Getting a 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 survey?
A survey is an assessment of a property's condition. There are various types of survey, each with their own benefits, and they are organised by level. The higher the level, the more in depth the survey 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 survey
We offer two main types of survey:
As a rule, if you're buying an older property, one that's had significant building work, or one you plan to do building work on, 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 as much detail and information as possible (it is old, made of unconventional material,or has had significant building work done to it), a Building Survey is likely to be the one you will need.
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 survey and being denied.
A HomeBuyer Report is:
Suitable for modern, conventional properties in reasonable condition.
Written in a standard format set out by the RICS, providing ratings of each element of the property in a 'traffic light' system
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 (previously known as Structural Surveys) are more comprehensive, offering a detailed inspection of the inside and outside. This type of survey is needed if your property is old, made of unconventional material (like thatch or timber),or has had significant building work done to it. Similarly, if you intend to do building work to the property, a Building Survey is probably the one you will need.
It involves checks on accessible areas such as roof or cellar space, but will also look at any issues that might compromise the structural integrity of the building like damp, dry rot, wood worm infestation or any potential hazards such as large trees close to the structure.
The surveyor will send you a report which will include a list of all defects uncovered, their probable cause, level of significance (if they require immediate action or can be ignored for the time being), and recommendations on what is needed to fix these defects (along with costs). It will also include technical details on construction of property, materials used etc
- Provides a thoroughly detailed report and analysis of the property’s construction and condition
Can be applied to any age of property but is particularly helpful for old, large properties built with unconventional 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
Includes advice for future maintenance
Does not include a valuation unless you specifically request one from the surveyor
Other types of surveys
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 and is intended to supplement the information provided with a mortgage valuation survey. It may be the survey 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 of house surveys?
The price of a house survey varies on the type of survey and the type and size of the property. A survey is always a good investment as it could potentially save you thousands.
Learn more about how much a survey costs.
You can compare prices for both Building Surveys and HomeBuyer Reports by getting a survey quote.
How to get a House Survey
For the expert guidance a house survey provides, we recommend a RICS regulated surveyor.
Although it may seem like another expense during the house buying process, the cost is relatively small in relation to the potential costs of having to repair something that could have been picked up during a survey. It could also provide you with evidence that may allow you to negotiate on price or you may decide to not go through with the purchase at all.
If you are unsure which survey would be needed for the property you are hoping to buy, your surveyor will be able to offer you expert, independent advice on which would be required for your potential home. 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 go ahead with a survey that 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 of the two surveys, take a look at our guides on the HomeBuyer Report (Level 2 Survey) and the Building Survey (Level 3 Survey). If you're wondering, you can also read our guide on how to make sure you pick a great surveyor.
Updated July 2022