Which Home Survey is the Best for Me?
You’ve found your perfect property, agreed a price, and the solicitors are busy doing their thing. All is well. Then someone mentions a ‘survey’, and you start to panic. Do I need one? What type should I get? And what the heck is a survey anyway? Chill, people. Penrose has your back.
Do I need a Survey at all?
A survey is where someone who is trained to understand how buildings work checks your property over and tells you if there are any problems. There are a series of survey types that range from superficial to super-detailed, and they are designed to cater for different needs.
Your home is the biggest single investment you’re ever likely to make, and it’s only natural that you want to be sure you’re not leaping into a money pit. We’ve given you the lowdown on what types of survey are available below.
Keeping a clear head will help you make the right decision about what type of survey to have, if any, and could save you £££. You could save by not overspending on a detailed survey you don’t need, or by investing heavily in one that draws your attention to big issues that cause you to pause, and maybe renegotiate on price.
Ultimately, the decision you make regarding your survey will depend largely on the age and condition of the home you are buying … and your personal tolerance for risk.
All homes, even brand new ones, are going to have a few issues. Do you need to know about them all up front? No. But it can be helpful to understand where the issues lie, so that you can ensure you are able to budget for what may need doing, and when.
Mortgage Valuation Report
Lenders are chucking a big wedge of cash at your property and, bankers being the cautious souls they are, they want to be sure their investment is financially sound.
Be aware, however - a Mortgage Valuation Report is NOT a survey.
A Mortgage Valuation Report is a requirement of most lenders. It’s paid for by you, and provided by a company your lender chooses. It involves only a cursory look at the property that allows them to assess whether its market value offers sufficient security for the level of loan you are requesting.
In other words - would they be able to sell it and get their money back if you default on repayments? Your lender is not interested in the condition of the property, only in its worth as a financial asset.
You can expect to pay £150+ for the privilege of this knowledge. Some lenders offer free surveys which can save you money upfront, but lenders will always get the cost back elsewhere - you’re wise to choose a deal with a better interest rate if you can, as this offers you a better long-term financial deal.
The Mortgage Valuation Report will likely flag any really major issues with the property, and you can request a copy of it - you are paying for it after all - but it shouldn’t be viewed as a substitute for a proper survey.
Starting at around £300, a Condition Report is the most basic kind of survey you can commission. Think of it as a useful complement to a Mortgage Valuation Report. It’s designed for conventional properties that are relatively new, and have had no previous issues.
The surveyor will check over your property and highlight major potential issues, but will not offer any advice, or an independent valuation. What this type of survey will do is to:
- Describe the general condition of the property
- Point out any possible risks that may affect the home
- Draw attention to any urgent defects that need addressing
- Use a traffic light system to comment on the general condition of different aspects of the property: Green = ok; Orange = cause for concern; Red = repairs are vital
It’s a nod in the direction of reassurance, and just occasionally will draw attention to a major issue that has gone unnoticed until that point. Eventually every property shifts from ‘relatively new’ to ‘getting on a bit’, and a Condition Report is particularly useful for those properties that may be in that grey area.
This type of survey will set you back around £400 or more and takes several hours to complete. It can be provided with or without a market valuation, and/or an insurance reinstatement value outlining the probable cost of a rebuild in the event of a destructive fire or other catastrophic event.
The HomeBuyers Report is the most common type of survey, and is particularly useful for conventional properties more than 30-40 years old. It will identify such things as:
- Damp problems
- Subsistence and other structural concerns
- Cracks or other signs of shifting that may be problematic
- Obvious signs of rot
While this type of survey is more thorough, it is essentially non-intrusive and so is a little limited in what it can reveal. The surveyor will not move furniture, lift floorboards, drill holes, look behind walls, or move furniture. As a result, the survey will include many caveats and statements designed to get the surveyor off the hook if they happen to miss something.
