Home surveys
mortgage guide

Home Surveys: An Essential Guide

When buying a property, you might want to get a survey carried out to assess the general condition of the building. There are various types of surveys you can choose from, however, so to help you make a decision about which survey to opt for, we explain each type of survey available to you and how they differ.

You don't have to get an extensive survey carried out but they can be very useful and help you avoid nasty and expensive surprises that might not have been obvious to you when you viewed the property. Surveys provide the buyer with peace of mind knowing that the property they are buying doesn't have any major issues wrong with it and if a survey comes back reporting issues, then you can use the information to try to renegotiate the price, ask the seller to fix any problems before the sale is agreed or you can pull out of the purchase altogether.

There are some property buying scenarios where getting a survey done is particularly recommended.

  • When buying very old properties
  • When buying unusual properties.
  • When the property has a thatched roof or a timber frame.
  • When it is a listed building
  • When you get a feeling that something might be wrong with a property but aren't sure. (subjective we know, but sometimes trusting your instincts can save you!)

Of course, a surveyor might not always find something wrong or they can even be rather vague and tell you that there is some evidence of damp or some other issue but suggest further advice is sought. But sometimes, just a mention of an issue can help you address it with the seller to ensure it is resolved before you make the final purchase arrangements.

It is important to note that if you are taking a mortgage, the lender will usually insist that you complete at least a basic mortgage valuation of the property.

Surveys should be carried out by qualified surveyors. It is best to get a local surveyor in the area of the property you are buying as they will have a better knowledge of local property values and construction methods. If you are buying an unusual type of property, source a surveyor with experience in that particular field. Surveyors are usually a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or sometimes the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA).

Before we look at the different types of surveys available, it should be made clear that a mortgage valuation is not a survey. It is a basic valuation to simply assess how much the property is worth with some basic information about any major issues which might affect the property's value. Mortgage valuations are carried out by your mortgage provider (although you have to pay for it) to ensure the property offers them sufficient security for the loan amount.

The type of survey you choose will depend on how much you want to spend on a survey and the condition and age of your property. The following types of survey are listed from cheapest to most expensive:

  • Condition Report

    This is a very basic survey that doesn’t go into much detail. It is designed to complement the mortgage valuation and uses a traffic light key where green means all is ok, orange means there is cause for concern and red means that there are serious repairs needed. A summary of risks to the building is also given but no advice is provided.

  • HomeBuyers Report

    This is a more detailed type of survey offered by RICS that will tell you of any obvious major problems such as rot and subsidence. It can include a property valuation and an insurance reinstatement value which is how much you would receive were the property to be destroyed. This type of home buyers survey is non-intrusive which means the surveyor doesn’t lift up floor boards, drill holes, move furniture for closer inspection etc.

  • Home Condition Survey

    This survey is offered by RPSA and includes practical information such as damp assessment, boundary issues and broadband speed. They are predominantly carried out for residential properties and are independently checked for consistency and quality.

  • Building Survey (full structural survey)

    Although expensive, a building survey can be worth the investment as they are extensive and provide a detailed report. This type of survey is recommended particularly if you are looking to buy a very old, unusual, listed, thatched or timber framed property. It is also advised to get a building survey done if you are planning to carry out building works on the property. Unlike the other types of survey, the surveyor will carry out extensive checks in the loft, behind walls, between floors and ceilings and will include advice on repairs. The building survey does not include a valuation so this will need to be done in addition to the mortgage valuation.

In addition to these 3 main types of survey, there is also a new build snagging survey which identifies small cosmetic defects as well as structural problems. It is useful to have it to give it to the developer before you move into a new build property so that any issues can be rectified as soon as possible under the 2 year developer warranty.

When considering what type of survey to get done or when considering whether to get a survey done at all, you should consider the property type, its age and general condition. It is useful to get recommendations about which surveyor to use for your specific type of property and opt for a local surveyor who has good knowledge of the local property market. How much you have available to spend on a survey is also a key factor.

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