A quick guide to property surveys

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When you are trying to buy a new property and your offer has been accepted, you may wonder whether or not you need to get a house survey. To clear this up, we are going to look at what a survey is, as well as cover off what different types of surveys are available.

What Constitutes a Survey?

A survey is a detailed evaluation of a property. The surveyor will inspect the property before telling you about any issues they discover, such as structural weaknesses or a roof which requires replacing. In particular, they will inform you of any major repair work you are going to need to undertake. Beyond any issues, the report will tell about the general condition of the property.

Is a Survey the Same as a Mortgage Valuation?

In short, no. They are similar and some people confuse one for the other but they are not the same thing. A mortgage valuation is a quick, less detailed overview of a property intended to gauge how much it is worth. Mortgage lenders require them to make sure that the property is actually worth the required loan.

The lender gets to choose their preferred company and – more often than not - you will be required to foot the bill. This usually starts at about £350 but it can increase for larger properties. Sometimes, a lender will add valuation for free as part of their mortgage deal but this is still going to be worth less than a lower interest mortgage where you have to pay for the valuation.

Who Carries out Surveys?

You need to ensure that any survey is carried out by a company with the proper qualifications. Most of these will be members of the RICS (the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors). Ideally, you would find one of these who also knows the local area well since they will know more about the area's property market values. If you are buying something unusual like a church or a lighthouse it is important to get someone who is familiar with that type of property to ensure they do not miss anything.

Are Surveys Mandatory?

You are under no obligation to get a property survey. However, they can save you money by warning you of small problems before they turn into big repair jobs. Since buying a property already means potentially investing a few hundred thousand pounds, spending a little extra for peace of mind from an independent expert is a sensible choice.

Indeed, a detailed survey may be enough to make you consider whether or not a particular property is a good investment. If the surveyor tells you that you are looking at £20,000 in repairs from the start, then it is not unreasonable to ask for this much to be taken off the property price. Alternatively, you can try to have the seller fix the listed problems before you take over the property.

What Types of Survey are there?

There are various different types of survey that differ depending on your requirements and how much you can afford to spend.

Condition Report - £300+

This is the most basic type of survey as well as the cheapest. There is not much detail here and it is designed to go alongside a mortgage valuation. This survey uses a "traffic light" system to give broad indications property's general state, broken down into general sections. A green rating means thing are fine, yellow or orange means that there are things that need looking at and red means repairs must take place. After that, there will be a general summary of the problems and risks that may affect the home. However, there is no advice or valuation included.

HomeBuyers Report, Survey Only - £350+

The HomeBuyers Report will inform you of all the major problems that may be affecting the property. This includes rot, subsidence and more. The key aspect of this survey is that it is non-intrusive. This means that the surveyor will not move furniture or under floorboards or do any other work to find any problems that cannot be easily seen.

HomeBuyers Report, Survey plus Valuation - £450+

This version of the HomeBuyers Report includes everything in the one above with an additional valuation as well as an insurance reinstatement value. This is basically an indication of how much you would be reimbursed if the property were to burn down and need to be rebuilt from scratch.

Home Condition Survey - £400 to £900

This type of survey is offered by the RPSA (Residential Property Surveyors Association) instead of the RICS. These are conducted by residential survey specialists and it is designed to be presented in a user-friendly format to make it easy to read. The information is intended to be as practical as possible so it contains things like the maximum possible broadband speed and damp assessment. These reports are then independently checked to ensure that the quality remains at a consistently high level.

Building Survey - £500+

Building surveys are conducted by RICS surveyors and while they start at £500, they can be as much as £2,000 depending on how large the property is. These are the most complete and extensive type of survey available. The surveyor will go to every length to check every single detail of the home. This means they will go into the attic, check under floorboards and behind walls and anything else that can give an indication as to the state of the home.

This survey will give advice on any necessary repairs, detailing how much each would cost and how long they would take. It will also predict the effects each issue will have if left alone, allowing you to prioritise more effectively. The only things not included by default are an insurance reinstatement valuation or a market valuation. However, these can often be included if desired.