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What Are Common House Survey Problems?

Written by Reviewed by Mike Ashton

29th Nov 2019 (Last updated on 19th Jun 2020) 5 minute read

Compare My Move explore the common issues found on property surveys, and what they mean for home buyers. You may have booked your surveyor, or you may still be in the planning phase, but it's good to know exactly what you can expect from a survey.

You shouldn't underestimate the importance of getting a property survey. A study by RICS revealed that 4 in 5 homeowners bought a property without having a survey. This resulted in many purchasers having to spend an average cost of £5,750 in unexpected repair work after moving in. 

It is not uncommon for problems to be found in houses, especially older properties over 50 years of age. With this in mind, it's worth being prepared for the issues you may encounter. We'll highlight the most common issues that surveyors often find, the associated costs involved with remedying them and what to do if the house survey missed any problems.

Common Property Survey Issues
  1. 1. Asbestos
  2. 2. Structural Movement
  3. 3. Damp
  4. 4. Japanese Knotweed and Other Invasive Plants
  5. 5. Electrical Issues
  6. 6. Faulty Drain Pipes
  7. 7. Roof Issues
  8. 8. Woodworm and Beetle Infestation
  9. 9. Insulation
  10. 10. Flat Roofing
  11. House Survey Problems - Who Pays?
  12. What if the Survey Failed to Pick up a Problem?
  13. Save on Your Survey

1. Asbestos

When you're buying a flat or house, make sure you compare surveyors with Compare My Move so you can have peace of mind on the property you're buying. They will be able to uncover any hidden defects or damage such as asbestos. 

The word ‘asbestos’ sends a shiver down many people’s spines. At one time praised for its durability and applicability to a number of building materials, it has since been condemned for creating life-threatening health issues for humans. Due to these issues, most asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were banned in most construction in the UK in 1999 and specialists have been working to control or remove it from buildings since then.

If a risk of asbestos is highlighted in your survey, you may need to talk to an asbestos specialist to tackle the problem. As a rule, the preferred approach is to encapsulate and contain any intact and non-threatening material where possible. If any suspected asbestos-containing material is exposed, damaged or in poor condition and cannot be safely contained, it may need to be removed. You must have this done by an appropriate specialist. Any asbestos material must be carefully removed and disposed of and there are strict laws and guidance in relation to this which must be complied with.

The cost of removing asbestos varies widely on the type of asbestos used and the way it has been applied to building materials. The specialist should be able to give you a much clearer idea of how much your removal and disposal costs are likely to be.

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2. Structural Movement

Another concerning issue to see highlighted within your report is suspected structural movement. In extreme cases, this type of movement can result in walls, floors or roofs collapsing and can be a serious danger to inhabitants. These are usually apparent by cracks or other damage in structure of the building. However, other small cracks may be perfectly natural and should be of no serious concern.

If significant structural movement is highlighted within the survey report, you will need to speak to a structural expert as soon as you can. The expert may recommend that the affected area is monitored, reinforced, underpinned or rebuilt. The costs of these can vary significantly so don't forget to do your research. There may also be implications to the insurability of the building and you may need to speak to an insurance adviser to confirm whether the defect will be insurable in the future

3. Damp

Damp is a common issue that often turns up on many homebuyers survey and building surveys, especially in older homes. This issue  can vary widely in it’s severity and how widespread it is, from a small patch of local damp through to significant rising and penetrating damp throughout the home.

Although there are several steps that can be taken to prevent damp occurring, this is not always useful when your survey report has highlighted that damage has already been caused, or is likely to be caused imminently.

In these cases, you will need to talk to a damp specialist and have them come and conduct a deeper specialist survey into the areas of concern in your new home and recommend repair work. We've put together a guide on damp surveys so you're fully informed ahead of any issue. They will be able to give you a much better idea of the extent of the damage and what will need to be done to fix it. In some cases, this may be as simple as minor local treatment, although in more extreme cases it may require whole walls being pulled down and rebuilt with appropriate resistant materials.

When it comes to cost, this will depend largely on the extent of the damp and the nature of the repairs required. Minor causes of damp can sometimes be easily remedied with DIY treatment, however for more series cases a tradesman may charge a few hundred pounds for a single wall with minor damage, to several thousands of pounds for full houses with more serious damage.

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4. Japanese Knotweed and Other Invasive Plants

Japanese knotweed, or JK, is one of a number of invasive plants that often strikes fear into anyone involved with buying or selling a house, whether that is the buyer, seller or mortgage provider. This is because it's highly pervasive, resilient to conventional methods of control and can be extremely difficult to remove. 

