What is a Property Survey?

A residential property survey is a report on the condition of a home that will show buyers whether there are structural issues and potentially provide advice on repairs that need to be made.

What’s the difference between a survey and a valuation?

A property valuation will ensure that the property you are purchasing is worth the same amount as you are paying for it. While the homebuyer will pay for the valuation, the valuation is ultimately for the benefit of the mortgage lender. It’s to make sure they are lending on an appropriately valued property.

However, the valuation is limited in its scope. It will not highlight any issues with the property, and should not be relied on by first-time buyers. To ensure there are no structural defects or potential issues with the property, first-time buyers need to get a survey after they make an offer and it’s accepted.

Who surveys a property?

A property survey is conducted by a surveyor who will visit the property, carry out an inspection, and draw up a report to highlight any issues for the potential homebuyer.

First-time buyers should use a registered surveyor who is RICS-certified. This will ensure you are using an experienced professional to conduct the survey.

What are the different types of property surveys?

Surveys are different from valuations since they reveal the true condition of a property and any potential issues you need to know about. However, there are different types of survey that will have different levels of scrutiny and assurance. Understanding the differences is important:

  • The Condition Report – This is the most basic of the main three property surveys. It uses a traffic light system to assess areas of the house. Green means an area of the property is in good condition, orange means there is a problem that requires attention, and red indicates that an area needs repair. This survey will not provide any more detail of the property, nor does it provide advice or cost estimates. In a condition report, buyers risk missing a serious problem with the property.
  • The Homebuyer’s Report – This survey will go into more detail than a condition survey. The surveyor will check for structural issues or other issues that could affect the property and provide advice on what to do to solve them. While more detailed, a homebuyer’s report is still non-intrusive, meaning the surveyor will only assess visible surface-level areas of the property. If there is a crack in the wall that’s been painted over, the surveyor could miss it.
  • The Building Survey – This is the most comprehensive type of property survey. It will cost more, but the value is far greater than the condition report or homebuyer’s report. For a building survey, the surveyor’s checks will be intrusive and include inspections behind the walls, floors and furniture. They will also give you recommendations on any repairs that need to be made and the costs associated with those repairs.

Which type of survey should first-time buyers choose?

The homebuying process is complicated, long and difficult process. When homebuyers get towards the end of the process, when the survey occurs, they’ve already spent a lot of money on likely the largest purchase of their lives and are exhausted. It would be easy to overlook the importance of the survey and go with a less expensive survey, especially given how much you’ve already spent.

However, choosing a less intrusive survey could have significant costs. We talked to a first-time homebuyer, Louise, who’s story illustrates the shortcomings of a less intrusive survey:

“…the standard homebuyer survey does not do an in-depth review of the house… I asked the conveyancer what they recommended, and they just said they couldn’t advise on this, and it was up to me whether or not I wanted to do a more extensive survey.

I made the assumption that since it was a newer model that I didn’t have to worry as much about this and signed off on the seller’s declaration and the standard homebuyer survey. However, after I moved in, I found that the underfloor heating in the living room wasn’t working…and found that the wiring had been fried because it wasn’t laid properly.
I had no recourse since I signed off on the seller’s declaration that they believed everything was in good working order. I then had to spend an extra £3,000 to fix the issue.”
Situations like Louise’s are not uncommon, according to Jamie Chamberlain of Anderson Wilde & Harris:
“Due to a lack of understanding of types of surveys on offer and being conscious of keeping costs down throughout the home buying process, first-time buyers will often by default choose the lower-cost surveys. This can lead to homebuyers not receiving the level of commentary they may want when the survey gets issued.

In order to make an informed decision, I’d always recommend picking up the phone to any potential surveyor to get their thoughts on what survey would be most appropriate. A good surveyor will be very happy to chat through any concerns you may have, will ask you the right questions and can also provide you with some sample reports so you have a clearer idea on what you will receive.”

How much does a property survey cost?

For a standard family home, first time buyers can expect to pay approximately £500-1250 on a homebuyer report (level 2), and £750-1750 for a building survey (level 3). The price will vary depending on the size and location of the property.

What do first-time buyers need to know?

Not only do first-time buyers need to be aware of the costs of each property survey, but also of their limitations. For new-build properties, the risk is lessened due to warranties developers will provide, but for second-hand properties, a non-intrusive survey could mean paying thousands out of pocket in repairs when you could have only paid a few hundred pounds more for a comprehensive survey which would have insured the purchase and made you confident moving into your new home.

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