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Survey or not to survey? Now that is the question!

22 May 2014

We all know that buying a house is the most expensive purchase we’ll ever make, so do we really need to pay for the added extras like surveys?

Well yes, we probably do.

There are a lot of misconceptions about surveys and research by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has shown that first time buyers and young people are the ones most likely to get caught out.

In fact, a study from RICS last year revealed that more than a fifth of people who didn’t have a survey would never have bought the property if they’d known what lay beneath the surface.

It’s easy to get caught up in the dream when you’re buying a house. You find the perfect house, in the perfect street in your favourite neighbourhood, and you want it to be right. But the fact is that most of us aren’t experts.

“Most buyers can see that a property needs a new kitchen or a new bathroom,” said David Clifford-Smith, Manager of Beresfords Survey Department and a Chartered Surveyor himself. “But what you may not be able to see is that the house has a slate roof which will need replacing in a year’s time and could cost you thousands of pounds.” Alternatively there may be dry rot or some movement in the building – not always visible to the novice.

Some of the confusion arises because when you apply to take out a mortgage, the bank or building society will require a Valuation Report but research has shown that many people think this can take the place of a survey. It’s fine for a re-mortgage but although major issues that could affect the value are likely to be mentioned, if you are buying a property you really should have your own survey report as a valuation report is purely in your lender’s interest so they know the property is good security for their loan.

The advice varies of course depending on what kind of property you are buying. If you are buying a brand new property, then many people will be happy with their lender’s valuation, as you’ll also be in possession of an NHBC certificate or Buildmark, which is a 10-year guarantee for your home.

However, if you’re feeling a bit cautious you could go for a more advanced report commonly known as a Homebuyers Report, as builders do sometimes make mistakes. The Homebuyer’s Report will flag up serious construction problems, general problems such as damp and rot, and work that needs doing, and will also give a recommended course of action and a rough price guide. It also includes a valuation.

A Homebuyer’s Report might cost between £250-£400 but all the experts will recommend paying for one.

But what if you’re buying a period property that could be concealing more serious problems? A Building Survey is the mother of all surveys, providing a detailed breakdown of the property, its structure and condition. It highlights all problems and potential problems and also gives advice on action to be taken and detailed estimates.

“If you’re buying somewhere older you have to work on the principle that a lot of character properties are Edwardian or Victorian, and are therefore over 100 years old,” said David. A Building Survey might set you back in the region of £1,000 but could save you many times more than that in future maintenance.

“A lot of them were built very, very well, which is why they are still standing today,” David added. “But if you’re buying an older property, or somewhere that obviously needs work, then you need a Building Survey so you know exactly what you are getting into.

“Certainly if you’re buying a period property that needs work, or a ‘chocolate box’ cottage, then you really do need this level of survey.”

If you’re paying for a surveyor to carry out a report, then it’s a good idea to ask for their credentials. Are they are member of the RICS for example and do they have experience in your local area, so they know the pitfalls to look out for? That latter point is an important one because a local surveyor will have not only a food grasp on local values but also know about non-standard construction in particular areas or ground conditions that make may make properties prone to settlement, or really pertinent at the moment, flooding.

Another plus point in paying for your own report is that you can ask your surveyor to look at specific issues. For example, if you want to knock the kitchen through to have a kitchen-diner, is there a load-bearing wall that will scupper your plans?

Unless you’re buying a new build, any survey you pay for is bound to flag up some issues which can be a worry for buyers.

“It might look intimidating but a lot of the things mentioned will probably not be too consequential or too expensive to fix,” David advised. “That’s another good reason to pay for your own survey – go to your surveyor and say ‘I don’t understand this, could it be a major problem?’

“The golden rule when looking at work that needs to be done is to ask yourself one question,” David said. “Look at the property you are buying and ask yourself ‘is this what I would reasonably expect of a property of this age?’

“If you are buying a brand, spanking new house then you’d expect it to be pristine. However if you want a more established property with character you have to accept it won’t be perfect and make allowances for its age and condition.  

“You have to be realistic and make an informed choice,” David said. “Ask yourself ‘can I do something about this or not? and if I can’t then am I prepared to live with it?
“If you want a character property, or an older property, and you’re prepared to be realistic, then you can end up with your dream home.”

Types of survey – at a glance
Valuation Report – a basic valuation carried out by your mortgage lender to make sure the house is good security for the loan. This report may flag up serious issues that affect the value, but it is nowhere near comprehensive.

Homebuyers Report – a more detailed survey which will reveal major problems, and give recommendations and costings of suggested work. Cost  - £250 – £400 approx.

Building Survey – a thorough, comprehensive report looking at the full structure and state of the property. All problems should be identified, along with advice and costings. Cost –£750 upwards depending on the size of the property.

If you need a survey or just want an initial chat to discuss the type of survey you need and the cost, contact Beresfords Survey Division