Official vs. Personal Searches – Risk and Liability

The debate, on whether personal searches are ‘worth the risk’ for solicitors, continues to rage, as it did most recently in the Conveyancing Quality Standard debate forum on LinkedIn

For many conveyancers, particularly those who have had a great many years’ experience in the profession, official searches are the ‘Gold Standard’. Certainly there is the perception that going straight to source reduces the risk of anything getting lost in translation.

But one of the main reasons why conveyancers will generally opt for an official search, especially when conducting a residential property transaction, is because the CML handbook states that conveyancers bear any liability on searches. The perception is that by opting for an official search, one provides a comprehensive report, whilst personal searches favour speed of return. Many conveyancers simply question whether it is worth the risk of omitting important information – or indeed worth the extra expense in insuring against this risk?

Official searches, consequently, are seen as a type of failsafe; a guarantee.

However, increasingly, the tide of popular thought is ebbing towards challenging this theory. Many solicitors find that personal searches can be quicker and cheaper, as well as providing a flexibility that simply isn’t attainable with official searches.

Additionally, trade associations, such as COPSO, claim that the reliability of personal searches has improved notably. As James Sherwood-Rogers, Chairman of COPSO, commented in the LinkedIn discussion: “The reality is that modern Regulated Searches from our members are much more tightly controlled then Council Searches and designed to provide better protection to clients and practitioners.”

Furthermore, a competitive market relies on choice and, when that choice is made, inevitably there are many factors that will suit different conveyancers and clients, argues TM Group Managing Director, Paul Albone. Turnaround time is often much quicker with personal searches, providing a consistent product at a consistent price, with improving service a natural by-product of a competitive market.

Speed of turnaround is an interesting debate and one which TM monitors very carefully having over 12 different personal search companies to choose from as well as all of the Local Authorities in our sample size. The personal search companies, if given access to the data by the Local Authorities are often quicker than the local authority directly.

With HM Land Registry looking to centralise official searches in the near future, there are concerns that there might be instances where a hub mightn’t exhibit the same attention to detail or native familiarity that can be provided by Local Authorities.

But if a centralised official search hub does emerge, many believe that it might improve the speed of dispatch and thus negate a key USP of personal searches.

Nevertheless, it is positive that debates such as these are occurring in the conveyancing sphere, helping to drive improvements and challenge conceptions; and for now we await eagerly the developments from the Land Registry. It is clear that choice is paramount to the search industry and we at TM are committed to delivering that choice.

Read the full debate here >>