therefore connected to) mains water and drainage, or they may ask to see a copy of an old local search which contains the drainage information (though these are quite rare now). Both these approaches however leave unanswered some potentially very important questions, such as whether there is a sewer or main with the boundary of the property, how close the nearest sewer or main is, whether there is a build over agreement in place etc.
The search is ordered using form CON29DW and submitting this together with a plan of the property in duplicate and payment of the fee (which varies from authority to authority but should be between £30 - £60). Some authorities have changed the way that searches are ordered, and may include additional information to that requested on the CON29DW, therefore before ordering it may be worth checking on their website which should contain details of how to apply.
We have partnered with a reputable specialist search company to make ordering a Drainage & Water Search Con29DW easier, click link to order.
In this section we will go through the questions in the search and explain the reasons behind asking them, where this is not self-explanatory. Click here to see an example Drainage & Water search result, which will assist in understanding the points below.
As long as a plan has been submitted with the search request then the local authority should provide a plan of the public sewers and water mains in the surrounding area. They do not keep records of any private pipes. This question is important in order to ascertain the length of the private pipe which connects to the public sewer and also whether it appears as though it would cross private land to get there (in which case rights of drainage would be required over that land). You would hope to see the public sewer running under the highway fronting the property, however on occasions it can be quite some distance away. It should be reported to the purchaser where there is a longer than usual stretch of private pipe and it should be pointed out that he will be responsible for its maintenance and repair (along with any other property owners that connect into it).
This tells us whether the property is connected to mains drainage. If the answer is no then see the paragraph below on Septic Tanks and Cesspools.
Surface water in this context means, basically, rain. If the answer to this question is no then the purchaser's solicitor should enquire as to how surface water is drained, since if it is not properly dealt with it could be a flood risk.
A statutory agreement for adoption, or Section 104 agreement (so called because it is made under section 104 of the Water Industry Act 1991), is an agreement between the owners of a private sewer (usually a developer) and the water authority whereby, subject to the owner constructing the sewer to an agreed standard and maintaining it for an agreed period the water authority will adopt it and it will thereafter become a public sewer. When dealing with fairly new properties it is quite common to see that there is a Section 104 agreement yet to be completed, though if a property is more than, say, 5 years old, it may be wise to enquire as to why it has not been completed in order to be satisfied that there are no problems which may lead to it being canceled.
The purchaser's solicitor should ask to see a copy of any section 104 agreement revealed in order to check that it covers the particular property and should also ask whether a bond was paid by the developer. On entering into the agreement the water authority will usually ask for a bond to be paid to a third party, such as a bank, to cover their costs should the builder not complete the sewer to the agreed standard, though they may waive this requirement for some of the larger firms.
If there is no agreement in place and the sewer connecting to the property is not already a public sewer then enquiries should be raised of the water authority as to whether they have any plans to adopt. If they do not, then this should be reported to both purchaser and lender as the cost of maintaining and repairing private sewers can run into thousands of pounds.
Where there is a public sewer within the boundary of the property checks should be made to ensure that it is not built upon. The water authority have a statutory right of access to public sewers and so nothing can be built over them unless the authority's consent is first obtained, in the form of a "build over agreement". Where no agreement is in place the authority has powers to remove any structures which are blocking access and they are not liable for any damage caused. In reality they now have machinery which will usually allow them to access the damaged pipe from a different, unobstructed point and will avoid causing damage wherever possible, but a risk does still remain. If a build over agreement is in place then the water authority cannot remove the structure which is the subject of the agreement. It is often difficult or impossible to get the water authority to enter into an agreement retrospectively and indemnity insurance cannot be obtained for the risk therefore where this a building over a public sewer without the benefit of a build over agreement it should be referred to both the purchaser and the lender and the risks explained.
In reply to this question the search will usually refer you to the attached map. If a property is not connected to a public sewer but there is a sewer within 100 feet then the council can order that a connection be made.
Such an agreement is commonly known as a "build over agreement" - see section 2.1 above.
This is self explanatory, save to say that it should be noted that the sewerage undertaker and water provider will not necessarily be the same company.
You will see that this question is unanswered in our example. This is because the search was submitted to the company that deals with sewerage whereas another provides the water supply. In this situation you should ask for an invoice to check the property has a mains water connection. If it does not then obviously enquiries must be raised to ascertain how fresh water is obtained. The most common alternative is an electric well.
Again this question is unanswered in our example. If a water main does run through the boundary then the same rules apply as do for sewers - see the explanation at point 2.1 above.
If this question is answered then it should tell us whether or not the property has a water meter and whether a meter will be installed (if there is not one already) on a change of ownership.
Where a property is not connected to mains drainage then it will usually be served by a septic tank or cesspool. This will be private (that is to say not publicly maintained) and therefore there are certain questions that need to be raised. I find that the following list covers the important points:-
Where the property is served by a septic tank :-
"In relation to the septic tank please let us have replies to the following:-
a) Please mark the location of the tank on a copy of the filed plan
b) Unless the tank is within the boundary of the property please provide evidence of the necessary rights of drainage and access for repair
c) With how many properties is the tank shared?
d) Unless the tank exclusively serves this property, what arrangements are in place with respect to maintenance, repair and emptying costs?
e) How often should the tank be emptied?
f) When was it last emptied and what was the cost?
g) Please provide details of the company usually employed to empty the tank
h) When was it last serviced/inspected?
i) So far as the seller is aware, are there any outstanding items of repair or maintenance in respect of the tank?"
Where the property is connected to a private sewage treatment plant or cesspool :-
"In relation to the sewage treatment plant please let us have replies to the following:-
a) Please mark the location of the plant on a copy of the filed plan
b) Unless the plant is within the boundary of the property please provide evidence of the necessary rights of drainage and access for repair
c) With how many properties is the plant shared?
d) Unless the plant exclusively serves this property, what arrangements are in place with respect to maintenance, repair and emptying costs?
e) When was it last serviced/inspected?
f) So far as the seller is aware, are there any outstanding items of repair or maintenance in respect of the plant?
g) Please provide a copy of the Environment Agency's Consent to Discharge"
In either case, if the property is within 100 feet of a public sewer, it should be pointed out to the purchaser that the local authority has the right to order that a connection to the public sewer is made (at the purchaser's expense) though presumably they would only do so if the tank or cesspool were causing an environmental hazard or nuisance.
You can order a Drainage & Water Search Con29DW here.