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What Is A Property Survey and Why You Should Get One

Written by Reviewed by Mike Ashton

6th Apr 2018 (Last updated on 30th Jul 2020) 9 minute read

A property survey is an important service when buying a flat or a house. You shouldn't underestimate the importance of a property survey as it will highlight any issues with the house before you commit to buy it.

Buying a flat or a house will be the biggest transaction most of us will ever make, so choosing the cheapest and most basic valuation inspection necessary in order to secure a mortgage on a property is the choice most people go for.

Unfortunately, a valuation inspection is not a survey, and will not usually tell you what you need to know about a property before you commit to buy it.

We'll explore the different types of correct property survey which should be carried out, including the benefits and what each survey will pick up on. We'll also look at how much money you can save on different property surveys, as well as how you can use survey results to negotiate on price.

This article will cover the following:
  1. What Is a Property Survey?
  2. What Are the Main Types of House Survey
  3. Why You Should Get A Property Survey
  4. What is Included In a Property Survey?
  5. How Much Money Can A Survey Save You?
  6. Save on Your Surveying

What Is a Property Survey?

A property survey is carried out by a professional chartered surveyor to examine the condition and structure of the house you're buying.

Unfortunately, only 20% of people arrange a property survey, with many people assuming it will be too expensive and delay the home buying process. In fact, a property survey will highlight any structural damage or serious altercations which you might not have spotted yourself, ending up saving you money in the long-run, and will give you valuable advice on a number of other matters you may not have considered. 

Having a property survey will give you peace of mind before you commit to buying the house. You’ll also need a Mortgage Valuation report as part of your mortgage if you are using one, but this is not enough to provide a detailed report of potential damage and risks. In most cases, you should hire a professional surveyor to carry out one of the more in-depth surveys available to you.

What Are the Main Types of House Survey

When it comes to property surveys there are three main types of survey that can be undertaken;

  1. Condition report (Level One)- A condition report is the most basic property survey and is suited for modern and conventional properties. This survey is not an in-depth assessment. 
  2. Home buyers report (Level Two)- A homebuyers report offers a deeper examination of the building and looks at the key areas that often have issues in modern homes. 
  3. Building Survey (Level Three) - A 'full structural' or building survey is the most comprehensive survey. It will look at specific areas and is particularly useful for older or unusual builds.

These are the main types of house surveys available to home buyers. But, if you're purchasing a new build property, then you should also consider having a snagging list done as well as a condition report.

Why You Should Get A Property Survey

Although getting a survey may seem like an unnecessary extra moving house cost, there are many benefits to consider before writing it off. It's very unlikely that you'll discover everything you need to know about the property from a house viewing, so a property survey will provide you with the in-depth information from a seasoned and highly-qualified professional. It will help you decide whether to continue with the purchase.

Getting a Homebuyer Report or a Building Survey will not only provide you with a detailed list of what issues are present in the property, but they will also provide you with the following benefits:

1. Peace of Mind

For most people, buying a home is probably the biggest purchase of their life. For this reason, is can be a stressful time with a lot of risk involved. For example, if you end up paying a premium for a property only to move in and find that there are a huge number of issues with it, this could cost you a vast amount of extra money, putting you in a very difficult position.

Although the results of the survey may not be the most welcome news, at least you know the risks and potential costs. As a survey is usually undertaken before the sale goes through this also allows you to back out of the sale if required. 

2. Negotiation

A Homebuyers report or building survey will give you a detailed list of everything that is or may later be an issue with the property. A full structural survey can also provide estimated costs for any damage noted as a further service if required. The results from a homebuyer report can be passed on to a professional to offer a quote for the repair work. You could also use your survey results to have a more detailed survey.

Negative survey results can be used to negotiate on a few things. You can either negotiate your original offer on the house to cover the repair costs, or the seller may offer to fix the issues. For example, if repairs to the property are likely to cost you around £5,000 to remedy, you should be able to negotiate the house price with at least some of this amount to be taken off of the value of the property. 

