What is a Building Survey?

house design

If you’re in the process of buying a new home, you might have heard of a building survey, but not fully understand what one is.

It’s a good way to prevent unexpected repair costs, and will give you an idea of how much you might need to invest into your home once you move in. Here, we will delve into the most comprehensive report – a building (or structural) survey, explaining what it is and why it’s important.

In this article

What is a building survey?

A building survey, or full structural survey, is a comprehensive report on the condition and construction of a residential property. It’s particularly useful for buyers considering properties over fifty years old, buildings that have been renovated or those that are in an obviously dilapidated state.

What’s involved in a full building survey?

A full building survey will include:

  • A thorough assessment of property defects and notable hazards
  • Tailored advice on repairs and maintenance, including an estimated cost
  • A description of any previous structural work done on the property
  • It may include a property valuation if specifically stated to the surveyor

Surveyors will inspect the interior, exterior, visible and accessible parts of a building for any potential issues or defects. If a property has any serious problems that will require repairs or maintenance, these are detailed.

They will check all visible and accessible parts of a building, including roofs, walls, floors, windows, doors, chimneys, cellars, garages and outbuildings, and will delve into all parts of the interior, including cupboards and floorboards.

A list of all aspects included in a building survey, includes:

  • Damp tests
  • Alterations to supporting walls
  • Renovations without obtaining planning permission
  • Hazardous materials (e.g.asbestos)
  • Evidence of subsidence (gradual sinking of the ground’s surface)
  • Roof/timbers/masonry damages
  • Large trees close to the property
  • Woodworm and dry rot
  • Information on the materials used to build the property
  • Recommendations for further investigations on the property

The survey will not report in detail on heating or electrical equipment, but, if requested, the surveyor can arrange for an expert to investigate these further. A full structural survey will generally take up to a day to complete and between five and ten days to produce the report.

Why is a building survey important?

Conducting an in-depth survey is important because it reveals any serious structural issues, and therefore helps you to determine if the property is worth the offer price or not.

Proceeding without it runs the risk of encountering unexpected repair and maintenance costs once you move in. If the survey highlights a lot of issues, you can negotiate a lower price, or request that the seller fixes these issues before purchase.

It is also important if you’re planning to carry out major works on your house once you move in, as you will need to know of any structural limitations before progressing.

When do I need a building survey?

Once your initial offer has been accepted, it’s important to survey the property before finalising the sale, to ensure you’re not obligated to buy if there are structural problems. If you’re getting a mortgage, your lender will insist on a valuation of the property, but this is not the same as a building survey.

How much does a building survey cost?

It generally costs between £500 and £1,300 depending on the property type, location and size. Whilst it is the most expensive building survey, it is extremely detailed and is suitable for all property types.

Who can conduct a building survey?

Chartered Surveyors will always carry out a building survey. You should always make sure that they are RICS registered.

Common issues found during a building survey

Many issues found in a property survey can be resolved relatively easily, but it’s important to read the recommended repairs and maintenance advice to fully understand how severe each problem is. Some common issues include:

  • Poor ventilation or damp issues

 When coupled with poor ventilation, properties with issues such as rising damp, condensation or mould can require a lot of work. Older properties will often have been constructed without adequate ventilation or proofing so, damp issues are extremely common.

  • Structural movement

 Structural movement is when integral parts of the building that confer strength and stability shift. Roof carcassing, floors, walls, frameworks and foundations can bulge, crack, expand or contract over time and may compromise the safety of a property if the movement is severe. Natural decay, paired with variations in quality of materials, means that surveyors tend to identify some form of structural movement in older properties.

  • Japanese knotweed

 Japanese knotweed is a clump-forming plant that grows rapidly and can cause damage to properties by targeting weak structural points. It produces thick and extensive roots that invade and worsen masonry cracks and mortar joints.

  • Electrical and drainage issues

 Electrical problems can vary from minor issues to something that could lead to a full rewiring of the property. Similarly, faulty drain pipes can cause numerous issues within a building, including water pooling and water damage.

  • Asbestos

Asbestos can cause life-threatening health issues and was banned in 1999 as a building material, so any property built before this date could still contain it. In the case that asbestos has been found in your property, you should contact a specialist to remove it.

  • Roof issues

Surveys usually find evidence of poor installation, ponding water, slipped slates and inadequate ventilation in older properties and without proper maintenance, these issues can become catastrophic. While most of these problems are easy to rectify, it’s important to look at the condition of the roof on the whole and consider how this may impact the property in the future.

What happens after a building survey?

If the report has uncovered problems with the property or the surveyor has valued the property at a lower amount than you offered, you might want to negotiate the price of your new home.

Most reports help you decide which problems are most urgent by ranking issues by severity using a traffic light system. This stage in the process can be stressful but, once resolved, you can contact your mortgage lender and solicitor to proceed. At this point you will receive the final contract to sign and complete the sale.

Can you be compensated if something was missed?

If the Chartered Surveyor missed something off the report that is discovered later, it can be hard to get compensation for this as it’s difficult to prove that the problem was there at the time the surveyor carried out the report.

First, you should check that the issue was something the surveyor should have picked up on, from the list above.

If it is, then your first step is to follow the internal complaints procedure. Most surveyor firms that are RICS registered should have a complaints procedure that you’ll most likely be able to find online. We’d suggest you get in touch via this route as your first port of call.

If you’re unsuccessful, then your next step is to contact RICS, who has the power to take appropriate disciplinary steps such as fines/suspensions. However, please note before you contact them that RICS is unable to force its members to pay compensation to a client, so you may still be unsuccessful.

If these steps have failed, then the next option is to take legal action and take your surveyor to court. This could be the best way to get compensation, although is a more costly and stressful option.

Can I sell the report to other potential buyers?

Yes, if you decide not to go through with purchasing the property, then you can sell your report to other potential buyers.

This works out well for potential buyers as they will be gaining the survey at a cheaper rate and you will also get some money back.

Different types of homebuyer survey

If you feel that you do not need a full structural survey, either due to cost or moving into a newer property, then there are other cheaper property reports available. Whilst these are less comprehensive, they are still useful when evaluating your home. These include:

  • Condition report:A condition report looks at the state of a property and identifies any risks, urgent defects and potential legal issues. Unlike a structural survey, no advice or valuation is provided. It is the most basic and cheapest survey, usually costing around £250.
  • Homebuyer report:A homebuyer report is suitable for modern properties in a reasonable condition and costs around £400. It looks at structural problems like subsidence and damp, but does not look beyond surface-level issues.

To summarise…

Structural surveys can seem intimidating, but it’s worth paying more and getting the most comprehensive report so that you fully understand the property you’re buying. We recommend seeking further guidance if you feel you need more information or support. If you’re looking to buy or sell a property quickly, contact our experienced professionals at Good Move today.

Get a Cash Offer

We are regulated by...

  • NAPB
  • RICS
  • NAEA
  • The Property Ombudsman
  • Trading Standards

We are proud to be the most regulated property buyer operating in the ‘Quick House Sale’ industry. We are an active member of the NAPB (National Association Of Property Buyers) and are both RICS & NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents) regulated, which means you can have every confidence of selling your home with us quickly & easily.