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What sort of survey should I have?

Only 20% of people get a professional property survey before buying a new home. They can be costly, not worth the paper they are written on, and hold you up buying your home. But having a survey can also mean avoiding a lot of expense and stress – if you are smart about it

What is a mortgage valuation?

  • Mortgage valuations are not surveys – they are just cursory looks at a property to assess how much it is worth, with a note about any major works that might be necessary and would affect its value
  • If you get a mortgage, the lending company will insist on using people they trust to conduct the mortgage valuation, to ensure the property is sufficient security for the loan
  • You will usually have to pay for this, though some lenders will cover some of the costs for you, especially if they are trying to attract your custom
  • Some lenders allow you to add the cost of the valuation onto your mortgage and pay it off over time
  • Valuations can be shockingly expensive given that so little work is involved in doing them, but buyers have no choice but to get them
  • Different lenders can charge very different amounts for mortgage valuations
  • But, while you should be aware of the valuation costs, you should not choose a worse value mortgage based on saving a few hundred pounds. A lower interest rate will save you far more in the long run
  • Particularly in a difficult property market, mortgage valuations are often incredibly cautious, putting a deliberately low value on the property. This is to reduce risk for the mortgage company, but can cause problems for homebuyers if the value says the property is not worth what they are paying for it

So, what is a survey?

A survey is supposedly a detailed inspection of a property’s condition. The surveyor will inspect the property and tell you if there are:

  • Structural problems like walls almost falling down or subsidence
  • Major repairs or alterations needed like roof or chimney chute repairs, or rewiring
  • Expert commentary on the property, from the type of wall to the type of glazing

Who does the survey?

  • Surveys should be carried out by qualified surveyors
  • Most qualified surveyors are members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
  • We recommend using a RICS qualified surveyor because they carry professional indemnity insurance
  • If you can get a local surveyor they are likely to have a better knowledge of local market values
  • Equally, if you are buying an unusual house, like a lighthouse or a castle, get a surveyor with experience in that specific field

Costs vary from company to company, and depend on the size and location of the property. You can instantly find and compare quotes from local surveyors using our find a surveyor tool.

Do I need to get a survey?

Surveys can be very useful – they can help you avoid expensive surprises (like an unexpected rewiring job), as well as giving you peace of mind by telling you that those hairline cracks don’t mean the house is falling down. For those who have never owned a property before, a survey can be immensely reassuring.

With the information from the survey you might reconsider whether to buy the property or try and renegotiate the price – if you find it needs £15,000 of roof repairs, it is reasonable to ask for £15,000 off the price. Alternatively, you might ask the seller to fix the problems before you buy it.

Often though, surveys can be an expensive waste of time, and experienced buyers often don’t bother with them. The surveyor comes in, has a cursory look around and, and tells you that you might have damp and that you probably do not have problems with your gas or electricity – but they cannot say either for sure, and recommends that you seek further advice. Homebuyers often find surveyors are so keen to cover their backs that their reports are so cautious they are essentially meaningless. A lot what they do say with confidence can be blatantly obvious to anyone with experience of owning a property. Sometimes surveyors advise doing work that is in reality entirely unnecessary, but because it is in the survey, the mortgage lender insists on you doing it.

However, it can be particularly worthwhile getting a survey if:

  • you are looking to buy a very old or unusual property
  • the property has a thatched roof or is timber framed
  • the building is listed
  • you have any specific worries about any part of the property
  • you feel very unsure about what sort of condition the property is in

The HomeOwners Alliance can guide you as to what type of survey is best for you and how to find a surveyor. To see how we can help, find out more about becoming a member of the HomeOwners Alliance

What sort of survey should I get?

There are a number of different types of survey. What you will want depends on the condition and age of your house, and how much you decide to spend.

