Buildings are not always as straightforward as they seem – an independent survey is the only surefire way of obtaining an objective assessment of a building.
Prior to the purchase or acquisition of property in the UK, you will need to consider a survey.
Surveys are not the same as a valuation, so whilst you might assume that the condition of the house was properly inspected when it was valued, this is rarely the case.
In fact, most homes are electronically valued using information from property databases such as Rightmove or Zoopla. The valuation will satisfy the mortgage lender as to the rough value of the property to prove it’s suitable security for the loan.
Valuations involve a cursory check of the property; whilst any immediately obvious damage would temper confidence in the property, it fails to take into account the finer details of the property’s condition. In essence, the valuation is not conducted for the buyer’s benefit at all but for the benefit of the lender and/or agency.
Surveys are more in-depth and objective than valuations.
If you want to gain a complete picture of a building’s condition then you’ll need a survey.
Independent surveys take place independent of this internal buying process. They provide a fair and transportation evaluation of a property so you’re not talking into the transaction with a blindfold on.
Valuations should not be confused with surveys.
Surveys are conducted with the aim to identify the characteristics and condition of the building independently from the valuation.
When you make an offer on a property, the offer is Subject to Contract (STC), and you’re not legally bound to purchase until the point of exchange.
Surveys may uncover factors that alter the value of the building or cause you to retract the offer altogether.
To provide you with peace of mind as to the condition of the building, the estate agent may offer you a survey. This is where problems can arise.
When you’re in the process of negotiating your offer, you’ll be in contact with an estate agent who’s job will likely be to upsell you a survey with a trusted partner.
This survey will probably be offered with a company your estate agents work with. The estate agency could be the arm of the mortgage lender and the survey offered by the estate agents are in partnership with both.
Basically, they’re in cahoots with each other – there’s nothing independent about the interaction whatsoever.
- So, say for argument’s sake you’re interested in a period Victorian home with likely restoration work, but you don’t know the extent of that yet or how it might affect your offer.
- The valuation provides a cursory inspection of the property – you and the estate agent have a rough figure of the building’s value in your head.
- You then agree to the estate agent’s offer of a survey from a ‘trusted partner’ to evaluate the property in better detail (and hopefully convince you into a sale).
- All this ‘trusted partner’ needs to do is tell you everything square with the property – that there’s no major work is to be done – and you might put your final offer through and exchange contracts.
- After you move in, fast forward one year down the line and you’ve got horrendous issues with damp, mould, etc. Or maybe you can’t renovate the property due to some previously unforeseen structural issues.
You can’t do anything about it now – houses are sold under caveat emptor – “let the buyer beware”. There is nothing in either the Sales of Goods Act or Unfair Contract Terms Act that can easily help you with property defects and issues once you exchange contracts except in some very niche scenarios.
Sadly, this is quite a common situation.
Of those who trusted the mortgage valuation, 25% needed to undertake unplanned work in the first year with an average cost of over £1,100 according to RICS.
As you might have guessed, the moral of the story is that you’d probably wish that you’d used an independent surveyor!
Independent surveys are just that – independent from the entire purchasing process and relationship with the estate agency.
They’re most frequently carried out by a Chartered Surveyor from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.
This is a regulated professional body with strict training, established survey methodologies and codes of practice.
Of course, an independent surveyor will work with the valuation of the property and will tell you whether or not their findings impact that valuation and what sort of offer you should put in, or whether you should retract your offer altogether.
Instead of placing the sale at the centre of the survey, independent surveys put you, the buyer, at the centre of the survey.
Independent surveys come in 3 different levels:
Aimed at conventional properties and newer homes, the Condition Report is the cheapest of the 3 standard RICS residential surveys. Its focus is on serious defects and issues of urgent attention or repair. You can find a sample of a Level 1 RICS report here.
This is a more detailed survey that aims to provide more specific details on the property and how any findings should affect its value. This can come with or without an independent valuation of its own. The most popular choice. You can find a sample of a Level 2 RICS report here.
A more complete building survey that evaluates the property in finer detail. Essential for large properties, older properties, listed buildings, or when you’re intending to do immediate work to the property (e.g. renovation). You’ll have more time with the surveyor and can ask more in-depth questions. You can find a sample of a Level 3 RICS report here.
Commercial property surveys are more diverse than residential property surveys. There are many more aspects of a building to check ranging from environmental pollution and contamination to structural integrity, access and more.
Commercial property surveys can provide building surveys as well as Schedules of Condition and Schedules of Dilapidation.
The same broad principles apply, though, and any and all RICS Chartered Surveyors will adhere to the RICS Red Book and other guidance.
For commercial buildings, it’s absolutely essential that you get a complete survey of a building prior to purchase or rental. A number of specialisms may be needed for very large and complex sites, especially if you are planning on renovating or developing the land.
Yes. Buyers can be caught out when it comes to new properties and instead rely on the valuation.
It might seem intuitive to think that modern newbuilds do not need further independent inspection as they’re in perfect condition.
Unfortunately, this is not the case and numerous media reports from Building.co.uk, The Guardian and the HomeOwners Alliance (HOA) have exposed the quality of newbuilds, citing that serious immediate structural issues are common.
“I’m not talking about dodgy kitchen units – I’m talking about major structural failings that affect health and safety.” – Timothy Waitt, Anthony Gold solicitors (BBC)
Independent surveyors are very tuned in to these cases, they understand the telling signs of a poorly constructed newbuild. If you’re concerned about this, then you’ll have the opportunity to discuss it with the surveyor prior to exchanging contracts.
In short, the age of the property is immaterial. Any home, regardless of whether it’s 1 day old or 100 years old, can come with serious, ongoing and costly issues.
It’s the task of an independent surveyor, such as a Chartered Surveyor, to uncover that information and raise the findings with the buyers.
An independent survey is your ticket to gaining a complete picture of the property you’re interested in purchasing. They aren’t conducted under the guise of the estate agency or lenders – they’re independent of the sales process and thus, provide you with objective confidence that the property is being purchased as described.
Just consider this; you wouldn’t buy a supercar without checking the engine, just because the salesperson says it’s working fine, so why would you buy a house without a survey?
The same applies to commercial property, but given the complexity and legalities of commercial property, a survey really is essential.
In pretty much any home or commercial buying situation, an independent surveyor – a Chartered Surveyor – can provide you with the clarity you need to make the best decision possible.
Building surveys are essential for more expensive, older or listed buildings. They check the structural condition of the building and provide an objective assessment of its current condition and any future maintenance.
For newer homes, surveys are still generally recommended. You might be surprised how quickly faults can develop in some newbuilds.
In any case, using an independent surveyor, preferably a Chartered Surveyor, provides peace of mind that a property is indeed in the condition it’s being marketed as.
It’s recommended that you choose an RICS Chartered Surveyor. Chartered Surveyors follow rigorous surveying methodologies and adhere to a code of practice and ethics. They’re also independent of your estate agents and won’t have vested interests in the buying process.
Surveyors that know the area well are best. For listed or period buildings, it’s wise to choose a surveyor that has experience or knowledge in this area.
RICS surveys for residential property typically cost around £250 for a basic Level 1 Condition Report, £350 for a HomeBuyers report and £500 – £600+ for a full building survey.