That said, not all, but many of the major issues of concern to buyers are visible to the trained eye, and it’s not often a surveyor will miss something significant in this type of report.
The HomeBuyers Report offers additional useful advice on necessary repairs, and some guidance on the requirements for ongoing maintenance of the property. It will also flag any obvious things that don’t meet current building regulations.
This last point is interesting, because it can send buyers into a flurry of panic. Building regs are changing all the time, so even a property that has barely reached its first birthday is unlikely to be fully compliant. Use your common sense here, and understand that non-compliance with building regs does not necessarily mean something needs immediate attention.
A property that was home to an elderly resident for the last 50 years, for example, is likely to need a rewire, new windows, and fresh boiler, but may still be perfectly habitable. Unless your survey tells you there are things that are actively dangerous, simply use the information in the report as means to help prioritise your ongoing maintenance of the property after you move in.
This was traditionally known as a ‘Full Structural Survey’, and is the most comprehensive survey you can get. Costs vary depending on the size, value and type of property, but don’t expect to pay less than £500 as a minimum, and more likely up to £8-900 for a typical family home.
A full Building Survey is really aimed at people buying an unusual property (lighthouse, anyone?), a period property (or one that is listed), or a home that clearly requires significant renovation. But more conventional properties that have been neglected, or any property where you may be planning major remodelling work, can certainly benefit from the insights a Building Survey provides.
Your typical Building Survey will wow you with details such as:
- Detailed explanations of any defects discovered
- Constructive and detailed guidance on repairs and maintenance that are needed
- If you request it, this survey can also outline estimates of the approximate costs and time required to rectify the key problems uncovered
- Potential consequences of not dealing with any of the problems found
- A simple 1-2-3 rating system that helps you instantly zone-in on the most serious issues
This is a no-holds-barred report, for which the surveyor will want to investigate the attic, under the floors, cavities between the floors and ceilings, and have a thorough look around the exterior of the property too.
Unless you specifically request it, a Building Survey will not provide a market valuation or insurance assessment.
New-Build Snagging Survey
If you are buying a brand new property then you really should have a New-Build Snagging Survey done. Developers are usually on a very tight schedule and keep a close eye on costs, and things can get missed.
This survey will cost you upwards of £300, and in some circumstances can be given to the developer of your property before you even move in. This is preferable, so that any major problems that may be disruptive to resolve can be addressed while the property is empty. If you are unable to have the survey done before you move, make it a priority once you’re in.
The key is to get things moving so that any issues found can be quickly resolved under the two-year developer warranty that should come as part of your property purchase deal.
Top Tips for Smart Surveys
- Choose wisely - If you elect to have a survey, do it properly and use a qualified individual or company. Select someone who is a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) - their knowledge meets professional standards and, crucially, they are obliged to carry professional indemnity insurance.
- Pitch it right - If your dream home is relatively new, it’s unlikely to have major structural issues and a Building Survey will be a waste of time and money. Conversely, a rambling renovation project will almost certainly require some major TLC, and a thorough survey will help ensure you have your eyes wide open to what’s required - and the costs involved - before you buy.
- Go local - For an independent valuation as part of your survey always choose someone local - their market intelligence will be sharper and their figures more accurate.
- Embrace the weird - If you are buying an unusual property (mansion, riverside, listed, etc.) then select a surveyor who has experience in that specific field.
- Don’t freak out - Any property that isn’t a new build will have issues, but these don’t mean it should be condemned. Surveyors have to cover themselves, so even the most basic survey will point out anything even remotely concerning that is found.
- Use your common sense - Take the advice and information in your survey at face value - fix anything that’s flagged as unsafe, and use the rest to help you prioritise any work you may decide to carry out on your new home.
If you have any questions about the type of survey that would be most appropriate for your needs, then do contact us. At Penrose we pride ourselves on ensuring that our clients are happy with the purchase process, and that includes helping you get the survey reassurance you need to feel peaceful about every aspect of your new home.