What Is A House Survey?

When buying a property, you will want to be sure that you know what you are purchasing and that it is likely to be a good investment for you. At the very least you’ll need to know what possible work the property might need. As such you will want to carry out a property survey, but how do you decide which survey to carry out? How much do they cost and how long do they take? Read on and we will walk you through property surveys.

Property vs valuation survey

As part of successfully obtaining a mortgage you will be asked to pay for a survey by the mortgage lender. This is a mortgage valuation survey that is carried out only for the lender and gives the valuer’s opinion on the true market value of the property. This is to tell the lender whether the property is being over-valued or under-valued to aid their decision whether to lend the requested mortgage value or not. This is not a property survey and will not give any details on the condition of the property. A property survey is a survey which you pay for separately. It is carried out on your behalf and will give you details on the condition of the property to help you decide whether to buy the property or not. There are, however, different types of property surveys and getting the right one done is important.

Do I need a house survey?

Legally, no you don’t need to have a property survey done. It is entirely your choice, but given that buying a home is the largest investment you are likely to make, the last thing you need is some unwelcome surprises such as issues with subsidence or the wiring or plumbing. A property survey will give you important information on the condition of the property you are looking to buy so there are no surprises. As such, it is highly recommended to have a survey carried out.

Who organises a survey when buying a house?

Quite simply put, the purchaser does. As there is no legal requirement for a survey to be carried out and it is purely an optional survey, it falls to the purchaser to arrange a survey for their own purposes.

What does a surveyor look at?

The main focus is on the structural integrity of the property, so the surveyor will be looking at things like the walls to see if there are any cracks or if the wall leans or is unstable, they will also have a look at the mortar integrity. They will take a look at the roof, as best as they can, gutters and windows. Where possible the surveyor will also check for timber defects, damp on internal walls and condition of the floors.

Types of property survey

There are different levels of survey depending on what you are looking to achieve and the age of the property. These surveys have been set down by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and they detail what is carried out for each survey type.

RICS Home Survey level 1

RICS Home Survey level 1 is the lowest level of survey and covers a visual inspection of the readily accessible portions of the property and any permanent outbuildings. Where parts of the property are not accessible, the surveyor will comment in the “limitations of the inspection” part of the report. The surveyor will not physically remove or lift carpets to check underneath, will only look into the roof space from the hatch and will only look at services to the property which can be readily seen. In essence, this is a non-intrusive inspection of the property. The surveyor will also look at the condition of any boundary fences and walls and any areas of common use. After the inspection, the surveyor will write a report on the visible condition of the property but will not give advice on repairs or ongoing maintenance issues. The report will give ratings as to the condition of the various aspects inspected:

  • Condition rating 3 – Defects that are serious and/or need to be repaired, replaced or investigated urgently. Failure to do so could risk serious safety issues or severe long-term damage to your property. Written quotations for repairs should be obtained prior to legal commitment to purchase.
  • Condition rating 2 – Defects that need repairing or replacing but are not considered to be either serious or urgent. The property must be maintained in the normal way.
  • Condition rating 1 – No repair is currently needed. The property must be maintained in the normal way.
  • NI – Elements not inspected.

The level 1 survey should really only be used for newer conventional properties (made from standard building materials like bricks and slate) which don’t appear to have any obvious defects.

RICS Home Survey – Level 2

RICS Home Survey – Level 2. This is a more in-depth survey than the level 1 as the survey will also include cellars and a proper check in roof spaces. As with the level 1 survey, the surveyor will only survey parts of the property which are readily accessible, so will not be lifting carpets or floorboards or undoing electrical fittings. The difference to the level 1 survey is that, if it is safe and reasonable to do so, the inspector will enter into the roof space and inspect the roof structure, paying particular attention to areas which are vulnerable to deterioration. The inspector will not, however, lift insulation. Drainage covers are also now lifted.

At the end of the survey, the inspector will, as with the level 1 survey, write a report and give the inspected aspects the same ratings as with the level 1 survey: from 1 to 3.

There is an upgraded version of this survey where the inspector will also give their opinion on the valuation of the property. This is simply called a RICS Home Survey – Level 2 ( survey and valuation). This report will give advice on repairs that are required and ongoing maintenance issues. The final part of the report focuses on the surveyor’s opinion of the market value of the property, this is based on some assumptions, however, which are:

  • an inspection of those parts that have not yet been inspected would not identify significant defects
  • no dangerous or damaging materials or building techniques have been used in the property
  • there is no contamination in or from the ground, and the ground has not been used as landfill
  • the property is connected to, and has the right to use, the mains services mentioned in the report and
  • the valuation does not take into account any furnishings, removable fittings and sales incentives of any description.

