Buying a home is expensive enough, so having it surveyed as well can seem like an extra expense.
But not getting it done is a false economy.
A surveyor can identify problems you haven’t noticed, and as a result, you may be able to negotiate a lower purchase price, or decide to withdraw from the purchase altogether.
If you’re buying with the help of a mortgage, the lender will instruct a surveyor to value the property to ensure it’s worth what you’re paying.
This valuation should identify any very obvious problems with the property, but that’s about it – the lender is simply protecting its interests.
While the valuation is sometimes free, you usually have to pay the lender for it.
You can also often upgrade to a survey by paying more, the cost of which may be subsidised by the lender, or you can get a survey done independently of the lender’s valuation.
If the valuation is less than the purchase price, the mortgage lender may not agree to give you the loan, or may reduce the size of it.
Apart from the lender’s valuation, there are two main kinds of survey for buyers: the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) HomeBuyer Report and the RICS Building Survey (or full structural survey) – see www.rics.org/uk.
The HomeBuyer Report is usually quite long, but divided into sections to make it easy to digest. It uses an easy traffic-light system so you can clearly see what repairs (and maintenance) are required, and how urgent they are.
The surveyor will often recommend getting experts in to make further investigations, such as a timber specialist to confirm if woodworm damage is active or historic, or an electrician to check the wiring.
The HomeBuyer Report is designed to provide a snapshot of the overall condition of the property, rather than a detailed investigation. For this, you need the Building Survey.
The Building Survey is the most extensive – and expensive – type of survey. It’s particularly suited to properties that are large, listed, very old, of unusual construction, in need of renovation, or have been altered substantially.
The surveyor will check the property thoroughly but, as with the HomeBuyer, they’ll only examine things that are visible or easily accessible, although they can adapt their inspection.
The Building Survey should be very thorough and lengthy, often containing a long list of defects – but remember all properties have defects, so don’t be alarmed.
Many buyers trust the surveyor implicitly, but I know, as a seller, that surveyors can get things wrong.
Surveyors are experts and most of us aren’t, but they’re not infallible, so get a survey done, but use common sense when evaluating it.