Why is a survey so important? The answer couldn’t be simpler – a professional survey will tell about the property you’re buying, warts and all. Property is expensive and you need to know exactly what you’re getting for your money.
Qualified surveyors are trained to examine buildings and assess their conditions. That includes identifying any issues which could cost you money to put right. As a result, when you buy your new home, you’ll have a clear idea of how deep you will have to dig to put it in good order. Alternatively, a survey which finds no problems will allow you to buy in full confidence, without worries.
What do surveyors do?
Surveyors are responsible for examining flats and houses as specified by RICS, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. RICS is the professional body for surveyors, and governs the qualifications needed for membership, and also specifies the way in which surveys are presented. As a result, surveys are easier to understand by members of the public, and there is consistency across the profession.
There are three different levels of RICS surveys, designed for different types of property:
Home Survey (Level 1) is the most basic report, and provides a short overview of a property’s condition. Level 1 surveys are suitable for new and recently built homes.
Home Buyer Report (Level 2) takes a more detailed look at the inside and outside of the building, and record any defects. Level 2 surveys are usually the right choice for homes built after 1800, as long as they haven’t been empty for a long time.
Building Survey Report (Level 3) involves a thorough inspection of as much of the property is physically accessible, with the findings reported in detail. Level 3 surveys are advised for homes built before 1800, or if they are listed, renovated or built from unusual materials.
You can also add a market valuation report to a Level 2 or Level 3 survey, which can be useful for obtaining mortgage finance and buildings insurance. Both of these types of survey can also help in price negotiations.
What does a chartered surveyor do?
RICS sets out the qualifications, membership and professional standards for chartered surveyors. To be a chartered surveyor you need either:
- Relevant experience and an RICS-accredited degree
- 5 years of relevant experience and any bachelor’s degree
- 10 years of relevant experience operating at an advanced level by seniority, specialisation, or as an academic.
Clients of chartered surveyors can have full confidence in their professional abilities and conduct. Failure to comply with RICS standards can involve a range of sanctions, and limit the ability to work for clients under the RICS banner.
While anyone can undertake surveys, only RICS surveyors can supply their services with the reassurance of complying with the organisation’s professional standards.
What do surveyors look for?
RICS gives detailed guidance on what needs to be covered in each type of survey. At Robinson Elliott we pride ourselves on doing much more than the bare minimum, so that all of our clients have all the information they need about the properties we examine.
In a Level 1 survey, surveyors will carry out a visual inspection, and report in the general condition of the property. The report will not include advice on repairs.
A Level 2 survey is much more thorough, and includes a detailed external and internal inspection. The scope includes windows, lofts, exposed floors, services, permanent outbuildings and grounds. The report will also cover repair and maintenance issues.
Level 3 goes into further detail and includes uncovering floors and walls to find hidden defects. Roofs, cellars and other parts of the building where access is possible also come under scrutiny. The report will include the steps needed for repairs and maintenance, and will let you know about possible risks to anyone at the property.
To understand the differences between each type of surveys, consider the way that different parts of the building are considered. Inspections are subject to accessibility and owner’s permission.
What do surveyors actually check?
Every building is potentially subject to deterioration, and may even suffer from flaws in construction from day one. Whether problems affect the general structure or specific features, buyers need to know about them before they commit to a purchase. Here’s a look at some important issues that surveys frequently uncover.
How do surveyors check for damp?
Surveyors will visually inspect walls, floors and ceilings for any signs of damp such as moisture stains, discoloured wallpaper, mould (especially around windows) and rotten skirting boards. They will also be aware of any damp, musty odours which could be the result of water penetration.
More measurably, surveyors use hand help damp meters which give readings of electrical conductivity. They are either pin-type meters which measure the resistance between two pins pressed against a wall or other surface. Pinless meters use electromagnetic frequencies to look at specific areas. Meters are designed to read damp levels in both timber and masonry.
Surveyors will identify different types of damp. Rising damp usually occurs when there are flaws in a damp-proof barrier, and moisture rises from ground level up the wall. Penetrating damp is seepage into the fabric of a building due to problems such as rainfall spilling over blocked gutters. Condensation arises when most warm air condenses on cold walls, often due to a lack of ventilation.
Level 2 and 3 surveys will report on the extent and nature any damp problems. One course of action may be to have a full damp survey conducted over a longer period of time to accurately diagnose the problem and possible solutions.
How do surveyors check for subsidence?
Subsidence is probably the most serious problem to fix on a property, involving potentially expensive underpinning and reinforcement works. Once the foundations of a building begin to shift, the result will be subsidence. The most obvious signs are:
- diagonal cracks in plaster on internal walls
- cracks in external brickwork
- doors or windows sticking
- rips in wallpaper which are not due to damp
The potential causes of subsidence may be the roots of trees or larger shrubs and bushes. Broken drains can result in shifting pressures on foundations as can any soil movement. A RICS surveyor will be able to identify whether there is subsidence and give an opinion on the likely cause. However, a specialist geological and/or drain survey may be necessary to understand the exact nature of the problem and possible solutions.
See more about Cracks in house walls – what you need to know.
Do surveyors check taps, windows, roofs and drains?
Surveyors will check whether taps are running without any problems, although they won’t examine inaccessible plumbing. Windows are given different checks under each level of survey, with either one window being opened, one window in each floor, or all windows. The survey will also examine the window frames and glass.
Surveyors will look at the roof when possible from external view points. Internal roof inspections are only from the access hatch for Level 1 surveys. For Level 2, surveyors will climb into the loft space but will not move any insulation or stored items. Under Level 3 standards, insulation and loft contents will be moved where possible for a fuller assessment of the condition of the roof.
Drain inspections do not fall within Level 1 surveys. Under Level 2 surveyors will lift accessible covers and visually inspect the drain. Level 3 surveys go further by seeing the drains in action with waste water running through them.
Do surveyors check electrics and boilers?
Surveyors will visually inspect electricity points and light fittings but electrical safety certificates should be provided by the seller. If the surveyor suspects that there are problems with the electrical system, they will advise that a qualified electrician carries out a full inspection.
Boilers are outside the scope of surveys. Vendors are obliged to tell buyers if there are any problems with the boiler, and a recent inspection report should be provided.
Surveys are a vitally important way of protecting your investment in a new home, and are most reliable when undertaken by RICS surveyors. While surveys are not legally required, they are a non-negotiable condition for most lenders.
Choosing the appropriate survey for the type of property you are buying will save you from spending more than necessary. It is important to understand what is, and what isn’t, covered by different levels of survey.
Level 2 and Level 3 Survey reports give buyers details of issues which need attention, and allow buyers to work out future costs for making good any faults. To discuss the type of survey you need, and for quotes on costs, get in touch with Robinson Elliott Surveyors today.