If you are in the process of buying a house or a flat, you may be wondering what to do about property surveys. Should you get one? Are they worth having? And if so, which is the best one for your requirements? Let’s take a closer look.
Do you need a survey?
There is no doubt in our minds that you should absolutely have a professional survey carried out before you exchange contracts. A property purchase may well be the biggest single investment you ever make, so wouldn’t you want to know that you were getting value for money? You wouldn’t buy a car without having it checked over by a reliable, independent mechanic, and the same principle should apply here.
But don’t just take our word for it. Research by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has shown that one in five property buyers who did not have a survey later uncovered faults, costing an average of £5,750 to put right. Rather than being an optional expense, a survey can actually save you money.
Research also shows that home buyers typically spend less than 40 minutes in total at the property, visiting twice before deciding to buy and unlikely to go back until they are in possession of the keys. Most buyers never look in the attic, some don’t even bother walking to the end of the garden. Not exactly a sound basis for intelligent decision making, we hope you agree!
And finally, let’s debunk once and for all the myth that a Mortgage Valuation Survey is all you need. This is a valuation report that confirms the property’s value, not its condition. It is carried out on behalf of the lender, and you may not even get to see a copy.
What different surveys are available?
There are three levels of residential property survey available by the RICS. The entry-level Condition Report is suitable for new or nearly new (less than 5 years old) flats or houses that are of conventional build and in a reasonable state of repair, and where the maintenance history is easily accessible. The report describes the condition of key elements of the property, identifies any risks and potential legal issues and highlights any urgent defects. It does not include advice or recommendations for repair.
The HomeBuyer Survey and Valuation is a mid-range general property survey. It is most suitable for modern properties of traditional construction that are in a good state of repair and that have not undergone any significant alterations or extensions. After a 2-3 hour visual inspection, the final survey report highlights any significant defects found and gives advice and direction regarding the most appropriate course of action. It also includes a market valuation and a valuation of the reinstatement cost for insurance purposes.
The RICS Building Survey offers the most thorough investigation into the structure and condition of a property. Formally known as a Structural Survey, the detailed Building Survey report will incorporate photographs to illustrate any defects founds, and provide recommendations on how to approach any remedial work and how much these are likely to cost. While the RICS recommends that all purchasers should opt for a Building Survey, it is most suitable for larger and older properties, non-standard constructions and those that have been significantly altered.
As a firm of RICS accredited Chartered Surveyors, Silk Sharples Jennings are not affiliated to any estate agents or mortgage lenders, meaning we can inspect any residential property with complete independence and professional integrity. For advice on choosing the best survey for your needs, please get in touch.
Why should you get a Building Survey?
A RICS Building Survey may be the most expensive of all the survey options – costing in the region of £600 – £1,500 depending on the size and nature of the building – but in many cases it is the only viable choice. Below we’ve outlined five common scenarios where we would always recommend that you have a full Building Survey carried out before you commit to a purchase.
1. Grade I, II* or II listed buildings
Your solicitor will be able to tell you if the property has designated Listed Building status. There are around half a million listed building on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE). “Listing marks and celebrates a building’s special architectural and historic interest, and also brings it under the consideration of the planning system, so that it can be protected for future generations,” explains Historic England.
Any modifications to the structure or character of the building must be granted Listed Building Consent from the local Conservation Officer, meaning that you may be severely restricted in any home improvements you may wish to carry out in your new home. What’s more, failure to obtain consent is a criminal offence and the owner can be prosecuted, even if a previous resident was responsible for the work.
2. Homes built before World War II
There are no hard and fast rules about what constitutes an ‘old’ building but, generally speaking, all pre-war properties should be inspected with a Building Survey. Building materials deteriorate over time and, in our professional experience, homes that are around 100 years old have a considerable range of defects that only a comprehensive Building Survey can property identify.
And even if the property appears sound, a qualified surveyor will be able to detect small symptoms of underlying issues that would be invisible to the layman. What’s more, a Building Survey will give you valuable information about how to look after valuable period features or old-school construction techniques that a less in-depth report would simply not have the scope to cover.
3. Very large properties
If the property you have your heart set on is very large, or has extensive grounds, a Building Survey is the only inspection that affords a surveyor sufficient time to adequately inspect everything in detail. On-site investigations for a Building Survey can take up 5 hours, and longer if necessary.
Not sure that the property in question is large enough to warrant the expense of a Building Survey? The solution is simple, just ask us! At SSJ Surveyors, we want you to be completely satisfied with the service we provide, starting with recommending the right type of survey that is most appropriate for the building you are thinking of buying.
4. Buildings with substantial alterations
Whether or not you are buying an old building, if the original structure has undergone significant modifications in the past, a Building Survey is the only appropriate tool. There can often be issues at the point where old and new materials converge, particularly if there are several decades between two parts of the building, or extensive alterations or extensions have been carried out.
A Building Survey can detail an assessment of the integrity of the seams between old and new, as well as the condition of key elements of the additions as well as the original building.
5. Properties with known defects
Finally, if you are already aware that there are structural problems with the building you are in the process of purchasing, as Building Survey is a sensible choice. Less intensive reports are unsuitable for in-depth investigations. Suffice to say that if you know or suspect damp, subsidence or other potential structural defects, you should commission a Building Survey to uncover the full extent of the problem, and understand the best method of repair and level of urgency required.
Furthermore, if a specific defect comes to light that requires further expert examination, a Building Defect Report may also be necessary. SSJ Surveyors can prepare defect reports for issues including dampness and condensation, subsidence and settlement, defective roof structures, timber decay and more.