What is a building survey?
A building survey is an expert inspection of a property’s condition, carried out by a qualified building or structural surveyor, which identifies problems to a prospective buyer.
It’s completed by a building surveyor or structural engineer, who will visit the property, carry out an inspection, and prepare a detailed report on what was found.
Homebuyers generally have a survey done on a property after their offer has been accepted by the seller (but the system works differently in Scotland).
Before commissioning a survey, you should check that the surveyor is a member of one of the two main accrediting bodies:
• Rics – Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Rics surveyors provide three ‘levels’ of survey: Rics Home Survey – Level 1 (previously called a Condition Report), Level 2 (previously called a HomeBuyer Report) and Level 3 (previously called a Building Survey). Level 2 reports are available with or without valuations.
• RPSA – Residential Property Surveyors Association. The RPSA provides two levels of survey: a Home Condition Survey and a Building Survey. It also offers a specialist buy-to-let survey for landlords.
Types of house survey
The type of house survey you’ll require depends on the age and condition of the property you’re buying.
Buyers most commonly choose a mid-level survey (such as the Rics Home Survey – Level 2 or RPSA Home Condition Survey), but for older properties, a more comprehensive survey may be recommended.
Rics Home Survey – Level 1
This is the most basic type of survey. It uses traffic light ratings to give an overview of the property’s condition and highlight significant issues, but doesn’t go into detail.
A Level 1 survey is suitable if you’re looking to buy a standard, modern property that’s in good condition, and want to confirm that everything looks okay. You can download an example report on the Rics website.
Rics Home Survey – Level 2/RPSA Home Condition Survey
A mid-level survey is the standard choice for most properties in reasonable condition. This level of survey will look at everything that would be covered above, but with added extras.
It will highlight any problems that might affect the property’s value, and include the surveyor’s advice on repairs and ongoing maintenance. It should also highlight issues such as damp and subsidence, and point out anything that doesn’t meet current building regulations.
The inspection is non-intrusive, meaning the surveyor won’t look behind furniture or under floorboards, so they’ll only be able to identify ‘surface-level’ issues.
Rics Level 2 Surveys are available with or without a market valuation. You can download an example of the RPSA Home Condition Survey on its website.
Rics Home Survey – Level 3/RPSA Building Survey
This is the most thorough type of survey. It provides a comprehensive analysis of both the property’s structure and condition.
A Level 3 survey is a good option if you’re buying a property that’s over 50 years old, of unusual design, or in poor condition.
It can also be worthwhile if you’re planning to do significant work or have major concerns about a property. The surveyor will be ‘hands on’ and do things like check the attic and look under floorboards. The report will list any defects and advise on repairs and maintenance.
You can also ask the surveyor to include projected costs and timings for any repair work recommended in the report.
How long does a house survey take?
The amount of time a house survey takes depends on the level of survey you choose and, of course, the size of the property.
• A basic survey might only take an hour to complete.
• A mid-range survey could take up to three hours.
• The amount of time a full structural survey takes varies considerably depending on the type of property you’re buying, with some taking as long as a full day.
When will I get my house survey report?
This depends on the individual surveyor and the complexity of the report.
Your surveyor will inform you how long they’ll take to provide the report, but it shouldn’t be longer than five days (level one or two) or 10 days (level three).
New-build snagging surveys
If you’re buying a new-build home, you won’t need a fully-fledged house survey. That said, you might want to consider paying for a snagging survey.
A snagging survey identifies cosmetic issues such as uneven plaster, crooked tiles or sticking windows. Some surveyors may provide a more detailed report that will consider structural or construction problems, though these can be significantly more expensive.
You can give your snagging report to your builder before you move into the property so you can get any issues sorted as quickly as possible.
A snagging survey will cost around £300-£600, depending on the size of the property