What is a house survey?
A house survey is an expert inspection of a property's condition, and identifies any problems to a prospective buyer. It's completed by a surveyor who visits the property, carries out an inspection and prepares a report outlining any problems they've found.
Homebuyers generally have a survey done on a property after their offer has been accepted by the seller.
There are three main accrediting bodies for surveyors - you should check that your surveyor is a member of either:
- Rics - the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Rics surveyors offer three 'levels' of survey: a Condition Report (level one), Homebuyer Report (level two) and Building Survey (level three).
- Sava or RPSA - the Residential Property Surveyors Association. Sava and RPSA surveyors offer different surveys, including the Sava Home Condition Survey, which is a level-two report (similar to the Rics Homebuyer Report.)
Types of house survey
There are three basic types of house survey, as outlined in this table:
|Level of report||What it covers||What type of home is it suitable for?|| |
(see costs section below for more detail)
|The property's condition, including any risks, potential legal issues and urgent defects.||Standard properties and relatively new homes in good condition.||£400-£950|
Includes all the features of a Condition Report, plus defects that might affect the property, and advice on repairs and maintenance.
It can also include a market valuation and how much it would cost to rebuild the property.
|Standard properties in reasonable condition.||£450-£1,000|
|An in-depth look at the property's condition, with advice on defects, repairs and how to maintain the property.|| |
For larger or older (50+ years) properties, unusual homes, renovation projects and properties in poor condition.
For more information on each type of survey, see the full descriptions below.
Level one: Rics Condition Report
This is the most basic type of survey. It gives an overview of the property's condition and highlights significant issues, but doesn't go into detail.
A Condition Report is suitable if you're looking to buy a standard, modern property that's in good condition, and want to confirm that everything looks okay.
The report uses traffic light ratings to illustrate the condition of different parts of the property. You'll be able to find out if there are any serious defects that need to be fixed immediately, or anything that might affect the safety of the property.
Level two: Rics Homebuyer Report
This the most popular type of survey, and the standard choice for most properties in reasonable condition.
A Homebuyer Report looks at everything that would be covered in a Condition Report, with added extras. The survey can take around two to four hours to complete.
A Homebuyer Report lists any problems that might affect the property's value, and the surveyor's advice on repairs and ongoing maintenance. It should also highlight any problems such as damp and subsidence, and point out anything that doesn’t meet current building regulations.
The inspection is non-intrusive, meaning the surveyor won't look behind furniture or under floorboards, so they’ll only be able to identify ‘surface-level’ issues.
A Homebuyer Report can also include information such as how much the surveyor thinks the property is worth on the market, and how much it would cost to completely rebuild the property if it was destroyed and couldn't be repaired.
Level two: Sava Home Condition Survey
This is similar to the Rics Homebuyer Report, but without the market valuation.
It includes photographs to make it easier to understand and highlights issues to follow up on before purchase.
It also flags any legal questions your conveyancer should check for you. You can download an example of a Sava Home Condition Survey below.
Also known as a full structural survey, this is the most thorough survey you can get. It provides a comprehensive analysis of both the property's structure and condition.
A level-three survey is a good option if you’re buying a property that's over 50 years old, of unusual design, or in poor condition.
It can also be worthwhile if you’re planning to do significant work or have major concerns about a property. It's usually only undertaken on houses, not flats.
The surveyor will be ‘hands on’ and do things like check the attic and look under floorboards. The report will list any defects and advise on repairs and maintenance.
You can also ask the surveyor to include projected costs and timings for any repair work recommended in the report.
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 deciding who to use.
The figures below give a rough idea of what you might pay depending on the price of the property you're buying.
|Level of report||Property price|
Rics Home Survey - Level 1
Rics Home Survey - Level 2/RPSA Home Condition Survey
Rics Home Survey - Level 3/RPSA Building Survey
Figures gathered from designsonproperty.co.uk in October 2018.
Do I really need a house survey?
When you’re already spending a lot of money on buying a house or flat, a survey can feel like an unnecessary expense.
But it’s far better to be aware of any problems before you buy a property, so 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 needs doing.
You may also be able to use the information in the survey to negotiate with the seller.
For example, if your survey finds that you'll need to carry out repairs costing £10,000 you could ask for a £10,000 reduction on the property price, or ask the seller to make the necessary repairs before you exchange contracts.
- Find out more about negotiating on price in our guide to making an offer on a house or flat.
House surveys vs mortgage valuations
When you apply for a mortgage, the mortgage lender will carry out a valuation on the property to make sure it's worth roughly what you're planning to pay for it.
This mortgage valuation is sometimes called a valuation 'survey', but this can be misleading.
A mortgage valuation is nowhere near comprehensive enough to take the place of a proper house survey. In fact, it sometimes won't even involve anyone visiting the property in person.
So you should always arrange your own independent survey after you've had an offer accepted, to make sure you're not overpaying for your new home or about to buy a property with significant problems.
- Find out more: mortgage valuations explained
How to find a surveyor
House surveyors range from local one-man bands to much larger companies. No matter who you use, you should check they're registered with a trade association such as Rics.
- To find a Rics-accredited surveyor, visit www.ricsfirms.com
- For an RPSA surveyor, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- To find a Sava-registered surveyor, visit myhomeconditionsurvey.co.uk
Some homebuyers also find surveyors through local listings, personal recommendations or comparison websites.
In some cases, the estate agent or your mortgage lender might recommend a surveyor - but before going with their suggestion, you should do your own research and check you're getting the best deal, as the agent or lender will often be receiving a commission for making the recommendation.
Also bear in mind that if you use your lender's surveyor, any problems they find might also lead the lender to down-value your property, meaning they offer a smaller mortgage on it.
How long does a house survey take?
The amount of time a house survey takes depends on the level of survey you choose and, of course, the size of the property.
- A level-one survey might take less than an hour to complete.
- A level-two survey could take up to four hours.
- The amount of time a full structural (level-three) survey takes varies considerably depending on the type of property you're buying, with some taking as long as a full day.
When will I get my house survey report?
This depends on the individual surveyor and the complexity of the report.
Your surveyor will inform you how long they'll take to provide the report, but it shouldn't be longer than five days (level one or two) or 10 days (level three).
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.
New-build snagging surveys
If you're buying a new-build home, you'll need a slightly different type of survey.
A 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.
- Find out more: snagging surveys