House survey checklist

Last updated: May 2024 | 3 min read

House surveys before buying your new house, are an intelligent investment. In this article we provide a very useful checklist for everything you must keep in mind when getting a house survey conducted. 

When beginning your journey of buying a new house, this article will help you understand the role of homebuyers surveys in safeguarding your investment.

Read on to enter the property market with confidence, avoiding pitfalls in your house buying process.

What is a house survey?

A house survey involves a thorough inspection of a property's condition by a qualified expert. It highlights structural problems, defects, and potential issues.

Usually undertaken by prospective homeowners, it's a step that can influence purchasing decisions and negotiation on price.

A house survey goes beyond a simple visual check, and into issues that might not be immediately apparent.

Here's a more detailed article on who organises the house surveys.

Why do you need a house survey?

House surveys provide valuable insight into the condition of the property you're planning to buy. They identify any immediate and potential problems that could cost you more money in the future.

By understanding these issues early, you can make a more informed decision about your investment.

Surveys can also be useful in negotiating the purchase price, particularly if they uncover problems that need fixing.

Types of house surveys

Basic valuation vs. homebuyer report vs. full building survey

House surveys come in various formats, each tailored to different needs and property types.

The basic valuation, primarily aimed at lenders, assesses a property's market value. Despite its limited scope, lenders often require it for mortgage approval. You, as a homebuyer, should note that this survey focuses more on the lender's interest than yours.

The homebuyer report presents a more detailed option. It offers a broader overview, examining the general condition of the property. This report commonly includes observations on any major faults visible to the surveyor that could affect the property's value. Its non-intrusive nature means the surveyor won't lift carpets or move furniture.

A full building survey is the most detailed property survey available. It's particularly beneficial for older or larger homes and those needing renovation. This comprehensive inspection dives deeper, checking for issues like structural problems, dampness, and woodworm. Though more expensive, it provides an in-depth analysis of the condition of the property.

How to interpret the comprehensive survey report

Comprehensive survey reports, particularly in a full building survey, are extensive documents providing detailed insights. They offer thorough assessments of each part of the property, from roof to foundations.

Expect this report to include technical advice on repairs, maintenance, and the materials used in the property's construction.

When surveying a property, the building surveyor looks for structural damage, including problems with the exterior walls or roofing. They'll note issues such as hairline cracks or damp proofing concerns.

Understanding these reports can feel overwhelming. Professional advice from a chartered surveyor or estate agent can clarify specific issues or technical terms.

How to choose the right survey for your property

Selecting the right survey depends on several factors, such as the property's age, type, and condition.

A new, conventional home might only need a basic homebuyer report.

A historical or listed building, or extensively modified property could warrant a full building survey.

Consider the renovation work already done or planned for the future. More complex changes often require more detailed surveying.

The house's condition also dictates the survey type. A property in reasonable condition with no visible signs of major issues might not need an in-depth survey. However, any sign of potential trouble, like cracked tiles or a leaning chimney breast, calls for a more thorough check.

The main difference lies in the detail level each survey provides. Choose based on the property's specifics and your peace of mind.

House survey costs and factors affecting price

House survey costs vary significantly depending on the survey type and the property.

A basic mortgage valuation might cost less, primarily serving the lender's interest.

A homebuyer report is moderately priced, providing a sound balance of thoroughness and affordability for most buyers.

A full building survey, given its depth and detail, stands as the most expensive option. It's a sound investment for older, larger, or more unusual properties. These surveys can uncover issues that could cost significantly more to repair if undiscovered. The surveyor's skill and time, along with the comprehensive inspection they provide, reflect in this higher price.

Learn in detail about the costs of house surveys in 2024.

Comparing quotes from chartered surveyors

Comparing quotes from various chartered surveyors is wise. Prices and services can vary. Some might offer additional checks, like damp tests or an investigation of the building timbers. When comparing, don't just focus on price. Look at the survey's scope, the surveyor's experience, and any extra services provided.

