How homebuyer surveys work (and what to do if there’s a problem).
Last updated: 18/04/2023
When you’re buying a home, your lender will carry out a valuation to make sure that the property they’re lending you money for is worth what you’re planning to pay for it. A survey is different; it's designed to give you in depth information about the property you're about to buy and can help raise any red flags.
Getting a survey done involves you paying for a qualified expert inspect the property for any concerns or problems. They’ll produce a report for you highlighting any issues that could be unsafe or cost you money to put right.
Although you aren’t under any legal obligation to get a survey, they’re a good way to avoid unexpected repair costs further down the line. They can also help you estimate how much you might need to invest into a property after you buy it – or perhaps even renegotiate the price.
The time to arrange a survey is once you’ve had an offer accepted on a property.
Find a local surveyor who is a member of one of the two main accrediting bodies: the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA). You can use the RPSA or RICS websites to do so.
You could also try asking for recommendations from friends and family, and by looking at online ratings and reviews.
Once you've found a surveyor and contacted them, the process could take a few days or weeks. If you have any worries about the property you’d like them to pay extra attention to, let them know beforehand. You can also ask to join the surveyor when they visit the property, so you can ask any questions.
There are a few different levels of property survey you can choose to have. The type of house survey you'll require depends on the age and condition of the property you're buying. If you’re buying an older property, it’s usually worth paying for more than just a basic survey, as it could uncover problems you might not expect.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
RICS Home Survey Level 1: The most basic survey, which is intended for standard, modern houses, flats or bungalows that are in good condition. The survey provides a ‘traffic light’ rating of the condition of different parts of the property, showing the relative importance of any problems, and a summary of any risks.
RICS Home Survey Level 2: A mid-level survey that is a popular choice for standard houses built after 1890 and that are still in good condition. It includes the same features as the level 1 survey, but goes a step further with checks of roof spaces and cellars. You’ll also get recommendations for further investigations, where the surveyor is unable to confidently reach a conclusion, and advice on the budget needed for any repairs, as well as how much ongoing maintenance you can expect in the future.
RICS Home Survey Level 3: If you’re buying an older or unconventional house, especially if it’s in bad condition (or you suspect it might be) or you’re planning big renovations, then you might choose the more thorough RICS Home Survey Level 3, also known as a full structural survey. The Level 3 survey will include everything you would get in the Home Survey Level 2, but also provides greater detail about the structure and fabric of the property. It will give you an idea of what work needs to be carried out, and explain the potential consequences of not having repairs done.
Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA)
RPSA Home Condition Survey: This is equivalent to the RICS Home Survey Level 2. It includes colour-coded condition ratings, and the RPSA says it’s an easy-to use, jargon-free report. You also get a debrief from the surveyor who will answer any questions you may have.
RPSA Building Survey: A more thorough survey – the Building Survey – which is intended for larger, more complex, older, extended, or higher-value homes. It provides the same service as the Home Condition survey, but with more comprehensive descriptions of issues, explanations of how to go about solving any defects, and the consequences of not carrying out repairs.
There is no set cost for a home survey. How much you pay will depend on things like the size and location of the property you want to buy, as well as the type of survey you decide on.
For the most basic level 1 survey, prices are likely to start at £300-400, rising to as much as £1,500 for a RICS Home Survey Level 3 on a larger property.
No home is perfect, so don’t panic if your survey identifies small issues or potential future problems. This could be things like damp, electrical issues, or problems with the roof.
Significant issues coming to light can be stressful and you may not be sure what to do next. The first step is to try to get as much information from the surveyor as possible. Ask them to give you an idea of how costly it will be to sort out any problems.
You may then need a tradesperson, like a builder or electrician, to give you a quote. This isn’t always easy, as it may be hard to get a tradesperson to the property if you haven’t actually bought it yet. But it’s worth persisting to find out how much any work could cost. Once you have an idea of how much the problems might cost to fix, you can try to renegotiate the price or ask the seller to fix the issues before you complete the sale. The seller isn’t obliged to drop the price, but may compromise to help make sure the sale goes through.
If you’re happy with any agreement and continue with the sale, then typically you’d arrange any necessary repairs after you’ve moved in. But remember, if it all gets too expensive – or you don’t feel confident about the property after problems have been identified – you can still walk away.