First-time buyers

House surveys

By Stephen Maunder

Article 7 of 13

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House surveys

Find out about house survey costs, the differences between a HomeBuyer’s report, building survey and condition report, and what the best type of survey might be for the property you’re buying.

House surveys will help you find out about the condition of the building and, if there are problems, give you a powerful bargaining chip for negotiating the buying price down or asking the seller to fix the problems.

If you haven’t arranged your mortgage yet and you’d like some impartial, tailored advice on finding the right product for you, call Which? Mortgage Advisers on 0808 252 7987.

Types of house survey

Most surveyors provide three types of survey: a condition report, a HomeBuyer’s report and a building survey. While the HomeBuyer’s report tends to be the most popular, there are no hard and fast rules about the type of survey you should get.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) provides a basic template for each of these surveys, and most surveyors who are registered with Rics will adapt the templates to fit their own style.

Surveyors registered with the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA), which is an alternative to Rics, use a different type of survey called the ‘Sava home condition survey’. It's very similar to the Rics HomeBuyer’s Report, and you can download an example survey by clicking the link in the table below.

Different types of house survey
Survey type What does it include? When is it suitable?
Mortgage valuation
  • A mortgage lender’s valuation is not a proper house survey
  • It’s carried out on your mortgage lender’s behalf, not yours (despite the fact that you may have to pay for it). It only exists to confirm whether the property you want to buy is roughly worth the amount you want to pay for it, so the lender can decide whether to lend you the amount you’re asking for
  • Although it’s often referred to as a valuation ‘survey’, it won’t tell you anything about the condition of the property

Mortgage valuation reports are usually requested by the lender before they make a formal mortgage offer.

Rics condition report
  • The most basic ‘proper’ survey you can get
  • Gives an overview of the property’s condition and highlights significant issues, but doesn’t go into detail
  • Gives traffic light ratings for the condition of different parts of the property
Suitable if you’re buying a relatively new property with no previous issues, and just want some reassurance that everything is OK.
Rics HomeBuyer's report
  • More detailed than a condition report
  • Highlights problems, such as damp and subsidence
  • Includes advice on necessary repairs and ongoing maintenance
  • Points out anything that doesn’t meet current building regulations
  • Non-intrusive - the surveyor will not look behind furniture or under floorboards, so they’ll only be able to identify ‘surface-level’ problems
  • Includes a market valuation and rebuild cost
  • Takes around two to four hours to complete

The most popular type of survey, and the standard choice for most properties that are in a reasonable condition.

If you’re buying an unusual or period property, or one that requires significant renovation, it’s best to upgrade to a building survey.

Sava home condition survey Suitable for most types of property (as with the Rics HomeBuyer’s Report).
Rics building survey
  • The most thorough survey you can get
  • Provides a comprehensive analysis of the structure and condition of the property
  • Lists defects and advises on repairs and maintenance
  • The surveyor will be ‘hands on’ and will do things such as check the attic and look under floorboards
  • You can ask for the report to include projected costs and timings for any repair work 
  • Depending on the size of the property it may take a day to complete

A good option if you’re buying a property that's over 50 years old or in a poor condition. 

Also worthwhile if you’re planning to do significant work or have major concerns about a property.

Usually only undertaken on houses, not flats.

New-build snagging survey
  • Identifies defects with a new-build home, covering everything from small cosmetic issues to structural problems
  • The report can be given to your developer before you move into the property so you can get any issues sorted as quickly as possible under your two-year developer warranty

Anyone buying a new-build home should have a professional snagging survey done.  

Check out our full guide to snagging surveys

House survey costs

The cost of your survey will vary significantly depending on the location, size and type of property. Different surveyors will also charge varying amounts, so make sure you get a few quotes before choosing who to use. Mortgage valuation costs tend to vary the most, with some lenders even including them for free.

The figures below give a rough idea of what you might pay.

Estimated survey costs
Value of property
  Up to £99,000 £100,000 - £249,000 £250,000 - £349,000 £350,000 - £499,000 £500,000+
HomeBuyer's report £350 £500 £600 £700 £950
Building survey £500 £700 £800 £900 £1,300

Understanding your house survey

House surveys are often complicated, and it can be difficult to get your head around some of the jargon.

The diagram below from Rics shows the names of different parts of a building to help you decode your survey report.

RICS house diagram

Do I really need a survey?

At a time when you’re already spending a lot of money, a survey can seem like a big expense. However, it’s far better to be aware of any issues 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.

You may also be able to use the information in the survey to negotiate with the vendor. For example, if your survey finds that you will need to undertake repairs costing £10,000 you could ask for a £10,000 reduction in price, or alternatively ask the seller to make the necessary repairs before you exchange contracts.

  • Last updated: December 2016
  • Updated by: Joe Elvin