Chartered surveyors, accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), ensure a standard of professionalism and expertise. When you receive the full report, it will often come with a condition report, detailing each aspect of the property. This detail is what you're paying for – a clear, comprehensive view of your potential new home.

The cheapest option may not always be the best. Investing in a detailed and accurate report can save you from costly surprises in the future. When selecting a surveyor, consider their qualifications, experience, and the depth of the report they provide.

What to expect in a house survey

Visual inspection of visible and accessible parts

During a house survey, surveyors conduct a visual inspection focusing on visible and accessible areas. These areas include roofs, walls, windows, and floors. However, they don't move furniture or lift carpets.

It's a non-intrusive assessment, so the surveyor won't drill holes or look under floorboards. Understanding this limited scope helps set realistic expectations.

Common issues flagged by house surveys

Structural issues

Structural issues, such as cracks in walls or uneven floors, often catch a surveyor's eye. These can signal serious problems like subsidence. Spotting these early can save you from future headaches.

Dampness and drainage problems

Surveyors also look for signs of damp and drainage issues. Symptoms like mould or peeling wallpaper can indicate deeper problems. Resolving these issues promptly can prevent more extensive damage later.

Electrical and plumbing system checks

Electrical and plumbing systems are part of the checklist. Surveyors check the condition of visible wiring and plumbing fixtures. However, detailed inspections might require a specialist.

Elements of a house survey checklist

Exterior inspection from roof to foundation

The exterior inspection covers everything from the roof to the foundation. Roof conditions, including flat roofs and chimney stacks, get a thorough check for defects. Surveyors also inspect external walls and windows, particularly focusing on double glazing, for any decay or damage.

Interior review: walls, ceilings, and more

Inside, walls, ceilings, and floors are scrutinised for signs of defects. Surveyors examine door frames and windowsills, looking out for issues like wood rot or uneven fitting. The general rule is that anything visibly or easily accessible should be included in the survey.

Investigating electrics, heating, and plumbing

The survey covers essential services like electrics, heating, and plumbing. Surveyors visually inspect these systems to identify any obvious issues. However, they don't conduct in-depth tests. If the property's systems appear outdated or poorly maintained, consider getting a specialist in for a detailed assessment.

Special attention to older properties and renovations

Older properties and those with renovations require extra attention. Surveyors examine any extensions or alterations to ensure they comply with building regulations. Issues in older homes, like damp or structural movement, are commonly referred.

Interpreting the results of a house survey

Green, amber, or red?

Your house survey report is a document that is dense with detail and sometimes technical language. As a potential homeowner, your primary task is to digest this information thoroughly.

Every element of the property is typically rated to help you grasp the severity and immediacy of any issues.

Begin with the summary or 'key findings' section, often provided by chartered surveyors. This part highlights the most pressing concerns or significant defects.

RICS chartered surveyors usually follow a traffic light system: green for no repair needed, amber for defects that need attention but aren't serious, and red for urgent or significant concerns.

Identifying significant vs. minor defects

Differentiating between major and minor defects in the report is important. Significant defects often relate to structural issues or deep-rooted problems like subsidence, severe damp, or roof collapse. These issues are costly and may affect the property's stability and safety.

Minor defects, on the other hand, may include small cracks in walls or missing roof tiles. They usually don’t require immediate action and are less costly to repair. No house is perfect; minor defects are common even in the best-maintained homes.

Deciphering professional jargon

Survey reports can be laden with technical jargon, which can be overwhelming. Terms like 'cavity wall ties' or 'efflorescence' often leave homebuyers baffled.

Do not hesitate to ask your surveyor for a plain English explanation of any terms or sections you don't understand.

Remember, surveyors are accustomed to explaining these terms to non-specialists. Your understanding is key to making informed decisions about your next home.

After the survey: next steps and negotiations

Dealing with significant defects

Discovering significant defects through your house survey can be disconcerting, but it's better to identify them before completing the purchase. If your report uncovers serious issues, consider obtaining quotes for repairs from relevant specialists. This will give you a realistic idea of the costs involved.

