12 mins read

What is a house survey?

A house survey is a check into the condition or value of a property. There are a variety of different types, but all involve a house inspection by a surveying expert, who will then summarise their findings in an official report.

Normally a survey report will include:

  • Background on the property, and information for any legal advisors dealing with it

  • Information about how the property was built, and the condition of its structure

  • Any potential health and safety issues. For example: asbestos, or radon gas

Usually you get a survey done as part of the home buying process, to make sure you’re not going to get any nasty surprises about the property you’re purchasing.

You don’t have to get a house survey done, but most people do. A survey arms you with information about the property, and can put you in a better position to decide if the house is right for you, or to negotiate a better deal. It’ll also help you budget for any work that might need doing once you move in.

What is a residential surveyor?

‘Surveyor’ is the name given to the experts that conduct property surveys. A residential surveyor is simply an expert who specialises in house surveys - rather than say, surveying shops or warehouses.

In order to become a house surveyor you usually have to complete a university degree, or vocational diploma in surveying, before specialising in residential properties. You then have to work for a firm for at least 2 years, and take an ‘Assessment of Professional Competence’ before getting your RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) certification and becoming a fully qualified residential surveyor.

All in all it can take 4 or 5 years to fully train up to be a house surveyor.

Surveyors are accredited by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, or Sava, the School of Surveying (or both). Look out for these accreditations when picking who to work with.

What types of house survey are there?

There are four main types of house survey. They each cover different things, depending on what type of property you’re buying, and what you’re looking to get out of it.

Valuation survey

A valuation survey is the most basic type of property survey. It’s most commonly used by mortgage lenders to check that the property you’re buying is worth the loan you’re asking for.

Often these valuations don’t even require a visit to the house, which has led to them being referred to as ‘desktop’ or ‘drive-by’ valuations. Assessors will look at the property’s history, location, size, and the local market to get a general estimate of its value.

This type of ‘survey’ isn’t technically a house survey, despite what the name suggests. It won’t provide any details about the property’s condition, nor will they give you insight into any problems that may devalue the property - like damp or subsidence.

Read more about mortgage valuations here.

Condition Report (RICS Level One)

A Condition Report is the cheapest survey offered by surveyors. As the name suggests it’s designed to provide insight into the condition of the property you’re looking to buy.

A surveyor will undertake a non-intrusive walk-through of the property, and use traffic light style ratings to report on its condition. Anything that needs to be fixed immediately will be labelled red. Anything that’s in good condition will be labelled green.

As a Condition Report is a non-intrusive survey, it’s unlikely to include any details of hidden structural problems, which usually require examining in attics, underfloors, and drilling into walls.

This type of survey is best for newer properties, and ‘conventional’ homes (like a standard flat or house - rather than a castle, or a thatched roof house).

The survey should take less than an hour to complete, and you’re likely to get the surveyor’s report within 5 days.

Homebuyer Report (RICS Level Two or Sava)

If you’re looking for something a little more comprehensive, a Homebuyer report includes everything in the Condition Report, as well as a market valuation and an estimate of how much it would cost to completely rebuild your property if it was destroyed.

In the Homebuyer report, you’ll get specific advice on any property defects that may affect your new home’s value. For example, the estimated cost of repairs or ongoing maintenance. This type of survey also highlights any major problems. These could be things like subsidence, or anything that doesn’t meet current building regulation standards.

Similarly to the Condition Report, a Homebuyer report is non-intrusive, so will only identify ‘surface-level’ issues. But, it is more comprehensive, usually taking between 2-4 hours to complete.

According to RICS this is the most popular home buying survey option, and is ideal for properties built in the last 100 years.

Sava have a version of the homebuyer report too, which they offer as a ‘plain English, jargon-free report on the property’s condition’. Their reports include photographs to help explain more complicated aspects of the report, and they’ll also flag up any legal questions your conveyancer should check out for you.

Structural Survey (RICS Level Three)

A Structural, or RICS Level Three building survey, is the most comprehensive property survey available for home buyers. It includes all the information in the other home buyers surveys, but is also intrusive.

This means the surveyor will get into all the nooks and crannies of the house. They’ll lift up floorboards, explore attics and cellars, take a detailed look at the garden, and potentially even drill small holes into the walls. This allows them to get a really full picture of the structural condition of the house, and identify any hidden but insidious problems you should know about.

You’ll get a detailed report of everything, along with an estimation of any problem’s impact on the property’s safety and value.

This type of building survey can take up to a whole day to complete - depending on the size of the property - and you should receive the full report within 10 days.

This type of survey is ideal for very old or unusual properties, or if you have a particular concern about the building’s structural condition.

New build - Snagging Survey

If you’re buying a house that’s just been built, it may feel unnecessary to have a full investigation into the condition of the property. This is where you might consider a ‘snagging survey’.

