What is a building survey

A building survey is an expert inspection of a structure with the aim of identifying its overall condition.

These surveys can find a range of issues with property, ranging from minor niggles to significant structural faults. Ultimately, they highlight important defects and any work which needs to be carried out.

In this blog, we explain when you need a building survey, who carries them out, what the different types of surveys are, how much they cost, and why you would purchase them.

When do I need a building survey?

As a home buyer you would typically organise and pay for a building survey during the conveyancing process. This means after your offer is accepted and before the exchange of contracts.

This is done so buyers can avoid unexpected surprises from their new purchase. If a survey finds a fault with a property before the exchange, the buyer can then aim to re-negotiate the eventual sale price with the seller.

While mortgage lenders typically carry out a ‘basic valuation report’, this is not the same as a building survey. The valuation report’s primary use is to establish how much a property is worth to check this is in line with a proposed sale price. Prudent homebuyers would normally order their own independent survey before completing on the purchase of a property so as to be on the safe side.

What might a building survey find?

Unfortunately, a building survey could find a good number of problems that have developed within a house over time.

These range from structural issues including:

  • Subsidence
  • Heave
  • Roofing fittings
  • Damp

To lesser issues such as:

  • Windows & doors
  • Electrical safety issues
  • Plumbing issues

Note that the surveyor will not conduct a full test of the services within a property but will provide their assessment of their safety by looking at them.

Who carries out building surveys?

Property surveys are conducted by a professional chartered surveyor, who will visit the property, carry out an inspection, and prepare a report on what they find.

You should check that your surveyor is a member of either the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA).

What are the different types of building survey?

There are a variety of different building surveys available today. Each of these is aimed at a property under certain circumstances and offers a different level of investigation.

RICS current three-level Home Survey system has been in use since 2021. While they are now known as the Home Surveys Level 1, 2 and 3, in the past these reports were called the ‘Condition Report’, the ‘Homebuyer Report’, and the ‘Building Survey’ respectively.

RICS Home Survey Level 1

The RICS Home Survey Level 1 is the most basic and affordable survey.

This involves a visual inspection of the property by a chartered surveyor who will produce a report. This indicates the condition of different parts of the structure and any potential risks the building may pose.

Each element of the property will be given a condition rating from 1 – 3. However, no invasive investigation will be carried out, and the surveyor can only suggest potential issues where access is blocked.

This survey is suitable for newer homes (ten years old or less) built from standard materials and in good condition.

How much can building survey ‘Home Survey Level 1’ cost?
This can cost between £300 – £900 and will typically take around an hour to complete.

RICS Home Survey Level 2

RICS Home Survey Level 2 is a more comprehensive product, which includes everything in a Level 1 survey, as well as some extras.

Importantly, when conducting a level 2 survey, the surveyor will enter the attic and cellar to assess potential issues that may not be visible during a Level 1 survey. The surveyors report will also provide recommendations for further investigation, estimated costs for required repairs, and suggestions for ongoing maintenance which are not included in a Level 1 survey.

Surveyors also offer a version of the Home Survey Level 2 with an attached property valuation service that provides market value and reinstatement cost for insurance purposes.

How much can building survey ‘Home Survey Level 2’ cost?
This survey is suitable for conventional properties in good condition, can cost between £400 – £1000 and will typically take the surveyor about two to three hours.

RICS Home Survey Level 3

RICS Home Survey Level 3, also known as the full structural survey, is the most thorough type of survey on offer.

It is a good idea to arrange this type of survey if you are investigating an older home, an unusual construction, a home in poor condition or a listed building.

This survey includes a detailed visual inspection and aims to establish how the house was built and what materials were used. It involves looking behind walls, between floors, and above ceilings, obtaining a detailed understanding of the structure of the building.

The Level 3 survey identifies potential problems posed by hidden defects and provides a comprehensive report outlining these defects, their consequences, repair options, and timelines and estimates for required repairs.

How much can building survey ‘Home Survey Level 3’ cost?
This survey typically costs between £630 – £1500, or more if the property is particularly large or in poor condition. A Level 3 survey can take as long as a day to complete due to it’s complexity.

RPSA Surveys

RICS are not the only accredited body of surveyors in the UK. Another organisation, RPSA also offer similar home surveys.

The two RPSA products particularly worth considering are the RPSA Home Condition Survey, which is equivalent to a RICS level 2 Home Survey, and the RPSA Building Survey, which is equivalent to a Level 3 Home Survey.

RSPA Home Condition Surveys typically cost £400 – £900, while Building Surveys cost from £650 – £1,500, depending on the property in question.

In Summary

Obtaining a building survey can be highly beneficial when purchasing a new property or assessing the condition of an older one.

When buying property, surveys can help you avoid footing the bill for repairs to pre-existing issues and enable you to stay ahead of maintenance, saving you money in the long run.

Professional surveyors from either RICS or RPSA conduct home surveys by non-invasively examining the property to identify any construction issues and preparing a report accordingly.

RICS home surveys are available in three types: Level 1, suitable for newer properties in good condition; Level 2, suitable for most conventional properties; and Level 3, recommended for older and listed buildings.

RPSA surveys are available in two levels: the Home Condition Survey (equivalent to RICS Level 2) and the Building Survey (equivalent to RICS Level 3).

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