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 (quotes from May 2012):
- 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.
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 the benefits of joining the HomeOwners Alliance.
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
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.
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
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 surveys are expensive, but can sometimes be worth the investment:
- They range between under £600 for a property worth £100,000, to nearly £2000 for a property worth £2 million
- 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 are considering purchasing has problems flagged in the survey see What to do after a bad survey.