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Reforming surveys, what’s your view?

Want to have your say about surveys? Then you’ll need to act quickly as the consultation for a new approach to house surveys closes this month

survey consultation

Assessing a property’s condition before you decide to buy is a critical part of the home-buying process. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors – or RICS – is the household name that delivers the great majority of these surveys.

But surveys aren’t perfect. Maybe you’ve had a survey in the past that has been so basic or riddled with caveats you’ve wondered whether it was worth the money? Or had your house sale fall through as a result of an overzealous surveyor? And how many of us can remember what type of survey we commissioned during our last home purchase?

It’s for this reason that RICS is consulting on a new approach. A new mandatory Home Survey Standard. And it’s seeking views from homebuyers, as well as from industry. But you’ve only got until the 29th July left to respond.

Why are surveys so important?

Here at the HomeOwners Alliance we believe surveys are crucial. We want homebuyers to have all the information they need to make the right decision.

And if there are issues with the house that need to be fixed, they need an independent report so they can get them fixed before they buy or – importantly – renegotiate the price.

What are the main problems under the current system?

There is a lot of criticism from homebuyers about surveys as it stands. These include:

  • A lack of standardisation. For example, survey reports can be either short and meaningless or too long and difficult to digest.
  • Confusion caused by the many different types of surveys, from condition reports to building surveys.
  • The cost of a survey – which can be off-putting in an already very expensive home buying process.
  • Continued consumer confusion around the difference between a RICS survey looking at the condition of your home and a mortgage valuation survey conducted by the lender for the lender.

What are the changes being proposed? 

RICS’s proposed changes include:

  • requiring surveyors to improve communication with clients, so that all parties know the buyer’s needs before they select a survey. Consumers would therefore be able to make a more informed choice before selecting their surveyor and the type of survey they need.
  • a change from names like “Home Buyer report”, “Condition Report” etc to an easier to understand numerical system, with minimum levels of service for each one.
  • a standardised level of service from all RICS surveyors across the country.
  • only using a surveyor with local knowledge of the area, depending on instruction, who would have specialised local knowledge such as areas prone to flooding or subsidence.

What to look out for when you’re choosing a surveyor

While RICS consults on improving surveys, what do you need to watch for when appointing your surveyor? Here are our top tips:

  • Before instructing a surveyor, ask to see an example of a copy of a survey report so you know what to expect before you instruct them.
  • Have a conversation with our appointed surveyor and flag up any concerns you have that you would like them to pay particular attention to.
  • Phone your surveyor after you have received your report if there is something you want further clarification on.

Read our guide for more information on what sort of survey you need and how to get the best out of your surveyor.


What has your experience been? Let us know in the comment box below


Leave a comment (6)* Required

  1. Jenni CampeyJenni Campey

    I my opinion surveys are a complete waste of time and money. I paid over £500 for a survey – not a full survey granted but not a valuation either. The result told me nothing I hadn’t already known about nor did it give me confidence that the issues were minor enough to deal with after purchase or even enough knowledge to re-negotiate on price. I ended up going with my gut feeling and withdrew my offer having “wasted” not only my money but time for both myself and the vendor. The report was so full of nonsense and responsibility avoidance I really did feel ripped off. On top of which the errors by the person preparing the survey invalidated the whole document – I had to ask for it to be re-prepared on a number of points not least of which was quoting an incorrect address. Needless to say – the house I eventually bought was bought without a survey – they’re not worth the email they’re written on.

  2. marionmarion

    My buyer had a survey done and then got a builder’s quote for £7500. I feel he is trying it on, and wants to reduce the price to less than the low amount of his first offer. He has sent me only part of the report as I wouldn’t take his word for it. He is a first-time buyer. There is nothing in the report to say what is essential and what is urgent and I feel this should always be included for transparency. I can’t be paying for things his builder wants to do which might be years down the line for all I know.

    I also chose a surveyor for a property i wish to purchase. They claimed to do surveys within three days to a week but once I had paid they made an appointment more than two weeks ahead. I stuck with them as they surveyed my property once and I found them very thorough, and the price was reasonable. Also the estate agent was pressurising me and I didn’t want her to get the idea that I was going to accept this amount of pressure.

  3. MagdaMagda

    From the perspective of attempting to sell a small house (using a well known estate agent) Two sales did not go through due to the incompetence of so-called surveyors sent on behalf of prospective buyers. Neither did my agents support me when I pointed out discrepancies in the “surveyor`s” reports; only one of which I was allowed to see in part. On one occasion they claimed that the builder had made a mistake and sent a report for a completely different house ! He therefore “revised” the ridiculously high cost of alleged works. He still said that the roof was very old and would soon need replacing. WRONG as the roof was less than five years old, been replaced due to storm damage.The agents had valued the house and could see this was true but sided with the surveyor. Why ? Also on both occasions the “surveyor” used an electrical conductivity meter on internal walls and declared them to be damp. Thus needing expensive chemical injections and then replastering. Vendor (me) to clean up after the builders and replace damage to wood floors. WRONG as these were solid walls and there was no sign of damp in my twenty years occupancy. NB..these meters are sensitive to acceptable levels of humidity, to metal in walls and many other anomalies so they then beep ! Sounds impressive hey. Ask at any large retailers who sell these meters to the public.
    Outer walls were solid stone with a damp course, which I was told did not exist ! Subjected to much hype, the buyers believed in the claims of “X years experience” and “accreditations” by purveyors of the chemical treatments on the surveyor`s letterheads; none of which can be proved relevant in any case.
    An independant local builder told me that there is a format for older houses and the person who does the survey just ticks the boxes, they do the work and get paid and buyers assume all is well. However, sometimes they miss work that needs doing or else do work that is not needed at all, particularly alleged damp treatments. Not so many years ago, vendors were not assumed to be liars and anyone buying a house used their common sense or asked a trusted local builder for an opinion. Nowadays I feel that the idea of a compulsory surveying process generates another layer of costs from the unsuspecting public. Estate agents are the only people who can advertise a property online on the main websites and are “on commission” to many other parties in the whole stressful affair of moving house including solicitors and quite probably some of the people who are out there conducting dubious surveys. Those at the lower end of the market who can least afford to suffer, suffer most !
    Looks like cheap new houses are being built on green belt with ease to buy deals; whereas it is very hard and costly to sell solid older properties. It stinks.

