Property Surveys Explained

If you're buying a new home and need a mortgage then your new lender will require a valuation of the property to ensure they're happy to lend against it. You may also want to get a more in-depth survey of the property before you commit to buying it.

1. Basic Valuation

This isn't in fact a survey but rather a report prepared after a brief inspection of the property – and solely for the benefit of the mortgage lender. They are carried out by a RICS Valuation Surveyor appointed by the lender (i.e. a bank or building society) to establish whether the property provides adequate security for the amount you want to borrow. Obvious defects will be pointed out in the valuation but it should not be regarded as a full survey or as a substitute for a Building Survey or Homebuyer's Report.

Most lenders charge valuation fees on a scale depending on the value of the property. The report is basic, and all lenders disclaim any responsibility for the condition of the property. You have no comeback against the surveyor for any defects or problems that are not picked up and you may not even see a copy of the report.

2. Homebuyer's Report

A Homebuyer’s Report is intended to inform you, the buyer, on the soundness or otherwise of the property, and whether it is a suitable purchase at the price agreed. It is more expensive and extensive than the basic valuation.

Approved by the Royal institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), this survey and valuation covers all accessible parts of the property, but is less comprehensive than a Building Survey, and the final report is shorter and more concise. The report specifies major defects and includes a roof inspection where possible, but does not detail remedial works.

Advice can be given on specific items if required, and if further specialist investigation is thought necessary this will be stated in the report. The report may also offer you some limited recourse should the surveyor (acting on your behalf, rather than the lender’s), be negligent.

Homebuyer’s Reports are most suitable for houses built during the last 80 years and up to approximately 2,000 square feet / 185 square metres.

3. Building Survey (formerly Full Structural Survey)

This is the most detailed type of survey and is usually required when a full assessment of the property is needed. It is also the most expensive. It is also highly advisable for older properties (pre 1900) or large or unusual buildings.

Surveys of this kind can take many hours to complete and cover all aspects of the property in greater depth than the Homebuyer's Report. It can also detail remedial works required. You have right of recourse to the Surveyor in the event a defect with the property is subsequently found which would have been there when the original survey was done – for example a woodworm infestation or rising damp.

Mortgage lenders tend to work with panels of approved surveyors, and it is generally best to allow the lender to instruct their nominated surveyor for the basic valuation that they require. If you would like a homebuyer’s report, many lenders will let you request one via them – otherwise, you are free to instruct any survey you need yourself.

With any level of survey, if there are potential or actual defects found, the surveyor may suggest you obtain additional specialist reports.

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