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Property surveys: what are they and what are the different types?

A survey checks the condition of the property you’re buying, assessing the structure and surrounding environment and flagging up any concerns. It gives you a professional evaluation of the state of the property, and makes recommendations for any necessary repairs or refurbishments.

It’s highly advisable to get some sort of survey done when buying any property.

Here you can find out about the different types of survey, the information that they can give you, and what they cost.

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The mortgage valuation survey

If you’re buying the property with a mortgage, your mortgage lender will arrange a valuation survey (which you will pay for). This type of survey is purely to confirm that the house is worth (at face value) approximately what you have agreed to pay for it. This reassures the lender that the mortgage could be recouped by the repossession and sale of the property (and helps to prevent fraudsters from taking out huge loans on cheap properties).

Most mortgage surveys confirm the value of the property. However, they don’t cover the building’s condition in any detail. You will still need to conduct your own survey to make sure the property won’t cost you a fortune to maintain.

When should I get a property survey?

You can get property surveys right up until you exchange contracts, but it’s best to get them carried out as early as possible. This way, you can try to renegotiate the price if the building needs work. Also, if the survey flags up any major issues such as subsidence or dry rot, you can bail out of the purchase before you’ve set your heart on that property.

It can take up to two weeks to receive a surveyor’s report, so again allow plenty of time.

Which type of survey should I choose?

There are four main types of survey, of varying degrees of thoroughness. Broadly speaking, the older the property, the more thorough the survey should be. A more detailed survey will be more expensive – but not as expensive as having to do lots of unexpected renovations. Bear all of this in mind when choosing a home to buy.

A RICS Condition Report is the cheapest and most basic survey, costing approximately £250. It looks at the superficial condition of the property and highlights potential legal issues, but it won’t look at the structure in any detail or give you any advice on potential repair requirements. This type of survey is only really suitable for a relatively new (less than 5 years old) conventional property.

A RICS HomeBuyer Report is the most popular kind of survey, and costs around £400 and upwards. It tells you more about the structure of the property, identifying issues such as damp and subsidence and suggesting necessary repairs. The surveyor won’t, however, check behind furniture, under floor boards or between walls. You can combine this kind of survey with the mortgage valuation report, usually for around an extra £100.

A RICS Building Survey, popularly known as a ‘full structural survey’, is the most detailed and expensive, costing between £500 and £2,000. It’s very detailed and involves checking behind the walls, between floors and above ceilings, and it will give you a clear idea on the structural condition of the property and any work that is necessary or recommended. This survey is especially helpful if you’re buying an old property or planning a renovation. However, it doesn’t usually include a valuation.

A snagging survey is something you might want for a new build or a newly renovated property. It’s carried out once the work is complete and will detect any ‘teething troubles’ with the property, from structural complications to minor glitches such as doors not closing properly. You can then go back to the builder or developer to get these problems fixed.

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What should I do after my property survey?

You’re likely to see some issues on your survey – surveyors prefer to err on the side of caution. Not everything listed will require immediate attention, but if you’re unsure about any recommendations then ask your surveyor to explain them. You can also seek a second opinion.

If the survey find problems that will require work (e.g. damp proofing, structural repairs, woodworm, dry rot) then you can reconsider your position. You can seek quotes for this work and then attempt to renegotiate the price of the property to cover all or some of the costs. Your seller should realise that another buyer might ask the same, so you are in a strong position. It’s best to conduct such negotiations through your solicitor, to keep things cool and professional.

If you can’t negotiate the price down enough to justify the costs of any work, then you may prefer to pull out of the purchase. A survey can prevent you from making a mistake you later regret.

Should I get a property survey?

A property survey isn’t required by law, but you skip it at your own risk. Once you’ve exchanged contracts, the property is yours along with all its problems – you can’t blame the seller for not telling you about the sinking foundations.

Be sure to choose the right type of survey for the property. An old building is likely to have more issues (both due to wear and tear, and because building regulations and practices have changed over time). Similarly, be wary of any home that’s been on the market for a long time. If you’re buying a listed building, or one with a thatched roof, a thorough RICS Building Survey is even more important.

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About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.