Which property survey should I get?

Buying a home is usually the biggest financial commitment you’ll ever make, so it’s vital to check that there aren’t any hidden defects that could cause you problems once you move in.

The best way to do this is to arrange a professional survey, which should determine whether there are any issues you need to be aware of. Surveys are not mandatory, but despite this, insurer Direct Line found that 91% of buyers in 2020 arranged a survey before they bought their property, 42% of which uncovered issues with a property. Of the 9% of homebuyers who chose not to arrange a survey before buying, one in four had to shell out an average of £3,600 for unexpected repairs.

If you are considering getting a survey on a property you’re purchasing, it’s worth understanding the different types of survey that are available, and what sort of information each will provide. Bear in mind that the kind of survey you need will depend on the type of property you are buying, its age and its condition.

Here we explain how each type of survey works, how much they cost and what to do if yours unearths a problem with your property.

What is a property survey?

Property surveys are designed to give you a clear view of your potential property’s condition, highlight any major issues and any repairs you might need to consider. It’s a good idea to get a survey done before all your contracts are signed and exchanged. That way, if you find that any major works are required, you may decide either not to proceed with your purchase, or to negotiate on the property price.

There are a number of different types of property survey available which are organised into different levels. Generally, the higher the level, the more in depth the survey. Regardless of which one you go for, your survey needs to be carried out by a surveyor, and wherever possible you should use a RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) accredited surveyor as you can be sure they have the correct training and industry knowledge.

If you’re buying a property in Scotland, you won’t have to arrange a survey as the seller will have had a Scottish Home Report conducted before they put the property on the market.

If the property is in England, Northern Ireland or Wales, you can get a survey carried out on your prospective property any time after your offer has been accepted, but before you exchange contracts. You will not have any legal obligations to the property before you exchange contracts, so getting a survey done before this means that if you find any overwhelming issues, you can retract your offer.

Types of property survey

Mortgage valuation survey

If you’re taking out a mortgage to buy your property, your lender will require a mortgage valuation survey to check that the property you want to buy is worth the amount you’re paying for it (and they’re lending you). A mortgage valuation is really only for the benefit of your lender, but can help give you an idea of whether you are paying the right price for your property, or whether it’s been over or under-valued.

How much does a mortgage valuation survey cost?

Many mortgage providers offer free mortgage valuation surveys as part of their services, but depending on which mortgage and lender you’ve chosen, you may still have to pay for yours. According to the Money Advice Service, a mortgage valuation survey can cost you anywhere between £150 and £1,500, depending on the size, age and type of property you are looking to buy.

RICS Condition Report (level 1)

What is a RICS Condition Report?

This is the most basic level of RICS survey available and will usually set you back around £250. Condition reports are very simplistic, so you will need to feel fairly confident that there are no structural issues or other problems with your home as this style of survey is generally for new or conventional buildings that are in good condition. If you are looking at buying an older property, or one that has been built with unconventional materials, this type of survey may not be right for you.

Some sellers may choose to have a Condition Report carried out when putting their property on the market as it helps provide some reassurance for sellers as to the condition of their property.

What does a RICS Condition Report cover?

As its name suggests, this type of survey will give you a simple overview of the condition of the property, which should let you see areas that might need repairs or alterations. A RICS Condition Report will usually include:

  • A visual inspection of the building – this will generally be a less comprehensive inspection than the higher levels of survey. The surveyor will look for obvious signs of problems such as subsidence or damp as well as surface level issues such as missing roof tiles or blown double glazing.
  • A traffic light rating of the condition of each element of your home to flag issues or problems, highlighting the varying degrees of attention they may need to fix them.
  • A summary that covers the possible risks to people, building and grounds. For example, if the surveyor suspects that there is asbestos in your property, this might appear under ‘risks to people’ because of the health risks of asbestos. It is worth noting that a RICS condition report will not investigate suspected asbestos, nor will they confirm its presence – they will only indicate if they suspect it is there, and you will need to follow up with a specialist.
  • An assessment of the importance of issues or problems. While the surveyor is not an expert on each element of your potential home, they will form a judgement on the importance of any issues they identify. For example, a potential problem with the electrics might be given a red rating, whereas heavy marking or wear to the floors may be classed as amber.

