What type of survey do I need?

When moving home it is advisable to get a second opinion on the property’s condition at a bare minimum. You may choose to just get in a friend or another member of your family to look around the property but most people want to get in a professional that specialises in surveys.

What does a surveyor do?

A trained surveyor will visit the property and inspect it looking for issues. They’ll follow this up by writing a report on the property’s condition so that you can have confidence that no major issues have been missed prior to committing to the purchase. For this reason, the survey is usually arranged after your offer is accepted but before you exchange contracts (so you still have the chance to change your mind or renegotiate if the survey finds an unexpected issue).

The advantage of paying an independent professional to survey the property means that as they do it all day, everyday. They are very aware of what issues to look out for and are able to highlight what might cost a lot to fix.

What survey choices do I have?

Surveys largely break down into 2 types;

  • a homebuyers report, or.
  • a building survey (also widely known as a structural survey).

Depending on when the property was built, may guide you toward getting the more detailed building survey. If the property that you’re thinking of buying has only been constructed fairly recently, there is less need to get a structural survey as it is less likely that the buildings structure will have degraded in such a short period of time.

The homebuyers report won’t look under the floorboards or behind the walls, so if you think that there may be problems lurking somewhere hidden, you may be better off opting for the more comprehensive buildings survey.

What is included in a buildings survey that isn’t in a homebuyers report?

A buildings survey does take longer as they look at everything in greater detail. This includes:

  • aiming to establish how the property was built, what materials were used and if these are likely to function well into the future.
  • aiming to describe visible defects as we as exposing potential problems posed by hidden defects.
  • a longer, more detailed visual inspection of a wider range of issues such as the roof space, grounds, floors and services.

What isn’t included in a buildings survey?

The surveyor still won’t be able to drill into walls to look behind them or lift floorboards (it’s probably just as well, as the homeowner wouldn’t be too happy to find their property had been damaged by your surveyor).

Do I need one if I’m buying a home that is less than 10 years old?

New build homes in the UK come with a 10 year warranty for structural defects which is insured and paid for by the developer (it also covers converted and refurbished properties).

Note, not all refurbished properties will be covered by this as a small developer may class something as refurbished but doesn’t actually officially fall into this category.

How long does a survey take?

The actual time the surveyor will be in the property for is relatively short - maybe as little as an hour to inspect a simple (and/or small) property for a homebuyers report. This however, isn’t where the bulk of the time is spent.

Inspecting larger properties takes longer, so there is no fixed upper time but a typical 3 or 4 bed detached house probably won’t be inspected for more than 3 hours.

Following the property inspection (also sometimes called the site visit), the surveyor will write up a report detailing their findings. This will typically take about 5 days to deliver to you.

Allow a week for the surveyor and the homeowner to agree to a mutually suitable time for the surveyor to visit.

So all in all, expect the surveyor to take 2 weeks from instructing the surveyor through to you receiving the property report.

Will I be able to sue the surveyor if they miss something?

All RICS surveyors should be insured with professional indemnity insurance, meaning if it can be proved that they made a mistake, their insurance would cover their liability.

The reality is, most surveyors send you a written report and include in it a disclaimer for losses arising from them making mistakes (i.e. if they miss anything).

Even if their disclaimer didn’t hold up in court, proving that they are liable for the mistake by taking them to court would be very expensive for you, so the reality is you probably won’t ever choose to sue your surveyor even if you think they should have spotted an issue with the property.

Summary

Even though we don't think you can rely on holding a surveyor liable in the event that they missed a property defect, we still think they lower your risk when moving home.

A second opinion is valuable, but a trained professional's opinion is even more likely to spot any potential problems that you may not have noticed in your excitement of finding the property you hope is going to be your new home.

Whilst surveys are not cheap, we think it is a small price to pay relative to the purchase price of property and the potential cost of finding an issue later after you have exchanged contracts.