3. Security

Once you've received your survey results, you should have a solid understanding of exactly what the chartered surveyor has looked at and what the potential issues are. Although most surveys cannot look at every aspect of a building, the surveyor will state where these are and advise whether they think further investigations should be carried out, or where hidden risks are likely. 

For this reason, you gain a good amount of security that either this issue has been identified or that there is someone accountable for missing it. You should always check the terms and conditions and the small print of your report to identify what the surveyor is responsible for.

4. Planning

Buying and moving into a new home is no small task. With many aspects to consider such as packing and moving all your belongings, setting up all the utilities and other admin that needs to be completed. For this reason, unplanned surprises when you have moved in can cause a lot of inconvenience, cost and worry when settling into your new home.

Getting a survey completed mitigates a large amount of the risk that this produces. It will let you know exactly what issues you may face and plan them into the wider picture of moving into your new home. You can factor your surveying costs into your moving budget. 

What is Included In a Property Survey?

There are a range of common issues highlighted by surveys, but below we highlight what each of the three main types of survey will pick up on.

Don't forget that a mortgage valuation is usually required by mortgage providers to tell them how much the property is actually worth and whether they will recover their loan quickly if they need to repossess the house and sell it. Although a mortgage valuation will note any major risks with the property, it will not give any further information on these and is of little use to you as a purchaser.  Although you will usually pay for the mortgage valuation, It is increasing common for mortgage lenders not to pass the report on to purchasers, and will simply say whether they are happy to lend against the property or not

As a purchaser, it is therefore important that you arrange one of the following types of survey instead.

1. Condition Report (Level One)

A Condition Report is the most basic property survey. It's not an in-depth survey, and will only give a simple report on the condition of the house. This survey is suitable for modern flats and conventional properties. 

2. Homebuyers Report (Level Two)

A Homebuyers report is the next step up from a condition report. This type of survey will help highlight any major issues with the property such as subsidence or damp, as well as any other hidden issues both internally and externally to the property.

Like all surveys, this report looks at issues that are apparent at the surface and does not check under floorboards or behind walls for any issues that are hidden from reasonable view.

The report may include a valuation but does not have to. 

3. Building Survey (Level 3)

A building survey (sometimes called a 'full structural survey') takes a much more detailed look at the property than a Condition Report or Homebuyers report. The surveyor will undertake a full look at the various aspects which make up the property such as the types of materials that have been used, the condition of the roof, the integrity and structure of the walls and the state of the floors.

Your report will detail each aspect that the surveyor has looked at, the condition of that aspect and any recommendations that they have moving forward. If requested the report may also contain cost considerations for the elements included.

How Much Money Can A Survey Save You?

It is very difficult to say exactly how much a survey may save you in the long run as it varies enormously between properties. Research by RICS discovered that 4 in 5 homeowners who bought a property without having a property survey typically spent on average £5,750 in unexpected repair costs. 

For example, if your property needs work to damp proof it, this may cost from £200 for a single wall in a terrace property through to several thousand pounds for a larger detached house. This may cost even more if the damp requires wall repairs or re-plastering. Other issues such as damaged or defective roofs may cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand pounds to remedy and faulty drainage can cost from £500 - £1,500+ to fix.

As a survey will give you the information you need to cost the repairs required this will allow you to negotiate on the overall cost of the property and ultimately may save you thousands of pounds in repairs. Although you may not always be able to negotiation the full cost of repairs, you should at least be able to find a middle ground where the seller covers some cost.

If you did not complete a survey and discovered these issues after the sale has been completed then it is very unlikely they would cover any of these costs. We've put together a guide on how to deal with bad survey results so you can keep fully informed.

You can use your survey results to negotiate on the original offer you made on the house.

Save on Your Surveying

We hope this guide has left you fully informed on why you need a property survey, and the ways in which it benefits you. Although surveys can be a bringer of bad news, it's best to be fully informed when moving into a new property. A survey may save you some serious headache a few years down the line.

When you're ready, you can use Compare My Move to compare surveyors for a range of surveying options, saving you time and money in the process. We only deal with the best RICS certified surveyors, all trusted and verified by Compare My Move.

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.