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What is a Building Survey (Level 3) or Full Structural Survey?

Martha Lott

Written by Reviewed by Graham Stephenson

18th Nov 2019 (Last updated on 18th Nov 2022) 7 minute read

A Building Survey (Level 3) is one of the most comprehensive property surveys you can have when buying a house. The Level 3 Home Survey is better suited to older or unusually constructed buildings and results in a much more thorough report.

The Building Survey will outline any defects in the property. It'll also look at the causes and the urgency at which repairs are required. In most cases, costs for the repairs will be given. During the inspection, the surveyor will also examine areas that are hard to reach.

This article will cover the following:
  1. What's Included in a Building Survey?
  2. What Does A Building Survey Look At?
  3. When Do You Need a Building Survey?
  4. How Much Does A Building Survey Cost?
  5. How Long Does It Take?
  6. What Does A Building Survey Report Look Like?
  7. Building Survey vs Structural Survey
  8. Homebuyers Report vs Building Survey
  9. What Questions Should I Ask a Building Surveyor?
  10. Learn More About Surveying

What's Included in a Building Survey?

The Building Survey will include a thorough external and internal inspection of the property. Your surveyor will provide a comprehensive survey report of their findings. They’ll also inspect all the visible and accessible areas of the property.

A Building Survey will look at the following:

  • Check for defects that could potentially be serious
  • Scan property for hazardous materials such as asbestos
  • Examine property for any signs of damp within walls
  • Highlight any structural work done without permission
  • Find out what material the property is made from
  • Check for any damage to the roof or structural timbers
  • Assess any threatening trees near the property
  • Recommend solution for any areas of concerns
What Does a Structural Survey Cover

What Does A Building Survey Look At?

Use the following to act as a Building Survey checklist:

Internally:

  • Woodworm and rot
  • Dampness and condensation
  • Ceilings
  • Walls and floors
  • Chimney breasts and joinery

Externally:

  • Roof space: Full inspection of the roof
  • Chimneys
  • Gutters
  • Main walls
  • Windows and doors
  • Drainage and boundaries

Other:

  • Garages
  • Conservatories
  • Tenure
  • Services

A valuation is not included but can be requested for an additional charge.

To learn more, read What Does a Surveyor Look For.

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When Do You Need a Building Survey?

The Building Survey can be used on any type of property. It’s more suited for buildings that are over 50 years of age or buildings that have specific and obvious defects that need reviewing. The following situations will need a Building Survey:

When do you need building survey

How Much Does A Building Survey Cost?

The average Building Survey cost for 2022 is £800. This is based on our own data using the average UK property price of £277,00 as an example.

We've put together the average Level 3 Home Survey costs for a range of property prices.

Property PriceAvg. Cost of Building Survey
up to £100,000£630
£100,001 - £200,000£700
£200,001 - £300,000£800
£300,001 - £400,000£900
£400,001 to £500,000+£990+

To create the table Compare My Move took the average costs from a sample of 20 RICS Chartered Surveyors and Building Societies across the UK. Note that true survey costs will vary depending on your particular situation and area.

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How Long Does It Take?

A Building Survey can take anywhere between 4 to 8 hours to complete depending on the size of the property. The report is usually completed within 3 to 7 working days. The timing will vary depending on access and the property size. The timeline of a Building Survey is as follows:

Preparing for the survey

It is important to communicate well with your surveyor beforehand and understand the areas they will need access to. This will allow you to make sure that each area can be reached easily and safely ahead of time. For example, if the house you’re buying has a loft, it's a good idea to make sure that either you or the surveyor has a ladder long enough to reach the entrance.

Booking the survey

You should book a property survey once your offer has been accepted on the property. Once the survey has been complete, the price can be renegotiated based on any major work that needs to be done on the property.

On the day of the survey

For smaller properties, it will likely take 2 to 4 hours to complete and for larger properties it could take from 5 to 8 hours in total. The time it takes to complete the survey will depend on the size and accessibility of the property.

Receiving the report

You’re likely to receive your Building Survey report via email 3-7 working days after inspection. Although in some cases you may receive it via the post if you wish and you may be charged extra for this delivery.

