From common problems right through to more serious complications, a house survey is incredibly important – it can highlight potential issues with your property and help you renegotiate if you need to make repairs. Whether you decide on a Building Survey (Level 3 Survey) or a HomeBuyer’s Report (Level 2 Survey)
, a survey will give you the details you need to make an informed decision.
What might my house survey find?
There is every chance that a building survey could come back with no major issues. If it does come back with problems then don’t panic – by identifying it you’ve already taken the first step in treating it, and many problems are infinitely easier to deal with if they’re caught early.
Here are some of the more common problems that show up in building surveys:
Japanese knotweed is an invasive species that can cause significant damage to houses. Because it’s not a native species, in the UK it’s predator-free, and this combined with its strong root system means it’s very resilient. Japanese knotweed can grow up to 3m in height, pushing through asphalt, concrete, cavity walls and drains to get the light and water it needs.
But fear not – the discovery of knotweed doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. If it’s spotted and treated before the root system has matured it’s much easier to get rid of, and, provided a professional treatment plan and an insurance backed guarantee is in place, knotweed shouldn’t prevent you from being able to get a mortgage. There are even special insurance policies to protect from Japanese knotweed, which cover the cost of treatment, repairs, legal expenses should the knotweed spread to a neighbouring property, and even a fall in the property’s value as a result of the knotweed.
Read our article for more details on Japanese knotweed
Subsidence is when the ground beneath the property moves downwards because of a change in soil water content. The most common cause of this is vegetation, particularly trees, removing water from the soil, but subsidence can also be caused by a damaged drain or water pipe. Subsidence affects the stability of the property, which not only makes it difficult to insure but could also be a real danger for inhabitants.
Subsidence can be treated by fixing the underlying cause, for example by removing problematic vegetation or repairing damaged pipes or drains. As a last resort the foundations of the property can be underpinned, but this option is often expensive and time-consuming. After repair works have taken place the area in question will need to be monitored over time.
Although one of the first signs of subsidence is often cracks appearing in the walls, spotting small cracks doesn’t necessarily mean the ground is subsiding. Have a look at our article for more information on subsidence
Dry rot is a type of fungus that grows on the timber within a property and weakens it. If conditions are right it can spread very quickly. One of the key ways of treating it is by dealing with the underlying cause – dry rot needs water to survive, so fixing a pipe leak or reducing condensation can get rid of it. Check out our article for more information on identifying and treating dry rot
Beetle larvae can burrow into the timber within the property, weakening it and causing structural damage. The more wood there is in the property, the bigger an issue with woodworm is likely to be (for example, converted barns are especially vulnerable).
Although woodworm is a nuisance, the need for structural repairs resulting from an infestation is rare. However, occasionally if an infestation is allowed to grow – perhaps it went undetected, or the exact location of the infestation was unable to be identified – repair work by a professional woodworm company might be necessary.
You can find out more information on how to deal with woodworm
in a blog post by preservation specialists Peter Cox.
Damp is very common, especially in older properties. If untreated it can cause structural damage by causing the deterioration of brick and plaster, rotting of wood, and rusting of steel and iron structural components. Damp can also create unhealthy living conditions by exacerbating respiratory problems and providing an environment in which bacteria can thrive.
There are three main types of damp:
- Rising damp: Caused by water from the ground working its way up through the brickwork. The first signs are usually damaged skirting boards or floorboards, crumbling plaster and peeling wallpaper.
- Penetrating damp: Most common in older buildings. Caused by water leaking through the walls, usually through cracks in the brickwork. It’s identified by damp patches on the walls, floors and ceilings.
- Condensation: The most common type of damp in the UK, especially between October and March. Caused when water vapour condenses on the walls. Usually identified by water droplets on the walls, damaged plaster and paint and decaying window frames.
A damp survey can be carried out by an approved damp surveyor (they must have a Certificate in Remedial Damp Surveying (CRDS) or a Certificate in Remedial Treatment (CSRT)) to determine the type and extent of the damp. Check out our article for more information on damp surveys
Asbestos was banned in 1999 due to its implications on human health, but unfortunately that was after it was used in the construction of many buildings. Now, asbestos exists in some form in up to 70% of houses and often it’s more of a problem to remove than it is to preserve, because it only affects human health if it’s disturbed.
If a survey finds asbestos you or the seller will need to talk to an asbestos specialist – it may be possible to have it removed but if not preventative measures will need to be employed, and if it can be removed then the cost will be very dependent on the type of asbestos and the way in which it’s been used.
Have a look at our article to find out more about asbestos surveys
Electrical issues that might show up in a house survey range from small problems to issues that require rewiring the whole property.
If the issue needs sorting urgently then you or the seller will have to contact an electrician, who’ll be able to give you more details on how the problem(s) can be fixed.
Problems with the drainage system of a property can cause problems with the backlog of water or water pooling, which has the potential to cause water damage.