Get a more detailed specialist survey, especially for problems like damp or structural concerns.

Your decision to proceed with the purchase might depend on the severity of these defects and your budget for repairs.

Negotiating repairs or price adjustments

If the house survey reveals defects, particularly significant ones, this can be leveraged in price negotiations. You have a few options: ask the seller to fix the issues before completion, negotiate a price reduction, or ask for a cash sum to cover repair costs. Your strategy should depend on your priorities and the property's overall value.

Sellers are often open to negotiations, especially if issues are clearly outlined in the survey report. But negotiations depend on market conditions; in a seller's market, there may be less room for negotiating on price or repairs.

When to consider a further investigation or pulling out

Occasionally, the issues uncovered in a survey are so severe that they necessitate a rethink of the entire purchase.

If the cost of resolving the defects is prohibitive, or if the property is fundamentally unsound, it might be better to walk away from the deal.

This decision is never easy and should consider the property's location, uniqueness, and your emotional attachment.

While it might feel like a setback, opting out after a negative house survey can sometimes be the wisest decision, preventing financial and emotional strain in the future.

DIY vs. professional surveys

Can you do your own house survey?

Conducting your own house survey is an option you might consider. You may be eyeing cost savings or perhaps you have some experience in property and construction. Remember though, detailed knowledge and a keen eye for potential problems are needed.

Spotting less obvious defects like subtle signs of damp or subsidence isn't always straightforward. Your own survey can help you familiarise yourself with the property, identifying obvious issues before deciding if a professional survey is needed.

When to hire a professional surveyor

Complexities in surveying process often necessitate professional insight, particularly for unique or older properties. If you're dealing with a building that has a history of structural modifications, it's wise to involve a chartered surveyor.

They bring a depth of expertise, able to detect hidden faults that might escape an untrained eye. In cases where a mortgage is involved, lenders require a professional survey to protect their investment and yours.

Benefits of a professional survey over DIY

Professional surveys, be it a basic homebuyers report or a full structural survey, offer comprehensive insights.

A chartered surveyor's expertise goes beyond identifying current problems. They anticipate potential future issues, offering you a clearer picture of maintenance costs.

This depth of understanding helps in making an informed decision about your property investment.

Their findings can be instrumental in negotiating price, especially if significant repairs are needed

Choosing a surveyor

What qualifications and experiences to look for

Finding the right surveyor is key to obtaining a comprehensive and reliable house survey. Chartered surveyors are the most qualified professionals in this field. They've earned their qualifications through rigorous training and exams overseen by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). When searching for a surveyor, ensure they are RICS chartered surveyors.

This status indicates a commitment to maintaining the highest professional standards. Experience in surveying properties similar to yours, especially if it's an older or unconventional home, is also invaluable.

A surveyor familiar with local building styles and potential issues can provide deeper insights into your future home's condition.

How to find a reputable chartered surveyor

Discovering a trustworthy chartered surveyor might seem daunting. Start by seeking recommendations from friends or family who recently purchased property. They can often share first-hand experiences and point you towards reliable professionals. Online reviews and forums can also offer insights into a surveyor's reputation and quality of service.

Remember to check for RICS accreditation on their website or listing. RICS chartered surveyors are bound by a code of conduct, ensuring high standards in their surveying work. Contacting local estate agents can also be beneficial; they frequently work with surveyors and can recommend those with strong track records in your area.

Questions to ask before hiring a surveyor

Once you've shortlisted potential surveyors, ask the right questions to ensure they meet your needs. Query their experience in surveying homes similar to yours and ask for examples or case studies.

Understanding what's included in their service is important; confirm whether they check less accessible areas like the roof space or underfloor spaces. Inquire about the time they'll spend on your property and when you can expect the report.

Ask how they handle identifying and reporting potential issues. Will they provide rough cost estimates for repairs or maintenance needed? Knowing their process for dealing with difficult-to-assess areas, such as external areas or permanent outbuildings, can also be revealing.

Finally, discuss the cost upfront to avoid any unexpected fees later.

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