When acquiring a property your solicitor is likely to recommend you undertake a variety of searches to get the full picture before you buy. A legal title review will not uncover every potential issue, so it is a good idea to undertake additional due diligence via a highways search with the relevant county council.
This type of search will show the extent of the public highway adopted by the authority and maintainable at its expense. Whilst a local search will tell you whether the highway is adopted, it will not show you to what extent. A highways search, however, will show you whether the highway immediately abuts a property boundary. This is helpful because if the highway does not reach right up to the boundary of your property you could effectively be cut off from the road by a ‘ransom’ strip of land over which you have no rights – legally you could be prevented from accessing your property. If this is the case, appropriate enquiries with the seller’s solicitor should be raised as soon as possible and suitable indemnity insurance sought in order to mitigate the risks.
The issues at stake are not always straightforward. For example, the ransom strip could be unregistered, which will make it difficult to identify the owner; even if the owner is found, they may ask for a monetary incentive in return for granting right of access – there is no obligation on an owner to grant such access – and you may find that lenders will not provide finance to potential buyers, which could affect the future saleability of your new property.
The replies to a highway search will also show the location of public footpaths and bridleways that may affect the property. Even if a footpath or bridleway falls within your boundaries, you are not permitted to interfere with a public right of way. It is important to establish any such rights early on as they could affect your use and enjoyment of the property and potentially disrupt any development plans you may have. You may wish to consider applying for a stopping-up or diversion order in an attempt to extinguish or divert the right of way from your property via a replacement route.
A highways search typically costs about £50-60 plus VAT – a small price to pay considering the risks involved. For expert advice and support with your property transaction, contact the George Ide team on 01243 786668 or email us at email@example.com.
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