Problems with the roof can vary from a few broken tiles to more severe problems with the roof’s internal structure.
If the issue is minor then it probably won’t need a specialist – tile replacement can be carried out by any suitably-qualified handyman who is comfortable working at heights. However, if the problem is more serious you might need to seek more information about the problems and how much they would cost to fix.
The survey might show up missing, damaged or inefficient insulation which could result in a cold, energy-inefficient house with high heating bills. If a problem shows up with your insulation, it could be fixed without the need to even get anyone in. However, if you don’t feel comfortable fixing it yourself, or if the damage is extensive or inaccessible, then you could get someone in to do it.
All houses must have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
to determine the property’s energy efficiency. Make sure you look at the EPC before visiting the property (it should be available on the estate agency listing or you can find it on the EPC register
What will the survey tell me about these issues?
Your Chartered Surveyor is a professional with years of training and qualifications in identifying many of these issues – however, they are not always a specialist in the damage they find. If they do think there is cause for concern with any of the above problems, they may recommend you talk to a specialist in that area. For example, someone who treats Japanese knotweed, or deals with damp.
Recommending this is not a cause for alarm, it just suggests that the Chartered Surveyor has identified a potential problem but can’t tell you exactly how serious it is.
Also bear in mind that a thorough survey requires full access to the property – if the sellers didn’t prepare for that (moving items out of the way in order to get to the loft, for example) then your Chartered Surveyor may not have been able to get a look at some spaces.
What do I do when I get my house survey results?
If you get the survey results and there are no major issues then you’re good to go. But if there are one or more serious issues, your options are:
- Make the sale dependent on repair work being done by the seller before exchange
- Renegotiate the price
- Pull out of the house sale
Read more about what to do when your house survey results come back
Some of the issues identified may not cause problems for years, if at all, but it is your Chartered Surveyor’s job to seek out potential problems, and highlight the work and cost associated with fixing them. A Building Survey will give you a breakdown of how much these improvements may cost, so you can decide whether it’s worth the time and effort, or whether your seller is happy to renegotiate.
You are the only person who has to decide whether the property is right for you – if the issues are minor, but you don’t have the time or funds to spend improving the property, you are under no obligation to continue with the purchase.
What if I bought a house with problems that weren’t disclosed?
In short, what happens here depends on whether anyone was aware of the problems.
What if the sellers were aware of the problem?
Agents and/or sellers are legally obligated to not make any misleading omissions, meaning that they must ensure the potential buyer is aware of anything that could affect their decision. This is not just limited to structural defects, but also includes things like noisy neighbours, high local crime levels, or if the property will be affected by future plans for the area. If you think the seller deliberately withheld information than you could take them to court.
However, bear in mind there is an element of ‘caveat emptor’ or ‘buyer beware’ – if you didn’t ask the questions, you haven’t taken full responsibility for your sale. It can also be quite difficult to prove that the seller or agent was aware of the problem in advance, so if you are concerned, try to ensure you have email/written correspondence.
If you’re a seller, find out what you need to disclose to potential buyers
What if the survey failed to pick up the problem?
If there are problems that were not picked up in the survey then you might be entitled to compensation from the surveyor to cover the discrepancy between the value of the property in good condition (without the undetected issue) and the value of the property in bad condition (with the issue).
However, whether or not the surveyor is responsible depends on the contents of the report. If they had inspected the part of the house in question and confirmed there were no problems then they may be held responsible, but if they gave a reason for why they were unable to inspect that part of the house – for example, inaccessibility – then the surveyor may not be responsible.
If you believe your surveyor is accountable then you should write to them explaining how much money you’ve lost and why you believe they’re responsible.
If your surveyor won’t agree to the claim and the claim is more than £5,000 in England, Wales and Scotland or more than £3,000 in Northern Ireland, you may want to escalate the discussion to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors instead.
Find out more information about how to complain about your Chartered Surveyor
Remember that many surveys come with a disclaimer stating that Building Surveyors are not automatically responsible for problems found after the survey has been carried out. This means that the surveyor will need to be proved to have been negligent or not thorough in their survey.
What if damage to the property occurs on moving day?
If damage occurs between the exchange of contracts and completion of the sale then it is the responsibility of the seller to inform the buyer, but the responsibility of the buyer to fix because the house should be insured under their name from the point of contract exchange.
If you do find unexpected issues with the property that have only become apparent upon completion, you can talk to your conveyancing solicitor about it. Legally the sellers have agreed to sell it in a certain condition with certain items included. If, for example, you viewed the property with carpet and it was included in the Fittings and Contents form (TA10), but when you move in the carpet has been pulled up and taken, the seller is required to reimburse you for that carpet.
Make sure you thoroughly check all items are working and in good condition (including taps, oven, any included white goods etc) before signing the contract. You survey will cover most things, but small things that people get used to in their own property sometimes get missed.
Updated August 2020