Property information held by local authorities in England and Wales should be made available online, according to a report by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
The recommendation has been made in advance of the government's introduction of Home Information Packs which home sellers will have to provide from January 2007.
This could mean that more property searches are available online instead of through solicitors who often have priority access to local search data. Some councils even restrict private access to such data.
Property searches check for information that may affect a property's value, and include such data as planning permissions, road schemes and building regulations.
The OFT pointed out that the price of these searches varies widely from £55 to the highest in London at £269.
At present there is a single electronic source of such searches in England and Wales, called the National Land Information Service (NLIS).
The OFT stated that making the NLIS brand and software more freely available, and encouraging local authorities to set up connections with retailers outside NLIS, would allow for greater consumer choice and competition in this innovative part of the market.
It added that the government should provide clear guidance on how local authorities should set prices for providing property information to consumers and their agents, including private firms, so that competition is not distorted.
The OFT has also called for local authorities and Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to agree a revised best-value performance indicator to ensure that local authorities make this information available quickly, and on the same timescale that they apply to themselves.
OFT chairman Sir John Vickers said at the launch of the porposals: "Property buyers must have all the relevant information that might affect their choice of property.
"Developing electronic provision and the introduction of the Home Information Packs offer an ideal opportunity to set the conditions for a dynamic market that serves consumers well in the future."
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