The level 2 survey is possibly the most popular survey and is suitable, again, for conventional properties which appear to be in a reasonable condition. The addition of the loft space inspection, the advice on repairs and maintenance and the valuation (if requested) add an extra level of peace of mind over the level 1 survey.

There is an equivalent to the level 2 survey which is offered by the Residential Property Surveyors Association. This is called the RPSA Home Condition Survey. This covers very much the same aspects as the RICS level 2 survey and the report will cover:

  • Clear colour coded condition ratings for quick identification of the important issues
  • Multiple photographs and diagrams, helping you understand your new home
  • A full debrief from the surveyor who will answer any questions you may have

RICS Home Survey – Level 3

RICS Home Survey – Level 3. This is the highest level of inspection and it is very thorough, or at least as thorough as it can be as it does require consent from the owner/occupier to move furniture, lift carpets or floorboards and open up electrical fittings. If given permission, the inspector will physically inspect all accessible parts of the property including the loft space where it is safe and reasonable. The inspector will also lift small areas of insulation to check for thickness and to see the condition of the underlying ceiling.  The inspector will make enquiries about contamination or other environmental dangers. The report will cover a detailed description of the condition of the property and give detailed guidance on repairs and maintenance issues.

The surveyor carefully and thoroughly inspects the inside and outside of the main building and all permanent outbuildings, recording the construction and defects that are evident. This inspection is intended to cover as much of the property as is physically accessible. Where this is not possible, an explanation is provided in the ‘Limitations on the inspection’ box in the relevant section of the report.

The surveyor does not force or open up the fabric of the building without occupier/owner consent, or if there is a risk of causing personal injury or damage. This includes taking up fitted carpets and fitted floor coverings or floorboards; moving heavy furniture; removing the contents of cupboards, roof spaces, etc. removing secured panels and/or hatches; or undoing electrical fittings.

If necessary, the surveyor carries out parts of the inspection when standing at ground level from adjoining public property where accessible. This means the extent of the inspection will depend on a range of individual circumstances at the time of inspection, and the surveyor judges each case on an individual basis.

If it is safe and reasonable to do so, the surveyor will enter the roof space and visually inspect the roof structure with attention paid to those parts vulnerable to deterioration and damage. Although thermal insulation is not moved, small corners should be lifted so its thickness and type, and the nature of underlying ceiling can be identified (if the surveyor considers it safe to do). The surveyor does not move stored goods or other contents.

The surveyor also carries out a desk-top study and makes oral enquiries for information about matters affecting the property.

The level three survey is suited for older properties (older than 50 years) or those of unusual design and construction. It is also good for listed buildings and those in obvious poor condition.

The RPSA also has another level of survey over their home condition survey. This is the RPSA Building survey which will give a comprehensive description of the construction and its defects as well as detailed descriptions as to how these can be rectified and the consequences of not rectifying the issues.

How much is a house survey?

This very much depends on the type of survey that you carry out and the value of the property being surveyed:

  • RICS Level 1 surveys will range from around £290 for a property value of up to £100,000 all the way up to £560 for properties that are valued from £900,000 to £1,000,000
  • RICS Level 2 surveys will range around £380 for a property value of up to £100,000 all the way up to £980 for properties valued from £900,000 to £1,000,000
  • RICS Level 3 surveys will range from around £630 for a property value of up to £100,000 all the way up to £1,390 for properties valued from £900,000 to £1,000,000
  • The RPSA do not have a standard cost and will quote based on exactly what you need. You can use their website to request a quote.

How long does a survey take?

Surveys can take from around 1 hour to 4 hours to complete depending on the level of survey being carried out and the report will typically take anything from a few hours for a level 2 survey up to 10 working days for a level 3 survey, for the report to come back.

How to find a surveyor

You will want to use a surveyor who is registered with the professional body regulating the survey. For an RICS survey you can find a surveyor by using the RICS find a surveyor service on their website.  If you are looking for an RPSA surveyor, you should contact the RPSA directly for guidance.

Buying a new home is probably the most expensive investment that you will ever make and it makes sense to ensure that you fully understand the condition of the property before you buy it. Instructing a surveyor to do a property condition inspection on your behalf is perhaps one of the wisest decisions that you will make.