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Everything you need to know about residential building surveys

When you are looking to buy a new home, your to do list is long and the various costs involved in the process can mount up.

However, there is one area where we strongly recommend you don’t cut corners, and that is when it comes to getting a full survey done.

For most people, buying a home is by far the biggest expenditure they will ever commit to, and the relatively low cost of a survey could be the wisest money you’ll ever spend.

You want to make sure that you are making a sound investment, and getting a thorough survey carried out by a qualified surveyor will give you the peace of mind to know that your property is sound – avoiding potentially nasty and costly surprises in the future.

Richmond Futures is a highly experienced surveying practice in the London area. 

In this article, we answer questions we are most commonly asked about home surveys.

Highlights

  • Not a legal requirement, but highly recommended.
  • Helps identify structural issues and potential future problems.
  • Mortgage valuation differs from a comprehensive building survey.
  • Surveyor can focus on specific concerns or elements if requested.
  • Survey duration varies (90 minutes to three hours).
  • Property owner’s presence isn’t necessary for survey.
  • Report usually sent as a PDF within two working days after inspection.
  • Costs depend on property type, size, location, and complexity.
  • Level 2 Homebuyer Report: £450 to £1,000 plus VAT.
  • Level 3 Building Survey: £700 to £2,000 plus VAT.
  • Instruct as soon as offer accepted subject to contract and legal documentation confirmed.

Do I have to get a survey done? My mortgage lender has already inspected my property.

It’s not a legal requirement, but it’s hard to think of a reason why you wouldn’t want to get a full survey done on the property you are looking to buy as, otherwise, you would not be aware of any structural issues that may cause you future problems and potentially a lot of money and stress.

There is a big difference between the valuation that a mortgage lender requires, and a building survey that we carry out. 

The mortgage valuation is to assure the lender that the market value of the property is not less than the amount they have agreed to lend you, and it doesn’t include an in-depth assessment of the condition of the property.

Also, the lender’s valuation is just for them. If their valuer misses something, it is unlikely that you would be able to make a claim to them for any defects that were there at the time, however serious the repercussions turn out to be.

What might a survey tell me?

There are all kinds of issues that surveyors can pick up, and some will be more serious than others. 

It could be something like dampness in the walls, hidden water ingress in the roof space or inadequate electrical installations.

Faults found with the property might not be deal breakers in terms of you not going ahead with the purchase, but they could give you leverage when you are negotiating the purchase price, or a useful heads up for budgeting and planning for the repairs you know you’ve got to deal with.

Which survey would you recommend, Level 2 or Level 3?

This depends mostly on the type and construction of the property, and how old it is. Another factor in choosing which survey is most suitable for you would be any plans you may have to change or refurbish the property. 

Generally speaking, a Level 2 Homebuyer Report is the right option for properties that are in seemingly in good condition, and built with traditional construction methods in the last 100 years.

We would recommend a Level 3 Building Survey for older, larger properties, or those in poor condition, or in a situation where you are planning extensive works. 

If you are not sure which survey is best for you, do get in touch – we would be happy to give you free advice to help you decide which is most suitable for your circumstances. 

Can I ask my surveyor to look at specific concerns or elements of the property?

Absolutely. Please highlight anything in particular that you would like us to pay extra close attention to when we survey the property.

Will you inspect or test the services as part of your inspection?

Although we do a basic check of the main services, i.e. electricity, gas/oil, heating, water and drainage, we are only looking at them from a building surveyor’s perspective. This means we will include advice on the age of the services and highlight any obvious defects.

Because we are not qualified or trained to do so, we don’t thoroughly check the workings of these services.

If there is no recent test certification available when we inspect the services, or if we see obvious concerns, we will flag this to you in your Report, advising you to get them tested by someone who is qualified to do so

How long does inspecting the property take, and do I need to be there?

It can hugely vary, but the average time it takes for us to carry out the survey is between 90 minutes and three hours.

If the property is larger, and/or in poor condition, it will take us longer to carry out our thorough inspection. 

We find that it is more efficient for us to pick up the keys, or get let into the property, then be left alone to fully focus on the survey without distractions.

How and when will I receive my report?

We appreciate that, with most house purchases, time is of the essence. So, we aim to email a PDF of your Report over to you about two working days after we have completed the property inspection.

If you would prefer a hard copy, you can just let us know. 

After you have received your Report, we offer a follow up call, at no extra charge, so that we can talk through the detail in the Report with you, answering any questions you may have and discussing any concerns.

What do the Traffic Light Condition ratings mean in my Report?

These four ratings you will see next to the description of each element of the property are a standard guide to help highlight the condition of each part of the property.

NI: Not inspected. 

This often means that we were unable to inspect or access this area of the property. We will always do our best to inspect every element of the property, but sometimes it is not possible if we couldn’t gain access. This rating is also used if the element isn’t there, i.e. not all properties have a chimney or a porch.

Green: No significant repairs needed. 

For elements rated green, no urgent remedial works have been identified, however we always advise that you carry out regular maintenance. 

Amber: Defects that need repairing but are not considered to be serious or urgent. 

Just because these repairs aren’t considered urgent or serious, they must not be ignored, and we recommend that you get cost estimates to carry out these repairs.

Red: Defects that are serious and need to be repaired or investigated urgently. 

There are three reasons that cause this rating. First, an urgent repair is required for an issue like a roof covering that has failed and is allowing water ingress that could cause damage inside the building. Second, in our judgement you need to commission further investigation by a specialist, for example inadequate electrical installations. Thirdly, a red condition rating is given where we are concerned about health and safety, for example if we find damaged materials that contain asbestos. 

How much will my survey cost?

It depends on the type and size of the property, where it is located, and the amount of research we think we’ll need to do. 

Roughly speaking, a Level 2 Homebuyer Report will cost anything between £450 and £1,000 plus VAT.

As Level 3 Building Survey reports are generally more complex and take longer to prepare, costs for these will be around £700 to £2,000 plus VAT.

In most cases, a quick call with us asking you a few questions will enable us to give you a quote over the phone, that we can follow up with in writing.

Tip: When you are comparing quotes, make sure all the quotes have VAT included, so that you’re comparing like for like.

When should I instruct a surveyor?

You’ll want to progress this as quickly as possible to avoid holding things up, but you don’t want to incur unnecessary costs in case the house buying process falls through, as it often can. 

So, we would advise you to instruct a surveyor as soon as your offer has been accepted subject to contract and your solicitor has received legal documentation backing this up.

What is the process if I decide to go ahead with my survey?

Once you have instructed us in writing, we take care of everything for you. 

We contact the agent who is managing the sale of the property, to arrange a convenient time for us to inspect the property. Usually, this should be within two or three days of instruction.

Then, we aim to have your Report with you two working days after that.

Tip: When you are comparing surveyors’ quotes, check their timescales. It might be a false economy to go with what seems a very low quote, only to find out later that you don’t get your Report for a month – that kind of delay could jeopardise your whole house buying process. 

Contact Richmond Futures today

If you need to get a survey done on a property you are looking to buy, our experienced and qualified team of surveyors are here to help you, and ready to respond quickly.

You can call us on 0208 412 7967, or email us at info@richmondfutures.co.uk

We look forward to hearing from you!

All our surveyors at Richmond Futures are members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the industry’s regulatory authority. Their strict regulations mean that we have to follow rules of conduct and keep up to date with the latest developments in the industry, ensuring that we are committed to providing you with expert advice that is clear, concise, accurate and in your best interests.