Condition Report

This is the most basic survey you can get, and will probably be a complete waste of money unless you have no experience of property and just want reassurance:

  • It is designed to complement the mortgage valuation
  • It provides ‘traffic light’ indications as to the state of various parts of the property. Green means everything is ok, orange is some cause for concern, and red means serious repairs are vital
  • It also provides you with a summary of risks to the building, but is rarely useful
  • It does not include any advice nor a valuation

HomeBuyers Report

This is a more detailed survey:

  • It will tell you any obvious major problems – obvious rot, subsidence, etc.
  • It includes a valuation and an insurance reinstatement value (how much you would receive were the building to burn down)
  • But, the surveyor is non-intrusive: they will not look behind furniture, nor lift up floor boards or drill any holes, so any report they draw up is limited
  • Furthermore, HomeBuyers Reports are usually so full of caveats and statements designed to cover the surveyors back that they are often pointless

Building Survey

Building surveys are expensive, but can sometimes be worth the investment:

  • They range between under £500 to nearly £2000 depending on the size of the home
  • They are extensive surveys and you will be given a detailed report at the end
  • Building surveys are valuable if you are looking at a very old, unusual, listed, timber framed, or thatched property
  • It is also good to have a full building survey done if you want to do some serious building works
  • The surveyor will get into the attic, check behind walls, and look between floors and above ceilings
  • It includes advice on repairs, and provides estimated timings and costs, and will tell you what will happen if you do not do the repairs
  • Unless specified, it probably will not include an insurance reinstatement value estimate, or a market valuation.

How can I get the most out of my survey?

We often hear complaints that survey reports come with so many caveats that it is difficult to know how to respond to them. Here are a few things that might help you get the most out of your surveyor:

  • If you can find a good surveyor who is conscientious you will get much better value for money
  • Ask friends and family; ask for references & check references; ask if you can see copies of past reports – will that sort of report be useful for your situation?
  • Walk through the house with them – make sure they look at everything, move furniture and peer out of windows
  • Ask questions – point out things that worry you and ask about them. It’s your house so you should understand everything

With our find a surveyor service you’ll receive a building survey estimate on your property from chartered surveyors working in your local area. Find out more >

 What to do if issues are flagged in your survey

For more advice on what to do if the property you want to buy has problems flagged in the survey, consider becoming a member of the HomeOwners Alliance to speak to our helpful team


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25 Comments

  1. Dear Richard,

    Read over the report from your full building survey, however, I would think it is very likely to include disclaimers meaning it would be very difficult to claim against the surveyor. Best option would be to see what your insurers have to say.

    Hope it goes well.

    Kind regards,

    Sophie
    HomeOwners Alliance Team

    Comment by Sophie Khan — November 17, 2016 @ 3:52 pm

  2. Hi, We had a full building survey carried out in March 2013 on our 1952 detached house. The survey came back stating that there were no issues with the roof and the surveyor inspected the loft space as part of it. I have now found that there has been some movement of the roof over a long period of time and the weight of the roof and pearling has rotated the 4″x2″ timbers that the trusses sit on, and there are cracks in the single skin wall that this sits on. This has been an issue before we bought the place because there are two wood wedges that have been inserted previously. Can you tell me how I can deal with this situation, and whether I should contact the surveyors or go through our house insurance?
    Many thanks,
    Rich

    Comment by Richard Gibson — November 16, 2016 @ 8:20 am

  3. Dear Saakib,

    Thanks for your query. Have a look at our guides on: Buy to Let & Buy to Let mortgages explained – the section on landlord responsibilities highlights some of your legal responsibilities as a landlord. Also see our other useful guides: What sort of survey should I have?. Also, DIY Quick Check Survey for house hunters.

    You can compare quotes for surveyors here: Building Survey: get local price comparisons. If you would like to find a managing or letting agent to manage the property for you whilst you rent it out you can obtain further information on estate agents here and then enter lettings under the type of sale, once the results come up: Find the best estate agent for you They could guide you further on specifics of renting out the property, such as number of tenants you will have, type of tenancy, documents and checks to have in place.

