What survey should you choose when buying a home?


Caveat emptor – ‘let the buyer beware’ – is a phrase that couldn’t be more pertinent when buying property.

Once you complete on a purchase, the last thing you want is to discover your beautiful new home is concealing nightmares behind every nook and cranny.

Having put your savings towards the deposit, legal and mortgage fees and furnishings, you don’t want to be spending even more on repair bills that might have been avoidable.

Most qualified surveyors are members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

After having an offer accepted on a property, buyers have the option to organise an independent survey before contracts are exchanged.

It is not a legal requirement, but without one they might be unaware of all manner of costly problems – rising damp, subsidence, a leaking roof, dry rot and asbestos to name a few.

A surveyor’s job is to inspect the property’s condition so that the buyer can move into their new home aware of any potential issues.

What are the different types of survey?

To make life a little more complicated, there are different types of survey to choose from.

If you are buying with a mortgage, the lender will carry out its own valuation on the property.

This is only to assess that the property is something that fits within its lending criteria, and that the amount being paid represents market value.

‘Any prospective buyer should be advised that the mortgage valuation will not be sufficient to protect their interests,’ says Grant Barnes, managing director at Barnes and Barnes Chartered Surveyors.

‘This is because it is a valuation, not a survey. It is tailored to the bank’s lending criteria, and may have been provided by a surveyor simply looking online or doing a drive-by inspection, without the property being entered.’

According to property advice service the Homeowners Alliance, there are various different levels of survey.

The cheapest and most basic survey you can get is a condition report, which typically costs £300 or more.

‘It offers a summary of the property’s defects, including possible risks affecting the home, but it does not include any advice or a valuation,’ says Paula Higgins, founder of the Homeowners Alliance.

The next level up is a homebuyers report, which is the most popular survey among buyers according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

This will typically cost £400 or more, depending on the property size, and can include both a survey and a valuation if required.

‘This survey is non-intrusive, so a surveyor will not look behind furniture, nor lift up floorboards or drill any holes, so their report is limited,’ says Higgins.

The most comprehensive survey a buyer can choose is a building survey, also known as a structural survey.

The price of a building survey typically ranges from £500 to £2000 depending on the size of the home, according to the Homeowners Alliance.

‘The surveyor will get into the attic, check behind walls, and look between floors and above ceilings,’ says Higgins.

‘This survey includes advice on repairs, with estimated timings and costs, and will tell you what will happen if you do not do the repairs.’

New build properties are unlikely to have issues such as damp or subsidence, but it could still be worth getting a survey.

Higgins recommends buyers arrange for a professional snagging survey to be carried out – this will typically cost between £300 and £600.

‘A snagging survey will identify defects or problems which need fixing before you move in,’ says Higgins.

‘It should spot minor issues like a door that’s misaligned and catching on the carpet, to something more serious that could affect the structure of your home.’

Which survey should you choose?

The choice of survey will depend largely upon the property in question.

‘Listed properties or those that are of a non-traditional construction will be most suited to the more detailed full structural survey,’ says Barnes.

A leaking roof can incur a costly repair bill - so you may wish to renegotiate the purchase price

A leaking roof can incur a costly repair bill – so you may wish to renegotiate the purchase price

‘It might also be wise to opt for a more comprehensive survey if a property has been structurally altered in any way – such as having undergone a roof conversion or extension.

‘Every property is different, but your surveyor should be able to provide some advice as to the most appropriate survey for your requirements based upon the property’s age, condition and whether it has been structurally altered.’

What type of dangers can lurk within a home?

There are thousands of different problems that can arise in a property – and not just within old Victorian houses or conversions.

Weathered or cracked brickwork, leaking drains, old wiring, bad plumbing, woodworm, wet or dry rot and lead piping are all issues that a surveyor may need to draw to your attention.

A surveyor will draw your attention to any defects that may well require repairs after you have moved in.

A surveyor will draw your attention to any defects that may well require repairs after you have moved in.

‘Structural movement is a vital problem to watch out for,’ says James Perris, a chartered surveyor at De Villiers. ‘This can be due to foundation failure or historic alterations, such as with conversions or walls being removed.

‘Damp is a common problem, caused by either rain or ground water ingress or failed pipework.

‘Roof tile or roof frame failure, through general age or alterations, is another issue that regularly comes to the fore.’

Asbestos can potentially be found in any residence built or refurbished before the year 2000, because it was used in almost every building over most of the 20th century, warns Perris.

It can be in the lagging on pipes, vinyl floors, within the textured coating on ceilings or in walls or within insulation in the loft.

Asbestos isn’t dangerous unless disturbed – so if you’re intending to renovate the property once you move in, it would be sensible to get this checked as asbestos removal can be a very costly process.

‘The worst issues are typically those that affect the stability or saleability of the property, which in turn impacts on value,’ says Barnes.

‘For example, if a period house has ongoing movement triggered by nearby vegetation causing shrinkage to the clay subsoil, it is unlikely to be considered suitable for bank lending. 

‘Other potential problems can arise if a property is situated in an area that is considered to be at risk of flooding, making it difficult to insure.’

A good surveyor, according to Barnes, will likely raise issues outside of the property itself.

A good surveyor should notice issues outside the property, as well as within its walls

A good surveyor should notice issues outside the property, as well as within its walls 

These include the rights of way that a neighbour might have over your land; road agreements; liability for drains or sewers and any nearby planning or highway proposals.

‘A surveyor should be looking at the house and its setting, including access issues, shared liabilities, nearby trees, pylons or electricity substations and mobile phone masts among other things,’ says Barnes.

What should you do if a surveyor finds problems?

If a surveyor finds issues that will require attention, it might be wise to have a specialist investigate further.

An asbestos survey, a fire risk assessment or a damp and timber assessment will provide a buyer with a clearer picture, for example.

Ultimately, the buyer will be in a position where they will need either to investigate further, renegotiate or walk away.

‘Whether a buyer chooses to walk away from a purchase or renegotiate will depend on their tolerance to carrying out the repair works,’ says Perris.

‘If a buyer does wish to renegotiate, I would recommend they obtain an estimate of costs to show the vendor’s agent.

‘Being open with the issues and showing evidence of the likely repair costs will help negotiations and prevent any thoughts that the buyer is just trying it on.’

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