If Japanese Knotweed or other invasive plant species have been identified in your survey you will need to seek specialist help. This is important, as it's a possible that any mortgage you are planning to take may be void if Japanese Knotweed is shown to be present. Several recognised removal and management schemes are available with insurance-backed guarantees, which will usually satisfy most lenders and enable them to lend. But these can be expensive. A specialist will be able to arrange a further examination of the extent of the problem and will be able to give you further information on any potential or actual damage it has had on the property, although it's relatively rare for any significant damage to be caused. They will also be able to advise you on an appropriate course to remove and control the plant, and deal with any future re-occurrence if it should arise.

The cost of remedy can vary widely depending on the extent of growth and the type of fix required. A relatively small patch of Japanese Knotweed could cost around £2,000 - £3,000 for herbicidal removal, or it might involve potentially tens of thousands of pounds for full excavation and disposal of larger sites. For further information, we've put together a guide on plants that can damage properties.

5. Electrical Issues

Electrical issues reported in a property survey can vary from relatively small repair through to potential issues that could lead to the rewiring of the whole property.

If the issue is highlighted as urgent you will need to get in touch with an electrician who is able to give you an idea of exactly what will need to be done to remedy the defect. This is likely to be done by undertaking an Electrical Installation Condition Report.

Costs will vary significantly depending on the nature of work that needs to be undertaken and, of course, the location. It's important to note that many rural areas often cost considerably more due to their location and so it's vital you research and compare costs in your local area before deciding. You should also allow for any redecorating and other reinstatement which may be needed on completion



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6. Faulty Drain Pipes

Faulty drain pipes can cause a number of issues within a building, including the backlog of water, ponding or pooling, damage to nearby building elements and smells caused by stagnant water or other materials which are unable to cleared away.

If you have undertaken a building survey, it is likely that there will be details on the drainage to the house as well as details of any concerns. The traffic light systems and the details included in the report should give you an idea of the severity of the issue and whether it needs remedying immediately or whether it simply need to be monitored over time.

If the issue needs tackling immediately you should contact a specialist drainage company. You should explain the findings from the report and they will be able to advise on the best next steps. They may send a professional to the house to take a more detailed CCTV inspection of the drain, and then advise you on the severity of the issue and the potential fixes they can undertake.

It is difficult to give an average cost on drain repairs as it depends widely on the type and severity of the issue, as well as the solutions the drainage company are able to offer. However, you may be looking at around £250 for an initial CCTV survey of the drains to identify and assess the severity of the issue. The repairs themselves, may cost from a few hundreds of pounds to several thousands, although this does vary widely depending on the length and the damage to the pipe.

7. Roof Issues

Issues with the roof are often noted as part of a property survey. Roof problems can vary in severity from one or two cracked tiles, faulty or blocked guttering, through to the roof structure being unstable and needing replacing.

Where tiles are broken and need replacing, this can usually be done by any handyman or other professional who is suitably qualified and experienced at working at heights. For more serious problems you may need to talk to a specialist roofing contractor who will be able to look deeper into the problem and offer an expert opinion on what work needs to be done and how much that work will cost to execute.

In the case of more serious issues the roofing contractor is likely to send out a professional to undertake a survey of the roof both from the inside and the outside. It is important to communicate with the roofing company to make sure that their surveyor has all the access that they will need to get comprehensive results.

In terms of costs, this varies widely, depending on the severity and extent of the issue. As a broad indication, you should expect to pay around £100 to replace up to 6 broken tiles or professional gutter cleaning, and £5,000 to £7,000 to completely re-tile the roof (based on the UK average for a 3-bedroom house).

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8. Woodworm and Beetle Infestation

Woodworm or other wood-boring insect can be a major issue in properties, especially those than lend the majority of their structure to timber such as period properties or barn conversions. Luckily, as long as the issue is caught early on in the process it can be relatively easy to remedy and treat.

If woodworm have been identified as a risk on your property survey you will want to get this looked at with relative urgency to prevent it spreading. You should get in contact with a competent timber treatment specialist who will come and inspect the areas of concern. They will be able to ‘open up’ the structure where this is necessary and give a full inspection, to get a much better idea of the issue and give potential options to fix it.

For common furniture beetles, a simple process of treating the wood should be sufficient. However, for more complex and aggressive beetles such as The House Longhorn Beetle and Deathwatch Beetle, more complex and costly treatments and repairs will often be needed to generate a fix.

