Understanding surveys

You’ve finally found your dream home – and it’s about to be all yours! But… before you buy and go ahead with what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make, it helps to make sure you know as much as you can about your new home.

That’s what surveys are for. Before you fully commit to buy, a survey can highlight any potential problems – and help you avoid nasty repair bills that could crop up in the future. And in some cases, the surveyor’s report may allow you to even favourably renegotiate the price of your property. We can help you understand what a survey means for you, and why it’s important to get one done for your new home.

What is a survey?

First of all, here’s what it’s NOT. Before you formally agree to buy your new home, your lender will arrange a mortgage valuation. In other words, your property will be valued to make sure it's in line with what you are borrowing.

It’s important to remember that this report is for your lender – not you. Many homebuyers still rely solely on this mortgage valuation report; however, this report is a very basic document which solely confirms that your new home is suitable security for the mortgage you are taking – not that it is suitable for your needs!

A survey, on the other hand, is when an independent, expert valuer carries out a detailed inspection of your property and checks the condition it’s in. This should uncover any structural problems or subsidence, major repairs or alterations that are required, and issues with, for example, the roof, electrics, chimney and so on – so there are no unexpected surprises once you've moved in.

Where to find a surveyor

Your survey should be carried out by a qualified surveyor. Your mortgage lender will be instructing a surveyor to carry out a valuation, so you may be able to ask this surveyor to upgrade to a more comprehensive survey. On the other hand, you may wish to choose your own separate surveyor.

Most qualified surveyors are members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). You should be able to find one on the RICS or RPSA websites.

If you can get a local surveyor, then they are likely to have a better knowledge of local market values. You can ask your solicitor, estate agent or conveyancer for suggestions but they might receive a commission for names put forward, which could increase your costs. So you should also ask friends, colleagues and family for their recommendations.

Types of survey

What kind of survey you choose should depend on the condition and age of your house. They can seem expensive, but what you spend on a proper survey now could save you a fortune in repairs in the future.

Condition Report

This is very much an entry level survey. It’s a basic health check for your new house and is the cheapest kind of survey you can commission. It is more suitable for new-build and conventional homes that are in good condition. You won’t receive any advice or valuation with your report, but instead it will usually provide a ‘traffic light’ summary of the property. E.g. green means it’s ok, orange shows some cause for concern, and red means serious issues have been detected.

HomeBuyer Report

A HomeBuyer Report is a more detailed survey, suitable for conventional properties in reasonable condition, which gives you more extensive information on your new home. This includes any structural problems, such as subsidence or damp, plus any other serious issues needing urgent attention. Some include a valuation, and advice on ongoing maintenance that may affect the value of the property. So you may be able to actually revise your offer if the survey reveals a lower price than the mortgage lender’s valuation.

Whilst a HomeBuyer Report tells you about obvious problems, if you have an older property you might want the next level of survey.

Building Survey

This is the most comprehensive survey and is suitable for all residential properties. It’s particularly good for older homes or homes that may need repairs. With a building survey, you get an extensive inspection of your property’s condition and detailed information about the structure and fabric of the property.

It includes a description of both visible defects and hidden ones that might cause you problems, and a subsequent outline of estimated repairs and timings. Again, you could try to save money by comparing the details of the repairs required against the lender’s valuation.

Building surveys don’t usually include advice on value or a valuation. But they can be worth the investment if your house is older or if you’re planning some serious work on the building.

New-build snagging survey

This is an independent inspection that looks for any issues with new-build homes. You wouldn’t expect any problems with a brand new property, so a traditional survey might seem a bit excessive and costly. However, there are sometimes minor or cosmetic problems (snags) that need addressing by the developer before you buy and move in. It could be anything from a leaky tap to a creaking door. Or in some cases, more serious structural issues. Which is why this cheaper, more specific kind of survey can be useful.

If your survey finds any problems

A good surveyor will always chat through any concerns you might have before the survey takes place. And then fully explain any issues afterwards. If their report finds an issue then it’s important to get as much information as you can.

Problems can include damp and timber issues, and those with the roof and central heating systems. So you need to find out what is still covered by a guarantee, how costly it will be to sort out any problems, how long it will take and, for more major works, get a quote from a builder.

If there are expensive repairs to address, you can use these estimates to try to renegotiate the price or ask the seller to fix the issues.

Buying or selling in Scotland?

Sellers in Scotland have to arrange a Home Report before they can put their property on the market. The report may include a survey by a RICS qualified surveyor, but you should still consider paying for your own survey, which may uncover any issues that could be costly.

At a time when you’re already spending a lot of money, a survey can seem like a big expense.

However, it’s far better to be aware of any issues before you buy a house so that you can make an informed decision about what you’re really getting, and budget for any repair work you may need to address in future.

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The material contained in this article is intended for information purposes only and not as advice.

You should obtain professional legal or other advice if you are unsure about the effect on you of any matter in this article.

Published: 26 January 2018

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