What is a house survey?

A house survey is a detailed inspection of a property's condition. It’s carried out by a surveyor.

The aim of a property survey is to inform you of any potential structural problems there may be in the house you’re looking at buying. 

These might include things like:

  • unstable walls

  • a roof in need of repairs

  • subsidence

  • damp

It’s not compulsory to get a survey done when buying a house or flat, but it is recommended.

The difference between a survey and mortgage valuation

A survey and a mortgage valuation are not the same thing.

Valuations

A mortgage valuation is for the mortgage lender, not you.

The aim is to show the lender that the property is worth what you’re paying for it. 

It won’t identify any structural problems with the property.

Surveys

A survey is for you, the buyer.

The survey will tell you about any potential issues with the property’s structure.

What is RICS?

RICS stands for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. 

It’s a professional body for qualifications and standards in land, property, infrastructure and construction.¹

Most qualified surveyors are members of RICS. It’s a good idea to use a RICS qualified surveyor because they’ll have professional indemnity insurance.

Some surveyors might be members of the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA) instead. RPSA surveyors offer similar surveys to RICS surveyors.

What types of house surveys are there?

There are three types of survey offered by members of RICS:

  • RICS Condition Report (survey level 1)

  • RICS Homebuyer Report (survey level 2)

  • RICS Building Survey (survey level 3)

RICS Condition Report

The RICS Condition Report describes the condition of the property, looks for any risks and potential legal issues and highlights any urgent defects.²

What does it include?

  • “traffic light” ratings to show the condition of important parts of the property like the roof, windows or plumbing.

What doesn’t it include?

  • valuation  

  • advice

  • in depth testing of electricity or gas

What type of home is it suitable for?

A Condition Report is suitable for newer homes and conventional properties in good condition.

RICS Homebuyer Report

The RICS Homebuyer Report gives you more detailed information about the property. You can choose between either a survey or a survey and valuation.

What does it include?

  • all the features of the RICS Condition Report

  • advice on faults that may affect the property

  • maintenance advice

  • details of structural problems such as damp or subsidence

  • a market valuation of the property (if you opt for a survey and a valuation)

  • insurance rebuild costs (if you opt for a survey and a valuation)

What doesn’t it include?

  • looking behind walls or under floorboards

  • in depth testing of electricity or gas

What type of home is it suitable for?

A Homebuyer Report is suitable for conventional properties in reasonable condition.

RICS Building Survey

A RICS Building Survey is the most comprehensive report. 

It gives you in depth analysis of the property's condition and includes advice on defects, repairs and maintenance options.²

What does it include?

  • full structural survey and detailed report

  • checks in the attic, behind walls, below floorboards, and above ceilings

  • advice on repairs

  • estimates of the costs and timings of repairs

  • predictions of what’ll happen if you do not make certain repairs

What doesn’t it include?

  • market valuation (unless specified)

  • insurance rebuild costs (unless specified)

  • in depth testing of electricity or gas

What type of home is it suitable for?

A Building Survey is essential for larger or older properties, or properties in poor condition.

How much is a house survey?

The cost of your survey will depend on:

  • the location of the property

  • the size of the property

  • the type of survey

  • which surveyor you use

Here's how much you might pay for each type of survey:³

  • RICS Condition Report: £300+

  • RICS Homebuyer Report (survey only): £350+

  • RICS Homebuyer Report (survey and valuation): £450+

  • RICS Building Survey: £500+

You should base your decision on which type of survey you need on the type of property you’re buying, not the cost of the survey.

Who organises a survey when buying a house?

It is up to you to get a survey when you buy a house.

It’s normally done after your offer has been accepted on a property.

The key exception to this is if you’re buying a property at an auction. In this situation it’s advisable to get a survey done before the auction date.

Once you’ve instructed a surveyor, they’ll arrange a suitable time to visit the property with the seller or estate agent.

The surveyor will get the sales information and Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property from the estate agent. 

They’ll use the floor plan to make notes about faults in various parts of the building.

Check with your surveyor if you’d like to be there when the survey is being carried out.

What happens after a survey on a house?

After a survey, the surveyor will create a report describing the condition of the property.

How long it takes to receive the report depends on the individual surveyor, and the type of survey, but it’s normally within 10 days.

Some surveyors will call you after a survey with a quick summary of what was found.

If there’s anything in the report you don’t understand, you can ask your surveyor to explain.

If the survey identifies any issues, you may want to:

  • get an expert to quote for work that needs doing

  • renegotiate the purchase price with the seller

  • drop out of the purchase

Surveys on new builds

If you're buying a new build home, you'll need a new build snagging survey rather than a RICS survey.

This type of survey identifies problems with a new build home, including structural and smaller cosmetic issues.

You can use the snagging survey to ask the developer to sort out any issues with your new build property.

Ideally, you’d get a snagging survey done before you exchange contracts with the developer. However, some developers won’t allow snagging inspections to be done before completion.

House survey checklist

  1. Decide what sort of survey you need

  2. Compare quotes from different surveying firms

  3. Check the surveyor is a member of RICS

  4. Instruct a surveying firm

  5. Read the surveyor’s report

  6. Speak to the surveyor if there’s anything you don’t understand

  7. Consider renegotiating the sale price if the survey reveals significant issues

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Sources

¹ RICs.org

² RICS Consumer Guide: Home Surveys

³ HomeOwners Alliance: What sort of survey should I have?