Building surveys: All you need to know

Find out what a building survey is, including what's involved and how much is costs.

A building survey is essentially an inspection of a property. Well, actually, it’s a bit more than that. It’s the most comprehensive of the surveys available, and it provides a detailed evaluation of a property’s condition.

Do you need a building survey?

At a time when you’re already spending a lot of money on buying a house, a survey can seem like an unnecessary expense.

But it is far better to be aware of any problems before you buy a house so that you can make an informed decision about how much you’re willing to pay for it and, if necessary, budget for any repair work that will need doing.

What happens during a building survey?

It includes a building inspection, a full survey report and a property valuation by Chartered Surveyors, who should be regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyor (RICS).

The survey will inspect all visible and accessible parts of a building, including roofs, walls, floors, windows, doors, chimneys, cellars, garages and outbuildings.

The surveyors have a legal responsibility to discover and inform you of any major problems with a property, so during the building inspection, they will actively search for potential problems and building defects.

This includes looking into cupboards and manholes as well as an inspection of services, but it does not mean an investigation of enclosed or concealed parts of a building, such as sealed roof spaces. However, you can request that these areas are included if you wish.

For example, if you want a property valuation included, this needs to be specified beforehand.

What is included?

This survey report will describe the condition of each element of the house and identify the property’s defects, their apparent cause, the urgency of repair, maintenance options and may also include an indication of the cost to repair.

Here is a list of the aspects that are included:

  • Most important and more insignificant defects and what they could mean.
  • Results of tests for damp in the walls.
  • Alterations to supporting walls.
  • Renovations that have occurred without necessary planning permission.
  • Presence of hazardous materials (e.g. asbestos).
  • Evidence of subsidence.
  • Damage to masonry and roof.
  • Damage to timbers.
  • Large trees close to the property.
  • Woodworm, dry rot and other damage to timbers.
  • The conditions of existing damp proofing, insulation and advice on non-tested drainage.
  • Information on the materials used to build the property and any relevant technical information.
  • Recommendations for further investigations on the property.

Be aware that the report will not go into detail on things like heating or electrical equipment. But if requested, your surveyor can arrange for a suitable expert to investigate these further.

What is the cost?

The full cost will vary from £500 to £1,300. This is because the price depends on the property type, size and location.

How long does it take?

Due to its thoroughness, the building survey can take up to a day to complete. But the final report can take up to two weeks to receive. This will disclose the findings of the survey and make recommendations for any other specialist surveys, if they are required.

How do you find a reliable surveyor?

Going with the surveyor recommended by your bank, estate agent, mortgage lender or other property expert can end up costing you more.

That’s why it’s a better idea to get quotes from a few local firms and compare.

Before your survey takes place, we also recommend asking if you can see copies of past reports and try to think if that sort of report will be useful for your situation.

Otherwise, check to make sure your surveyor is a member of the RICSs – he or she will have the letters MRICS or FRICS after his or her name. The RICS ensures that all its members maintain professional standards in their work.

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