RICS Property Surveys 101: What are your options and why should you have one?

A staggering 4 out of 5 of prospective homeowners don’t commission a professional survey before exchanging contracts. Whether this is because they misunderstand its benefits or simply aren’t aware of how valuable they can be, it’s putting the finances of thousands of UK movers at risk.

Those homeowners that don’t get a survey spend an average of over £5,000 on repairs when they move in, rectifying issues that could have been picked up by a surveyor. Not only would a report have warned them about defective features but would have allowed them to factor remedial work into their budget, and even negotiate the estimated cost off of the purchase price for the property.

Unfortunately, too many buyers mistake their mortgage valuation for a survey, leaving themselves vulnerable to unpleasant surprises when they move in.

What kinds of survey are available?

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) endorses three levels of property survey; Home Condition Reports, HomeBuyer Reports and Building Surveys. These offer various depths of investigation, followed by a report that provides information about the condition of each area of your potential home. The amount of detail included in the report depends on the type of survey you request.

If you are already aware of existing issues within the building, most surveyors also offer investigations into specific defects like damp or timber decay, focusing on the extent of this damage and how it should be managed and repaired.

Home Condition Reports

Home Condition Reports provide a concise, easy to follow description of the property you are about to buy and use a traffic light system to indicate areas of concern and how soon these should be addressed.

Considered a ‘level 1’ survey, the Home Condition Report is really just an overview of the building and should be used to reassure you that everything is fine or provide a warning that further investigation is required. For this reason, it is only really effective in conventional homes that are new or nearly new.

HomeBuyer Reports

HomeBuyer Reports are a more detailed option and suit the majority of properties in the UK. The surveyor will inspect all visible areas of the property (inside and out), assessing its general condition. This typically includes rainwater goods, insulation measures, damp levels, timber decay and any other apparent or potential faults. HomeBuyer Reports include a reinstatement cost and a market valuation.

Building Survey

Building Surveys are the most comprehensive type of survey endorsed by RICS, consisting of a thorough investigation of all accessible areas of the property followed by a very detailed report. The findings will be ranked using the same traffic light system as the Condition Survey and HomeBuyer Report but will also include notes about all major and minor defects, the estimated costs of repair, maintenance advice and recommendations for further inspection, if required.

Building Surveys are ideal for older properties, including period homes, heritage sites or listed buildings, or if the property you are looking to buy is made using unconventional techniques or materials. They may be the most expensive of the RICS reports, but the unparalleled amount of information they provide about unusual, historic or heavily modified properties can potentially save you thousands in surprise repairs.

What is actually likely to be wrong with a property?

If you have had a few viewings and decided that the building seems to be in reasonable condition, it might be tempting to skip the expense and hassle of a survey – after all, how much can be wrong? Well, the most common issues in properties tend to be those that are difficult to detect to the untrained eye, including:

  • Ageing heating systems. A report will identify problems in the central heating system, such as damaged components or upgrades required to bring the house in line with building regulations. This may require further inspection by a gas engineer.
  • Outdated electrical systems that no longer meet legal requirements. Rewiring an entire house is usually a huge expense, so a surveyor spotting that this is an issue will give you time to negotiate the cost off of the asking price.
  • Faulty rainwater goods, which can cause damp and rot throughout the house. Crooked or damaged gutters and downpipes can be difficult to identify from the ground, so discuss with your surveyor how they will address this.
  • Damp. You may notice condensation on windows, dark patches on paintwork or speckles of mould in bathrooms but it can be difficult to determine how severe the issue is. An experienced surveyor will be able to provide a professional opinion about whether the damp is superficial or indicative of bigger structural concerns.
  • Roofline defects. Like rainwater goods, it can be hard to notice missing tiles or damaged chimney flashings from the ground. A professional will know what signs to look for from the ground and, with the right survey, look for symptoms on the inside of the roof, too.

The expert eye of a qualified surveyor will be able to spot the signs that these problems are imminent or are even lurking under the surface already. Any one of these defects can cost thousands in repair or replacement costs, quickly eating into your budget once you move in. If you are already stretching your finances to meet the asking price, investing in a survey is essential for catching any problems while there is still time to negotiate with the vendors.

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