This article looks at the quality of information provided in drainage and water searches and discusses how conveyancers can ensure that they reveal the full picture for their clients.
Amongst the multitude of things to consider when purchasing a home, information about a property’s drainage and water may seem relatively unimportant. However, issues with either can prove both costly and inconvenient, and a comprehensive drainage and water search can help prevent unpleasant surprises later on.
Drainage and water issues can have a real impact on a property’s value and maintenance costs. An inconveniently located sewer can put paid to development plans, or the absence of a connection could lead to significant costs and inconvenience. Without getting the full picture on drainage and water connections and assets upfront, the home buyer, conveyancer and lender can all be exposed to substantial risk. A comprehensive search of drainage and water assets in advance can highlight many potential issues, providing reassurance for all parties. There are a variety of different searches available containing varying amounts of information, and the most comprehensive of these is the CON29DW, developed in conjunction with the Law Society.
Homebuyers that experience drainage and water problems can find themselves dealing with major disruption and considerable financial outlay to put things right.
For example, assumptions can be made in some searches about the household connections. If a property isn’t connected, then it may be reliant on a cesspit or septic tank for its sewage disposal. Obviously not the ideal choice for many homeowners, due to the potential maintenance costs involved with both methods, alongside the risk of leaking and flooding. If this occurs, the Local Authority has the power to deem it an environmental risk and force a homeowner to connect their property to the public sewerage system. This means the homeowner can find themselves responsible for both the cost of connection and the clean-up, which can easily run into thousands of pounds.
In addition, issues such as public assets within boundaries, water pressure, unadopted sewers, built over sewers, presence/absence of a water meter and sewer flooding can cause major headaches for home owners. Not all these issues are addressed in all searches but all form part of the CON29DW enquiry that would be completed in full.
How this impacts conveyancers and lenders.
The Law Society has recently rolled out the three new core values for the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS), along with the new Core Practice Management Standards. Amongst these requirements, solicitor conveyancers have to effectively manage risk and demonstrate best practice and excellence in client care.
As lenders increasingly focus on property risk, having transparency on the drainage and water status of a property is a key component of the lending decision. Lenders’ handbooks require that “necessary searches” are carried out and that any “adverse” entries are reported to the lender. However, without full and complete information it can be difficult for conveyancers to identify any adverse findings.
The CON29DW was developed in 2002 by stakeholders including the Law Society, government and water companies to provide a consistent approach to property-specific drainage and water information. It draws on extensive and complex water company datasets to provide answers to all 25 questions developed and agreed with the Law Society. Other drainage and water searches – which are not produced by water companies – often either omit some of the questions or use insurance to cover any risk if information is not readily available. While this may provide some reassurance, it is up to the conveyancer to decide whether it constitutes “best practice,” and the homebuyer to decide whether it’s as useful.
The Drainage and Water Searches Network (DWSN) is a membership trade body comprising those companies that compile complete and full responses to the CON29DW questions. It works closely with the Law Society, The Property Ombudsman, UK Finance and other industry and professional bodies to raise standards for homebuyers, conveyancers and lenders, and ensure the CON29DW continues to offer best practice, excellence and consumer protection.
DWSN believes that the CON29DW is the most accurate, comprehensive and essential drainage and water search on the market. While drainage and water may not be foremost in peoples’ minds when purchasing a property, serious, expensive problems in these areas can crop up. The CON29DW highlights these, ensuring the best protection for homebuyers, conveyancers and lenders alike.