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Survey problems – and what they cost to fix

Updated 19 May 2021

6min read

Nick Green
Financial Journalist

Awaiting the results of your building survey is a tense time. Will it reveal that your dream home is actually a property nightmare? Perhaps there’s a quick fix to the problems identified, or could this be an opportunity to get the home you want for a better price?

My building survey has found some issues – what happens now?

Seeing some issues on your building survey is not unusual, particularly if the property is more than 50 years old. Surveyors have to highlight even the most obvious things, which actually may not require that much work to put right. A RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) property report has clear ‘traffic light’ ratings of the condition of different parts of the building, garage and outbuildings, which should give you an idea of how serious an issue is. If any points concern you, ask your surveyor to explain them.

Next, you can discuss what repair work needs to be done with a builder or specialist tradesperson to get an idea of what it’s going to cost to fix. This will help you decide whether or not the property is worth the asking price. After this, you’ve got a number of options. You could:

  • Ask the vendor if they’re willing to fix the problems before selling
  • Use the survey results to haggle the price down to cover all or some of the costs
  • Proceed with the transaction with an indication of how much extra money you’ll need to spend on the property when the sale is complete
  • Pull out of the sale

Negotiating may seem like a hassle, but it can be well worth the effort. Research carried out by the consumers' association Which? revealed that two-thirds of homeowners who had a property survey conducted in 2016 were successfully able to either negotiate a lower price or get the seller to fix the issues before completion.

Should the buyer or seller fix survey problems?

There’s no hard and fast rule about who should pay for any repair work and it’s something that’s negotiable. Some sellers may be happy to do so if the repairs are fairly small, but less willing if major work is needed. In this instance, sellers may be prepared to compromise and sell for less than the asking price, particularly if they don’t have the funds to fix the problems.

What survey issues can the seller fix?

It’s reasonable to ask the vendor to fix any minor problems, such as replacing a flat roof or repairing faulty drainpipes. Ask your conveyancing solicitor to include the work in your contract and request that the vendor provides evidence that the work will be done:

  • By a set date
  • To a good standard
  • In line with regulations

They should also stipulate that copies of any receipts or warranties are provided to you.

What survey issues should buyers fix themselves?

If the seller is unwilling or unable to fix the problems identified by the survey then you’re faced with a decision. Are you prepared to take on a property that you know needs work? As long as you’ve got as much detail as possible from the surveyor, advice and outline costs from specialist tradespeople/builders and you have the additional funds you’ll need, it’s up to you how you want to proceed.

Fixing problems post-purchase does offer greater control over the process and end result of the work. You can decide how much you want to spend on home improvements, which tradespeople you choose and the quality and finish you want.

What are the typical costs of fixing common survey problems?

The cost of repairs will depend on the nature and scale of the problem and it’s advisable to get at three quotes in writing from specialist contractors. Here’s a guide to the approximate costs you can expect to pay to fix some of the most common problems:

  1. Asbestos – Although banned in most construction since 1999, it can still be found in older homes. The price for safe removal is around £2,500.
     
  2. Damp – This may be simple to fix by keeping the property warm and well ventilated and using a dehumidifier. If damp-proofing is required, this costs around £2,750.
     
  3. Electrical issues – If the property’s electrics haven't been checked in the last 10 years, an Electrical Installation Condition Report is highly recommended. A full rewire costs around £4,000.
     
  4. Faulty drainpipes – Sagging, overflowing gutters, no overflow from the downpipe and damp walls or roof leaks are all signs of a problem. The price to replace drainpipes and gutters is around £650.
     
  5. Flat roofing – Often used on small extensions and garages, if your survey highlights considerable wear and tear you’ll need to get it replaced by a specialist who’ll provide a warranty. The price of a replacement flat roof is around £1,200.
     
  1. Insulation problems – If you think a property has insulation issues, ask for the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) to give you an idea of how the house is currently insulated. The cost of upgrading insulation is likely to be around £1,500.
     
  2. Japanese knotweed and other invasive plants – The UK's most notorious plant causes damage to buildings by growing through cracks in concrete, drains and paved driveways. Its reputation is exaggerated (it’s no more damaging per se than many other flora – the problem is that it’s so hard to kill). The price for professional removal will generally be around £3,000.
     
  3. Roof issues – Prices vary depending on what needs fixing and start from about £100 to replace up to six broken tiles. To completely re-tile the roof on a three-bedroom house, the cost is around £7,000.
     
  4. Structural movement and subsidence – Tell-tale signs include cracks in ceilings and walls. While cracks in plaster are fairly common, it’s wise to ask an expert to take a look before you put down an offer. The price for fixing typical structural issues is around £13,500.
     
  1. Woodworm and beetle infestation – Wood-boring insects can be a major issue in properties with timber frames, such as period properties or barn conversions. The cost to treat and repair is around £1,000.

What about surveys on renovation projects?

If you want to bag a run-down property at a bargain price, do some renovations and make a profit when you sell, then it doesn’t come without risk. Talk to a mortgage adviser about how much you can borrow and be aware that you may have to find funds from other sources, such as savings or short-term loans. Factor in the costs of new wiring, plumbing, any damp fixing, potentially a new roof, materials and labour – and add 15% as a contingency fund. Before putting in an offer, get a full building survey to check the property’s structural condition.

How to renegotiate your offer after a building survey

The seller is unlikely to drop the price because of a common issue such as damp. However, if your survey uncovers issues that will be costly to fix, it’s reasonable to use this information to renegotiate the price. Be aware that the seller will have limitations on how much they can take off the sale price as they’ll often need the money for their onward purchase.

Here are some useful post-survey tips for negotiating a house price down:

  • Do your research – Ensure that all calculations for the repair costs are correct before presenting them to the seller
     
  • Get a second opinion – Hiring another chartered surveyor can improve your findings and provides both parties with a comparison
     
  • Listen to expert advice – Your estate agent and conveyancer are there to help you with the process and offer professional guidance
     
  • Be willing to compromise – Be realistic with your new offer or you could be gazumped by someone making a better one – and be prepared for some haggling before it’s accepted

Does a bad building survey mean you should pull out?

Properties with lots of problems – such as major structural or subsidence issues – can become a bottomless money pit. If the seller refuses to negotiate, becomes obstructive or even denies there’s a problem, then you may want to err on the side of caution and pull out before a legally binding contract is signed.

Contact your solicitor, who’ll explain the necessary steps to take. You’ll lose money for the work already carried out, such as the conveyancing searches and surveys, but the process stops there and you can walk away without losing any more.

How a mortgage broker can help if your survey report is bad

Depending on the issues that a survey has identified, it may affect the terms of your mortgage or reduce the amount you can borrow. For example, if Japanese knotweed is present on the property, because it's so hard to eradicate, finance providers may require an insurance guarantee before they’ll issue lending for a mortgage. Delays while further investigations are carried out could mean your mortgage deal expires before completion. Having a mortgage adviser on hand lets you respond quickly to all unexpected developments like these.

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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.