Different Types of Property Surveys

Before buying any property you are highly encouraged to have a survey carried out. In fact if you are buying with a mortgage then your lender will insist. If you don’t have a survey then you are accepting the property in whatever condition it happens to be in, regardless of whether the seller is aware of any defects. There may be problems with the property that are not apparent from just looking around.

So the question really should be not “Should we get a survey?” but “Which type of survey should we get?” There are three basic types, the valuation report, the homebuyer’s report and the full structural survey. The valuation report is the quickest and cheapest and the full structural survey the slowest and most expensive.

Valuation Report

This is the most basic type of survey and is what your mortgage lender will probably arrange. It is often called a “drive by survey” as at the height of the property boom valuers would not always even go in the house. That probably does not happen these days (too many valuers have been sued by lenders) but the valuation report is still very basic. Mortgage lenders rely on it to confirm that the property is as described by the borrower, i.e. it has the right number of bedrooms, is the right type (terraced, semi etc) and there are no glaringly obvious signs of damage such as a badly damaged roof or obvious damp patches.

The valuation report may comment on parking arrangements and access rights and may mention any extensions that appear to have been built. It will only comment however on what the valuer can see from a walk round. It is unlikely he will go into the loft and he may not be able to see the entire roof, particularly if it is a flat roof. If there are signs of potential problems, such as mould or peeling wallpaper, he may comment on this but will not investigate.

The valuation report will contain a whole raft of disclaimers so it is unlikely, unless the valuer has been grossly negligent, that you will be able to sue him as a result of reliance on his report. In any event if you are relying on the report he has produced for the lender then he has no contract with you directly.

Homebuyers Report

This type of report is more expensive than a valuation report and is more in depth. As well as checking all of the things that he would check in a valuation report, the surveyor may investigate things like damp patches and cracks further to ascertain the extent of any damage. He will report in more detail on any problems and may suggest additional reports are carried out or guarantees for works produced.

As the homebuyer’s report will be initiated by you, you will have a contract with the surveyor under which you may be able to sue if he makes a mistake. The list of disclaimers behind which the surveyor can hide will not be as long. Before instructing the surveyor however you should check exactly what he will and will not be looking at.

Full Structural Survey

This is the most in depth and most expensive, type of survey. It is usually obtained as a result of concerns raised by homebuyer’s report or where the buyer knows the property needs work but is not sure of the extent of the work required.

It is often also wise to obtain a full structural survey on very old properties. It will look very closely at the fabric of the building and as well as reporting on the style of construction it should reveal any defects. It can be quite invasive as the surveyor will often have to strip back plaster to expose joists and investigate cracks etc as well as lifting carpets and other floor coverings. Problems such as damp, lack of wall ties and roof coverings which are too heavy for the roof structure should al be revealed.

If there are physical defects with the property that were there when a full structural survey was carried but they were not reported then it is likely you will have a negligence claim against the surveyor.

How Much Will a Survey Cost?

This will obviously vary from surveyor to surveyor, and often will depend on the part of the country you are in, but broadly speaking a valuation report will cost around £200 and may in fact be paid for by your mortgage lender (though remember that if it is you will not be entitled to rely on it). For a homebuyer’s report you can expect to pay around £600 and for a full structural survey, perhaps £2000. As with anything, it is worth shopping around for a few quotes.

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