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What is a Full Structural or Building Survey?

Written by Reviewed by Garrett O'Hanlon

18th Nov 2019 (Last updated on 1st Apr 2020) 11 minute read

A Building Survey or Full Structural Survey is a detailed and comprehensive look at the condition of a property. It deals with hard to reach places and structural issues. Although one of the more expensive survey types, the level of detail in the report makes it vital when buying older properties (particularly over 50 years old).

To prevent potential disasters when moving home and to give themselves extra peace of mind, many people will have a professional chartered surveyor to highlight any issues and work out how they are going to remedy them.

There are a number of 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 Full Structural/Building Survey.

This article will cover the following:
  1. What is a Full Structural Survey?
  2. What Does A Building Survey/Full Structural Survey Cover?
  3. When Do You Need a Full Structural Survey?
  4. How Much Does A Building Survey Cost?
  5. How Long Does A Full Structural Survey Take?
  6. What Does A Full Structural Survey Report Look Like?
  7. Building Survey vs. Homebuyers and Valuation
  8. Building Survey/Full Structural Survey FAQs
  9. Where to Find a Reliable Surveyor

What is a Full Structural Survey?

A Full Structural Survey or Building Survey is one of the most comprehensive house surveys you can undertake on a property. It's similar in many ways to the Homebuyer Survey in that it looks at certain aspects of a building and gives details of its condition and any potential concerns. It's a house survey specifically for older or unusually constructed buildings, or properties that need or have had renovation or extension work undertaken.

Unlike a Homebuyers Report, this type of house survey is 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.

When getting quotes for your building survey, you need to make sure that you are working with a competent and verified property surveyor. It is also important to ensure that they are regulated by RICS, as this is the organisation that provides guidance and sets the standards for surveyors, therefore guaranteeing a level of professionalism and giving you peace of mind.

What Does A Building Survey/Full Structural Survey Cover?

The Full Structural or Building Survey will include a thorough external and internal inspection of the property, resulting in a comprehensive survey report. The 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.

You are likely to receive your Building Survey report via email 5-7 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. Specifically, the surveyor will look at areas including:

  • Internally: Woodworm and rot, dampness and condensation, ceilings, walls and floors, chimney breasts and joinery
  • Externally: Roof, chimneys, gutters, main walls, windows and doors, drainage and boundaries
  • Roof space: Full inspection of the roof
  • Garages
  • Conservatories
  • Tenure
  • Services
  • A valuation is not included but can be if requested for an additional charge
What Does a Full Structural Survey Cover

When Do You Need a Full Structural Survey?

Much as the name suggests, the Building Survey or Full Structural Survey can indeed be used on any type of property. However, it's much more popular 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.

For example, 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. For buildings over 50 years old where it's more likely to be structural or ‘hidden’ damage, then the type of detailed report found in a Full Structural Survey is ideal.

This survey is also available for buildings of an unusual structure or made of unusual material. If you plan on undertaking renovation or extension work, or there has already been an extensive renovation, then this survey is also a worthwhile investment.

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, building survey or full structural survey costs will be around £500 to £1,500.

As we have previously mentioned, this 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.The exact cost varies widely depending on the size, condition and location of the house, as larger homes and those in clearly poor conditions are likely to take longer to complete. Accessibility may also impact 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.

It's always worth getting a number of quotes for this as prices can vary widely depending on the supplier. For guidance on why a building survey is worth the cost, check out our guide on why a property survey is needed.

Average building survey cost

How Long Does A Full Structural Survey Take?

A building burvey can take anywhere between 4 to 8 hours to complete depending on the size of the property, with the report being completed within 5 to 10 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 can book a building survey whenever you like. However, it's most commonly undertaken once an 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 negotiated 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 your new property 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 tenant 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, it can take anything from 5 to 10 working days to produce the full report and for it to be delivered to you.

Your surveyor should be able to give you a clearer indication of how long this will take once they have completed the home visit.

What Does A Full Structural 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. RICS have shared what a building survey looks like. To give an indication of how this code works, we've included an explanation below:

Green refers to ‘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 refers to ‘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 refers to ‘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.

However, unlike the Homebuyers Report, 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.

Check out our guide on what to do with bad survey results for more information on your next steps if the survey flags issues.

Traffic light system for building survey report

Building Survey vs. Homebuyers and Valuation

When it comes to buying a home, there are three main types of surveys which can be explored. Here we compare the main types of survey, including the Building Survey, Homebuyers Survey and a basic Valuation.

Building SurveyHomebuyers SurveyValuation

Pros

  • Excellent 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.
  • Excellent 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.
  • Useful in helping you secure a mortgage on the property.
  • Helps you ensure you are not paying over the odds for the property.

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.
  • Gives no details on the condition of the property or any potential issues that may be faced.

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.

Where to Find a Reliable Surveyor

We hope this guide has helped you understand every aspect of your Building Survey, and that you're fully informed on whether you need this particular survey type. Now it's time to find the perfect surveyor for the job! Although the more expensive option of survey, Compare My Move can help you save money when it matters by connecting you with up to 5 RICS accredited surveyors who are fully qualified and experienced to conduct a thorough investigation. Just fill out this quick and easy form to compare and save on your surveying costs.

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.

Garrett O'Hanlon

Reviewed by Garrett O'Hanlon

MRICS Director, MAP Chartered Surveyors and Homescore

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