Residential property specialist Victoria Cranwell explains the types of survey when buying a house.
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What is a house survey?
A house survey is an inspection of a property’s condition by a chartered surveyor to identify any problems.
It can be very easy to dismiss the need for a survey when buying a house, but they are exceedingly helpful. A house survey may simply provide you with peace of mind, for example, that the cracks in the walls are not evidence of underlying structural problems. However, the surveyor may identify one or more serious issues that lead you to reconsider whether to proceed with the purchase, or to renegotiate the price to reflect the cost of rectification work.
Although a house survey is advisable for most properties, they are vital if:
- the property is old or unusual, particularly if it’s listed.
- the property is timber-framed or thatched.
- you or others have any particular concerns about the property.
It’s important to remember that you cannot rely on the mortgage valuation obtained by your lender. This is simply a quick assessment by a surveyor to help confirm the property’s value to ensure it represents good security for the loan. In some cases, the surveyor will not even visit the property.
Types of survey when buying a house
You get what you pay for with a survey, as with so many things. The type of survey you obtain should ideally reflect the age and condition of the property. The three main types are described below.
A condition report is basic, providing a ‘traffic light’ indication of the state of each part of the property:
- Green: No specific work required other than general maintenance;
- Amber: Repair or replacement is needed but is not urgent.
- Red: Highlights defects that are serious or require urgent repair/replacement.
A condition report will not include advice or a valuation, and while it will provide a summary of risks to the building, this is rarely useful.
These are the most common type of house survey. A HomeBuyers Report is more detailed, highlighting any obvious major problems. Good examples would be subsidence or dry rot. The report will also include a valuation and an insurance reinstatement value, which is the amount the surveyor estimates you would receive if the building was destroyed.
While a Homebuyers Report is more thorough and helpful than a Condition Report, it’s important to understand that it will be based mainly on a surface assessment. In other words, the surveyor will not lift floorboards or check behind the wall. They may not even move furniture.
Building surveys are far more expensive but can be a sound investment. As you might expect, the survey will be extensive and the report far more detailed. They can be invaluable if the property is older, listed, more unusual, timber-framed or thatched. However, you should also consider a Building Survey if you are considering major building works.
Unlike a Homebuyer Report, the surveyor will look behind walls, between floors and above ceilings. Their report will include advice on repairs, including costs and timings, and what will happen if recommendations are ignored.
If you are looking for a chartered surveyor, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has a helpful search tool on their website.