The Complete Guide to Home and Property Surveys

The Complete Guide to Home and Property Surveys

Hayley Hellon

Hayley Hellon

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February 18, 2022

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For many people, buying a property is the biggest financial investment they will ever make.

It’s therefore vital that homebuyers know exactly what they’re buying and have a full understanding of any risks or other problems associated with a property.  

That is why property surveys form an important part of the home buying process.

And while property surveys aren’t necessarily mandatory, paying for one might save you a considerable amount of money further down the line. 

However, the number of property surveys available can be confusing. In addition, it can be difficult to work out which survey suits you best. But, we’re here to help. 

In this guide, we’ll give you the lowdown on what home and property surveys are available during the home buying process, as well as the ins and outs of the surveying process.

What Is A Property Survey Report? 

A house survey is a detailed report that analyses the general state and structure of the property you are in the process of buying.

In England, it’s usually the responsibility of the buyer to arrange for this to be completed by a qualified property surveyor. The report can help to highlight if there’s any financial risk to buying the property, such as structural issues to do with subsidence, or problems with the roof. 

Several survey options are available depending on the amount of detail you want the report to provide. Furthermore, some of these will provide you with guidance on how to further maintain your property while others won’t.

Is it Worth Getting a Property Survey?

As these surveys are optional, not all buyers decide to get one. In fact, according to research by Churchill, over 7 million UK homebuyers chose to forgo a property survey. 

Some buyers believe that a mortgage valuation is enough - as it involves a surveyor assessing whether the property is worth the amount a mortgage lender is willing to lend. 

However, the aforementioned report by Churchill also revealed that 13 million home buyers were forced to conduct unexpected building work after buying their home. What’s more, 56% of those said that a property survey would have influenced their decision to go through with the sale. 

So, as you can see, there is often a clear benefit to getting an expert to look over your new home. And remember, nothing is set in stone until both the buyer and seller exchange contracts on completion day. Therefore, if a survey reveals some major issues with the property you’re planning on buying which makes you think twice about the purchase, you can back out at anytime prior to the completion date. 

What’s more, the sale price can also be re-negotiated up until the completion date. This gives you some wiggle room if you uncover a structural fault, but still want to proceed with the purchase, but at a discounted price. 

Furthermore, a property report can give you guidance on what part of the house might need work in the coming years and even provide an insight into how repairs can be avoided through good home maintenance. 

Caveat Emptor

It’s worth remembering that you’re responsible for completing the necessary checks before buying your new home. 

Caveat Emptor translates to ‘let the buyer beware’ and ultimately places all responsibility on the home buyer. Therefore, you might not have much recourse if you choose to skip a property survey before learning that the home is in need of serious repairs. 

Of course, a seller must disclose all important information in the Property Information Form (TA6) that will be shared with your conveyancer. This includes information about planning permission, invasive species, and flood risks. 

What Types of Property Surveys Are Available? 

We’ve established why a property survey could be beneficial, but what types of property and home surveys are available? And, which property survey should you get? 

There are several home surveys that a buyer can pay for before completion which vary in detail depending on the price. There’s no right answer when it comes to deciding which property survey is right for you, as it depends on your circumstances. But here are your options:

Option 1: Condition Report (RICS) - Level 1

  • Expect to pay: £300 to £400

This is the most basic form of property survey available. The report will tell you if there are any major issues with the home and will also provide a brief breakdown of the general condition of your prospective home. 

However, while you will learn if there are any major issues, it is worth remembering that the report will not provide an in-depth analysis of what improvements you can make to the house. So, you might need to eventually bring in a surveyor or builder to further assess how the structural concerns can be repaired. 

Option 2: Home Buyer Report (RICS) - Level 2 

  • Expect to pay: £500 to £800

This report comes in two forms: The Level 2 survey and the Level 2 survey + valuation (with the latter costing about £100 more)

This is considered the standard option for buyers looking to assess a property that is less than 50 years old. You’ll get all the reporting from the condition report as well as some extra analysis about how to maintain the property. 

If you opt for the valuation option, you will also be provided with a property surveyor’s expert opinion on the true value of the home. This can be incredibly helpful to determine whether you are paying too much for the house in question.  

Option 3: Home Condition Survey (RPSA) - Level 2

  • Expect to pay: £600 to £900

This report is provided by a different regulatory body but has many similar features to the report above. However, the price tag is a little higher because it will get a second opinion from another property surveyor in order to make sure that the assessment is correct. What’s more, you will receive a comprehensive report that includes pictures for you to easily understand what improvements can be done to your home. 

Option 4: Building Survey (RICS/RPSA)

  • Expect to pay: £700 to £1,200 

This is also known as the Level 3 report and provides the most extensive analysis of your property. Both RICS and RPSA have this type of survey available to their clients and both are similar in price. From looking underneath floorboards to assessing the state of your roof, this report literally goes from top to bottom of the prospective home. 

This type of report is usually recommended for homes that are more than 50 years old, or for more unusual structures. The price will generally vary depending on the price of the house. 

Pro Tip: A qualified property surveyor in the UK will be a member of either the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA). These are official bodies that regulate the way a surveyor conducts their analysis. Any surveyors that are not members of one of their bodies should be avoided. 

Here’s a summary of the surveys available:

 

How is a Property Survey Different From a Mortgage Valuation? 

One key point to be aware of is that a property survey report is different to your mortgage valuation. 

What is a Mortgage Valuation? 

If you are applying for a mortgage when buying your property, your lending will need to undertake a mortgage valuation. This is so the lender can be certain the property is worth the money it’s lending you. And, similar to a property survey, a surveyor will usually complete a physical inspection of the property.

