Getting a building survey (or home survey) is one of the most important things you can do when preparing to buy a property. But which one do you need?
What is a building survey?
A building survey is an assessment of a property's condition. There are various types, each with their own benefits, and they are organised by level. The higher the level, the more in depth it is.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you would get a survey when you're a buyer considering a property. In Scotland, you get a survey (a Scottish Home Report) before you put the property on the market.
House surveys are carried out by surveyors and we always recommend using a surveyor accredited by RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) as you know they'll have expert training and are up to date with any changes in the industry.
Types of house surveys
Perhaps you're buying a house that's older, one that's had significant building work, or one you plan to do building work on. If so, then a Building Survey (Level 3 Survey) is what you'll need. It's more in depth and will highlight issues as well as the cost of potential works done to fix things.
A HomeBuyer Report (Level 2 Survey) is more basic, but is the most appropriate for the majority of properties.
If your property requires lots of detail and information, a Building Survey is likely to be the one you will need. This might be because it's an older property, made of unusual material, or has had major renovations.
The table below outlines what's covered in both the HomeBuyer Report and Building Survey. You can also chat with a Building Surveyor to see what their recommendation for the property is. This can help you avoid picking the wrong one and being denied.
- Most suitable for modern, conventional properties, built out of common materials and in reasonable condition.
- Written in a standard format set out by the RICS, providing condition ratings of each element of the property.
- Rates all permanent structures in the property, e.g. garages etc.
- Highlights important problems that could affect the property’s value.
- Will give on-going maintenance advice for the property.
- Provides an overview of the condition based on visual inspection - they will not manually test.
Building Surveys are more comprehensive, offering a detailed inspection of the inside and outside.
- Is most suitable for certain properties. Maybe they're older, made of unusual materials like thatch, or have had significant building work done to them.
- Provides a detailed report and analysis of the property’s construction and condition. Involving visual checks on accessible areas such as roof or cellar space.
- A full structural survey looks at any issues that might compromise structural integrity of the building. These structural issues could be damp, dry rot, wood worm infestation or any potential hazards such as large trees close to the structure.
- Can be applied to any age of property. But it is particularly helpful for old, large properties built with unusual materials.
- Beneficial for dilapidated properties and those that have been extensively altered.
- Useful if you plan to renovate or convert the property.
- Advises on defects, repairs and costs, as well as the cost of non-repair.
- Includes advice for future maintenance.
- Does not include a valuation unless you specifically request one from the surveyor.
This doesn't actually count as a survey - it's an assessment by your mortgage lender. They send a valuation specialist to value the property. This is to see if it's worth the money you're going to pay, and if the lender should give you a mortgage on it. These valuations can vary from ‘drive by’ to a more indepth inspection of the property.
The valuer is only concerned with problems that might affect the protection of the mortgage lender’s loan. They aren't obliged to reveal any structural problems to you. The lender simply needs to know that they can recoup their loan if they needed to.
Condition Report (Level 1 Survey)
This is the most basic of reports. It gives an overview of the condition of the property. It may be needed for new builds, just to get a general assessment. But a majorrity of properties will instead need a HomeBuyer Report (Level 2 Survey).
Scottish Home Reports
A Scottish Home Report is slightly different, in that it's provided by the seller of the property. In order to sell a property in Scotland, you need an up-to-date Home Report. This need to be available for a potential buyer to look at before they make an offer. If you're selling in Scotland, you'll need a Home Report.
What are the costs?
Costs vary by the level and the type and size of the property. It's always a good investment as it could potentially save you thousands in the long run.
- HomeBuyer Report (Level 2 Survey): the price ranges between £400 and £1,000, depending on the property type.
- Building Survey (Level 3 Survey): the price ranges from around £600 to £1,500 plus VAT. This is because it's more in depth and the surveyor will take more time assessing the property and providing the report.
How to get a House Survey
We recommend a RICS regulated surveyor.
It may seem like another expense during the house buying process. But the cost is relatively small when looking at the potential costs of having repair work that could have been picked up earlier. It could also provide you with evidence that may allow you to negotiate on the price. Maybe you will decide to not go through with the purchase at all.
If you're not sure which one is needed for the property you're interested in, your surveyor can provide expert advice. Remember, that if your surveyor identifies that the survey you've requested isn't fit for purpose, you may have to go through the process again. Your surveyor can't act if it doesn't match the property's needs/requirements. Asking a surveyor for advice if you're unsure what you need can be invaluable.
For a more detailed description, take a look at our guides on the HomeBuyer Report and the Building Survey. If you're wondering, you can also read our guide on how to make sure you pick a great surveyor.
Updated November 2023 by Lisa Hall