The specialist should be asked to provide an estimated cost of treatment and any necessary repairs that need to be made in order to make the structure safe again. The quote they will give you will vary widely based on a number of factors including the treatment required, the size of the house and the extent of the infestation. However, an average cost is usually in the region of £500 - £1,000 for typical treatment and repairs

9. Insulation

All modern homes should have good levels of insulation as part of an effort to keep in heat, limit heating bills and protect the environment. The government encourage the use of insulation on nearly all properties for these reasons, and all buildings are advised to have a reasonable depth of roof insulation as a minimum. Pipes should also be well insulated in areas where they are exposed to cold to help reduce any risk of freezing.

Most homes are required to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) before they can be marketed, which gives interested purchases an initial understanding of the thermal capabilities of the property before they move ahead with a purchase.

Within your survey report there may be any number of potential issues with the insulation of the property, such as areas that require insulation that is missing or where the insulation has been moved or been damaged in some way so that it is no longer fit for purpose.

In many cases, where the roof area is easy to access you may be able to fix this on your own, with rolls of insulation costing around £20. However, in cases where extensive insulation is required, where the area is difficult to access, or you simply don’t want the itchy or unpleasant task of insulating it yourself, then you could be looking at around £300 to £400 for the insulation of a typical three-bedroom home.

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10. Flat Roofing

Flat roofing is a cheaper alternative to traditional pitched roofs. However, they also typically have a much shorter lifespan than traditional pitched roofs, which is largely due to the poorer durability of the materials. While some newer flat roofing materials are believed to last for much longer, most older materials will usually last around 10 to 15 years, with some premium alternatives (such as asphalt and polymer single-ply) lasting up to 15 to 20 years.  

If your survey highlights that there's any damage or considerable wear and tear to the roof then it is a relatively simple process of getting it replaced. However, this must be done by a specialist and should come with a warrantee to protect it against future issues.

The cost of replacing a flat roof will depend on your location, the size of the area of the roof and the type of material to be used. Flat roofs are often used on small extensions and garages as a cost-saving measure, and to replace this type of roof you would be looking at anything starting from £1,200.

House Survey Problems - Who Pays?

There is no specific rule which decides who pays for the repair work highlighted after a survey. Usually, the buyer would discuss the repair work with their surveyor or a builder so that a general idea of price can be determined. The buyer can then decide whether they feel the property is worth the current asking price. Once this is calculated, there are a few options the buyer can choose from. They can either use the survey results to negotiate the house price down, continue with the transaction, or pull out of the sale. 

If the buyer decides to continue with the sale, it would be normal for them to arrange any necessary repairs after the sale has completed. It's relatively uncommon that the seller will arrange any repair work, especially if any major issues are highlighted, but it can occasionally happen, particularly when the buyer is already aware of any unfinished building work or known maintenance issues.

The most common result would usually be for the buyer to ask for the asking price to be reduced to reflect the known cost of the repairs. This isn’t always accepted, but many sellers are often willing to compromise and might agree to lower the price in the light of the survey report.

What if the Survey Failed to Pick up a Problem?

You may be eligible for compensation if a surveyor failed to pick up on a problem during their inspection. But, if the surveyor had no way of reasonably knowing about a problem (if the defect was concealed or they didn’t have access to a certain area), it is not their fault.

All RICS surveyors will have a complaints procedure in place that you should go through straight away. If things get out of hand and you don't get a genuine response from your surveyor, you can take things up with RICS, who will advise you what to do next to resolve your complaint.

Save on Your Survey

We hope this guide has highlighted some of the at-risk areas to look out for ahead of your property survey, and given you some insight into tackling some of the issues that may occur. For further reading, we've also put together a guide on how to deal with bad survey results, covering the next steps to take after receiving a survey report that contains any serious issues.

When you're ready to arrange your property survey, we can help you save time and money by connecting you with up to 5 RICS accredited surveyors. We will compare surveyors for you, giving you the best possible deal for your homebuyer report or building survey.

Martha Lott

Written by Martha Lott

Having written for Huffington Post and Film Criticism Journal, Martha now regularly researches and writes advice articles for everything moving house related.

Mike Ashton

Reviewed by Mike Ashton

Director at Cambridge Building Surveyors , Cambridge Building Surveyors

With over 20 years of experience in the property surveying industry, Mike Ashton is now the director at Cambridge Building Surveyors.