Purchasing property is a multi-stage process, buyers face many decisions and choices along the way and one such question posed to you may be whether or not you need a chartered surveyor and what to look for when choosing one.
Whilst mortgage providers conduct valuations of properties it is usually highly recommended you conduct your own survey of a building. Surveying the state and condition of a building is obviously of the utmost importance and commissioning a survey which gets under the skin of the property is often a hugely valuable asset to acquire as a buyer.
This is a safety net that provides peace-of-mind in verifying what you can see or have been told about a property. Whilst most surveys will broadly agree with what is presented in a value report, some may diverge or highlight unforeseen details or issues which could be expected to arise in a property in the future.
Ultimately, your survey options will depend on your property but here is a guide on what to consider and look for when choosing a chartered surveyor.
What is a Chartered Surveyor?
In the UK, the term chartered surveyor is legally protected. As a chartered profession, Chartered Surveyors are members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and are therefore highly qualified, competent and trained individuals who report to a central regulated body. Chartered surveyors have to prove their continued professional development throughout their career and swear by a code of ethics concerning their practice.
Whilst it is possible to use other surveyors, only those that are legally and officially chartered can be called chartered surveyors.
What Do Chartered Surveyors Do?
Whilst you’ll know the general or rough value of your property from its valuation report or other information provided by estate agents and mortgage providers, commissioning your own survey provides a clear picture of the state of a property. This includes its structural history, present condition and predictions of changes, repairs, issues and ongoing maintenance requirements to maintain standards.
Chartered surveyors can also provide information on property development and modification ranging from planning permission advice for extensions or future builds, renovation advice for changing various parts of the building and whether plans are likely to be approved in the building’s local and environmental context.
Chartered surveyors will also work closely with the authorities, e.g. councils, to properly square any future plans and establish whether or not they can work legally. Chartered surveyors, therefore, establish the state of a property comprehensively which is an extremely valuable asset in its own right.
Precise surveyance reports can save time and money in the long run.
How to Choose a Chartered Surveyor
Whilst all chartered surveyors undergo similarly high levels of training and report to the same regulating body, there are various specialisms in the field as well as other criteria which can help you choose the best chartered surveyor for your property.
The Types of Chartered Surveyor
There are various specialisms in chartered surveying but those used when acquiring property are usually from one of the following 4 specialisms:
Commercial chartered surveyors – A commercial surveyor will typically focus on helping clients who has properties such as warehouses, offices or large industrial estates. The types of services offered include:
- Corporate relocation.
- Commercial rent reviews.
- Property planning & development.
- Property valuation.
Building surveyors – When purchasing a new personal home or property, building surveyors are perhaps the most commonly requested chartered surveyor and can carry out a homebuyer’s survey or full building survey. Building surveyors assess the condition of the building to accurately report on its structural integrity, necessary repairs and when they’ll be needed, maintenance and any other potentially unforeseen issues. They can also advise on the construction of extensions or new buildings. Building surveyors may specialise in older or historical buildings or larger commercial properties, etc.
Rural Surveyors – Rural surveyors have specialist knowledge on rural properties as well as their associated equipment and assets such as machinery or storage and warehousing. They can survey farmland to draw up detailed reports of environmental risks, e.g. drought or flooding, and inform the buyer as to ongoing costs associated with the land.
Environmental or Construction Surveyors – Construction surveyors have specific knowledge on the expansion of properties and how they could be used for other uses (use-classes law). They are especially important in the purchase of commercial property which may be modified or converted in its primary use (e.g. converting office blocks into an industrial warehouse).
Construction architecture, styles and property trends vary highly based on region, the flint-clad homes of the Lake District pose a far different challenge to high rise flats, etc.
Locations also come with their own local by-laws for construction, planning permission and other legalities which means local knowledge is very important when choosing chartered surveyors.
With local knowledge also comes local knowledge of the property market which is also highly variable regionally. A local chartered surveyor can provide an accurate picture of the property’s current and projected value and costs of running or maintenance.
Chartered surveyors should therefore possess a strong grasp of their field in a local context, they will know who likely constructed the property, the materials used, any frequently encountered problems, etc.
More demanding property surveys require more experienced chartered surveyors. Whilst junior chartered surveyors are qualified to perform accurate surveys on typical properties, complex buildings such as those which are very old, commercial or industrial, generally require more experienced chartered surveyors who have specific long-term experience in their specialism and a proven track record of success. The higher the stakes, the greater demand there is to find a chartered surveyor with ample experience on the property type in question.
Reviews are an incredibly important part of hiring anyone or buying anything. All good chartered surveyors will have a public track record which is searchable. Reviews are easy to find and provide an informative picture of how comprehensive the surveyor was, how detailed their report was and whether it held accuracy in the long term and saved money/provided good value.
It is impossible to suggest a guide price for a chartered surveyor as it depends totally on the scale of work that needs to be carried out. Some properties, e.g. stately homes, may require extremely detailed surveys that take weeks, even months to carry out. Simpler new build houses, on the other hand, generally only require a straightforward home buyer’s survey and will therefore cost much less.
As mentioned, the term chartered surveyor is legally protected and as such, anyone calling themself one is a professional member of the RICS and are regulated by their codes of practice. This also means complaints can be reported directly to the RICS who are obliged to deal with them objectively and fairly.
In the UK, our ability to access chartered surveyors provides a great deal of trust to those acquiring property of all forms.
Choosing the Right Survey
You will already know the value of a property but the valuation report does not cover all the bases, it is generated from purchasing history of similar properties and projected prices as well as the condition of the building in a general sense. Whilst this provides you with some information, most choose to go a step further and use a chartered surveyor who isn’t directly affiliated with the mortgage provider or other lender.
So, in short, there are two main chartered surveyor survey choices encountered when buying a property which are both distinguished from the basic valuation report:
- A Home-buyer’s Survey/Report – Suitable for modern homes and those fairly recently dated, a home buyer’s report is specifically tailored to consolidate the valuation report with additional information and data. It will survey a building’s general state, test for damp, any environmental issues regarding drainage, energy efficiency and the state of past repairs.
- A Full Structural Survey – Older houses or those with more complex elements may require a more comprehensive survey. These are most common when purchasing period, grade listed or rural properties. They are also commonly required when modifications may begin the property immediately and thus a survey is required to assess whether plans can be implemented and whether they’ll be permitted legally within the locale.
Residential Vs Commercial
The biggest variable dictating what survey you’ll need is the building type. Commercial buildings in particular usually demand the most comprehensive full structural surveys. Bigger buildings are more complex in their construction from plumbing and drainage to electrical provision. Repair costs are also more complex as are environmental regulation and thus, commercial building surveys are more intensive. If you need a survey on a commercial building or otherwise specialist or large-scale property then take extra care to find a chartered surveyor with the niche knowledge and experience you need.
Focus on what you need from a survey. If you’re concerned about a property or feel you’ll generally benefit from a comprehensive survey then this is what you should aim for. If, however, it’s obvious that the home is in great condition (e.g. in the case of new builds), then there is no point in splashing money for a comprehensive full structural survey.
All mortgage lenders and estate agents can assist you in gauging what level of survey you need but you can also request advice from chartered surveyors themselves to see whether a full survey would be useful. For larger commercial or otherwise complex buildings, it is always best to take every step possible to mitigate problems and learn about running costs and potential for extension and modification.