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What Does a Surveyor Do and Look For?

Martha Lott

Written by Reviewed by Mike Ashton

1st Oct 2021 (Last updated on 15th Aug 2022) 5 minute read

A property surveyor will examine all visible aspects inside and outside the property you’re buying to highlight any potential issues or possible future risks. In most cases, they will examine all spaces that can be reasonably access.

Both a RICS Home Survey Level 2 and 3 will provide in-depth details on the property you plan to buy. But a RICS Home Survey Level 3 will provide the most in-depth examination, meaning the surveyor will include more information in the report.

If you have any particular concerns or queries, you should raise this prior to the house survey so the surveyor can ensure they assess it if they can. This article will highlight what surveyors will usually do and look for during your survey.

A property surveyor will do the following:
  1. 1. Give an overall opinion and summary of the condition
  2. 2. Provide important information about the property
  3. 3. Examine outside the property
  4. 4. Examine inside the property
  5. 5. Report dangerous materials
  6. 6. Check services
  7. 7. Inspect grounds such as shared areas for flats
  8. 8. Highlights legal issues for your solicitor
  9. 9. Highlight the main risks
  10. 10. Give an impartial valuation
  11. Learn More About Surveying

1. Give an overall opinion and summary of the condition

The main role of a surveyor is to give an overall condition rating of the property, highlighting any defects to help you assess whether the property is a “reasonable” purchase or not.

They will then list all the areas they examined and categorise them using the traffic light condition rating system. Each area will receive a 1, 2 or 3, with 3 meaning the issues need urgent repair.

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2. Provide important information about the property

A surveyor will also make note of important details regarding the property’s age and type. They will detail the following under “about the property” on your report:

  • Type of property
  • Year it was built
  • Year it was extended if necessary
  • Year it was converted if necessary
  • Number of room and accomodation
  • Energy efficiency rating
  • Environmental impact rating
  • Whether mains gas, electricity, water and drainage services are present
  • If central heating is gas, electric, solid fuel or oil
  • Basic information on the local environment, facilities, location and grounds

3. Examine outside the property

A chartered surveyor will carry out a detailed examination of the outside of the property, from ground level. Your survey report will have a box labelled “limitations to inspection” which will usually highlight any limitations or assumptions the surveyor has made, for example that the areas examined were ones that could be readily seen from ground level.

Your surveyor will look at each of the following and give them an individual condition rating:

  • Chimney stacks
  • Roof coverings
  • Rainwater pipes and gutters
  • Main walls
  • Windows
  • Outside doors
  • Conservatory and porches
  • Other joinery and finishes

It should also be noted that your surveyor won’t check all of the windows in the home. RICS instructions state only a random sample of windows should be opened.

4. Examine inside the property

Your property surveyor will inspect all accessible areas inside the property.

Both the RICS Home Survey Level 2 and Home Survey Level 3 are non-intrusive. This means the surveyor can’t rip up floorboards or drill holes even if they can’t access certain areas. This is to avoid any risk of personal injury, damage or liability for the vendor’s property or belongings.

Surveyors will try their best to examine the roof space, but it might not be possible if there is little or no access or if their view in the roofspace is seriously limited. They won’t move or interfere with possessions to enter the roof space.

Each area examined will have a detailed write up on what the surveyor found, along with a condition rating and reasons for the rating.

Your surveyor will look at:

  • Roof structure
  • Ceilings
  • Walls and partitions
  • Floors (if not covered)
  • Fireplaces, chimney breasts and flutes
  • Built-in fittings
  • Woodwork (staircase and joinery)
  • Bathroom fittings

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5. Report dangerous materials

Whilst inspecting the property, your surveyor will also look for any dangerous materials used in the construction of the building.

These can include:

  • Asbestos
  • Lead
  • Historic plaster
  • Fibreglass insulation

Whilst these materials are no longer used, some period houses may still contain traces.

6. Check services

Your surveyor will also do a basic check of the main services within the property. As the services are generally hidden within the construction of the property, surveyors can only inspect services that are visible to them.

It should be noted that surveyors won’t carry out specialist tests and their basic inspection can’t examine if the services work safely. It’s advised to hire a professional to check electrics and plumbing. You should also ask your solicitor to provide the relevant safety certificates from the seller.

Where they can, a surveyor will visually inspect:

  • Electricity
  • Gas/oil
  • Water
  • Heating
  • Water heating
  • Drainage
  • Common services

7. Inspect grounds such as shared areas for flats

Your surveyor will assess the condition of the grounds by walking around the property and gardens, visually inspecting the following:

  • Boundary walls
  • Fences
  • Footpaths
  • Decking areas
  • Permanent outbuildings
  • Areas in common, which is especially important if you're buying a flat with shared areas
  • Dangerous and invasive plants such as Japanese Knotweed

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8. Highlights legal issues for your solicitor

A surveyor will highlight any legal issues within the property and grounds that should be raised with your conveyancing solicitor before exchanging contracts. This typically includes things such as:

  • Checking building regulations and planning permission for extensions
  • Ensuring there's a warranty to cover windows or doors or a FENSA certificate
  • Engineers' certificates for gas central heating
  • Electric safety check certificates

9. Highlight the main risks

Your surveyor will conclude their report by listing the main risks they found within the property and grounds. It will summarise defects and issues that might potentially pose a threat to the building, grounds and people. Risks to people will include getting a safety check on the main services.

Risks to the building might include chimney stacks whereas ground issues might be environmental factors such as shrinkable subsoil. Your Environmental Search will detail more on this.

Other risks could include:

10. Give an impartial valuation

If requested, your surveyor will provide their valuation for the property.

This will include their opinion on the market value of the home and the current reinstatement cost of the property. This estimates how much it would cost to rebuild the property.

Learn More About Surveying

This is part of our surveying guide. In the next article, we explore the different types of property survey. To learn more, read what survey do I need?

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, Cambridge Building Surveyors

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