Your surveyor should be able to give you a clearer indication of how long this will take once they have completed the home visit. You can also email your surveyor to check in on the progress if you don’t hear anything after a week.

To learn more, read how long does a survey take on a house.

What Does A Building Survey Report Look Like?

Building Surveys are designed to be easy to read and use a clear ‘traffic light code’. This highlights which areas are of most concern and may need immediate attention. The traffic light system includes:

Green - ‘Condition Rating 1':
This indicates that the area referenced needs no repairs and has no area of concern. These areas should continue to be maintained in a similar way to previously.

Amber - ‘Condition Rating 2’:
This highlights areas with defects that need repairing or replacing. These areas are unlikely to impact the overall value of the property but are likely to need some maintenance or repair in time.

Red - ‘Condition Rating 3’:
This highlights defects that are in need of urgent repair, and need to be replaced or investigated urgently. These are the areas that should be seriously considered as part of the overall purchase.

Here's an example of a Building Survey report to help you know what to expect during your survey, provided by Cambridge Building Surveyors.

Traffic light system for building survey report

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Building Survey vs Structural Survey

A Building Survey and a full structural survey are the same thing. The name of a Building Survey was previously a “full structural survey”. There are differences between a Level 3 Building Survey and a 'structural survey':

Building Survey:

  • A building or full structural survey must be completed by a RICS registered property surveyor.
  • A building survey consists of an inspection of all accessible areas, detailing any defects or maintenance issues.

Structural Survey:

  • Structural surveys can be conducted by Chartered Civils or Structural Engineers.
  • A structural survey is designed to look at the structural integrity of a property.

Homebuyers Report vs Building Survey

When it comes to buying a home, there are two main types of surveys which can be explored. Here we compare the main types of survey, including the Building Survey and HomeBuyers Report to help you choose which survey you need.

Building Survey (Level 3 Survey)Homebuyers Survey (Level 2 Survey)

Pros

  • Suited for older homes, those that may have structural issues or are built in an unconventional way.
  • A comprehensive and thorough survey with a hands on approach.
  • Assesses difficult to reach areas.
  • Can include projected costing and timelines for any repairs.
  • Useful if you plan to convert or extend a property.
  • Suited for the majority of homes.
  • Highlights most common areas of concern based on the general condition of the building.
  • Relatively low cost compared to a Building Survey.

Cons

  • Depending on the size of the property, it can take up to a day to complete.
  • The most expensive type of survey.
  • Only areas that are easily accessible are inspected.
  • Areas such as drains and under carpets are not assessed.

What Questions Should I Ask a Building Surveyor?

Q. Do surveyors look in cupboards?

A. Yes. Surveyors will open cupboards to check for hidden damage or defects that exist or potentially could get a lot worse. However, if moving contents of a cupboard could cause injury to the surveyor or without consent from the owner, the survey will not continue to assess the cupboards.

Q. Do surveyors look for Japanese knotweed?

A. Yes. A surveyor will notify the buyer of the presence of Japanese knotweed and other invasive plants during their survey.

Q. Do surveyors look in the loft?

A. Yes. Surveyors will look and inspect the loft for both a homebuyer report and a Building Survey. The roof is often where problems are easily hidden, especially as this is an area that isn't shown to buyers.

Q. Does a surveyor check the boiler?

A. A surveyor will check the boiler and electric meter if there aren't any risks of damaging anything.

Q. Will a surveyor move furniture to look for mould during a survey?

A. Yes. During a Building Survey, a surveyor will move furniture to examine behind that area, only if it doesn't pose threat of injury or damage.

Learn More About Surveying

This article has been part of our guide to surveying. Next, we take a look at both the Home Report in Scotland: The Home Report: Sellers Survey in Scotland

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Martha Lott

Written by Martha Lott

Having guest authored for many property websites, Martha now researches and writes articles for everything moving house related, from remortgages to conveyancing costs.

Graham Stephenson

Reviewed by Graham Stephenson

MRICS Director and Owner, MAP Chartered Surveyors

Founded in 1985, Graham's company, MAP Chartered Surveyors are RICS regulated and quality assured to British Standards.

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