    Kind regards,

    Sophie
    HomeOwners Alliance Team

    Comment by Sophie Khan — November 3, 2016 @ 1:09 pm

  4. Hi,

    I am looking to buy a student accommodation flat for letting purposes and would think getting a surveyor to check all aspect and give me a verdict on the approximation of the flat value. Please assist me in letting me know things I must consider and try allocate me the perfect surveyor for the job.

    Thank You,

    Saakib Khan

    Comment by Saakib Khan — October 28, 2016 @ 10:19 pm

  5. Dear Kim,

    Thanks for your query. Do have a look at our information guide: Leasehold v Freehold – what’s the difference?. You may also read about: Service charges and maintenance companies: problems with your leasehold property. If you wish to enquire further about surveyors, you may do so here: Building Survey: get local price comparisons.

    Best wishes with this.

    Kind regards,

    Sophie
    HomeOwners Alliance Team

    Comment by Sophie Khan — October 13, 2016 @ 2:42 pm

  6. I am buying a purpose built flat which is a 3 storey block. I am buying the middle flat. It is leasehold and there is an annual service charge of £1300. Do I need an independent survey?
    It seems like it could be a waste of money to me, but at the same time I am listening to the other posts on this site and it’s making me nervous. Please help!!

    Comment by Kim — October 13, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

  7. You can only ask, I have since spoke with a independent RICS surveyor and he said i quote “if you buy me a pint I’ll sit down with you and we can look at anything that gives you concern” he then said he would meet afterwards for lunch and talk me through documents. I would say not to go with a bank and give it to a independent surveyor, don’t get stung like I did for the sake of £400…It really isn’t worth it! That simple payment would have stopped me from making the biggest mistake of my life, It has pretty much ruined my life and will take me a lot of work to try and rectify it. Wishing for a housing boom now to at least get out a little less unharmed.

    Comment by Ralph — April 22, 2016 @ 11:55 am

  8. This site and comments are so helpful – thank you. We have requested a full building survey on the property we are hoping to buy. The surveyor is being engaged through our mortgage company. My query is this… can I ask the surveyor to check on particular parts of the building? We would like to know that the patio doors (all along one wall) are sound and not drafty, that the single brick walls have been insulated on the interior as advised, the condition of the flat roof is good etc. Unsure what/if any say I might have prior to the survey starting. Any help appreciated. Many thanks.

    Comment by Jayne — April 11, 2016 @ 2:37 pm

  9. To Sue; Id still say, unless you are buying a house under a 10 year NHBC guarantee I would always opt for independent full structural survey, ALWAYS. Its honestly not worth the risk, there are plenty of independent companies who will complete a full report for you, some will even allow you to attend the survey with them if you are cheeky, they can point out issues to you. If I had simply just paid the extra 400 pounds for an independent report I could have saved myself and my family so much distress and worry as well as probably haggling 15k off the asking price, if I had even dared to buy it at all. Its so easy to make a turd glittery, especially if the seller is an experienced flipper! As I posted before just because you cannot see damp or rotten timbers does not mean anything at all, my seller I bought from had simply covered everything in timber framed dry lining finish and then skimmed without even using skrim tape, this became apparent as soon as we put the heating on. You are right “The monitor” No surveyor would have picked up on that but I am pretty sure they would have said, property has been drylined and I am unable to check behind plasterboard for signs of damp, that would have started alarm bells ringing for me. He would have also noted the asbestos roof and rotten timbers and fact that the fuse board had been replaced but no earth wires or bonding was attached, he would have also noted that the boiler was not vented and that the flat roofs were both coming towards the end of their lives, plus various other things that maybe I didn’t notice, the 6mm wire to the shower was the scariest!. Valuations which the banks perform are to so dangerous; for example, the property which was a 1940s semi detached was valued by Countrywide Surveyors at £110.000 with only one comment relating to the kitchen flat roof stating “Flat roofs have a 25 year lifespan and it may require changing eventually”. I part exchanged it for new build in the end which Barratts processed giving me a fair deal but I had to buy a very poor plot (very hasty in hindsight as I probably should have just tried fixing the money pit) but given the fact it needed at least 20k worth of renovation just off the top of my head and that was just for basic essentials boiler, electrics, roofs I gave up. It was resold for £85,000, the buyers bank then valued the property at £74,000 thus the buyer had to drop out. Not getting a survey is in my honest opinion completely stark raving mad and as I have said before I would hate for anyone to have to experience what myself and my family have endured. Its currently on rightmove as we speak for 89,995. All in I feel like I have just been scammed from start to finish and it would have all been avoided had I just shelled out 400-500 quid for an independent survey. Don’t be a Ralph…get a full survey!

