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What does a surveyor do?

When you’re buying a home you’ll probably want to commission a survey into the condition of the property. But what does a surveyor do, what information will you get in your report and how do you find a house surveyor? We take a look.

what does a surveyor do

What does a surveyor do?

So exactly what does a surveyor do? Surveyors are highly-trained, property professionals who offer expert advice on the condition of a building. They can offer valuations too. And the information your surveyor provides will help you decide whether to buy the property or not. Or you may use the information to try to renegotiate the price.

During the survey your property surveyor will use equipment such as a damp meter, binoculars and a torch. They’ll also use a ladder for flat roofs and hatches no more than 3m above level ground, if outside, or floor surfaces when inside if it’s safe.

Surveyors will also undertake a desk-top study and make verbal enquiries for information about matters affecting the property.

If you’re buying a home you’ll want to speak to a surveyor about what type of survey is best for your property and talk through what they will do.  You can instantly find and compare quotes from local surveyors using our handy find a surveyor tool.

What’s in your surveyor’s report?

To get an idea of what surveyors do, it’s helpful to look at what’s included in your survey report.

1. You’ll get key information about the property

Firstly you’ll find out important information about the property including:

  • Type of property
  • The year it was built
  • Year it was extended (if applicable)
  • Year it was converted (if applicable)
  • Number of rooms
  • EPC rating
  • Environmental impact rating
  • Whether mains gas, electricity, water and drainage services are present
  • Type of central heating (whether it’s gas, electric, solid fuel or oil)
  • Some basic information about the local environment, facilities, location and grounds

2. They’ll examine the property’s exterior

Your house surveyor will examine the exterior of the property from ground level. They’ll look at the chimney stacks, roof coverings, rainwater pipes and gutters, main walls, windows, outside doors, conservatory and porches and other joinery and finishes. They’ll give them an individual condition rating. However they won’t check all the windows, only a random sample will be opened.

3. What does a surveyor do inside the property?

So what does a surveyor do inside the property? Your house 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

And you’ll get a condition rating for each. However even the most thorough home survey – a RICS Home Survey Level 3 survey – is non-intrusive. So the property surveyor won’t be looking under floorboards.

4. What about dangerous materials?

If the surveyor suspects a problem like asbestos being present, they should recommend further investigation.

5. They’ll check services

When inspecting the property your house surveyor will do a basic check of the main services – electricity, gas/oil, water, heating, drainage and common services. However as these services are generally hidden within the fabric of the building surveyors can only inspect services visible to them. And note that property surveyors won’t carry out specialist tests for example on the plumbing or electrics. You’ll need to hire a professional if you want this checked more thoroughly.

6. Inspect the grounds

During the survey your property surveyor will assess the condition of the grounds, 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

7. Flag potential legal issues

Your house surveyor may also flag any potential legal problems with the property or grounds that come to light which should be raised with your conveyancer before you exchange. For example, checking building regulations and planning permission for extensions and making sure there’s a warranty to cover windows or doors or a FENSA certificate.

Need a conveyancer to process the purchase or sale of your house? Compare quotes from our panel of qualified conveyancers to find the best rated, cheapest or nearest firms to you

8. Highlight the main risks

Finally – and importantly – your surveyor will list the main risks they’ve discovered within the property or grounds. If you opt for The RICS Home Survey – Level 1, the report will identify and list the risks, but give no further explanation. While the Homebuyers Survey (RICS Home Survey – Level 2) report will identify and list the risks. And explain the nature of these problems too. And the RICS Home Survey – Level 3 report will identify risks, explain the nature of the problems and explain how you may solve or reduce the risk.

Read our guide What to do after a bad house survey report 

Will the surveyor give their valuation?

Your surveyor will provide a valuation for the property if you’ve requested this in advance. You’ll get the surveyor’s opinion on the property’s market value and the reinstatement cost.

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What factors will determine what a surveyor does?

The extent of what a surveyor does depends on various factors including:

The type of survey you commission: The level of detail your surveyor will go into when assessing the property depends on the type of survey you’ve commissioned. If it’s a RICS property surveyor you’ll choose between RICS Home Survey – Level 1, RICS Home Survey – Level 2 and RICS Home Survey – Level 3. However you may choose a RPSA Home Condition Survey or RPSA Building Survey. For more on what’s included in these types read our guide What type of house survey do I need? The conditions of engagement should describe the extent and limitations of the inspection before it goes ahead.

How much access is possible? House surveys are non-intrusive which means floorboards won’t be lifted up. But bear in mind surveyors won’t move the vendor’s possessions either. So if a downstairs cupboard under the stairs is stuffed with belongings they won’t be able to get in there. And if roof access is limited or not possible then this can cause limitations too.

Property surveyors may also predict issues based on the property’s external condition such as missing tiles if the roof space can’t be accessed.

The weather forecast: The weather conditions on the day of the inspection can be significant. For example whether it’s raining or not can limit the surveyor’s ability to assess rainwater goods.

Is the vendor there? If so the surveyor will be able to ask them questions.

How long will the surveyor be in my house?

So you may be asking how long will the surveyor be in my house? This depends on the type of survey you choose. A Home Survey Level 2 (previously called a Home Buyer Report) usually takes around 90 minutes to four hours of the surveyor’s time onsite. While a Home Survey Level 3 (full structural survey) could take up to eight hours.

How should I choose a surveyor?

Property surveys should be carried out by qualified surveyors. So make sure the surveyor you instruct is a member of one of the two main accrediting bodies.

  • The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
  • The Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA)

A local surveyor is likely to have a better knowledge of market values in the area. However if you’re buying an unusual house, get a surveyor with experience in that specific field.

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What is a chartered surveyor?

To become a ‘Chartered Surveyor’, a surveyor is required to have taken extra qualifications and had a certain level of experience, which is approved by RICS. Some surveyors may not be chartered, but will still be regulated by RICS, and be fully qualified.

How much does a surveyor cost?

Survey costs vary from company to company, and depend on the size and location of the property and the type of survey you choose. So it’s important to decide the type of survey you want and to shop around. You can find out more by reading our guide how much does a house survey cost.

Do surveyors look in cupboards?

A surveyor is there to assess whether the building is structurally sound. So if you’re asking do surveyors look in cupboards, it depends on the type of cupboards you’re asking about! If it’s the cupboard under the stairs, then yes. But if you’re worried that the surveyor will go through your kitchen cupboards and wardrobe this shouldn’t happen.

What doesn’t a surveyor do?

So we’ve looked at what does a surveyor do but what doesn’t a surveyor do? If your surveyor spots a potential problem, further investigation is usually recommended. For example a structural engineer may be needed to look at subsidence problems. Other reports which a surveyor may recommend include a drainage report or an asbestos report.


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