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A guide to building surveys

A new property is likely to be the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, so it’s only natural you’ll want to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting before any money changes hands.

Homebuyer surveys are here to protect you and are a great way to avoid unexpected, costly surprises and repairs further down the line. Our guide to building surveys tells you all you need to know.

Row of houses on left side of a long road

What are building surveys?

Building surveys are designed to give homebuyers a clear and honest appraisal of the property they’re thinking of buying, and highlight anything that could need further investment once the sale goes through.

The job of the surveyor is to conduct a report on your behalf, not on behalf of the lender, so you are free to choose your own surveyor, even if your mortgage provider recommends a homebuyer’s surveyor as part of a package with its mortgage valuation survey.

Even so, some surveys are included as part of the whole conveyancing fees package, or alongside a valuation as part of your lender’s mortgage package, and this can sometimes work out to be more convenient and cost-effective, so you should consider all your options before making a decision.

How much do building surveys cost?

There are different types of homebuyer survey available, each of which vary in cost and the number of things they cover. You should always choose the most appropriate survey for you, based on the condition of the property and its location, not on the cost of the survey itself.

If, for instance, you’re buying a new build property, there’s little point in footing the bill for a full structural survey. Likewise, if you’re buying a property that’s situated close to a river, it’s definitely worth your survey checking the area’s flood risk before completing.

Here are the different types of survey that are available, alongside a breakdown of what you can expect to pay for each:

  • Building or full structural survey

    Usually the most extensive type of survey, a building or full structural survey is suitable for every type of residential property but is especially useful for older homes or those that are in clear need of some repair. Although not the cheapest option, it’s very comprehensive. It should outline any potentially hidden defects, to give you a good idea of the type of work that will need to be carried out, alongside information on the various repair options. Even though these surveys don’t usually offer any valuations, the detail they go into usually makes them well worth considering. For added peace of mind, consider a surveyor registered with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Rics).

  • Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) reports

    All new build homes come with a 10-year National House Building Council (NHBC) warranty to cover structural defects, while most developers also provide their own two-year warranty. This means your repair costs should be covered if anything goes wrong within the first couple of years, something you don’t get with an older property.

  • Rics condition report

    A condition report is the cheapest and least comprehensive of the options available. Although it assesses the overall condition of the property, alongside any risks, legal issues and defects, it doesn’t offer any sort of advice or mortgage valuation. That means it’s most appropriate for conventional new-build homes or older ones that are in good condition.

  • Rics building survey report

    A Rics building survey is essentially the same as a standard building survey, but is designed for larger or older properties, or any that clearly need major rebuilding work. It also uses a rating system that grades issues from 1-3, so you can easily identify which problems need the most urgent attention. It also includes advice on the repair and maintenance options available to you, alongside the potential consequences of not dealing with the problems highlighted within the report.

  • Rics homebuyer's survey

    Designed to cover conventional properties in reasonable condition, this is the most common type of survey. It identifies any structural issues, such as subsidence or damp, as well as any other problems that might exist both inside and outside the property. These reports sometimes include a property valuation, which can be a useful negotiating tool, especially if it suggests a lower price than the lender’s valuation. If no valuation is included, you could price up the costs of the recommended repairs before renegotiating.

  • Snagging surveys

    If you’re moving into a new build property, you should carry out an independent inspection to look for any issues with the property. Conducted by a professional surveyor, snagging surveys are designed to pick out any major problems that could go unnoticed until your property is out of its warranty period. The findings are reported directly to the developer to help ensure any repairs are carried out as soon as possible.

Why are building surveys so important?

Building surveys are essential to identify any issues with a property that could soon cost the buyer sums of money on top of the purchase price. These reports give a breakdown of the condition of each part of the house, highlighting any defects and the potential causes, alongside the urgency of repair and maintenance options.

Once these defects have been highlighted, you can then use these findings to renegotiate the price, taking into account the cost of the repairs.

House surveys - what do they look for?

You can expect your building report to look for the following potential issues:

  • A breakdown of the building materials used on the property, alongside relevant technical information
  • Any alterations to supporting walls
  • Advice on non-tested drainage
  • Damage to timbers, including woodworm and dry rot
  • Damage to the roof and masonry
  • Presence of hazardous materials, such as asbestos
  • Renovations carried out without the necessary planning permission
  • Signs of damp in the walls and the condition of existing damp-proofing and insulation
  • Signs of subsidence
  • The impact of any large trees that sit close to the property
  • The presence of Japanese knotweed
  • Recommendations for further investigations on the property

Building reports don’t usually examine things like the property’s heating or electrical systems but, if necessary, you can ask your surveyor to get a suitable expert to carry out inspections on these things.

Are searches and surveys a legal requirement?

Searches and surveys aren’t a legal requirement when buying a property, but your mortgage lender may insist they are carried out as part of its lending criteria. But it’s always a good idea to carry out all necessary searches and surveys before buying, even if you are a cash buyer, so there are no costly surprises once the sale is complete.

Who pays for the surveys when buying a house?

The homebuyer generally pays for any surveys, although lenders will sometimes offer mortgages with free valuation surveys.

How might surveys affect my mortgage?

Lenders will carry out a mortgage valuation to assess the value of the property, so buyers know how much they will need to lend. If further surveys are then carried out that identify problems that could affect the value of the property, this could lead your lender to adjust the amount they are prepared to lend to you.

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