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What is a Building Survey or Full Structural Survey?

Martha Lott

Written by Reviewed by Graham Stephenson

18th Nov 2019 (Last updated on 4th Jan 2021) 9 minute read

A building survey, previously known as a full structural survey and sometimes still called a structural survey, is one of the most comprehensive property surveys you can have when buying a house.

It's similar in many ways to the homebuyers survey in that it looks at certain aspects of a building and gives details of its condition and any potential concerns, but a building survey is more suited to older or unusually constructed buildings.

The building survey is a type of property survey that’s much more detailed and will look into areas that are hard to reach. It will outline any defects of the property, their apparent cause, the urgency at which repairs are required and in most cases, cost considerations for making those repairs.

There are a few types of property surveys available, all with a different price point and with a different level of information and detail included. In this guide, Compare My Move explains everything you need to know about the building survey.

This article will cover the following:
  1. What Does A Building Survey Cover?
  2. When Do You Need a Building Survey?
  3. How Much Does A Building Survey Cost?
  4. How Long Does A Building Survey Take?
  5. What Does A Building Survey Report Look Like?
  6. Building Survey vs Structural Survey
  7. Homebuyers Report vs Building Survey
  8. Building Survey/Full Structural Survey FAQs
  9. Learn More About Surveying

What Does A Building Survey Cover?

The building survey will include a thorough external and internal inspection of the property, resulting in a comprehensive survey report. The property surveyor will inspect all the visible and accessible areas of the property including walls, cellars, floors, windows, doors, roofs, garages and more. 

This will be confirmed in their terms and conditions to you once you have confirmed you would like to proceed. The surveyor can take into consideration specific concerns and can pay particular attention to those areas. This can be reflected in their report.

A building survey will cover the following:

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.

What Does a Full Structural Survey Cover

When Do You Need a Building Survey?

Much as the name suggests, the building survey can indeed be used on any type of property. However, it's much more suited for buildings that are over 50 years of age or buildings that have specific and obvious defects that need reviewing. This is primarily due to the level of details included within the report and the relative cost compared to other options. You’ll need a building survey if the property is:

  • Historically unique or listed properties
  • Older than 50 years
  • Unconventional or uniquely built
  • Within conservation areas
  • Have had or plan to have renovation work 
  • In bad condition 

For homes under 50 years of age, a survey such as a homebuyers survey is likely to be suitable as it will cover any areas of concern but without costing a large amount of money. Likewise, for a new build that won't have long-term structural issues, it's recommended that you at least get a snagging list. 

If you are purchasing a historically unique or listed property, read our guide on Listed Building Surveys where we explain what is a specialist Building Survey. And remember, if you're moving to or within Scotland, check out our guide on The Home Report as the process is slightly different compared to the rest of the UK. To be fully prepared for your survey, check out our moving house checklist which will help give you a timeline for your move.

When do you need building survey

How Much Does A Building Survey Cost?

Depending on the size of your home, your building survey costs will be around £500 to £1,500. The building survey is one of the most expensive surveys that you can have undertaken on your home and it should be budgeted into the total cost of buying a house.

Accessibility may also impact the cost as the surveyor will need access to almost every area of the building and limited access can lead to extended time or specialist kit being required.

We've put together the average cost of a building survey 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.

Average building survey cost

How Long Does A Building Survey Take?

A building survey can take anywhere between 4 to 8 hours to complete depending on the size of the property, with the report being completed within 3 to 7 working days. The timing will vary depending on access and the property size, so let's have a look at what goes into the timing of a building survey.

Booking the survey

You should book a property survey once your offer has been accepted on the property. Offers are usually accepted on the basis that no major concerns are found upon the survey. Once the survey has been complete, the price can be renegotiated based on any major work that needs to be done on the property.

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.

If your new home still has its old owner on-site, you will also need to make sure you coordinate with them to ensure it's okay for the survey to take place. This can be quite a disruptive process, so it's a good idea to check when they are happy for you to carry it out.

On the day of the survey

Again this widely depends on the size, accessibility and location of the property you are purchasing. For smaller properties, it will likely take 2 to 4 hours to complete and for larger properties it's likely to take anything from 5 to 8 hours in total.

When will you receive the report?

Depending on the size of the property and survey type, you are 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. 

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. There is no complicated jargon to decipher and the layout is simple and easy to understand. 

However, unlike the homebuyers survey, the building survey will go into more detail on each aspect as well as covering a much wider variety of aspects about the building. In addition, the report will also include details on what possible repairs and maintenance may cost as a result. This is especially useful if you choose to renegotiate on the cost of the property moving forwards.

RICS have shared what a building survey looks like. To give an indication of how this code works, we've included an explanation below. Check out our guide on what to do with bad survey results for more information on your next steps if the survey flags issues.

Colour Condition RatingWhat This Means

Green

‘Condition Rating 1'

This indicates that the area referenced needs no repairs and has no area of concern, these 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 but are not considered as serious. 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 or series repair, need to be replaced or investigated urgently. These are the areas that should be seriously considered as part of the overall purchase. They may be areas that make the purchase void, or they may be areas that can allow you to renegotiate house offer based on potential repair costs.


Traffic light system for building survey report

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” with many people still calling it a “structural survey”. When looking for a building survey or a structural survey, most chartered surveyors will have it listed as a building survey on their services.

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 survey to help you choose which survey you need.

Building SurveyHomebuyers 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.

Building Survey/Full Structural Survey FAQs

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 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 the specialist survey, a listed building survey. To learn more read what is a listed 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.

Graham Stephenson

Reviewed by Graham Stephenson

MRICS Director, MAP Chartered Surveyors

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