A snagging property survey is specifically designed for new build properties. It covers everything from small cosmetic issues, to structural problems.

The report from this type of survey includes expert commentary on the property - from the sort of walls it has, to the type of window glazing that’s been used.

How much does a house survey cost?

House survey costs can vary quite wildly. They depend on the type, location, and size of the property - as well as the level of detail you’re looking for.

As a general rule, a Condition Report is the cheapest option, and a Structural Survey will cost the most. You should expect the survey cost to fall somewhere in the following ranges, but remember that if you’re buying a house that’s more unusual you may have to pay more:

Condition Report (RICS Level 1) - Costs usually start at about £200 - £250

Homebuyer Report (RICS Level 2) - Average costs are: £400 - £600

Homebuyer Report (Sava) - Average costs are: £400 - £600

Structural Survey (RICS Level 3) - The most expensive residential building survey. You should expect a survey cost of around £1,000. But for larger or more unusual properties, you might find the cost is closer to £2,000. For smaller properties, fees starting at £600 are reasonable.

Snagging Survey - Costs typically start at £300 and increase depending upon the size of the property.

Our recommendation is to get quotes for two or three providers. Ask them about their specific expertise, and an outline on what you can expect from their report. This will help you get a sense of which surveyors are offering the best value for money, and who will produce the most useful report for your needs.

Which type of house survey is right for me?

When it comes to house surveys, there’s no one size fits all. The type of building survey you choose will depend on what kind of property you’re buying and how confident you are about the state it’s currently in.

There’s no point paying for a full on structural survey, if you’re buying a newly built leasehold flat. Just as there’s no point getting a snagging survey on a listed, period property.

According to RICS the most popular builders survey is the Homebuyer Report - a mid-range, non-intrusive survey.

However, if you are buying an older house, or plan to undertake extensive works after you move in, we’d recommend a full, intrusive structural survey.

Similarly, if you are confident about the state of the property, or you’re buying a new flat, a less comprehensive survey would likely be more appropriate.

We would always recommend getting the most comprehensive survey appropriate to your needs. Although survey costs may seem like an extra cost that you can avoid, the findings of surveys can actually save you huge amounts of money.

On the one hand, if a survey finds large structural issues, you will be able to make a more informed decision about whether to proceed with the purchase.

On the other hand, any problems you find in the survey can be used as a negotiating tool. If your surveyor recommends repairs worth around £10,000, you are in a good position to negotiate this cost off the property sale price. You could also request that the home seller fixes the problem before you move in.

A £600 survey could therefore save you thousands of pounds. It’s definitely worth the cost.

When should I get a survey done?

The best time to arrange a building survey is once your offer has been accepted, but before all the legal details have been negotiated. This means if anything large or unexpected comes up you’re not locked into the sale, and you can use the findings of the survey as a negotiating tool.

If you’re buying a new build, the timing for surveys is a little different:

  • If the new build you’re buying is built & ready, you should carry out a survey before exchange

  • If you’re buying the property ‘off plan’, try and carry out the survey pre-completion. This will give you more negotiating power to get any problems fixed

  • If you’re unable to gain access to the site until completion, arrange for a surveyor to visit as soon as possible after you get the keys

If in doubt, your conveyancer will be able to provide advice about your rights and the best time to arrange a survey. If you’re purchasing a new build (particularly if you’re purchasing ‘off plan’) we’d recommend finding a conveyancer with specific expertise with these type of properties.

For advice on how to find the best conveyancer for you check out this guide.

Three top tips for picking the best surveyor

1 - Ask questions

Start asking questions before you even pick your surveyor. When you’re getting quotes ask things like:

  • What kind of surveys they offer

  • Their specific experience: local and technical

  • An outline of what it will or won’t include in their inspection, report format & delivery - you can even request example reports

  • How much notice they’ll need to complete the survey (it can be useful to have some preferred dates to hand)

  • How the surveyor will discuss the findings with you

Don’t feel afraid to ask questions during and after the survey too. Some surveyors will let you walk around with them, and will discuss their findings with you in detail. At the end of the day, it’s going to be your home, so you should understand everything.

2 - Look out for specific expertise

Think about what you’re looking to get out of your house survey, and what expertise might facilitate the best results:

  • Local conveyancers will have a better grasp on market rates, and particular issues in the area. For example: flood risks, or conservation area borders.

  • Some surveyors specialise in particular types of properties, like: castles, thatched roof homes, or new developments. If your new house isn’t ‘conventional’, consider enlisting the help of one of these experts.

3 - Don’t feel pressured to use your lender’s surveyor

Your mortgage lender might suggest using their preferred surveyor. But, don’t feel obliged if you don’t think they are the best option for you. Your lender is likely to get a referral reward for recommending you, so you may not end up being offered the best price for the survey. And, if any problems come up, the lender might down value your property, and offer a smaller mortgage on it.

We’d recommend shopping around before making your decision.