Home Property How to Organise a Building Survey, and What to Expect

How to Organise a Building Survey, and What to Expect


Buying a property comes at huge expense, and home ownership comes with a multitude of costs, from regular maintenance to large-scale repairs.

There are quite a few aspects of a house you can and should check yourself during house viewings, from the whether the neighbourhood is desirable to the mobile coverage. However, with over half of properties surveyed needing more than £5000 of repairs, a building survey is a prudent investment.

A building survey will give you a thorough understanding of the condition of property you are buying, the works that are needed to keep it safe, functional and in good condition, and any liabilities you are potentially taking on.

Your mortgage company will also want to carry out their own assessment, but this will only check whether the house is worth what they are lending on it and is sometimes done without even visiting the property. Therefore, mortgage valuations should not be relied upon to give you an in-depth insight into the structural integrity and condition of a home.

So, how you do organise a building survey, and what does the process involve?

First steps

It is a good idea to start looking into surveying firms in good time. It means you will have the information you need to arrange a survey at your fingertips when the time comes. It also allows you to get a ballpark survey fee quote in advance, to help you budget during the moving process.

Researching the surveying company is essential. Find out if they have experience in the types of property you are looking at buying – this is particularly important if you are buying a period home, or a non-standard construction. Such houses need different types of repairs and maintenance than new, standard builds, and it’s crucial to get the right advice to avoid making any issues with the structure or condition worse.

You will also need to check that your surveyor is qualified. The RICS is the leading governing body for building surveyors in the UK, and surveyors who have achieved Associate (AssocRICS), Member (MRICS) or Fellow (FRICS) status have undergone rigorous training, must maintain their professional knowledge and are committed to upholding the RICS code of conduct. Furthermore, the RICS insists that all RICS surveyors must work under professional indemnity insurance, meaning you will be protected in the event of any negligence on the surveyor’s part.

It also worth asking for example survey reports. Different surveyors and different firms can have very varied styles of output. Some surveyors use tablets to produce surveys on a fixed template, resulting in a set format that is easy to follow, but less tailored to a unique property. On the other hand, other surveyors produce bespoke reports which are more detailed, but may take longer to digest. Think about the level of detail and insight you would like in your report and whether that matches the reports the surveyor has shared with you.

Finally, if you’re not sure whether you need a survey, or what type you need, make contact with your chosen firms and get their advice – they should be happy to help.

Getting ahead

With everything else that goes on when buying a house, it’s easy to neglect to book a survey in good time, but it’s important not to leave it to the last minute.

Lead times for popular surveys and firms can be several weeks, particularly in the busy summer months. And even if the surveyor has appointments available, these might not always coincide with the vendor being able to provide access. While some vendors are happy to leave a set of keys with their estate agent so that the surveyor can visit at any time, others insist on being present when the survey takes place, so things like holidays, work commitments and health appointments can all place restrictions on when a survey can be arranged.

The best time to book a survey is soon after your offer has been accepted. You want to allow enough time to get the surveyor on site and receive the report, and then potentially action any findings.

These actions might include asking your conveyancer to investigate items the survey has highlighted, such as checking that recent building works have got appropriate consents in place, or confirming boundary placements. Or you may decide to use the survey results to re-negotiate with the seller.

Of course, you also need time to digest the findings and decide if proceeding with the purchase is the right thing for you. This all takes time, and it is best not to rush decisions like this with an exchange and completion deadline looming imminently.

What happens when you book

Once you’ve had an offer accepted, you’re ready to go ahead and book a survey. Make sure you highlight any concerns you have about the property, so that the surveyor knows to pay particular attention to those aspects in the report. It’s also a good idea to double check lead time for survey inspections and report delivery, so you know what to expect.

They surveyor or their team will then begin arranging access to the property, either directly through the vendors or through the estate agents. Surveyors can visit vacant properties or arrange to visit when a vendor is out, if that’s more convenient for a vendor.

An appointment for the survey will be booked in and confirmed to you, and the team will set aside time for report preparation.

The survey

When the appointment comes around, the surveyor will visit the property to carry out their inspection. This can take anything from several hours to several days. The surveyor will also carry out desktop research into the property and the neighbourhood.

The surveyor will examine all accessible parts of the property and its outbuildings, looking at all major and minor faults and assessing the implications of these defects. They will look at the heating, electrical and water systems, and the condition of timbers, roofs, damp proofing, insulation and drainage.

Using ladders, camera poles and even drones on occasion, surveyors will visually inspect everything that is accessible to them. Tools such as damp meters will be used where required to get a more detailed insight into the state of the property.

During the inspection, the survey will also take numerous photos of all aspects of the interior and exterior, to illustrate their findings.

The photos, together with survey notes, will then be used to compile a report. As well as findings from the visual inspection, reports typically also include technical information on the construction of the property, information on environmental hazards and considerations for your legal advisor.

It’s important to remember that a survey is a non-intrusive investigation. The surveyor will not be digging into foundations, taking samples or drilling into walls. If more intrusive measures are needed, your surveyor will provide advice on this. However, the experience and training that a chartered building surveyor has should mean that they can diagnose most property issues without the need for further investigations.

After the survey

They can be lengthy, but it’s a good idea to read the survey report in its entirety so that you have a complete understanding of the general condition of the property and the issues present. If there is anything that you do not understand, or you need further clarification on, your surveyor will be happy to explain.

Buyers often use survey findings to negotiate with the seller on the purchase price; if major works have been identified, buyers often ask for the cost of these to be deducted from the price of the property. Very few homes are in such poor condition that they cannot improved by remedial works; however, extensive renovations are not suitable for everyone, and if the survey does identify a lot of defects, you may decide not to proceed with the purchase.


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