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Which type of survey do I need?

A Mortgage Valuation is not sufficient!

When buying your home an independent survey is always recommended. You should not simply rely on the mortgage valuation, for several reasons:

  • the mortgage valuer is instructed by the lender, and is working for them, not you
  • the valuation may not be carried out by a qualified Chartered Surveyor, and may be cursory at best, because...
  • the mortgage valuation is simply for the mortgage lender to check that if you default on your payments there will be enough value in the house for them to sell it, and recover the outstanding amount of the loan, and not...
  • to determine whether the property has defects that will require significant sums to rectify in the future
  • or whether the purchase price is a fair open market price for the property

So, which survey do you need?

In 2020 the RICS launched a new 3 Level system of categorising the minimum levels of survey you can expect. This allows surveyors to add a degree of customisation to their standard reports or even create custom reports that meet the required level standard to suit local building conditions and materials. For example there can be significant differences between standard construction methods in urban brick built homes and stone built rural properties, and the new levels are intended to create a consistent minimum level that can be applied to surveys for the different types of property across the country.

This means that when comparing surveyors' offerings you do need to check what exactly you will be getting for your money, whether it's one of the RICS standard surveys, or whether it's a customised version. You would normally expect Level 1 and Level 2 surveys to adhere to the standard RICS format, but Level 3 Building Surveys can have a lot more variation, as they are by definition aimed at older and more diverse properties.

You will also need to check if a valuation is included in the fee - a valuation is not included in Level 1 surveys, Level 2 may or may not include a valuation, Level 3 will generally not include a valuation, and you will need to request this separately.

Valuations are not surveys, and will involve a visual inspection of the property and desk research to determine the open market value of the property, and should only be prepared by an RICS Registered Valuer.

RICS Level 1

The standard RICS Level 1 survey is the RICS Condition Report. This is a very basic level report which involves a visual inspection and offers very little beyond that. Consequently it is really only suited to modern new build properties. Very few of our surveyors offer this level of survey because of its limited scope.

RICS Level 2

The RICS standard Level 2 offering is the RICS HomeBuyer Report (HBR), formerly known as a HomeBuyer Survey. There are two forms for the HomeBuyer Report - survey only, and survey with valuation. This is a survey completed to a standard format set out by the RICS, and it’s most suitable for conventional properties built within the last 150 years, which are in reasonable condition.

It doesn’t detail every aspect of the property, and only focuses on urgent matters needing attention. It’s not usually suitable for properties that have been significantly altered, or are in need of renovation, or if you’re planning major alterations.

A standard HomeBuyers Report includes details of:

  • The general condition of the property
  • Any major faults in accessible parts of the building that may affect the value
  • Any urgent problems that might need inspecting by a specialist before you sign a contract
  • Results of tests for damp in the walls
  • Damage to timbers – including woodworm or rot
  • The condition of any damp-proofing, insulation and drainage (though drains aren’t tested)
  • The estimated cost of rebuilding the property for insurance purposes

If you require a HomeBuyer Report with valuation, then an "open market valuation" will be provided, but you will need to check with your surveyor if this is included. Only surveyors who are also RICS Registered Valuers can provide a valuation, and there is usually a higher cost.

RICS Level 3

Level 3 covers Building Surveys (formerly known as a Full Structural Survey). There is a standard RICS Building Survey format, which many surveyors follow, particularly those operating in urban areas where properties tend to be of more consistent construction, but Buiilding Surveys are far more likely to vary between surveyors and regions.

Where surveyors cover a mix of rural, semi-rural and urban properties, they are more likely to have their own customised reporting formats, so you should be aware that although a Building Survey will meet the minimum standard of RICS Level 3, some Building Surveys may be more comprehensive than others, and you should take that into consideration when comparing fees. It is particularly important to discuss the scope of your required survey to ensure that it will cover everything you need it to.

A full Building Survey is suitable for all properties, but especially for:

  • Listed buildings
  • Older properties
  • Buildings constructed in an unusual way, however old they are
  • Properties you plan to renovate or alter in any way
  • Properties that have had extensive alterations.

It examines all accessible parts of the property - and you can ask to have specific areas included, so it covers any particular concerns you have about the building. It is a product which can be tailored to your needs, as agreed between you and your surveyor.

A Building Survey will generally include details of:

  • Major and minor defects and what they could mean
  • The possible cost of repairs
  • Results of damp testing on walls
  • Damage to timbers – including woodworm and rot
  • The condition of damp-proofing, insulation and drainage (though drains aren’t tested)
  • Technical information on the construction of the property and the materials used
  • The location
  • Recommendations for any further special inspections.

A Building Survey usually doesn’t include a valuation, but your surveyor can provide this separately if you need one, but again any valuation has to be prepared by a RICS Registered Valuer, and there will be an additional charge.

We'd stress that when instructing a surveyor to carry out a Building Survey it is well worth a discussion to check what is to be included and anything that will be omitted.

General limitations on surveys

It is worth stressing that all standard survey types are 'non-destructive' - in other words they won't cover areas that cannot be easily accessed; surveyors aren't usually able to raise carpets or flooring, insulation in roof-spaces, or remove contents of cupboards to gain access for example.

Access may also be limited by the current home owner. If you have concerns about any specific aspect of the property where access might be restricted, it's worth speaking to your surveyor about the options available, including the possibility of improving access arrangements.

Surveyors will generally not be able to advise on remedial work in many specialist areas, such as plumbing, damp-proofing, heating, gas or electrical installations, as these are regulated professions where only licenced or registered professionals are allowed to work. Their report may highlight observable problems, but will not offer specific recommendations other than to recommend gaining the appropriate specialist advice.

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