As the condition report is the most basic of the RICS surveys, there are a few things that aren’t included. Your condition report will not provide:

  • Tests of the building fabric or services – the surveyor will only look at the surface level of the property during a condition report and will not move heavy furniture / items to see behind them. They also will not conduct any detailed reviews of elements you can’t easily see, such as gas, electric and water systems.
  • Detailed internal inspection of hard to reach spaces, such as your attic. They may only look through your loft hatch and form their judgement from this.
  • Advice on repairs or ongoing maintenance, so if for example the wiring in your home is older, you may want to hire an electrician to review it, or arrange ongoing maintenance to make sure it’s working safely.

RICS HomeBuyer Report (level 2)

What is a RICS HomeBuyer Report?

A HomeBuyer Report involves a more extensive inspection of the property than a condition survey, with costs typically starting at around £400. A HomeBuyer report again, is generally suitable for new or conventional buildings that are in good condition and are built using standard building materials.

What does a RICS HomeBuyer Report involve?

As with the level one report, the HomeBuyer report involves an inspection of the property by a surveyor followed by a written report outlining their findings. The HomeBuyer report offers some additional elements that are not included in the level 1 report, but will still only be an inspection and not a test of each element. A HomeBuyer report includes all of the features of the Condition Report, with the addition of:

  • Inspection of concealed areas that are normally used and are safe to get into, such as roof spaces, basements and cellars.
  • Inspection of discrepancies between a provided Energy Performance Certificate and the condition of the property.
  • Recommendations on any repairs, replacements or further advice the property needs before you commit to purchasing the property.

Some HomeBuyers reports also include a property valuation, which provides an insight into any issues that might affect the property’s value. With this, you might be able to use the report and the valuation to renegotiate your offer. For example, if the report came back saying that the property had a considerable issue with the roof that might cost you £6,000 to repair, it’s reasonable to negotiate reducing your offer by £6,000 to cover these costs.

RICS Building Survey (level 3)

What is a RICS Building Survey?

A RICS Building Survey (also known as a building or full structural survey) is the most detailed and comprehensive of the RICS surveys, and costs start anywhere between £400- £500 and £1,300, depending on the type of property you’re buying and its value. A Building Survey is usually a good option if you are buying a large, older, listed or run-down property, or one that is unusual, or has been altered significantly.

What does a RICS Building Survey involve?

With a Building Survey, as with the previous levels of survey, the property will be inspected and the surveyor will provide you with a report of their findings. This type of survey however, is much more detailed than the previous levels of survey, as it inspects the structure and the materials of the property, rather than looking at the surface value. In addition to a more detailed version of the inspections included in levels 1 and 2, the Building Survey includes:

  • Services (such as gas, electricity and water) are observed in normal operation, for example, they are switched on or off / operated where the occupier has given permission and it is safe to do so.
  • If needed, and the occupier has provided permission, your surveyor may pull back carpets or inspect the fabric of the walls and floors.
  • Description of the condition of the property and an assessment of the importance and potential impact of any issues or problems identified.
  • Description of the identifiable risk of potential or hidden defects in areas not inspected. For example, If a wall has creeping plants covering it which make it difficult to inspect, the surveyor might provide potential risks or defects that frequently occur in similar conditions.
  • Suggestions of the most probable cause of issues. So, for example the surveyor may suggest one room is particularly damp due to a missing roof tile or leaking pipe.
  • Outline of any remedial work needed to fix issues, the consequences of not repairing issues, prioritisation of work and likely timescales for the necessary works.
  • If agreed in advance your surveyor may also be able to provide an estimate of the costs for these repairs.

In essence, the Building Survey is meant to help you understand the issues with the property and let you make an informed decision when purchasing the property, planning for repairs, maintenance or upgrades. The key difference to the lower levels of RICS surveys are the advice and suggestions for solving problems and (if pre-agreed) the potential costs of this work.

