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Mining Searches: Why knowing what lies under a property can prove priceless to homebuyers

When buying a new home, there is often a lot to contend with, from navigating the various legal processes, to dealing with estate agents, surveyors and solicitors. However, a vital factor often overlooked is that of mining searches, which could prove to be a costly mistake for today’s homebuyers.

Historic mines still affect today’s property market on a national scale, with an estimated 150,000 abandoned mines across the UK. Identifying mining risks can not only offer homebuyers peace of mind, but can also play a significant role during sale negotiations, if conducted early enough.

While not a legal requirement, organisations such as the Law Society, as well as an increasing number of mortgage companies and insurance providers, recommend that buyers ensure mining searches take place as part of the purchasing process – particularly in areas where historic mining is known to have taken place.

If undertaken at an early stage, buyers can take the necessary steps to solve any issues before they pose a risk to not only the building, but also the lives of occupants.

Are mines still a risk to homes today?

Mine workings commonly run long distances beneath the ground from mineshafts and extend under existing homes. Mining searches assess the risk posed by these historic mines to a property or area of land. If an old shaft or tunnel is not properly dealt with, it can cause damage to a property over time – from decreasing a home’s value, to causing damage to a building above.

While not a legal requirement, lenders often request that a mining search be carried out and, if risks are found, may refuse to provide a mortgage unless steps are taken to address the issues. Insurance providers are also increasingly requesting information about whether a property is affected by mines, with an incorrect answer potentially leading to a claim being rejected.

The outcome of a mining search can also significantly impact the value of a property, as well as the time taken for surveys to be completed. If a risk is identified, further site investigations may be required as well as additional works to solve the issues. These additional works can often cost thousands, even for a modest residential property, and are likely to impact any offers made or can cause a buyer to pull out of a sale completely.

Who is legally responsible?

Conveyancers should follow guidance and ensure that all appropriate searches are carried out in known mining areas.

Obtaining the correct type of search is also vital; for example, getting a coal search in Cornwall has no value, with this type of mining never taking place in the area. Homebuyers should also do some basic research about a property and the local area to find out if any mining activity has taken place in the past, from which they can ensure a mining search is carried out long before completion.

In areas affected by coal mining, such as Bristol or Somerset, the Coal Authority has a duty to investigate serious subsidence issues. However, there is usually no guaranteed cover to fix any of the risks found in a mining search with the responsibility falling to the current homeowner – in some instances to ensure a smooth sale, they may cover the costs of these works.

Who should carry out a mining search?

Before any negotiations or exchanges take place, it's crucial to call in the experts. A team of specialists will check all available records of the property and land, as well as the surrounding areas – to work out whether any mining has ever taken place on or around a home’s location. Using all this information, a full risk assessment and report will be provided to all parties.

Where evidence of past mining activity is uncovered, a further ground investigation is recommended to confirm any risks expected to be present. In the worst-case scenario, where an investigation confirms the presence of mining, properties can be classed as unsuitable for mortgage and available for cash purchase only.

Although the results of a mining search can sometimes uncover unwelcome information, they offer buyers reassurance that their dream property is safe. If ignored, buyers may find themselves with a property which has not only reduced in value, but also requires a heavy investment to fix any mining problems.

Although many of the UK’s mines have now been closed for decades, they are still a key consideration in today’s property market, and by detecting and fixing problems at the earliest possible stages, buyers and owners can ensure a smooth sale. 

Article written and contributed by Ian Curnow, Head of Search Department at Mining Searches UK

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances, and is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Mining Searches UK directly.

Published on 17th August 2018
(Last updated 12th October 2018)

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