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What is a Building Survey?

A Building Survey is the most detailed home survey, but what does it include and is it right for you?

What is a Building Survey?

This guide covers everything you'll need to know about a Building Survey, including:

  1. What is a Building Survey (Level 3)? 
  2. What's involved?
  3. What does it check?
  4. How much does a Building Survey cost?

What is a Building Survey (Level 3)?

Previously known as a Structural Survey, a Building Survey is an in-depth inspection of a property. It is the most comprehensive of the surveys available for residential properties and will provide a detailed evaluation of a property’s condition. 

The Building Survey (Level 3) report will describe the condition of each element of the house and identify the property’s defects, their apparent cause, the urgency of repair, maintenance options and may also include an approximate costs of repair.

Building Surveys are conducted by Chartered Surveyors. It's important to check that the surveyor you select is regulated by RICS, as they set the guidance for surveyors and this will ensure that the advice you are getting is independent, expert advice from appropriately trained professionals. 

Building Surveys are suitable for all properties, but they are particularly appropriate for:

  • Listed Buildings – a building that is on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest

  • Older Properties – recommended for properties over 50 years old

  • Buildings constructed in an unusual way, regardless of age

  • Buildings that you intend to renovate or change

  • Buildings that have already been renovated or significantly altered

What is involved?

A full Building Survey will include:

  • A building inspection

  • A full survey report

  • A property valuation (only if specifically stated by the surveyor).

The survey will inspect all visible and accessible parts of a building, including roofs, walls, floors, windows and doors, chimneys, cellars, garages and outbuildings. Surveyors have a legal responsibility to discover and inform of any major problems with a property, so during the building inspection surveyors will actively search for potential problems and building defects.

This includes looking into cupboards and manholes, and an inspection of the services but it does not, however, investigate enclosed or concealed parts of a building, such as sealed roof spaces.

You can request that certain areas are included to cover particular concerns that you may have about the property. In contrast to the HomeBuyer Report (Level 2), there is no specific format for the Building Survey report, so the surveyor is able modify a Building Survey to your needs.

If you wish to have a property valuation included in your survey you will need to tell the surveyor. However, if the surveyor you use for the Building Survey is approved by your mortgage lender, it can be used instead of a mortgage valuation.

Aspects of a Building Survey

Here is a list of the aspects that are included in a Building Survey:

  • Most important and more insignificant defects and what they could mean

  • Results of tests for damp in the walls

  • Alterations to supporting walls

  • Renovations that have occurred without necessary planning permission

  • Presence of hazardous materials (e.g. asbestos)

  • Evidence of subsidence

  • Damage to masonry and roof

  • Damage to timbers

  • Large trees close to the property.

  • Woodworm, dry rot and other damage to timbers

  • The conditions of existing damp proofing, insulation and advice on non-tested drainage

  • Information on the materials used to build the property and any relevant technical information

  • Recommendations for further investigations on the property

The report, however, will not go into detail about things like heating or electrical equipment, but often your surveyor will be able to arrange for an expert to assess these areas for you, if requested.

A Building Survey can take up to a day to complete and the final report can take up to 2 weeks to receive. Different surveyors will be able to tell you how long it takes to turn around a report, and if time is a concern, let them know.

The report will summarise what was found during the survey and make recommendations if further specialist surveys are required. Being the most in-depth, a Building Survey (Level 3) is more expensive than a HomeBuyer Report, but getting one could save you thousands of pounds, or stop you from buying a property that has hidden problems.

You can make sure you get a good deal on a Building Survey by comparing costs from local surveyors. The price varies on the price and size of the property, as it will take longer to assess a large house than a small flat.

The Building Survey (Level 3) Report

When the survey has been completed, your surveyor will produce a final report which will reveal whether the inspection has discovered any major and minor defects. The report will identify and describe the problems and their cause, provide recommendations for further investigation and an indication of repair costs, and state what could happen if the problem is not remedied.

Cost of a Building Survey

The cost of a Building Survey will vary from £500 to £1,300; the survey cost will depend on the property type, size and location. To save you money on your survey, compare fees by filling in our simple and quick form and receive up to four instant quotes from our RICS regulated Chartered Surveyors.


If you’re not sure which survey is right for you – talk to a RICS surveyor as they can give you independent advice on which survey would be the most suitable for you and your property.

If you are buying a property it is vital to employ the expert knowledge of a surveyor before completion, to ensure that you are receiving independent advice on the true condition of your potential property. The comprehensive investigation that the Building Survey involves may uncover a structural problem with the property that would otherwise go unnoticed until you have moved in, so make sure that you get a house survey to prevent any unwanted, and costly, surprises.

If you're looking to get an idea of all your moving costs be sure to check out our Moving Cost Calculator.

 Updated February 2020

Comments (11)

  • osadolor

    posted on 1 Apr 2013

    Nice, got some information, but would have prefer a more datail information


    posted on 6 Oct 2015

    What I would like to know is can I claim compensation if the surveyor fail to find something serious.