If you are unsure of the differences between the various types of RICS survey, the table below provides a quick comparison of what is included in each:

Type of survey aims to:Level 1Level 2 (survey &
valuation)
Level 3
Describe the property’s current construction and conditionXXX
Identify any serious problems that need urgent attentionXXX
Identify things that need investigation to prevent serious damage.XXX
Tell you about problems that may be dangerous.XXX
Show potential issues and defects, before any transaction takes place.XXX
Help you decide whether you need extra advice before committing to purchase. XX
Enable you to budget for any repairs or restoration. XX
Advise you on the amount of ongoing maintenance required in the future. XX
Provide a reinstatement cost to help with accurate insurance X 
Provide a market valuation X 
Establish how the property is built, what materials are used and how these will perform in the future.  X
Describe visible defects, plus exposing potential problems posed by hidden defects.  X
Outline the repair options and give you a repair timeline, whilst explaining the consequences of not acting.  X
Where practical and agreed, provides an estimate of costs for identified repairs.  X
Provide specific comments on energy efficiency.  X

New-build snagging survey

If you are buying a new-build home then a snagging survey may be the most appropriate option for you. With all new builds, there can be a few issues as the building settles such as cracks in the plaster, or small cosmetic oversights, but there can also be bigger structural issues and a snagging survey is designed to identify both minor and major issues. A snagging survey will usually cost between £300 and £600.

The timing of a snagging survey is a little different to the other surveys we have outlined here, particularly if it is being built for you as the first owner. You can get a snagging survey done at any point in the first two years of your home being built, but ideally you would get it done between it being built and you moving in as the builders and developers are likely to still be on site and should be able to fix any of the issues quickly.

It’s worth noting however, that some developers won’t let you carry out a snagging survey until after you have completed (the day you get the keys and officially become the owner of the property) so it’s worth checking this with them before you arrange one.

How long do surveys take to complete?

Your surveyor should be able to give you an idea of how long the survey you have chosen will take to complete. The size and type of your property will also affect the amount of time it takes to complete, but generally:

Type of surveyAverage length of time to complete
RICS Condition Report (level 1)Up to an hour
RICS Condition Report (level 2)Up to four hours
RICS Condition Report (level 3)Up to eight hours
Snagging SurveyUp to five hours
Mortgage Valuation Survey15 to 30 minutes

After the initial survey, your surveyor will take some time to compile your report, typically between five and ten days.

What to do if your survey uncovers problems

Any serious issues thrown up by a survey are likely to make you think twice about buying, but it’s better to find out about these problems now when you can do something about them, rather than after you’ve moved in.

The most common problems that surveys uncover that might need further investigation are:

  • Damp and structural timber issues
  • Electrical installation or wiring issues
  • Problems with the roof
  • Central heating system
  • Japanese knotweed
  • Subsidence
  • Rotting window frames

If your survey comes back with suspected or confirmed cases of any of the above, it is worth asking your surveyor for more details. They will be able to tell you what the report has flagged, how severe the issue is and recommend what you should do next. This could involve talking to a builder, an electrician or a specialist to provide you with more detailed information about the problem and what needs to be done to resolve it.

Where can I find a surveyor?

When looking for a surveyor, the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA) or Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) websites are the best places to look. Surveyors listed on these websites will be accredited surveyors who have the correct training and industry knowledge.

It can also be a good idea to ask family or friends for recommendations. Alternatively the estate agent you are dealing with or your solicitor may have a suggested surveyor, but bear in mind that they are likely to receive a commission which could make the survey slightly more expensive.

Final thoughts

While getting a homebuyer survey is not a mandatory step in the property buying process, it can save you money in the long term and provide you with some reassurance that you aren’t going to be left with an array of problems once you own the property.

Have you recently paid for a property survey, or are you in the process of buying a home and are considering one? If so, we’d love to hear from you on the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.

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