    Comment by Ralph — April 7, 2016 @ 1:01 pm

  10. Please explain how a Surveyor can “look behind walls” and “above ceilings”, without damaging the fabric of the property. To do so would mean that the Surveyor would be guilty of a charge of causing Criminal Damage.

    Comment by The Monitor — March 27, 2016 @ 3:02 pm

  11. Have read all the posts here with great interest. This site is an excellent mine of information for all of us on this sometimes fraught journey.

    I have just bought, subject to contract so I am crossing my fingers, a ground floor flat in a three storey building, managed by a reputable housing association which also holds the lease. I have been told that the association is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the fabric of the building and for the insurance except for my own contents and third party injury insurance. I have no doubt that my solicitors will check that out.

    A friend and I walked around the outside of the property and examined it as closely as we could from ground level, including the guttering, and believe it to be in sound order. The inside of the flat itself has no signs of damp and the woodwork appears to be sound.

    These being the case, I’d welcome advice as to what sort of survey I should commission and most importantly when during this process it should take place. For various reasons on which I don’t care to elaborate (sorry!), I would not want to do it until I can have more of a “feel” that the purchase is likely to go through.

    Comment by Sue Vogel — January 31, 2016 @ 3:55 pm

  12. Who puts a value on property 4 estate agents valued my sons house had 7 viewers 1st week 5 offers above value accepted one then survey said nothing wrong but thought it was over priced for area so a mortgage was denied back on market accepted another offer again above the price oh dear the same surveyer turns up the same thing happens again cant understand it as the property is regarded as great value by 4 estate agents

    Comment by allen — January 13, 2016 @ 11:31 am

  13. I think that I may be I a similar situation to Ralph, my husband, and myself, are in the process of purchasing a flat which is leasehold. We have had a homebuyers survey carried out, which in parts could sound quite alarming. However, we are not qualified surveyors but believe that the surveyor may have been covering her back on certain issues. The similarity to Ralph, is in that we do need repairs to the roof, asbestos worries and old windows. We are having all of the radiators changed before we move in. I have now been advised to get a copy of the leasehold terms before exchange of contract. I am in a dilemma as to whether to continue with the purchase, these problems are weighing heavily upon me and causing me many sleepless nights!

    Comment by Susan — January 8, 2016 @ 2:17 am

  14. PLEASE ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS get a full survey, I do not care if the property looks amazing, I am one of the unlucky who was stung buy thinking I knew better and got a valuation, the result over 20,000 pounds worth of renovations required electrics, mould growth, damp, low water table, wet rot, rood leaking, timbers cut in loft, asbestos, lead water supply, leaking flat roofs, condensation issues, old windows, boiler issues. It was a complete disaster and resulted in my having severe depression and anxiety issues. This decision literally changed the course of my life and I would not wish it to happen to anyone else, Estate agents are no better than bankers, using smoke and mirror tactics to tell you how amazing the property is, foolishly I fell for it and lost out BIG TIME!!!

    Comment by Ralph — January 7, 2016 @ 11:58 am

  15. £600 survey not worth the paper it’s printed on, they’ll happily take your money and recommend you do £30k worth of work, but it won’t stand up in court if you need to rely on it… You’ll need “Expert Witness” costing £1,300… it’s amazing how many “Surveyors” will refuse to even often this as a service which shows they can’t be trusted on anything if they aren’t prepared to ever have their work scrutinised.

