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To survey or not to survey? That is the question!

Purchasing a property can be an expensive time and so many purchasers ask the question: “do I really need to have a survey carried out?”

Our advice is always to have an appropriate (please see below) survey carried out to ensure that you are aware of all matters affecting a property including previous alterations that may not be noticeable upon first inspection and so that you can plan for future maintenance.

Speaking generally, there are three main levels of survey:

  • Mortgage Valuation
  • HomeBuyers Report
  • Structural Survey

Mortgage Valuation

This is the ‘entry level’ survey that the vast majority of lenders will require is carried out as a minimum. The purpose of the Mortgage Valuation is to confirm the value of the property to ensure that the property is sufficient security for the lender’s interest.

The Mortgage Valuation is very limited and will only highlight substantial defects that require further investigation. It is also very rare for a purchaser to be entitled to rely upon the contents of a Mortgage Valuation Report as these are commonly prepared for the benefit of the lender only.

The Mortgage Valuation is unlikely to provide buyers with an insight into previous alterations to the property or to any potential issues affecting the property that will require remedying/maintenance in the future.

Home Buyers Report

The Home Buyers Report is more detailed and commonly operates with a ‘traffic light’ colour coding system whereby items marked as green are acceptable, items marked as amber require further investigation although not immediate and items marked as red are considered serious and require immediate further investigation.

Whilst the Home Buyers Report does not involve structural investigations it provides purchasers with a lot more information about the property including advice on damp readings, the condition of the roof(s), whether the property has had cavity wall insulation installed and the condition of the structure of the property.

Structural Survey

A Structural Survey is the most comprehensive level of survey (and often the most expensive) and involves a surveyor investigating the property from top to bottom to actively detect any problems with the property.

Depending upon the history of the property, and the instructions provided to the surveyor, it may be that the surveyor wishes to drill into the structure of the building to ascertain, for example, whether a lintel has been put in place where a wall has been removed. For this reason it is sensible to liaise with the sellers (often through the estate agents) to indicate that you plan on having a structural survey carried out as it may that the seller is not happy for walls to be drilled into.

The structural survey is usually most appropriate:

Where a building has been heavily altered and/or extended
If the building is old (usually over 50 years old)
Is the property is not of standard construction
If the property is dilapidated
If you intend on altering/extending the property.

However, the structural survey can be appropriate in a number of other circumstances and the best person to speak with to ascertain an appropriate level of survey will be your surveyor.

Further Investigations

Each of the three reports referred to above assist us in advising you, particularly if the report brings to attention alterations that were otherwise unknown. This then allows us to investigate the same and make sure that, if required, Building Regulations and/or Planning Permission together with any other relevant consents are in place.

The reports will also allow you the opportunity to obtain quotes for any suggested works so that you are fully aware of the financial implications involved in the purchase.

 If the works are severe (assuming that contracts have not been exchanged) this may be an appropriate time  to try and renegotiate the purchase price. By having an estimate of the cost of the works you can then ask the seller for a realistic price reduction. If the works/issues are really serious this may also be an appropriate time for you to decide whether you still wish to proceed with the purchase.

It is important to remember that unless the seller has misrepresented the situation, under the English Legal System the principle of  ‘buyer beware’ applies. This means that it is really important to satisfy yourself as to the condition of the property prior to committing yourself to the transaction as following exchange of contracts and completion it is very difficult to seek redress from a seller.

 It is also important to remember that, often, a surveyors field of expertise does not extend to electrical works and gas appliances and so depending upon the circumstances it may be prudent to instruct a CORGI/Gas Safe engineer and a qualified electrician to inspect the condition of the gas appliances and electrical installation at the property.

Whilst this article is intended to provide background information it is no substitute to speaking with a surveyor to discuss your individual needs. When considering an appropriate surveyor a good starting point is to make sure that the surveyor is a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. This should help to ensure that the surveyor you choose is appropriately qualified and regulated.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publicising. QualitySolicitors Knight Polson accepts no responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek legal advice on your situation.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss a property matter further please do not hesitate to contact us on  or 023 8064 4822.

Posted in: Property

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