What survey do you need if you’re buying a house? House surveys explained

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What survey do you need if you’re buying a house? Many people don’t have surveys and rely on the lender’s valuation, but this isn’t a good idea. Find out why.

What survey do you need if you’re buying a house?

If you’re buying a house or flat you may be trying to work out what type of survey you need, or whether you need one at all. Most buyers are on a limited budget and it’s tempting to spend as little as you can on the extras. But I’d recommend that you get a survey and make sure it’s the right one for the property you’re buying.

Lender’s valuation or mortgage valuation

This isn’t a survey at all. It’s something that the mortgage lender carries out (or gets a survey to do on their behalf) to make sure that the property you’re buying is worth the amount that you want to pay for it. That way, they will know that the mortgage you’re applying for can be secured on the property.

You have to pay for the mortgage valuation, but it won’t generally tell you much, if anything, about the condition of the property.

SAVVY TIP: Mortgage lenders often use ‘desktop valuations’ for remortgages. This is where they look at prices of similar properties online or work out how much yours is worth using historical data. However, depending on the market conditions, some lenders use desktop valuations for property purchases.

Cost: it may be free with certain mortgage deals. If not, then the price is normally based on the value of your property. It can be as little as £175 – £200 but can be considerably more.

RICS condition report

A RICS condition report is a very basic survey. You may feel that this is enough for you if you’re buying a newer property. You can also use it if you’re a homeowner and you want an MOT of your property.

Cost: It costs around £250.

SAVVY TIP: RICS stands for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors – its members are qualified to carry out buildings surveys.

It includes:

  • A short description of the condition of each part of the property.
  • A ‘traffic light’ system to show the condition of different parts of the property.
  • A summary of the condition ratings and any defects of the property.

It doesn’t include:

  • A valuation. This means you won’t know what the surveyor believes it’s worth.
  • Detailed information about defects or any information about repairs or maintenance.
  • The cost of rebuilding. You’ll need to know this for when you take out buildings insurance. It’s not the same as the price or value of the property because you wouldn’t have to buy the land even if the property burned to the ground.

SAVVY TIP: If you take out buildings insurance and don’t insure your property for enough, you may find that the full amount of your claim isn’t paid. If you insure it for too much, there’s no extra benefit for you but you may pay too much in premiums.

A RICS Homebuyer report

This is the report that most buyers (among those who have a survey) take out. It doesn’t run to pages and pages but it does include detail on the condition of the property and information on repairs.

SAVVY TIP: The surveyor won’t take up floorboards or look under the furniture so if there are any problems that don’t show up on the surface, they could be missed.

The survey will tell you if the property you’re planning to buy suffers from damp, dry rot or subsidence. However, it won’t tell you how much it could cost to put these right or give a detailed assessment of the property.

SAVVY TIP: In Scotland this is called a survey and valuation.

Cost: It costs around £450.

It includes:

  • Information about the condition of each part of the property
  • A ‘traffic light’ system to show the condition of different parts of the property.
  • Information about the defects and problems that have been identified and on repairs and maintenance.
  • A market valuation (how much the property is worth) and a rebuild cost.

It doesn’t include:

  • How much it could cost to repair the defects that have been identified.
  • Detailed information about the construction of the building or detailed advice on specific defects.

RICS building survey

This is the most detailed survey. It’s often recommended for large or much older properties.

SAVVY TIP: Whenever I’ve bought a property (and they have been older – but not large!), I’ve had a buildings survey. My thinking is that if I’m going to spend this much money, why would I try and save £200 or so on the cost of a survey?

A building survey (which used to be called a structural survey) is a comprehensive report which includes information about visible problems and those that may be under the surface. It doesn’t just tell you about the condition of the walls, floor and roof, but things like kitchen worktops and appliances plus the garden and any outbuildings.

For example, when I had a buildings survey done a number of years ago, the surveyor asked the seller if he could take up the carpet to see if there was evidence of problems with the floorboards, and gave me useful information about the state of the loft.

This survey includes:

  • Detailed information about defects, together with advice on repairs and maintenance
  • A full description of the condition and construction of each element of the property.
  • A ‘traffic light’ system to show the condition of different parts of the property.
  • An overall assessment of the property taking into account its age etc. This may well suggest further investigation work (such as a damp report).

This survey doesn’t include:

  • A market valuation (how much the property is worth) and a rebuild cost.

SAVVY TIP: Even though the full buildings survey doesn’t include a market valuation or rebuild cost estimate, you can normally ask the surveyor to do a valuation for a little extra.

Cost: It costs up to £600 but could be more if the property is particularly large or of unusual construction.

New-build snagging survey

If you’re buying a new-build property, you might think (hope) that you don’t need any type of survey. In theory, you shouldn’t. But, talk to anyone who’s bought a new home and they’ll tell you about the list of things that weren’t done or weren’t done properly. A snagging survey will alert you to things that haven’t been finished properly (these could be quite minor) through to more serious structural issues. You should get this done before you move in so the developer can sort out these issues as soon as possible. In my view, it’s well worth having.

SAVVY TIP: All new-build homes in the UK are covered by a ten year warranty. It gives different levels of protection depending on when you identify a problem. If you spot a problem within the first two years, the developer must put it right (and not charge you). After that, the cover is more limited but structural problems, issues with staircases and double or triple glazing are all covered.

Useful links:

RICS has a useful guide to surveys

Related articles:

Shared mortgage with parents and family guarantee mortgages explained

Understanding the different types of mortgage. A guide to fixed rate, tracker, discount, variable and capped mortgages

How to get the mortgage you want at the best rates; tips on how to get a mortgage

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