House Survey: What Homebuyers Need to Know
If you’re buying a new home, you probably want to know exactly what you’re buying. Fortunately, professional surveyors can inspect the property as part of a homebuyers report. We explain the three main types of house surveys and how much they might cost.
Your home is likely the most expensive thing you’re ever going to buy, so it’s important to find out exactly what you are purchasing and whether there are any unpleasant surprises lurking under the surface.
And that’s where a homebuyers survey can come in.
Who carries out a survey?
These surveys are carried out by independent surveyors, who come into the property and cast their expert eye over it to highlight any potential problems that might need to be put right.
It’s important that you find a reputable and qualified surveyor, as their findings are going to go a long way to determining whether you go ahead with the purchase, and give you an idea of any repair work you may need to do once you have moved in.
The best place to start is with the website of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the main surveyor trade body.
House survey types and costs
There are three main types of house survey developed by RICS, and what you get from them will vary significantly.
Home Condition Report (HCR)
The HCR is the most basic option. It sets out the condition of the property, any potential risks or legal issues and any problems with the property that need to be put right immediately.
This sort of report uses a traffic light system to classify the condition of the main elements of the property ‒ green means it is in good condition, amber that it will need some attention, while red highlights those issues that need to be addressed urgently.
This sort of report is recommended if you’re buying a conventional property that is in good condition.
Home Buyer Report (HBR)
The next level up is the HBR, which goes a step further. It includes everything that you get from the HCR, as well as advice on repairs and how to maintain the property.
The HBR may also include a valuation and information on the cost of rebuilding the property, which can be useful when organising buildings insurance.
Again, this is recommended if you’re buying a normal property, built from standard materials, that appears to be in solid condition already.
The most comprehensive report is the Building Survey. This includes a much more in-depth analysis of the condition of the property, covering a description of visible defects and any problems caused by less obvious flaws, as well as outlining your repair options and what the consequences would be of failing to put those defects right.
This survey doesn’t include a valuation of the property.
This is the type of survey that’s recommended if you are buying an older property or one on which you’re planning to carry out major works.
What will my survey cost?
Costs will vary according to the size or value of the property, the type of survey you want and the firm of surveyors you choose.
Expect to pay between £400 and £950 for a basic home condition report, £450 to £1,000 for a home buyer report and between £600 and £1,500 for a full building survey.
What should I do when the report comes back?
It is probably worth a chat with your surveyor after you get the report back so that they can clear up anything that isn’t clear and recommend what the next step is. For example, they may suggest bringing in a builder to provide a quote for what some repair work will cost.
>> MORE: About the process of buying a house
Do I really need a home survey?
It’s worth remembering that a home survey isn’t mandatory; it’s entirely up to you whether you get one or not.
And given how expensive buying a house is, it can be very easy to dismiss the idea. You might think that you’re spending enough already, and the house looks ok, so what’s the point of spending another £1,000 on a report?
However, the reality is that it’s all too easy for there to be problems with a property that you might not be able to spot, but which would be clear to a surveyor. And it’s better to have a clear idea of precisely what you’re buying from the outset so that you can budget for any work that needs to be done early on.
You may also be able to use the information in the report to renegotiate the purchase price. This will be a balancing act though; if you are in a market where there is strong demand from buyers, then the vendor might not be willing to budge on the price, as they are confident someone else will pay it.
Alternatively, if too many problems are highlighted by your survey you may decide to pull out of the sale and find another property.
>> MORE: About moving house checklist
Do I need a survey on a new build home?
The only situation where paying for a survey might be considered a waste of money is if you are buying a new build. This is because it should come with a 10-year warranty from the builder.
Is a home survey the same as a valuation?
If you’re taking out a mortgage to buy a property, then the lender will require the property to be valued. A valuer will come and cast their eye over what you’re buying to get an idea of what it’s likely to be worth before the lender will approve your application.
It’s important to understand that this valuation is not the same as a home survey. The valuer is not looking in detail at the possible defects of the house; in fact, they aren’t acting on your behalf at all. They are only there to let the mortgage lender know what they think the property is worth.
>> MORE: About House Valuations
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John Fitzsimons has been writing about finance since 2007. He is the former editor of Mortgage Solutions and loveMONEY and his work has appeared in The Sunday Times, The Mirror, The Sun and Forbes. Read more