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Found 'the one'? The next step is to check everything's in working order and as it should be. That's where a survey comes in.

Buying a new home is likely to be the biggest financial commitment you’ll ever make and no one wants any hidden surprises when they move into a new property.

To ensure the building you're planning to buy is in good shape, you'll need to arrange a property survey.

What is a survey?

A survey is basically a health check on a property. 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 opt to pull out entirely.

Do I really need 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 might feel like a bucket with a hole in it, it could seem like an unnecessary expense.

But having a survey done could actually save you money – not to mention a lot of stress – if it uncovers an issue with the structure of the property. 

If you’re buying a new-build home, you should get a 10-year warranty from the builder which largely negates the need for a home-buyer's survey. You may still want to get a snagging survey done, though.

For any other property, a survey can prove highly valuable. 

Bear in mind that, if you are buying with a mortgage, the lender will carry out a valuation of the property (which you’ll probably have to pay for).

This is not the same as a survey. The sole purpose of a valuation is to demonstrate to the lender that the property is worth the sale price before it gives you the green light for the mortgage.

Here's a quick round-up of what else to know about property surveys.

How do I arrange a survey?

Go for a surveyor that is a member of a recognised governing body, such as RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors). Bear in mind that surveyors compete for business, so it’s worth getting a number of quotes to find the best price.

What types of surveys are there?

RICS currently offers three types of home-buyer survey, with Level 1 being the most basic and Level 3 being the most comprehensive. They're called:

  1. A Condition Report (or Level 1 Survey)
  2. A HomeBuyer Report (or Level 2 Survey)
  3. A Building Survey (or Level 3 survey)

If you’re not sure which one is right for your needs, it’s a good idea to talk to a RICS surveyor, as they can give you independent advice on which one would be best for you.

With all of their reports, RICS use condition ratings to show their findings. They are:

  • Condition Rating 1 – no repair currently needed
  • Condition Rating 2 – defects that need repairing or replacing but are not considered to be serious or urgent
  • Condition Rating 3 – defects that are serious and need to be repaired, replaced or investigated urgently

What happens if your survey finds a problem?

Most surveys will find some sort of issue, especially with older properties. Discuss the findings with your surveyor and ask how much it might cost to fix any issues. 

You can then make a decision on whether you’d like to:

  • Contact a builder to get a quote for any major works 
  • Renegotiate the asking price
  • Ask the seller to fix any issues before completing on the sale
  • Pull out of the sale. You’re not obliged to proceed if you’re concerned about the issues raised

1: What's in a Condition Report (Level 1 Survey)?

The Condition Report is a basic survey that gives an overview of the property’s overall condition. It highlights any significant issues but doesn’t go into detail. 

Suitable for standard modern properties and relatively new homes that appear to be in good condition, a Condition Report highlights any risks, urgent defects and potential legal issues.

It covers:

  • Inspection of the inside and outside of the main building and all permanent outbuildings
  • Inspection of the roof structure and other features that can be seen from the access hatch
  • Inspection of the visual parts of the services, eg gas, water and electricity
  • The condition of boundary walls, fences and areas of shared use

It doesn’t cover:

  • The efficiency or safety of electrical, gas or other energy sources. 
  • The efficiency of the plumbing, heating or drainage installations (or whether they meet current regulations)
  • The internal condition of any chimney, boiler or other flue
  • An inspection into contamination or other environmental dangers, such as the use of asbestos. (However, if the surveyor suspects a problem, they should recommend further investigation.)
  • The surveyor will not prepare an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property

The cost of a Condition Report ranges from between £400 - £950. Compare quotes from different local surveyors at RICS. 

2: What's in a HomeBuyer Report (Level 2 Survey)?

A HomeBuyer Report is suitable for the majority of modern, conventional properties that are in a reasonable condition and less than 50 years old. 

It covers: 

  • Background information on the property and location
  • Information on the cost of re-building the property for insurance purposes
  • Inspection of the visual parts of the services, eg gas, water and electricity
  • The condition of boundary walls, fences and areas of shared use
  • Damp-proofing, including damp tests of the walls
  • Drainage (although drains are not tested)
  • Assessment of the building’s timbers, checking for woodworm or rot
  • Details of urgent problems or defects that need fixing before a contract is signed or which may affect the property’s value, alongside the cost or repairs and maintenance

It doesn't cover:

  • An inspection into contamination or other environmental dangers, such as the use of asbestos. (But if the surveyor suspects a problem, they should recommend further investigation.)
  • The preparation of an Energy Performance Certificate, or EPC. However, the surveyor will obtain the most recent certificate from the appropriate central registry and review it.

The cost of a HomeBuyer Report ranges between £400 to £1,000.

3: What's in a Building Survey (Level 3 Survey)?

Previously known as a Structural Survey, a Building Survey is the most comprehensive survey available for residential properties and provides an in-depth inspection of the property. 

Building Surveys are suitable for all properties, but are particularly appropriate for properties that are more than 50 years old.

They're more expensive than a HomeBuyer Report (Level 2 Survey), but could end up saving you thousands of pounds in rectifying expensive, hidden problems.

It covers: 

  • Detailed advice on the condition of the property, outlining any potential risks or hidden defects, how urgently repairs are needed and their approximate cost.
  • A thorough inspection of all visible and accessible parts of a building, including roofs, walls, floors, windows and doors, chimneys, cellars, garages and outbuildings.
  • If you have any particular concerns, you can ask your surveyor to look into certain aspects of the property too, as a Building Survey can be adapted to your needs.
  • You can request a property valuation as part of the survey, or if the survey is approved by your mortgage lender, it can be used instead of a mortgage valuation.

It doesn't cover:

  • Forcing or opening up the fabric of the building without the occupier/owner's consent, or if there is a risk of causing personal injury or damage. 

The cost of a Building Survey ranges from £600 to £1,500; depending on the size and type of the property. 

Surveys in Scotland

Home Report

What is it? If you're buying a home in Scotland, most sellers are required – by law – to produce a Home Report pack within nine days of marketing a property.

A Home Report tells you what you need to know about the property, is paid for by the seller and is split into three parts: 

  1. A single survey and valuation
  2. A property questionnaire 
  3. An energy report

1. Single survey and valuation:

The single survey and valuation is based on a visual inspection by a chartered surveyor. It tells you about the home, its condition, its accessibility and any repairs that might be needed.

If repairs are needed, it's a good idea to get quotes from builders before proceeding. If you don't feel you can take them on, you can walk away at this stage without penalties.

The survey also provides a valuation of the home.

2. Property questionnaire:

The property questionnaire covers 16 different categories and provides more information about the home, including:

  • The council tax band
  • Any issues that may have affected the home in the past, like fire or storm damage, or asbestos
  • Any alterations that have been done, including specialist works and guarantees
  • Any notices that might affect the home

3. Energy report:

The energy report provides information on the home's energy efficiency in the form of an Energy Performance Certificate.

It shows the home's energy use and advises how much it'll cost you on average for heating, lighting and hot water, alongside advice on making the home more efficient to save fuel costs.

It also rates the home's environmental impact in terms of carbon dioxide emissions.

Do I still need to have a separate survey?

As a buyer, you might still want to consider getting your own home survey done, particularly if you have any concerns about the property. 

A Home Buyer report provides a good Level 2 overview of the property, but you may wish to go a step further and arrange a full structural or building survey (details above) independently.

Some properties, such as new-build homes, conversions or those purchased through Right to Buy, don’t require a Home Report.