What type of survey do I need when buying a house?

What type of survey do I need when buying a house?

By Nic Hopkirk

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

Buying a new home is likely to be the biggest financial commitment you’ll ever make. You don't want any hidden surprises when you move into the new property.

A house survey will tell you if the building you're planning to buy is in good shape.

What is a house survey?

A house survey is basically a health check on a property.

A surveyor looks at the condition of the building and highlights any issues or defects that need fixing.

The most basic type of survey will check that the building, roof and boundary walls are all in good nick.

More detailed surveys will include gas and electrical safety, environmental performance, drainage and rot.

Do I really need a house survey?

It’s not a legal requirement to have a survey on a property you're buying.

It could seem like an unnecessary expense, especially if your bank account feels like a bucket with a hole at the moment.

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

If it reveals any problems, you can ask the seller to fix them before you proceed with the purchase.

Alternatively, you can choose to renegotiate the sale price to account for the cost of fixing the issues yourself.

If the survey flags up any major problems with the property, you may opt to pull out of the purchase entirely.

Do I need a house survey for a new-build home?

It's worth getting a snagging survey done on a new-build home. This type of survey is especially for new-builds.

A snagging survey will spot any issues of workmanship in the build of a new home. It’ll flag any defects or repairs, or if something is not compliant with building regulations.

If the snagging survey comes back with any problems, you can ask the developer to fix them before you exchange or complete.

A snagging survey costs around £300 to £600.

If you’re buying a new-build home, you should also get a 6- or 10-year warranty which covers you for any structural issues.

Search for new-build homes.

Is a house survey different to a mortgage lender's valuation?

If you're buying with a mortgage, the lender will carry out a valuation of the property (which you’ll probably have to pay for).

A survey is different to the mortgage lender's valuation.

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.

How do I arrange a survey?

You need to contact a home surveyor, who will then visit the property to complete the survey.

Make sure you go for a surveyor who is a member of a recognised governing body.

The main governing body in the UK is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). You can search for a surveyor and get a quote on the RICS website.

Bear in mind that surveyors compete for business, so it’s worth getting a number of quotes to find the best price.

What are the different types of house surveys?

There are 3 types of home-buyer surveys. Level 1 is the most basic and Level 3 is the most comprehensive.

In March 2021, the governing body RICS updated what they call the 3 surveys, but they still cover the same things.

The 3 types of house survey are:

  1. Level 1 Survey (previously known as a Condition Report)
  2. Level 2 Survey (previously known as a HomeBuyer Report)
  3. Level 3 Survey (previously known as a Building Survey)

How much does a house survey cost in 2022?

A house survey can cost between £300 and £1,500, depending on which type of survey you go for.

Your new home's value, size and location could also impact the price of the survey survey. A large property is likely to cost more than a smaller home for the same type of survey.

Type of surveyWhat do you get?Which types of property is it good for?Typical cost
Level 1 Survey (Condition Report)A basic report of visible defects and urgent issuesNew-build homes and standard homes in good condition and less than 50 years old£400 - £950
Level 2 Survey (HomeBuyer Report)A more detailed report on the condition of the property, any issues and repairs neededStandard homes in reasonable condition and less than 50 years old£400 - £1,000
Level 3 Survey (Building or Structural Survey)A full and comprehensive review of the property’s structure and condition, which can also include estimates of repair costsHomes older than 50 years, large or unusual properties, and those in poor condition £630 - £1,500

What do the different types of house survey include?

Let's take a closer look at what you get in each type of house survey.

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

The Level 1 Survey or Condition Report is the most basic type of survey.

It gives an overview of the property’s overall condition but it does not go into detail. It highlights any significant issues, risks, urgent defects and potential legal issues.

A Level 1 Survey is suitable for standard modern properties and relatively new homes that appear to be in good condition.

What a Level 1 Survey covers

A Level 1 Survey includes:

  • 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 gas, water and electricity services
  • the condition of boundary walls, fences and areas of shared use.

What a Level 1 Survey does not cover

You won't get any information about:

  • 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
  • contamination or other environmental dangers, such as the use of asbestos. (However, if the surveyor suspects a problem, they should recommend further investigation).
  • an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property.

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

A Level 2 Survey was previously known as a HomeBuyer Report.

It’s more detailed than a Level 1 Survey but not as comprehensive as a Level 3 Survey.

A Level 2 Survey is suitable for the majority of modern, conventional properties that are in a reasonable condition and less than 50 years old. 

What a Level 2 Survey covers

A Level 2 Survey includes:

  • 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.

What a Level 2 Survey does not cover

You won't get:

  • 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.)
  • an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). However, the surveyor will obtain the most recent certificate from the appropriate central registry and review it.

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

A Level 3 Survey is also known as a Building Survey or a Structural Survey.

Level 3 is the most comprehensive survey for residential houses. It's an in-depth inspection of the property.

You can have a Level 3 Survey done on any kind of property, but they are particularly suitable for large or unusual homes and properties older than 50 years.

Level 3 Surveys are more expensive than the other types of survey. But it could end up saving you thousands of pounds if you find hidden problems.

What a Level 3 Survey covers

You'll get:

  • 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
  • the ability to ask your surveyor to look into certain aspects of the property if you have concerns, as the survey can be adapted to your needs
  • the ability to 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

What a Level 3 Survey does not cover

You can't open up the fabric of the building with the occupier or owner's consent, or if there's a risk of causing damage or injury.

If you’re not sure which type of survey is right for you, it’s a good idea to talk to a RICS surveyor. They can give you independent advice on which one would be best for you.

How to understand your survey report

With all of their survey reports, RICS use condition ratings to show their findings on each aspect of the property.

The 3 condition ratings are:

  • Condition Rating 1 – no repair 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. 

Your surveyor might recommend a more detailed survey to look into a specific problem. Damp surveys and dry rot surveys are common examples.

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 exchanging or completing the sale
  • pull out of the sale.

You don't have to go ahead with the purchase if you’re concerned about the issues found in the survey.

Surveys in Scotland

There are different laws around house surveys in Scotland. 

The seller of a house in Scotland must provide potential buyers with a Home Report, which is equivalent to a Level 2 Survey.

The Home Report provides a good level of detail, but you might still want to consider a full structural survey if the property is old, unusual or in poor condition.

What is a Home Report in Scotland?

A Home Report tells you what you need to know about the property and is paid for by the seller.

The seller of a home in Scotland needs to have the Home Report ready for interested buyers within 9 days of listing their home for sale.

Home Reports are 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 (EPC).

It shows the home's energy use and advises how much it'll cost you on average for heating, lighting and hot water.

An EPC will give 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 home 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 independently.

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

Find out more about Home Reports in Scotland on MyGov.Scot.