Buying a house is the single largest financial investment an individual makes, so you should have some say in how the transaction is completed.
The search market can be a mine field if you don't understand the process, so we have put together some information you may find useful. We can't tell you which search to choose, but we can certainly provide you with all the facts so that you can make the right decision for you.
If you are still confused after reading this, or have any questions, then please feel free to get in touch
Types of Property Search
There are two main types of property search - an official local authority search and a personal search, or a regulated search, as some companies now call them.
What is the difference between an Official Search and a Personal Search (or Regulated Search)?
Unless you are a solicitor, or experienced conveyancer, you probably don't know the answer to this question. You may be reading this thinking 'My solicitor didn't ask me which search I wanted' and that may be the case if they have relationship with a certain authority or agent, but you do have the option, you may just have to ask.
So what is the difference between the two searches?
If you have read our other page Local Land and Property Searches you will know that a full search consists of two parts - an LLC1 and a CON29.
Official searches are carried out by the Local Land and Address Management Team here at the Council. We analyse underlying information and use our own expertise and judgement to provide answers. This is not always easy but because we have years of experience, and maintain, and have access to, a large amount of data relating to properties in our area, we are able to provide reliable, accurate searches for both parts of the search - LLC1 and the CON29.
Personal searches are conducted by external agents, or agencies, unaffiliated with the council who are working independently. The external agent or agency makes an appointment to come into the council offices to inspect the Local Land Charges Register) - this is part one of the search - the LLC1. This information is made available free of charge under EIR regulations (or the agents can pay a small fee to view a copy of the register online). We only have a duty to provide a right of access to the underlying information. Checking and verifying the information, which we offer as part of an official search, is not part of the service. The agent or agency is expected to analyse the information themselves and note down any information. They would then need to inspect public registers, maps and index sheets and other sources to obtain information for part two of the search - the CON29. Again, we do not guarantee the accuracy of CON29 answers.
Why choose an Official Search?
A local authority search is often the last step in the house buying process, the one before you exchange, so accurate results and turnaround times are a key factor. We know that buying a house is stressful enough without the added worry of if you are going to be able to exchange on time or not.
So why choose an official search? Not only do we have an award for outstanding customer service and a state of the art Local Land Charges system, which has been expertly set up to connect directly to information held by other council departments, we also have full access to the Planning, Enforcement, Building Control, Housing and Environmental Health systems, so if we aren't sure about something, we can just look in the system and/or have a chat with the team. We have good working relationships with all departments and staff members we work with so they are always happy to help.
Some will argue that a personal search is the same as the council search because the information collated comes from the same documents used by the council, and that is partly true, anyone can carry out a personal, or regulated search, of the Land Charges Register for free and obtain most of the CON29 information from the public registers, maps and index sheets, but it should be remembered that all we are doing is providing access to underlying environmental information. The local authority is not providing the additional official search service of analysing information and guaranteeing the accuracy of CON29 answers, so there is no assurance (other than indemnity insurance) that the information on your personal search is correct.
An official search is backed by a guarantee of accuracy. We will analyse information and use our own knowledge and expert judgement to provide answers. We will remove any charges that are not relevant to the search area and add additional information which we think is. For example, there may not be a TPO on your property, but if we think that branches may overhang from a TPO at a neighbouring property, then we will let you know .
Our work speaks for itself:
I have been an estate agent for 15 years and have dealt with a number of councils and their search departments. I have also bought and sold a lot of property personally and have seen first-hand just how helpful your staff are.
"Hertsmere Borough Council's search department is by far the easiest to deal with as they will always take the time to answer any specific requirements we have. Jade Reynolds in particular is a real star and without her, we would have lost countless sales in the past amounting to tens of thousands of pounds in fees.
"First class service from a department that always seems to be busy!
Thank you and keep up the good work" - Phil Merritt, Village Estates
Are Personal Searches quicker than Official Searches?
The simple answer is 'no'. It may have been true of the past, but it certainly is not true today. With new ways of working, and modern technology, Local Authorities are turning around searches quicker than ever, especially in Hertfordshire where turnaround times average between 1-7 working days.
Some companies may say that their search agent can complete a personal or regulated search quicker but this is not strictly true. The Local Government Association expects local authorities to process personal searches in line with official searches, so they are actually slower than official searches because official searches are processed as priority, usually within 5 working days. Requests for personal searches and/or views of the register will be processed within our advertised turnaround time around 8 working days.
Can you expedite my search?
We offer a free expedited service to paying customers of full official searches who need one off assistance, so if you are under pressure to complete quickly, then we can help. This is a free service so there are restrictions. For example if you are a search provider and every search you submit is marked as urgent then we will limit the amount of urgent searches that we accept. Unfortunately this service is not available if you have requested a personal search or a view of the register. Please see our Personal Search
page for turnaround times.
What if my search results are wrong?
If your official search results are incorrect, which is rare, but we are only human after all, then all you need to do is get in touch. We will take a look at the search and If there are any errors then we will issue a new one free of charge. If its too late to amend the results then the Council will be held accountable for any losses incurred by the search being completed incorrectly.
Should you opt for a personal search, the process is a lot more complex. The Council are not responsible for answering any queries which you, your solicitor, or agent may have regarding the search results, nor will we amend or correct the results.
If you have any questions about your search, please refer them to your solicitor, or the search company instructed to carry out the search, It is their responsibility to answer them. It is not uncommon for search companies to obtain the information from us, pass it back to the client and then ask them raise any queries with us because we hold the data. Unfortunately this is not how the search process works. We will be happy to check and verify the results, but our official search fees will apply.
The independent search company will be held liable if the search being completed is incorrect, not the Council, so you may wish to check the company's indemnity insurance cover before opting for one of these searches as any large errors like financial charges could affect your purchase.
It should also be noted that some mortgage lenders will not accept personal local authority searches.
Find out more about the Local Land and Address Management team.