8 reasons you should think of having a survey done

Congratulations, you’ve found your dream home. It’s in your price range and everything looks rosy.

Time for a cuppa?

Perhaps not quite, yet.

Consider this: the house of your dreams could become yours via the most important financial commitment you’ll make in your entire life.

That’s surely worth a brief pause for thought, armed with some key information. A little reflection is only right: not over whether the house will be the right home for you – you know your own taste and needs best. But is it priced fairly? Is it great on the outside, but hiding a money pit of dry rot, rising damp, flaky plaster and dodgy DIY inside? Will it squeeze every last hint of pleasure out of your purchase within a year?

And every last penny from your pocket!

First thing to understand is that a ‘mortgage valuation’ is purely what the label says; a valuation of how much your proposed home is worth in today’s local market.

Your lender will requires it, to ensure that the property’s value will cover the amount of the loan you’ve asked to borrow. That’s why they choose the valuer, not you.

But the valuation tells you nothing about the condition of the property.

Even if you think, well its value is the same as the rest of the terrace; that may be true, but that’s just a superficial fact. All houses in your terrace are not in the same state of repair, obviously – and you want to buy the best, not one of the rest.

So, what is a survey?

A property survey is based on a physical inspection of the specific house you want to buy, to determine its current condition. (May valuations nowadays are drive-by at best and desk top exercises more often than not.)

Depending on the type of survey you choose, the professional will spend more or less time actually in the property: the more time they have, the more likely they are to discover any major structural problems, like subsidence. They can also highlight major repairs or alterations that are needed in the short term, such as fixing a leak in the roof or repairing a down pipe.

What will it cost me?

The cost will vary on the type of survey.  At rates in 2019, it is unlikely to cost less than £400 and could cost as much as £1000, with your location and the property’s size and type also influencing the cost.

Who does a survey?

A survey should be carried out by a qualified professional: that means a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), who will carry professional indemnity insurance, or a member of the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA).

RICS surveyors offer three types of survey: a Condition Report (level one), Homebuyer Report (level two), and Building Survey (level three). 

RPSA surveyors offer different products, such as the Sava Home Condition Survey. It is similar to the Homebuyer Report.

A local professional is likely to have a better knowledge of the current market value in your area. That said, if you are buying an unusual house, like a farm outhouse conversion, then search further afield and try to get a surveyor with good experience in that type of property.

RICS house survey options.

Type of report Includes Suitable for
Condition Report An overview of the condition using traffic light ratings. Relatively new properties with no known issues.
Homebuyer Report/
Home Condition Survey
Surface-level issues including damp and subsidence. Offers advice on repairs and maintenance issues found, but they won’t crawl into cupboards or enter the loft. Most standard properties that are in a reasonable condition.
Building Survey Analysis of the structure and condition of the property. Advises on defects and maintenance found after a thorough inspection. Older (50+ years) or unusual homes, renovation projects and properties in a poor condition.

Anything else I need to know?

If you’re buying in Scotland, then under Scots Law the seller has to prepare and pay for a Home Report for the buyer, which is broadly equivalent in detail to a Homebuyer report. It can also include a mortgage valuation and that might be acceptable to your lender.

What is a Sava Home Condition Survey?

It is a similar survey to the RICS Homebuyer Report, but without the market valuation. It includes photographs, to make it easier to understand, and highlights issues to follow up on before purchase. It also flags any legal questions to check out through your legal advisor.

Must I get a survey?

You don’t have to; the valuation is required, whereas a survey is optional. But it’s in your own financial best interest. Armedwith the information you might renegotiate the asking price, at least if a significant issue has been highlighted. For example, if you find the house needs its roof repaired, then it’s reasonable to ask for the price to be reduced by the estimated cost of the repair.

With less serious issues you could ask the seller to fix the problem identified before you buy.

The general rule of thumb is that you should consider a survey if:

  • You have any specific worries
  • You feel unsure about the property’s general condition
  • You are thinking of buying an old or unusual property
  • The property has a thatched roof or is timber framed

Your survey report shouldn’t take longer than five days (RICS level one or two) or 10 days (level three) to come back, so it won’t delay your purchase by long – and it could save you big time!

Okay, so how do I find a surveyor?

Your estate agent or mortgage lender can often recommend a surveyor, but they may have only one recommendation, (who might give them a commission). You can visit www.ricsfirms.com or email info@rpsa.org.uk. Otherwise, ask friends for personal recommendations or, if you’re the first in your network to buy a house in a particular area, then check out the usual comparison websites.

Just because your dream home is a new-build, don’t think surveys aren’t for you!

A snagging survey identifies any defects with a new-build home. Unlike traditional surveys, snagging surveys should pick up even minor issues, such as a door that doesn’t close properly or a worktop with a dodgy finish. Ideally, it should be done in the time between building work finishing and your legal completion date, but some developers won’t allow this. If this is true in your case, book a snagging survey as soon as possible after you move in, that way you can get any issues sorted under your developer’s warranty.

Then you can settle down for that cuppa!