You’ll begin your mortgage valuation around the same time as you instruct a conveyancer to begin the legal process of the sale. A property specialist will attend the house and look around each room to make their assessment. Following this process, your lender will decide whether the property is worth the amount you are asking for. 

While you’re the one who usually has to pay for this valuation, it’s primarily for the benefit of the lender, not you. 

So, How is it Different from a Property Survey?

A mortgage valuation can give you a general indicator of whether your house is worth what you offered, but it’s limited in how much detail it actually provides.

What’s more, the assessment does not highlight any structural issues or ways to maintain your home in the future. Some mortgage valuations - known as desktop valuations - don’t even take place in person and are conducted through online searches. 

Despite the differences, some home buyers believe that a mortgage valuation is enough of an indicator of whether to proceed with the purchase. However, you risk missing vital information about the structure of your new home as a result. 

Still unsure how these two differ? Take a look at this handy infographic below:


How Do Property Surveys Work? 

After deciding which type of property survey is right for you, you can then move forward with arranging for a property surveyor to conduct their research. 

Your property surveyor will liaise with the estate agent and seller of the property to find a suitable time to pick up the keys and access the property. They’ll also ask the estate agent for a copy of the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the house in question and will obtain a floor plan. 

After that, they’ll then go around all areas of the property (including cellars and outhouses) and conduct their assessment. Their notes will usually be marked down on the floor plan for you to understand exactly where there are any areas of concern.

Depending on the level of report you request, this process can take a few hours. The process varies depending on the property surveyor you choose. As a result, it’s a good idea to ask them about their working times and when you should expect to see the report.

Following the property survey, you’ll be provided with a report that gives you all the relevant information. You can expect a complete report within around five days after the initial survey was conducted. In addition, make sure you receive the final report before you are due to sign the contract and complete your purchase. 

Do I Need a Property Survey for a New Build Property? 

If you’re buying a new build property, you might be wondering whether it is necessary to complete a survey that looks for defects that are often affected by the age of a house. And, while you’d hope your new build is in perfect condition, a property survey might still be a good idea. 

Buyers looking into new builds could also consider a Snagging Survey, which assesses workmanship and any issues related to the construction. This type of report will assess the home against warranty standards and ensure there are no breaches to building regulations.

These types of surveys can cost upward of £250 but can be incredibly useful for buyers of new build properties. 

What’s Not Included in a Property Survey? 

As we mentioned earlier, there are different reports available that relate to how in-depth an inspection goes. However, there are also some things that property surveyors do not check. 

Property surveyors do NOT undertake thorough checks of: 

  • Electrical wiring  - While your surveyor will turn on light switches, they will not complete a thorough assessment of a home’s wiring. If you want a specialist to take a proper look, you can request an electric installation report for an added fee. 
  • Drains - Although drainage will be part of the assessment, property surveyors are unlikely to conduct a thorough inspection of the drains. 
  • Inaccessible areas - If there are parts of the property that the surveyor has not been given access to, they will be unable to complete an assessment.

Pro Tip: You can find plenty of qualified surveyors online that will help you carry out a property survey. However, if you find a local surveyor, they might have a better knowledge of the area and any external risks that you might face. Do your research, ask your friends and family and also consult with your estate agent and conveyancer to find the best option for you. 

How to Read a Property Survey 

You‘ll receive a complete report within a matter of days after the surveyor completed their assessment.

In this document, the surveyor will break down their assessment of the property, location, and may also even give you an estimate of how much the house would cost to rebuild. However, this document may be full of jargon you aren’t familiar with and it might feel a little daunting to decipher what to take away from it. 

Luckily, the reports are normally broken down into a traffic light system which can easily highlight to the reader what parts of the home need work. Here’s how the traffic light system works:

  • Green - location doesn’t require repair.
  • Amber - repairs required, but not that serious.
  • Red - Repairs or further investigation needed immediately.

The ratings will also be listed at the front of the report so you can easily check what was uncovered during the assessment. 



Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your report. A property surveyor is acting in your interest and wants to make sure that you’re getting a fair deal. If you’re unsure about the contents of your final report, a property surveyor will offer some guidance and clarify any concerns. 

What to Do if a Property Survey Flags an Issue With the Home?

So you’ve received your report and there are several red flags that have been highlighted by your property surveyor? Don’t worry! This is actually the best position you can be in - as you have ample time to see if anything can be done. 

Your first port of call will be to discuss the findings with the property surveyor. Surveyors undertake a considerable amount of surveys and it’s more than likely that you’re not the only one to have received bad news. 

Discussing the findings with your surveyor will give you a better indication of what to do next. You can also ask for a second opinion and bring in a builder that can give you a better idea of how much a repair might cost you.

It is always a great idea to open a conversation with the seller to gauge what happens next. For example, many issues such as damp can be repaired. Highlighted concerns such as subsidence are also fixable - but might affect your ability to secure home insurance. This might also be the case if a surveyor discovers Japanese Knotweed on the property that many insurers want to stay away from. 

Find out what can affect your housing insurance premium below:


As long as you haven’t reached the completion phase of the purchase, you still have every right to back out of a sale. However, by talking to the seller you might be in with a good chance of smoothing over any concerns about the property. Remember that a large part of buying a house is the negotiation process and being upfront can help speed up the process.

There’s No Place Like Home 

At ProConveyancing, we believe that property surveys can be a good option during the home buying process. 

While there are many important steps to complete before moving into your dream home, making sure your property is structurally sound can prove incredibly valuable in years to come. 

A good property survey will help you sleep easier at night and you can be confident that your new property is safe and won’t turn into a nasty surprise in a few years’ time!

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