Buying a property? Make sure you know exactly what you're paying for with this handy guide on surveys.
Buying a new home is a major financial commitment – probably the biggest you’ll ever make. But how can you determine exactly what it is you are paying for? The answer is by commissioning a survey. Here’s what you need to know.
Do I need to get a survey?
It’s not a legal requirement to have a survey on a property you are buying. And at a time when your bank account feels like a bucket with a hole at the bottom, it may seem like an unnecessary expense. However, a survey could actually save you money – not to mention a lot of stress – in the long run. And this is why.
In simple terms, a survey is a health check on a property. And if it reveals any problems, it puts you in a position to ask the seller to fix them before you proceed with the purchase.
Alternatively, you may choose to renegotiate the final sale price to account for the cost of fixing them yourself – or you may even decide to pull out of the deal altogether.
A survey is especially important if you are looking to buy a property that’s unusual in structure, has a thatched roof or timber frame, is listed, or just very old.
Conversely, you probably won’t need a survey if you are buying a new-build home, which typically comes with a 10-year NHBC guarantee. However, you may still want to get a snagging survey done, which checks the property for defects and poor finishings such as wonky guttering and bad paintwork.
Important! If you are getting a mortgage to buy your home, the lender will carry out a valuation of the property. But this is not a survey and shouldn’t be treated as one. The sole purpose of the mortgage valuation is to demonstrate to your lender that the property is worth the sale price before it gives you the green light for the mortgage.
What kind of survey should I get?
There are three types of survey, which vary in depth of inspection. Here’s a handy round-up of what each offers, to help you decide which one to plump for:
The CONDITION REPORT
What is it? A Condition Report is the most basic of the three surveys and usually therefore the cheapest.
It will typically take around one to two hours to complete, and a day to return.
What will it do?
- Check the basic condition of the building, services – such as gas and water supply – garage and any other outbuildings. It uses a simple traffic light system which will flag any problems that require attention.
- Provide a summary of issues and risks for your solicitor or property lawyer to look into. For example, bad electrics, ownership of boundaries and planning permission for extensions or other building work.
How much does it cost? Fees are normally based on the purchase price, and start between £250 and £300.
When should I get one? A Condition Report is suitable for newer properties and homes that are in a general good state of repair. Get one if you will be happy with just a broad-brush overview of the property’s condition.
What to expect: Take a look at this sample Condition Report from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
The HOMEBUYER REPORT
What is it? A HomeBuyer Report is middle ground in the world of surveys. It’s more extensive than the Condition Report – and typically costs more too. It is the only one of the three surveys that currently offers a property valuation.
It typically takes one to two hours to inspect the property and another hour to complete the valuation.
From the summer of 2016, it is expected that a survey-only version of the HomeBuyer Report will also be available (in addition to the current survey and valuation option).
You can expect to receive the HomeBuyer Report within two days.
What will it do? The HomeBuyer Report will include all of the features of the Condition Report, plus the following:
- A more far-reaching inspection. However, like the Condition Report, this will be limited to what the surveyor can actually see – they won’t be lifting up floor boards or moving furniture.
- The surveyor’s professional opinion on the market value of the property.
- An insurance ‘reinstatement figure’ – in other words, how much the property would be insured for if it was to burn down.
- A clear summary of problems that may impact the property's value.
- Tailored advice on repairs and maintenance.
- A list of issues that require closer attention to avoid serious damage or dangerous conditions.
- General information on the area, environment and energy efficiency.
- Any legal considerations.
How much does it cost? Costs will vary according to the value of the property but budget for between £350 and £400 for the survey, and another £100 for the valuation.
When should I get one? A HomeBuyer Report is suitable for most modern and older homes that are in a reasonable condition. Get one if you have any specific concerns about the purchase, or would just feel better about a more comprehensive survey.
What to expect: Take a look at this sample Homebuyer Report from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
The BUILDING SURVEY
What it is? A Building Survey (which used to be called a Structural Survey) is the most comprehensive of the three – and, of course, the most expensive.
It can take several days to complete (depending on the property) and up to a fortnight to return.
What will it do? The Building Survey will include all the features of a Home Buyer Report, plus the following:
- Thorough inspection and report on a variety of issues.
- Summary of defects (even insignificant ones) and potential problems caused by hidden flaws.
- Advice on repair options, their estimated cost and the potential consequences of failing to address them.
- Advice and considerations for your solicitor.
How much does it cost? Costs vary widely according to the value of the property but typically start at £750.
When should I get one? A Building Survey is suitable for large, unusual (a windmill for example) old, listed or dilapidated homes and also where buildings are undergoing a change-of-use, for example, a barn or watermill or windmill conversion.
What to expect: Take a look at this sample Building Survey from the RICS.
Surveys in Scotland: The HOME REPORT
In Scotland, a seller is required – by law – to produce a Home Report pack within nine days of marketing a property. You will have access to it free-of-charge.
What will it do?
- Survey and property valuation.
- Energy Report, including an Energy Performance Certificate.
- Property questionnaire covering issues such as council tax and electricity provider.
You might still want to consider getting your own survey done though, particularly if you have any concerns about the property.
And some properties, such as new-build homes, conversions or those purchased through Right to Buy, don’t require a Home Report.
Who does the survey?
It’s crucial to use a reputable qualified surveyor. One way to ensure this is what you are getting is by searching members of the surveying trade body, RICS. You can do this by postcode.
Bear in mind that costs between surveyors as well as properties, vary, so it’s best to source a number of quotes first.
Did you have a survey on your home? And was it useful? Tell us by posting a comment below...