  4. Fiona MosleyFiona Mosley

    A full survey was requested, and that’s what we got. However I was unhappy about several points made in the report. 1. The surveyor said the walls were cavity – they have since been found to be solid. 2. He said there was evidence that cavity wall ties needed redoing – illustrated by a mark in the render of the wall. We later found out that this was from a blocked up window. 3. He made opinion based comments such as ‘the bathroom is old fashioned’. Surely that is a matter of taste? 4. He did not spot the signs of damp around the skirting boards indicated by frass from wood weevils. This problem has cost us a lot of money to put right.
    I think RCIS surveyors such as this should have access to the deeds of the house, old planning applications etc so they know more information about it and are not just guessing. They should also be allowed to investigate fully by lifting carpets, sampling brick and plasterwork etc. Any resulting costs to remedy damage caused should be covered in their fee.

  5. LolaLola

    I’ve done the surveys twice now and they are useless. We had a standard survey before and last time a more extensive and expensive building survey. No difference. The surveyor either says they could not inspect anything b/c they would need to open the walls or floors or they refer you to professionals. My favourite is them inspecting a roof with binoculars. On this current house we had roof damage that was not identified. We had leaks that were not picked. Wiring had to be replaced etc. Next time I am considering not doing the survey and instead invite an electrician, a gas engineer, a roofer and a plumber (so – professionals!) and pay them to have a good look. I do not recommend getting a full survey – waste of money.

  6. Andrew SnowdonAndrew Snowdon

    I have bought 10 homes over 40 years. Surveys have become steadily less useful and I have bought my last three houses without any at all.

    You may think Foolish. But with reasonable knowledge of buildings and building materials as well as available research and basic tests a buyer can for little cost determine more than most surveyors can or are prepared to provide. The last survey that I did have gave no useful information and all areas where more info would have been useful the advice was simply to seek additional; ‘professional investigation’. This was stated three times and for whichh there was on basic inspection by me no issue and after owning properties and getting work done also found to be no issues. Worse the survey additions/extra tests of electrics or drains or damp would have delayed purchase.

    It is not difficult to see if a wall is damp. It is easy to look up electrical wiring types with a thirty second internet search and investigate wiring age by opening up a socket or removing a cover in a loft and buy a simple plug in tester that will give some basic earth checks. Better would be a simple one day training course to check the basics and stop government and funders adding more and more unnecessary costs and delays and regulations to the buying process. Where is the evidence of need other than the desire by professional bodies to create statutory requirements for easy to do work. None.
    By all means make House survey levels more transparent but I suspect what will follow will be linked insurance or funding requirements to get them done and the bill will be carried by the homeowner and not the industry that will once again make money without actually providing any real additional value to anyone but the stupid.

    So in conclusion.Please don not make this an excuse for greater direct or backdoor regulation or requirements. Do risk assess any necessity for such surveys to the recorded incidents.

    Buyer beware is a fair approach. If you don’t know your compression joint leak from needing to dig up a floor, or the need to add some Fernox from the need to flush or replace a heating system then by all means direct a homeowner to professional services. But don’t force us to if we are not stupid or have lived long enough to watch a half dozen gas tests with guys that cock up the clean of a boiler.

    We had once have to redo two out of four of the joints on corgi certified gas ‘engineer’. One surveyor I employed, as required by mortgage provider, missed a collapsing well half under the kitchen wall and only partially hidden by plant pot. Others have believed that an inspection of the roof space only required him opening the loft hatch and shining a dim torch vaguely at one beam despite there being damp (unreported but obvious) in the gullies.

    Anecdotally, I have only ever been gassed, electrocuted and had incorrect assessments of condensation as structural damp, or a leaking gutter defined as rising damp or had extra work when following advice of surveyors and qualified tradespeople. I trust my own judgement, and I am not alone. Those in the trade (I was a management consultant and business person) use people that they ‘trust’ and know the mistakes and shortcuts or others. It was a medium sized electrical specialist on the advice of a qualified surveyor that asked for some work on one of my buildings. When I asked him had he turned off the power and checked that he had on a buried power cable we had to cut it was muggins that good the electric shock. The qualified electrician was high on cocaine we think. Much of his certified work I redid a month later as it failed or we became worried about it.
    As for building surveyors lets have them actually do some work and give a, albeit caveated, opinion rather than always defer to some other professional and thereby provide some level of service that is actually worth the time to produced me to bother reading the paperwork that seems to get ever longer and contain ever less useful information.

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