Survey Before Buying Your New Home – Why you need a Building Survey!

Published on: 2 December 2017

The important and crucial thing to remember in any conveyancing transaction is Caveat Emptor - Buyer Beware. This article briefly explores the need for a Building Survey, the different types of building survey to consider, how to choose the right survey and a suitable surveyor to be sure that you are buying a house in suitable condition!


There is no onus on a Seller to disclose physical defects unless specifically asked. Otherwise the Buyer will take the property warts and all.  Many people are willing to pay over one hundred thousand pounds on a house but will not to pay a few hundred for a professional Building Survey to inspect it as to its structure, condition, boundaries or services.  The modest cost of a report will be money well spent in the event that a defect is uncovered.  If not it will contain useful information for what areas need general maintenance in the short to medium term.   If an issue arises then the parties have the option with full knowledge to resolve the matter by way of remedial works, regularisation, re-negotiation of the Purchase Price before Contract or to simply walk away before any money is wasted on further professional fees.

Failure to identify this defect at this time may cost you many thousands of pounds further down the line to repair.

Many home buyers rely solely on a mortgage valuation report, which the mortgage lender will insist upon to ensure that the property value is sufficient to justify the value of the loan.

It may be suggested that there is no requirement for any further Building Survey or investigation. The problem remains however in this instance that whilst the report is paid for by the Buyer. It belongs to the lender and cannot be relied upon by the Buyer to address any issues that were only come to light post completion.  Additionally although the report should involve a physical inspection of the property they are designed for the purposes of valuation only and the level of detail may not be what you personally require, so rely on them solely at your peril.

Building Survey for Home Buyers

Not all survey reports are equal and can be largely broken down into three types:

  1. Condition Report

A condition report is the most basic form of Building Survey. A building surveyor will review various parts of the property and grade them using a traffic light system to denote the condition of each part.  Green means satisfactory, amber identifies some areas for concern and red highlights urgent defects.  A basic summary of any risks is provided but a condition report does not contain specific advice or a property valuation.  Condition reports often cost £250+

  1. Home Buyer Report

 The Home Buyers report is a more detailed Building Survey which typically includes a property valuation and an insurance reinstatement value detailing how much you would receive in the event of the house burning down. Common things that a building surveyor looks for include any structural issues, subsidence, damp, mould, rot, drainage problems, water, plumbing, heating and electrical installation issues, and insect infestations.  The aim of the home buyer report is to identify aspects of the property that may require further investigation.  These reports can cost around £400-£900 but they have limitations.  The surveyor does not complete an invasive survey to look into walls, floors, pips, wiring etc.

  1. Building Survey / Structural Survey

 A building survey or structural survey is the more in-depth survey of the three. Not surprisingly it also costs more than the above mentioned options, typically ranging from £500- £2000, depending on the size of the home.  The survey is more obtrusive and surveyors will move things, go into the attic, look under floorboards and behind walls.  Upon completion the prospective buyer will receive a detailed report, advice on any repairs deemed necessary, guidance on the potential costs to address issues, estimations regarding how long repair works might take and details of the implications you will face if repairs are not carried out.  Any potential buyer can get a building survey carried out but it’s particularly necessary, or more advisable in instances where it’s an older property, a listed building, timber framed or thatched building, and in cases where the buyer plans to do extensive renovations to the property.

Which House Building Survey?

The choice of survey you deem to be right for you will typically depend on these factors:

  • The age of the property – older properties present more issues and thus more in-depth surveys are advisable.
  • Whether or not you have any particular concerns that need to be addressed which may impact on your decision to make or withdraw an offer.
  • Your attitude to risk and your budget – some people are cautious and risk averse, others are risk-takers. Your attitude to risk may also be influenced by the costs and the amount of money you are prepared to spend.

Ultimately, it is your decision to make, and you will also bear the consequences.

Choosing a surveyor

A few credentials to bear in mind when choosing a building surveyor include the following:

  • Appoint a qualified surveyor who is accredited by RICS – the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Qualified surveyors also hold professional indemnity insurance.
  • Appoint a local surveyor – they are likely to have greater knowledge of the local market and house values in your chosen area.

Your solicitor will all be on hand to provide advice on the steps you should take to get the best property, without incurring any unnecessary expenses. It’s important to seek professional advice at the pre-purchase stage, rather than waiting until the deal has been done.

Please feel free to contact our conveyancing team on 028 3026 7134 or email us to arrange an initial no-obligation appointment to discuss your conveyancing support needs.