Everything you need to know about home buyers surveys

Surveys are part and parcel of buying a property. If you’re unfamiliar with the process though, surveys can be confusing if you don’t know what to look for. But surveys can influence your decision so it’s important to understand what you’re reading. Here’s everything you need to know about surveys.

What does a surveyor do?

There are two different types of surveyors: property surveyors and valuation surveys.

Property surveyors generally deal with the value of housing and businesses. They look at the structural integrity of a building to highlight any issues or causes for concern. If they do find problems, they’ll provide you with the information you need to fix the problem, including potential costs. Property surveyors are also well versed on building regulations, so they can tell you if a house extension or loft conversion, for example, meets the required standards.

A valuation surveyor works out how much businesses and buildings are worth. There are several different reasons why you might need a valuation surveyor such as remortgaging, valuing for a buyer or valuing for probate.

Surveys often happen after your offer is accepted and solicitors are instructed, but before contracts are signed and exchanged.

Surveyors should be registered with either the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Sava, or the Residential Property Surveyors Association. Members of these bodies will be accredited so you know they’ll do a professional job.

Do I need a survey when buying a house?

Yes. 

In fact, your lender will insist on, at the very least, a valuation survey and they may go one step further to make sure they’re lending against a sound investment.

Surveys give you peace of mind that a financial commitment as huge as buying a property is a sensible choice. It also stops any nasty surprises further down the line which could have a significant financial impact.

Even if you’re buying a leasehold flat, you should get a survey. You might not need a fully comprehensive survey as a lot of information should be available from the management company, which your solicitor will request.

A general survey will still reveal any problems and give you peace of mind that you’re making a sound purchase. 

Who organises a survey when buying a house?

In any circumstance, it’s the buyers’ responsibility to arrange surveys. 

The buyers’ mortgage lender will arrange a valuation survey once the mortgage in principle is agreed. This survey seeks to confirm the value of the property but won’t necessarily go into detail about problems with the building. 

If you want a more in-depth survey, you will have to specifically request a structural survey or homebuyers report. Your solicitor should make recommendations at the right time, but if they don’t then it’s worth requesting the report. This is especially important if you are buying in an area prone to flooding, if the property is old or you’re aware of previous damage.

Types of house survey

There are three main surveys, each going into more detail than the last.

  • Condition report. This looks at the property’s condition, possible risks, legal issues and urgent defects. It doesn’t go into significant detail or provide information on how to fix the problems. It works on a traffic light system and makes it easy to see if there are any immediate problems. Because of how basic this survey is, it’s best suited to newer properties or properties that are obviously in a good condition. This survey costs £400 - £950 and typically takes less than an hour to complete.
  • Homebuyer report. This is the most common survey and covers the same aspects of the condition report, but goes into detail on property defects with advice on repairs. It looks at problems that might affect the value of the property and issues with damp and subsidence. It also highlights any features that don’t meet building regulations. This report is surface deep and the surveyor will only note issues that are visible. So they don’t move furniture or look underneath floorboards. This is best suited to properties that are in reasonable condition and typically cost £450 - £1,000. Homebuyer surveys can take two to four hours to complete.
  • Building survey. This is a really detailed full structural survey that looks at the property’s condition with advice on problems, repairs and the best way to maintain it. This is best suited to properties over 50 years old, in poor condition, or an unusual design. This is often only carried out on houses and not flats. It’s also worth requesting this survey if you plan to carry out significant works like changing the configuration of the house, converting the attic or adding a new extension. Unlike a homebuyer report, this survey is hands-on and the surveyor will move furniture, look under floorboards and check the property from top to toe. The report could also include costs and timings for repairs too. This survey typically costs £600 - £1,500 and can take as long as an entire day to complete.

The cost of the survey depends on the size, type and location of the property.

The results of your surveys should be easy to understand and interpret, but if you struggle to get to grips with them, ask your solicitor to explain the report, particularly the sections that could influence your decision to purchase the property.

Do you need a survey on a new build?

For new build properties, you will need a snagging survey.

Snagging surveys note the problems with a new build home ranging from structural issues through to cosmetic problems. This report is best carried out before you move in, so the developer has time to rectify the issues before you move in. They typically cost between £300 - £600.

You might find more problems after you’ve moved in. These should be added to a snagging list as soon as you discover them and passed over to the developer. In these circumstances, it’s better to be over-cautious and even problems that are only slightly annoying should be added to the list.