Do I really need a survey for the house I want to buy?
Claire Gummow, Chartered Legal Executive in Coodes Solicitors’ Residential Property team, explains why she recommends a survey for anyone looking to buy a house.
There is no legal requirement to commission a survey when buying a property. In fact, many people choose to go ahead with a purchase without a survey.
However, we strongly recommend commissioning a surveyor to carry out a survey for any property purchase. While it does add some additional expense and time to the conveyancing process, it could save you far more money in repairs and renovation further down the line.
The benefits of a survey
A detailed survey will cover legal aspects of the property, such as the boundary lines and rights of way, which your conveyancer will deal with. It will also highlight potential issues with the building. This could, for example, include revealing that an extension was built without complying with building regulations, or uncover structural issues that urgently need to be addressed.
Once you have exchanged contracts you will take on the property as it is and any defect that comes to light after that point will become your responsibility to deal with. That means you should commission a survey before exchanging contracts.
If your survey raises issues with the property you could use this information to renegotiate the price with the sellers. Or you may choose not to go ahead with the purchase.
Which type of survey do I need?
There are different levels of surveys, all of which should be carried out by a qualified surveyor. Some will reveal minimal information while others provide an in-depth review of the property. These surveys come at different prices. Your survey advisor should be able to talk you through the options and prices so you can choose the most appropriate survey for the property you are looking to buy.
Each company offers a different range of surveys. However, as a general rule there are around four levels.
1. Valuation survey
A valuation survey is commissioned by your mortgage lender, to confirm the value of the house you wish to buy. It will not provide you with detailed information on the condition of the property.
The surveyor will carry out a basic inspection of the property, considering its location and condition to advise on its value.
A valuation survey is essential for any property purchase that involves a mortgage lender. However, relying on this alone is too risky as it may not identify any structural problems or other defects, which could cause issues in the future. You should also commission one of the three types of surveys outlined next.
2. A condition report
A condition report will provide you with some detail on the condition of the property. It will highlight potential problems, such as major defects that need attention, issues that could cause damage to the building and potential hazards.
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3. A homebuyer report
A homebuyer report will provide more detail that a condition report, both on the state of the property and its value. It will cover potential problems, such as damp and electrical issues, as well as the major defects covered in a condition report.
4. A full structural survey
This is the most thorough survey and is often recommended for older or unusual properties. It will involve an in-depth review of the property’s condition and the surveyor will also provide advice on necessary repairs and maintenance. In an ideal world, a full structural survey would be carried out on every property purchase but this is the most expensive option.
Do I need a survey if I am buying a new build property?
A new build property should be covered by a National House Builders Council (NHBC) agreement or equivalent. This should provide you with cover for any structural issues that emerge for the first ten years. However you may still want to commission a survey on the property for peace of mind.
What survey should I commission if I am looking to purchase a flat?
If you are buying a flat or maisonette, the terms of your lease will probably mean that you have some responsibilities for the maintenance of the whole block. Your survey should therefore cover the entire building.
How long will a survey take?
When buying a property, most people want to get through the process as quickly as possible. In recent months, the pandemic has put additional pressure on anyone seeking to move, so some people may be tempted to avoid any extra delays caused by a survey.
A full structural survey is likely to involve more time because the report will be longer and more detailed. Whichever survey you choose it should take just a few hours to complete. However, you will also need to allow time to research providers, commission the survey and then wait for the results.
It will then be important to carefully reflect on the findings and any recommendations from the surveyor. You may also need to carry out further research to get quotes for any repairs.
In most cases, the whole process should take days rather than weeks. However, it is worth speaking to a range of survey companies to discuss their different offerings, prices and likely timeframes.
We fully appreciate the pressures of buying a property, particularly if you are in a chain. However, choosing to go ahead without a survey is very risky indeed. We recommend all of our clients to commission a survey. After all, a house is likely to be the most expensive thing you ever buy and it makes sense to do everything you can to ensure the decision is right.