Home Surveys Guide for Buyers and Sellers

From costs, choosing a surveyor, residential surveys to avoiding price cuts ...

Your home is far and away the largest purchase you will ever make, and you will be living there and paying for it for years to come. So it makes sense to make sure of the condition of the property before you move in. Anyone who remembers Tom Hanks’ classic 80s comedy, The Money Pit, will know how quickly your dream home can turn into an expensive nightmare if you don’t do your research properly before you buy.

A good investment

Moving home is an expensive business, with everything from estate agent’s fees on your own property, to removal or house clearance company costs and a million and one other expenses. So naturally, you will want to save money wherever you can. However, your home survey is not the place to cut corners. Even if you are buying a relatively new home in good condition, you will often recoup much more than the average cost of a home buyers survey by finding problems that could have cost you much more in the future. It will also give you peace of mind and confidence that you are making the right choice.

If you have any doubt about the condition of the home you are buying, especially older properties, you should get the most comprehensive home survey you can afford. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) estimates that as many as 20% of homebuyers rely solely on their mortgage valuation, gambling on everything being in good order. Needless to say, many of these buyers end up facing unexpected repair bills down the line, which cost them much more than they saved in survey fees.

Read: What Really Makes a Home Unmortgageable?

How much does a house survey cost?

As a buyer, the cost of your survey will depend on a number of factors, including the size and value of your property and the type of survey you choose.

Basic

A basic RICS Condition Report may only cost two or three hundred pounds, while a full structural survey can cost two or three times that amount, or even more on a large, expensive home.

Snagging

A snagging survey on a new build property will usually cost around £300.

Sellers will need to pay for an Energy Performance Certificate, which starts at around £35, while buyers applying for a mortgage will need to pay for a valuation survey, which is often tied in to the price of the property, although you may find some lenders offer this survey for free as part of your overall mortgage deal.

Types of property survey

There are several different levels of home survey, and unless you are really sure of the property condition, you should always opt for the best one you can afford. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for, so there is nothing to gain by compromising to cut costs.

  • RICS Condition Report – this is the most basic of all home surveys and should only be used for properties in the best condition, such as new or very well cared for homes. It is not intrusive, so your surveyor will not move furniture or look beyond what can immediately be seen. You will receive a very basic ‘traffic light’ assessment of the condition of the property, with little detail.
  • Homebuyers Report – also known as a homebuyers survey or a house buyers survey, this is the most popular survey as it will look more closely at the property to identify potential problems such as damp, mould and fungi, subsidence and other issues. The report will offer detailed advice on problems as well as suggesting what repairs or remedial action should be undertaken.
  • RICS Building Survey – this is the most comprehensive survey and will look in depth at the building, lifting floor boards to find any flooring problems, moving furniture and probing deeply into the condition of the property. The report will include estimates for both the cost and the time needed to make repairs as well as explaining what may happen if these problems are ignored. This type of survey is recommended for older properties where you suspect there may be structural or other issues hidden away in the fabric of the building.
  • New Build Snagging Survey – you may think that buying a new property avoids any problems, but there are often both minor and major issues with new build homes that need to be sorted out. New build homes are usually guaranteed for several years, so you can get these faults sorted out as you come across them, however, a new build snagging survey will identify any issues straight away so you can get them sorted out promptly before you move in
  • Mortgage Valuation Report – this is a basic assessment of the value of the property and does not take into account any potential faults. It is used by the bank or building society to establish whether the home is worth what they are being asked to lend against it. It is similar to an MOT in that it only assesses certain factors and should not be taken as a reflection of the overall condition of the property. It is important to remember that a mortgage valuation is for the benefit of the bank and is not designed for buyers assessing a property.
  • Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) – by law, all properties put up for sale must have an energy performance certificate. This rates the home on a scale from A to G, providing a colour coded assessment similar to the ones you will see on large electrical appliances. The EPC will show both the current efficiency of the property and the potential efficiency if certain basic improvements are made. An EPC is valid for ten years, so if you move again within this time, you should be able to use the original certificate, although if you have made improvements it may be worth getting your home reassessed.

Here RICs also explains choosing the right home survey:

 

Read: Known BISF House Problems You Should be Aware Of

Choosing a surveyor

It is essential that you choose a professional surveyor, and do not rely on a friend or relative who ‘knows about property’. Not only is a professional surveyor fully trained, they are also insured against mistakes. This means that if they miss something that they should have spotted, you should have legal redress to claim compensation. This will not be possible with a family friend, and can not only lead to awkward situations, but also costly bills if they make a mistake.

You should look for a surveyor who is registered with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, or another industry recognised body such as the Residential Property Surveyors Association or the Surveyors and Valuers Accreditation scheme.

Accompany the survey

In most cases, your surveyor should be left to do their work and you should wait for their report before asking any questions. However, if you have any specific concerns about the property you are buying, you should either raise these with the surveyor in advance or accompany them on the day. As long as you keep out of their way, most surveyors will be happy for you to come along, so you can see for yourself the extent of any problems. If your surveyor is not willing to let you do this, find another one – there are plenty out there.

How does a residential survey help buyers?

As discussed above, a home survey will often pay for itself by highlighting problems that either need fixing now, or which have the potential to cost you money in the long run if they are not addressed. Buyers can use a survey to negotiate with the seller for a price reduction to cover the cost of the work. Better still, you can ask for the work to be done before the sale is completed, or insist on a further reduction to cover the inconvenience and disruption of having work done after you move.

With the markets nervous ahead of Brexit, more and more mortgage valuations are down-valuing properties, even when a price has been agreed between the buyer and seller. If this happens with your mortgage lender valuation, then you can renegotiate the sale price.

Preparing for your survey

As a seller, there is no point in trying to hide problems in your home. An experienced home surveyor will always find them in the end, and you will only raise suspicion that you are hiding other issues too. It is much better to prepare openly for your survey, making the surveyor’s job as easy as possible so that they see your home in a positive light. Read our article ‘5 ways to prepare your house for a property survey’ as well as ‘Common property problems surveyors find’ to help you prepare for the inspection.

Can you avoid a survey price cut?

If a survey finds problems with your property, there is little you can do to avoid either a drop in price or a costly repair bill. Even if you are selling to a property purchasing company, a poor home survey can still slash the price of your property, as Kelvin Elliott from Yes! Homebuyers explains: “Some quick sale companies will use their survey to slash their original offer price at the eleventh hour, leaving you with little option but to accept their new and often much lower offer”.

However, this is not always the case, says Kelvin. “As a professional home buying service, Yes! Homebuyers will guarantee our original offer except in the most unusual of circumstances, which means you don’t have to worry about what your survey will find.”