Property survey:  things to remember when reading a survey report

Consider the findings of the survey against your expectations, taking into account your budget and how much work you are prepared to carry out. 

Some people read their property survey report and think they should look for another property instead.  It may sound as though an endless list of repairs are needed and that the property is far worse than anything else they could have chosen. While this is possible, in many cases the property may not be significantly worse than others in the area. It is a case of putting things into perspective.

If a property survey was commissioned on every similar property in the area the chances are that many would have issues to some degree.  It is even possible that a survey on your present house may reveal some issues, even though you may not have been aware of them and these have not stopped you making the house your home.

It is important to remember that you have employed a surveyor to report on any items which may affect your decision to purchase the property or renegotiate the purchase price so that you can make an informed decision.

Highlight any major issues

A property survey report will always report some issues (I have never known one which hasn’t).  Some may be major issues which require urgent or costly repairs, whereas others may be matters which can be dealt with over time and/or with insignificant cost.  Read the report carefully and highlight  any major issues.

If the report identifies any major repairs are needed (or may be needed depending on the results of further investigation or enquires) you should obtain cost estimates before you commit to purchase (usually exchange of contracts).

Most issues will fall into one of the following categories :

  1. Further investigations/enquires which should be carried out/made prior to commitment to purchase/exchange of contracts.
  2. Costly repairs which are urgent (these may or my not affect your decision to purchase, depending on your expectations and budget).
  3. Costly repairs which can be spread over time  (again, these may or may not affect your decision to purchase depending on your budget and how much work you are prepared to carry out).
  4. Minor repairs/maintenance which can be dealt with after moving in (and should be anticipated for most properties).

The important thing is to consider the findings of the survey against your expectations, taking into account your budget and how much work you are prepared to carry out.  The final decision can only be yours.

buying and selling a house

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When should I arrange a survey?

The time to arrange a survey will fall somewhere within a band between agreeing an offer and exchanging contracts.  First of all, remember that a lender’s valuation for mortgage purposes is not a survey.

If your decision to purchase depends on the condition of the house or flat then it is a good idea to arrange a survey in the early stages.  This way, you can decide whether to proceed with the purchase at an early date and before your solicitor has completed their input.  Many house buyers initially make an offer “subject to survey”.  This way, the buyer makes it clear that the offer may be revised if the survey reveals that costly repairs are required.

A buyer who is relying on a mortgage to make the purchase should wait until the mortgage valuation has been carried out and have received a mortgage offer before instructing a surveyor (unless the valuation and survey are carried out at the same time, in which case the additional cost of the survey may be wasted if the property is valued lower than the purchase price and a mortgage offer is not received).

The most important date to consider before you should arrange a survey is the proposed date to exchange contracts.  Once contracts have been exchanged, a buyer is committed to the purchase and there may be financial consequences if the buyer pulls out after this stage.

Remember to allow sufficient time for the survey to be arranged, undertaken and the report completed before exchange of contracts.  Also, allow some time after receipt of the report to read the report carefully so that you are not rushed into making a decision.  Bear in mind that the report may make recommendations for further investigations or to obtain cost estimates prior to commitment to purchase, ie, prior to exchange of contracts, so that you are fully aware of any terms which may require significant expenditure.  And don’t forget to allow for busy periods and bank holidays, and check whether any parties, advisers, etc, have holidays or time off during the crucial period.


buying and selling a house

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Survey reveals defects: what are my options?

Survey reveals defects

I’ve just received my survey report and the survey reveals defects. What are my options?

1. If your survey reveals defects, the first thing to do is get quotations from contractors for the works.  Survey reports don’t generally include cost estimates because the actual costs can vary depending on whether any work is carried out in isolation or as part of a larger scheme.  Make sure that you are fully aware of the cost of all works before exchange of contracts.

2. For most works it is better to choose your own contractor rather than letting the vendor arrange to have the work done.  Most works can wait until after the purchase is complete.  If you appoint a contractor yourself then you can make sure the works are completed to your satisfaction.

