Will the Surveyor inspect all parts of a building during a survey and what should I expect them to do to ensure as much of the property is inspected as possible?
This is a question that often gets asked and whilst I cannot speak for all surveyors, the approach I adopt is as follows. This should, at least in theory, ensure that as much as possible can be inspected during the inspection. It’s worth remembering though, the Estate Agent, Vendor and in fact anyone selling the property has a vested interest in ensuring that a sale progresses smoothly (defects found on a survey can slow that down or even kill a sale) so it’s not been unheard of for people to say access was available when it was not or to try and ensure that access is not available to particular areas where defects may exist. As such if your Surveyor informs you they cannot access a particular part/element during their inspection, this is a positive statement to enable you to re-visit the property and check those areas again, or alternatively ask the Vendor to make the necessary arrangements for you or your Surveyor to do so.
Once a Survey is inspected you should liaise with the Estate Agent and make sure you inform them that you want as much access as possible provided to the Surveyor, asking them to ensure that the Vendor is aware of the Surveyor’s requirements as well. This can help minimise the risk of areas not being accessible, but from my many years of experience, most likely won’t change Vendor behaviour and likely still find that areas are unable to be accessible on the date of inspection.
My process in advance of an inspection to help prevent such problems occurring is to send communication (usually an email) to the Vendor (via their Estate Agent) to inform them of the inspection and to ask them to ensure access to all areas is provided. At least that way the Estate Agent can ask the Vendor to do their best, if that is also following up your having asked the Estate Agent as well, then that’s about as good as it’s going to get.
Some common things that could prevent an inspection of a particular area include the list below. If, during your initial visit, you notice areas that you think could be a problem for your surveyor to access, then it’s a good idea to mention that to the Estate Agent (Vendor) as well as your Surveyor, that can sometimes help and a good Vendor will likely try to clear the area in advance of the inspection.
Loft hatches not being easily openable, possibly as a result of them being fixed closed (something I often find has happened in student and/or tenanted properties);
Drain covers being too heavy, stuck or otherwise being unable to be lifted;
Fitted floor coverings (laminate floors can be very tricky);
Bath panels are sealed and/or fitted, preventing an inspection beneath the bath;
Outbuildings, such as garages not being accessible even though the Vendor was aware of the visit requiring such access;
Flat roof coverings higher than 3 metres, such as dormers;
Locked windows (at the start of my inspections I reiterate my need to be able to open windows, etc…) and ask for keys or the Vendor to open all locked areas;
Heavy items of furniture being present (I’ve known people try to hide defects by moving a heavy wardrobe to cover dampness or other defects);
Stored items and/or lack of safe access to a roof space. Surveyors will do their best to inspect a roof space however when there’s a thick layer of insulation on the joists and timbers are not visible, it’s sometimes not possible to do so.
Whilst the above is not an exhaustive list and can vary from property to property, survey type to survey type, it’s worth remembering that the Surveyor you have appointed is on YOUR SIDE! If they say they cannot access a particular area, then the chances are that they could not. You should, if that occurs, ask the Vendor to make the necessary arrangements to allow you to fully inspect the area again, something you can either do yourself, ask a builder to do when they inspect for other works or in the alternative ask your Surveyor to return and re-inspect.
Unfortunately as Surveyors are busy and their time is allocated to a particular inspection (fees being payable based upon time spent), should a re-visit be required then an additional fee may be chargeable. Most Surveyors will do our best to avoid charging an additional fee if we can, in some cases though, in particular if the inspection requires another dedicated visit, you may find that Surveyor will ask you to pay for their time spent on the reinspection. That is a reasonable position, in particular bearing in mind the Surveyor did their best in advance of the inspection to ensure access was provided.
If an additional fee is payable then you have some options available to you to recover the cost or at least part of the cost of the reinspection. You can ask the Vendor to drop the asking price accordingly (but remember if you pull out that money may not be paid), ask the Estate Agent to pick up the cost (reasonable if they were notified and failed to tell the Vendor to make arrangements) or simply try to wait until the Surveyor is back in that area to enable them to inspect for free.
It’s worth remembering that no matter what level of survey you choose the Surveyor is effectively in someone else’s property and as such has to take care not to cause damage or otherwise adversely affect that property. Exposing foundations, hidden support beams, etc… is likely not going to happen on an initial visit and if necessary the Surveyor will report to you so you can ask the Vendor’s permission to undertake such works (such exposure works being more the exception than the rule). Your Surveyor needs to work safely as well, as such balancing on a beam in a roof, get too close to aggressive animals, having ladders hanging over a staircase, forcing open heavy loft hatches or lifting heavy drainage covers may not be possible and the Surveyor will have to make a judgement on the day (a personal risk assessment if you like). If it’s considered unsafe to inspect an area, then your Surveyor will likely report that to you and other arrangements can be made. Again though, in particular if the Surveyor has given notice in advance of the inspection asking for access to all areas to be provided, then it is not the Surveyor’s fault if access is not granted by the Vendor or provided for by the Estate Agent.
In closing you should try to work WITH your Surveyor to find a compromise approach and try to find out what the next step is. Your Surveyor will likely be telling you the facts without any bias, whereas others may not be doing so. So TRUST your adviser and follow up if you need to.
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Luke on 24/04/2019