    Reallymoving response

    George - you may want to refer to our article 'How to complain about your Chartered Surveyor' http://www.reallymoving.com/moving-advice/surveys/how-to-complain-about-your-chartered-surveyor


    posted on 25 Jun 2017

    Sounds like a five to six hundred quid a day gig to me! Day one = turn up, shake ya hand and take a few photo's etc. AKA the inspection Day two = write up what was found on day one. AKA The report. Now... lets not kid ourselves, the report is a boiler plate. So really, is this money for jam? Hmmm... Pretty easy to see both sides here. No doubt in this day and age, where everyone is looking to lay blame and get "something for nothing" the poor individual needs to safe guard against what is written down in the report for fear of retribution. Equally though, if the individual is flat out busy, there goes a grand -POP! - on effectively nothing, as there will be lots of "further investigation recommended" So yeah, I guess its good to have (invest a grand vs north of 250k for a place these days) but its not going to be a concrete tomb is it? And yeah, as my brother keeps pointing out to me; so what if you have all this information and want to use it to justify why your offer is lower than the asking price? The vendor (person selling the place) doesn't necessarily need to sell their place to you, do they? So for me, you are buying peace of mind. E.g. - Useful if you work and office job and have no idea what things cost to put right, but not a definitive list of costs you're going to up for. From my perspective, it would probably be well worth your while meeting the individual carrying out the survey and following them around on the inspection day. That way you can ask whatever you want to know. E.g. The block paving on the drive looks a little bit rutted. What rating would that be? And wet finger in the air, what would it cost to put a new drive in?? The windows are all double glazed, but they are what.... five, ten, fifteen, twenty of thirty years old. What would they cost to replace? The fences on the boundary are all mine or shared? What does a new fence cost, and how do I go about that? The boiler looks a bit flaky, the carpets look old, what will it cost to remove the asbestos in the garage roof? Oh I could go on, but yeah... The line has to be drawn somewhere! Hopefully with a bit of nouse you can see my point? If not, sorry for wasting your time - what else can I say?

    Annika Larson

    posted on 2 Aug 2017

    My husband and I are looking to potentially buy a home that is a little older. We want to make sure that the building is safe and secure to move into. Like you mentioned, a building survey will inspect all visible and accessible parts of a building, including the roof, walls, floors, and other aspects. We will be sure to get this done soon.

    Jane Tighe

    posted on 26 Jul 2018

    Sold house and buyers sent surveyor round today. I thought it was for structural purpose. He looked in kitchen cupboards, and opened drawers . I asked what he was doing and why. He said it was full survey. Took him nearly 2 hours. He said when opening draws was checking they opened, I challenged this as surely whether a drawer opens is not important? Having recently lost hubby have never had to deal with this.

    Reallymoving response

    Hi Jane,
    Sorry to hear about your loss. A full Building Survey usually takes at least a couple of hours and is usually quite thorough. Perhaps the surveyor was looking in cupboards for signs of damp against the walls, or access to things like meters etc. 
    Good luck in your home move,
    the reallymoving team


    posted on 11 Oct 2018

    Should a full building surveyor drill into the walls? Ours has said he won’t be able to do this. Which method is correct? TIA.

    Reallymoving response

    Hi Leigh,

    Most building surveyors won't drill into the walls as it would damage the property which wouldn't really be fair to the sellers.

    All the best,


    posted on 25 Nov 2018

    I asked for a general structural survey and got a four page report on a crack, to do with structural movement. There is a line that says 'Those elements of structure not readily accessible have not been reported on unless specifically uncovered or exposed for inspection.' but I don't know how I am supposed to know what these elements are. I'm confused as it seems far too brief and it only talks about one subject. Is this the norm for a structural survey?


    posted on 19 Jan 2019

    Are the contents of a building survey confidential? We agreed a sale price with our buyer who then had a survey done, which reported a minor defect on our 90year old house. They tried to reduce the agreed price, we refused and they pulled out. Our house is back on the market but we have since heard that other interested parties have been put off by conversations outside the school gates, with the former buyer saying our house needs tens of thousands of £ worth of repairs! Do you have any experience of a situation like this?

    Reallymoving response

    Hi John,

    Unfortunately building surveys aren't necessarily confidential, as potential buyers are allowed to sell on the report if they don't go through with the purchase. It may be worth discussing the defect with your estate agent, who can be upfront about it with potential buyers going forward.

    All the best with your sale,
    the reallymoving team

    Sheila muttock

    posted on 1 Oct 2019

    Im a bit confused, I’m buying an old house and want to know as a cash buyer which survey would be best.
As there is a roof on kitchen and I’d like to know which survey would check this.

    Reallymoving response

    Hi Sheila,

    Whether you're a cash buyer or not shouldn't influence the type of survey you get.
    A Building Survey is most comprehensive and would be best for an older property. You can chat with your chosen Chartered Surveyor about your concerns regarding the roof.

    Kind regards,

    Tracey Wing

    posted on 4 Oct 2019

    We are purchasing a house that is 50+ years old and are going to have the survey done. My question is, if there are structural problems, who is responsible for the fixing of these problems?
I have heard that one can negotiate the pricing of the house from the seller,. Do we have the right to insist on the seller fixing the problems?

    Reallymoving response

    Hi Tracey,

    If there are issues, you can either ask for them to be fixed as a condition of the purchase, or you can negotiate the price down by the amount you'd have to spend on the work (your survey will highlight how much this is). Most people prefer to negotiate the amount off and deal with it themselves because they can be sure it will be done to the standard you require. This is better than moving in and finding something was fixed cheaply or won't last.
    Kind regards,

    Sue Marsh

    posted on 13 Nov 2019

    We agreed a sale on our 90 year old house at the beginning of Sep. The buyers lender sent a surveyor round. He commented on the levels of damp, but said this was normal in a house of this age. As is common, the report also said the buyer should get a timber and damp survey. Someone else came round. He was here for about half an hour, had a torch about 1" in diameter which he shone in a few places (not even close up). I pointed out a patch of worm holes and he said they were dead. Imagine our surprise when, a week before exchange, the buyer presented exerpts from the report which moreorless said the house was riddled with woodworm and reduced the offer by £7,000. We are obviously disputing this report as we know there is not a timber problem. We've said we'll get our own report, but from everything I've read you've only got about a 33% chance of getting someone who will accurately diagnose the problem. I don't trust any of them. Even by paying for a supposedly independent surveyor.

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