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  • The Building Survey - What is it?

    16th August 2018

    The Building Survey – What is it?

    The Building Survey is a level 3 survey – the highest level non-invasive (e.g. drilling into walls) survey you can get.

    An Overview of this report:

    • A detailed inspection of the property
    • A detailed report from the inspection findings –
      • RPSA – each surveyor follows the RPSA template. Examples can be found below.
      • RICS – your surveyor may follow their own template rather than the RICS template unlike the HomeBuyer report. Each surveyor has their own preference about how they best tailor their report write up to your survey


    Why get a Level 3 Building Survey?

    • Ensure you’re fully informed about a property before buying a house by knowing its true condition of the property
    • Identify potential and hidden defects
    • Understand the cause of defects or issues
    • Where agreed, provide cost estimates for repairs

    A valuation does not come as standard. However, you can request this in addition to the report and your surveyor will provide a quote to include this.


    Which properties is it suitable for?

    Age: Any but particularly older properties. The older the property gets the more likely there are defects that will have developed. Nothing stays new but more time and a more detailed inspection is required to ensure nothing is missed.

    Construction: Any! More complex designs with special structures will require more time to inspect and sometimes more specialist knowledge

    Building Materials: Anything from more standard building materials like brick or timber to more unusual composites or steel structures.

    Condition: any condition. A building survey is suited to properties that problems. The survey is designed to diagnose the cause and severity of issues in a property.

    Alterations/Extensions: suited to properties that have had alterations or extensions and determining if these are having an affect on the main structure. Also suitable if you need advice on whether or not a planned extension will be suitable.

    Listed buildings: Yes


    How does it compare to a Homebuyer Report?

    The table below shows the core differences to a Building Survey or Condition Report. At it’s core the level of detail that is provided in the report is a big factor and with it the amount of time spent inspecting the property. Typically a homebuyer report inspection can be up to 90 minutes with a building survey typically up to 3 hours. This is a guide only a varies significantly based on the property size. The point to remember is that a Building Survey inspection is longer than that of a Homebuyer Report. This is because the surveyor typically highlights issues and looks to establish the cause and a often a solution to the problem.

    RICS Survey comparison table showing the difference between a homebuyer report building survey and condition report
    Source: RICS


    What does the surveyor look for?

    Your surveyor will look for all major and minor defects evident throughout the property (including the roof space) and any permanent outbuildings. Remember, your surveyor can only inspect what is accessible to them and visible. They also aim to establish what hidden defects may be present such as timber problems hidden under floorboards, the cause and the options for repair allowing you to make an informed decision on the likely cost and time required to repair.

    A building survey is unobtrusive meaning they will not lift floor coverings (e.g. carpets, floorboards), drill into walls or move heavy furniture. Where there is access to hidden areas (such as under floorboards) they will inspect this if there are loose floorboards or hatches that can be lifted. The surveyor doesn’t want to cause unnecessary damage to the property you are looking to buy.

    Your surveyor will inspect all the visible elements of the:

    • Roof structure
    • Ceilings
    • Internal walls
    • Floors
    • Joinery (e.g. staircases)
    • Fireplace and chimney breasts
    • Roof and chimneys
    • External walls
    • Windows
    • Rainwater pipes/gutters
    • Garage
    • Outbuildings
    • Grounds

    However, the inspection will be in more detail that than of a Homebuyer Report with a more detailed analysis of any issues found provided in the report.


    What equipment does my surveyor use?

    • Damp meter – test for any moisture readings around the property
    • Binoculars – to help get a better view of elevated areas of the property (e.g. roof/chimney)
    • Torch – to see into awkward spaces
    • Ladder – access roofs and internal hatches up to 3m from the ground
    • Drain keys – access to drainage hatches


    Limitations to a survey

    Services (e.g. gas, electrics etc) – These are often hidden within the walls and floors. Your surveyor can inspect the visual parts advising on the condition they appear to be in. Remember, your surveyor is like a GP – they can provide a general idea of the condition of these services from what they can see but they are not specialists and so will not conduct specialist tests or establish the efficiency of any services, however, they will often check to see that the fittings work.

    Inspections are not obtrusive – they will not drill into walls or lift carpets as they are not able to damage the property. However, due to their knowledge and experience they are usually able to take small signs and piece together the jigsaw to establish if there are potential issues or not and if they warrant further inspections.


    Unsure on which report to get?

    Take our questionnaire to see which survey you need for the property you are buying.


    Can I just survey the property myself?

    Yes, of course. You can request a much longer second viewing to try and look for issues. However, what a surveyor offers is the knowledge and experience to look for more than the obvious visible issues. They will also have a detailed local knowledge of issues with build and material types used over the years, Through understanding the obvious and the subtle factors from what they can see, hear, feel etc they can piece together much more than meets the eye.

    As well knowledge, surveyors take with them a number of tools to help them test for things they can’t see – binoculars, torches, damp meters and often more.


    How much is a Building Survey?

    Typically start at £650. Many factors affect this from the property size to age to location.

    Get Building Survey Quotes


    Our Opinion

    Go for the highest level of detail you are comfortable paying for. The higher level surveys ensure the property is inspected to a much finer detail helping to prevent anything from slipping through the net. The cost of a survey is to ensure you don’t end up footing a bill down the line repairing issues you didn’t know existed.


    For a full breakdown including typical terms of engagement see:

    RICS description of a building survey and terms of engagement

    RPSA example building survey report

    RPSA terms of engagement