Structural survey – all you need to know
Once you’ve had an offer accepted on your next home, it’s important to get a property survey done.
If a property appears in good condition it can be tempting to assume there won’t be any problems, but this has the potential to lead to expensive surprises after you have moved in.
There are several different levels of property survey to choose from. This guide will explain the various different options and costs, and help you decide on the right level of property survey for you.
What is a property survey?
A memorandum of sale is a document that records the amount of money being paid for a property. It includes the names of both the property seller and buyer, and the names of the solicitors dealing with both parties. As part of the home buying process, it is wise to have a property survey. A qualified surveyor will visit the property and carry out an inspection. Once the inspection has been completed, the surveyor will prepare a property survey report that will contain information about the general condition of the house or flat. It will also provide information about potential issues that you should be aware of before purchasing the property. How much depth the inspection goes into about any potential issues will depend on the level of survey you select.
Types of property survey
There are two main professional accredited organisations that offer property surveys in the UK. The first is the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the other is the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA).
RICS offers three different levels of property survey: Condition Report, HomeBuyer Report or Building Survey. RPSA offers three different property survey products: Home Condition Survey, Building Survey and a specialist Buy-To-Let Survey.
A Condition Report is the lowest level of property survey. It will provide you with basic information on the condition of the property, highlight any potential issues or legal problems and alert you to any work that will need urgent attention when you move into the property.
This level of survey tends to be aimed at newer properties and does not usually provide any sort of valuation as part of the report.
A HomeBuyer Report goes into a little more detail than a Condition Report and is usually suitable for standard construction properties in a reasonable condition. It will look for any structural issues, including damp and subsidence, and give the property a more thorough review, both inside and out.
A HomeBuyer Report may also offer basic information regarding work you might need to carry out in the short-term and long-term. This will give you a good overview of the condition of the property and alert you to any costly work that may be required once you have purchased the property. You will be able to choose whether you have just the RICS HomeBuyer Report, or a report and valuation together.
A Building Survey is the most thorough property survey you can have. It is useful for older, larger and more complex properties, or if you have any specific concerns that you want to investigate.
A Building Survey offers an in-depth analysis of the property, its condition and any issues that may arise. A Building Survey will go further than a HomeBuyer Report by offering advice and information on any work that is required or that would benefit the property.
Home Condition Survey:
An RPSA Home Condition Survey is a similar level survey to the RICS HomeBuyer Report. It will include a colour-coded condition report to help you easily identify potential issues and a number of diagrams to help you understand your new property.
An RPSA Building Survey is similar to a RICS Building Survey. Both offer a full structural survey, which is the highest level of non-invasive survey that is usually carried out during the property buying process.
This level of survey will be most suited to an older, larger or more unusual property, or one that you have particular concerns about.
RPSA’s Buy-To-Let Survey is designed specifically to meet the needs of those buying a property as a buy-to-let investment.
As part of the inspection, the surveyor will review the 29 potential hazard profiles listed in the Housing Health & Safety Rating System and carry out a Decent & Safe Homes (DASH) report highlighting any health and safety concerns.
Property survey costs
Exact property survey costs will vary according to the level of service chosen and the size of the property, but the figures below offer an average figure.
|Level of survey||Average cost|
|RICS Condition Report||£400-£950|
|RICS HomeBuyer Report/ RPSA Home Condition Survey||£450-£1,000|
|RICS Building Survey/ RPSA Building Survey||£600-£1,500|
|RPSA Buy-To-Let Survey||£400-£600|
Which type of property survey should I get?
Which type of survey you decide on will depend on several factors. You should consider the age of the property and how much you know about its history, whether you have any concerns about potential issues, and whether your mortgage lender has required a certain level of survey.
If you’re buying a new build property, you’re very unlikely to need a full Building Survey. If, on the other hand, you are buying a period property, you might want to invest in a more thorough report.
Buying a property is the biggest financial investment most people will make in their lifetime, so it’s important you feel confident that you are investing wisely. Spending an extra few hundreds of pounds on a more thorough survey has the potential to save you thousands of pounds in the future and reduce the risk of any expensive surprises.
Choosing a surveyor
Your mortgage lender will usually arrange a survey on your behalf as part of their property valuation. If you aren’t using a mortgage to purchase the property, or if you would prefer to choose your own surveyor, you can arrange your own survey separately. If you are using a mortgage to buy the property, your lender will still want to get their own independent property valuation. If you are looking for an independent surveyor in your area you can use the RICS surveyor search service.
What kind of issues might be flagged up by a property survey?
The level of survey you choose will have an impact on the depth of the survey report. A basic level survey will look at the overall condition of the property and whether it has been well maintained.
A more thorough report will look for potential issues such as damp and subsidence, any boundary concerns, quality of construction and roofing, and even whether the services provided to the property (utilities and waste) are sufficient.
Issues that are commonly picked up in property surveys include:
- Asbestos (particularly in garage construction)
- Advisory warnings about any flat roofs at the property
- Risk of flooding
- Concern regarding the level of insulation
- Japanese Knotweed
- Any concern about structural movement
- Visible winter damage (eg. damaged guttering or drainpipes)
Some of these issues will require immediate action, whilst others will simply come with a warning that action may be required in the future.
What to do if your survey uncovers problems?
If your survey uncovers problems it is important to read your property survey in full and carry out further investigation if necessary.
Many of the more common issues can be resolved relatively easily, and are not necessarily a reason to pull out of the purchase, but it is important to read the survey report thoroughly to get a clear understanding of how severe the problem is and the likely cost involved in resolving it. You will also need to consider whether any issues identified will have an impact on your mortgage offer.
If an independent survey has down-valued the property you have got a pretty good case for renegotiating the purchase price – anyone relying on a mortgage to buy the property is likely to face the same valuation level, and therefore the vendor would be silly to refuse to drop the price.
If the vendor does refuse to drop the price, or is unwilling to reduce it sufficiently for the mortgage offer to cover the purchase, how you choose to proceed will depend on your financial circumstances and how keen you are to proceed with the purchase. It is important, however, to keep in mind that if you need to re-sell the property without having added additional value to it, any future survey may give the same valuation and therefore you run the risk of suffering a financial loss.
Property surveys play a vital role in the home buying process. Failing to invest in an appropriate survey can lead to upsetting and costly discoveries after you have moved into the property, so it is important that you choose the level of your survey carefully.
Find out more about:
- What is gazumping?
- Making an offer on a house before selling your existing home
- Can I sell my house with an ongoing neighbour dispute?
- Step-by-step guide to selling your house
- How to sell your house – which way is best?
- Home buying companies – scams to avoid!
- Selling my house to a cash buyer – Read our 5 top tips
- What to do if your house buyer pulls out before exchange
- How long does it take to sell a house?
- Guide to buying a new build house