    Comment by metronome — January 4, 2016 @ 7:51 pm

  16. Just be careful as even some RICS chartered surveyors tell lies. Just selling my house and first buyer had a survey done, my wife was in at the time and RCIS surveyor said there was woodworm, the roof needed replaced and the electric fuse box and wiring needed replaced. He also handily happened to have some numbers of people he knew who would do the work…. Buyer pulled out and we lost the sale. I then had an independent electrician and a roofer come in and inspect the house, result a single fuse needed replaced due to new regs and three tiles were replaced.

    Both the roofer and electrician were appalled at the remarks made by the supposedly expert surveyor.

    Comment by Mac McCully — October 14, 2015 @ 1:34 pm

  17. Use a chartered building surveyor who is A member of RICS with An honours degree and the report will be far better and useful than many people out there calling themselves ‘surveyors’.

    Comment by Alan Walton — April 1, 2015 @ 11:25 pm

  18. “We recommend using a RICS qualified surveyor because they carry professional indemnity insurance”

    Independent surveyors such as our practice ALSO (in a lot of cases) have MORE qualifications along with more than appropriate levels of PI and PL insurance.

    Very poor comment that one!

    Comment by Ian Gibb — January 20, 2015 @ 2:53 pm

  19. Had a valuation survey which I was charged by Bank £400 for. Different types of survey were not discussed in any detail, made a decision over phone. Do banks get a cut of the valuation fee ? (Surveyor told me on review of my complaint that they don’t receive the full amount ie Banks take a cut). That is a hidden fee if that is the case?. Report guidance notes not followed and specifications referred to in notes not dated. I have been advised that my complaint has been turned down as there have been appendix and update to the specs which contradict the report ie no longer check roof spaces (the basis for turning down my complaint.

    Comment by sally — July 10, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

  20. Jas the difference between the surveys you mention above is £300, not £200 !

    Comment by Roger Hunter — June 27, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

  21. Little disappointed there was no mention of having a HomeBuyers report done through the Mortgage Lender.
    This is what we are doing. Works out cheaper. (But better??)
    Lenders compulsory survey is 195 pounds. But for 495 pounds (an extra 200 pounds) they will do the Home Buyers Survey.
    Not sure if I should let the Lender do it or go Independent?

    Comment by Jas Klair — June 25, 2014 @ 9:36 am

  22. It’s always a gamble whether to pay for just the standard valuation, a homebuyers or a full survey. You might shell out quite a bit and find nothing wrong, and it would be easy to conclude you have wasted your money. On the other hand if you skimp by only going for the very minimal it could end up costing you a lot more in later in repair work on the house, that you hadn’t planned for…

    Really I suppose as you are buying a home, which will be a very important place, if the property is in anyway “high risk” or suspect it’s better to shell out at the start. Even if it comes to nothing you will at least have peace of mind.

    Comment by Ivy — April 2, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

  23. We are concerned because we are in the process of buying a brick bungalow which is timber framed inside. We don’t require a mortgage, so no lender will be surveying. However, if and when we try to suell up in the future, are there lenders who may refuse a mortgage to a buyer?

    Comment by Hall — March 8, 2014 @ 6:45 pm

  24. If the property is 8/9 years old it may be worth doing the homebuyers survey. New builds have a 10 years NHBC Guarantee. and conducting the survey with a year left on the guarantee means you may get the most out of it, rather thn moving in, finding a problem after a year, by which point the warranty is expired

    Comment by Matt Reeves — February 20, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

  25. Interesting article with useful info thanks. Can’t believe 80% don’t get a survey!

    I think it’s a gamble whenever somebody doesn’t – unless it’s a new build. I bought my house (built in 1992 – warranty expired) and had my drains checked. It saved me a pretty penny!

    Unless you have stronger nerves than me, I think it’s well worth it for the peace of mind.

    Comment by Robert — February 3, 2014 @ 3:26 pm

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