3. If the survey reveals defects which are significant and not reflected in the asking price, you may wish to renegotiate the purchase price.  Renegotiation is usually done through the estate agent rather than directly with the vendor.  Remember that the vendor is under no obligation to reduce the price.  Any renegotiation will depend on how much the vendor can afford to reduce the price by.  In some cases the asking price may take into account the condition of the property and there may not be any scope for renegotiation.  Negotiation of the purchase price is a delicate balancing act and may not always go to plan.  If there are other buyers on the scene then the vendor may choose to sell to another buyer.  Similarly, a vendor may decide to take the property off the market if the likely selling price is less than anticipated.

4. You are not under any obligation to give a copy of the survey report to the vendor or even the estate agent.  They may ask for a copy but the decision is yours.  However, in some cases it may be helpful to give an extract to the estate agent to help negotiations.

5. If you find that the cost of the works is higher than your budget you may choose to withdraw and look for another property.  This is only usually an option before exchange of contracts and this is a good reason to instruct a surveyor early in the house buying process.

In the event that you withdraw from the sale then the cost of the survey is a small price to pay when compared to any unexpected expenditure you would have had if you hadn’t commissioned a survey.


buying and selling a house

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How much does a survey cost? What affects the cost of a survey?

As a rough guide, the cost of a survey for most properties will fall within the range of £300 to £1,200, depending on type of property, type of survey, level of detail, experience of the surveyor, geographical location, whether a valuation and insurance rebuilding cost are included, etc.  For larger properties the fee could be anything upwards of this figure.  If a firm is VAT registered then VAT will be added to the surveyor’s fee and so you should check whether the fee quoted is inclusive or exclusive of VAT.

The cost of a survey will vary depending on a number of factors including:

  1. Size of property.  Clearly, a house with more rooms will take longer to inspect and this will affect the cost of a survey.
  2. Age of the property.  Many older properties have been the subject of alterations and improvements, some of which may be detrimental to the property.  Alterations give the surveyor more issues to consider during the course if the survey.
  3. Type of property, eg, house, flat, maisonette.
  4. Complexity of the property, eg, whether there are any extensions, whether any alterations have been carried out, whether there are any flying or submerged freeholds, etc. Typically, a surveyor carrying out a survey will ask the vendor about any alterations and other works which they have carried out.  However, some surveyors may simply report that a client ‘s solicitor should make enquiries on such matters.
  5. How detailed the report will be.  Survey reports vary considerably.   A surveyor who prepares a detailed report will clearly need to take more notes and photographs than a surveyor who merely reports “satisfactory” “in need of repair”, etc.


Survey with valuation and/or insurance rebuilding cost

A survey cost can vary if any additional services are required such as a valuation figure and/or insurance rebuilding cost. This will clearly affect the time input and therefore the cost of the report.


Cost of a survey when carried out by the mortgage valuer at the same time as the valuation

If you are taking out a mortgage then there may be an option to have a survey carried out at the same time as the mortgage valuation.  The mortgage lender will choose who carries out the valuation but remember that it is you, the buyer, who chooses who carries out the survey as this will be carried out on your behalf.  While this may be a cost effective way of having a survey, some purchasers prefer to have the survey carried out by a surveyor who has been recommended to them, eg, by family, friends or their solicitor.


Surveys on flats

Some purchasers are surprised at the cost of a survey on a flat.  Flats vary significantly.  A flat may be small, with, say, four rooms, but if it forms part of a large building then it is likely that the Surveyor will need to inspect the external parts of the block, or possibly other blocks on the site.  The terms of the lease must be checked before the survey is carried out, and all areas which the flat owner is either wholly or partly responsible for must be inspected.  This may include roof coverings, roof spaces, walls, drives, parking spaces, walls, etc.  In some cases a survey on a flat will take longer than a survey on a small house, and this is likely to be reflected in the price of the survey.


Obtain quotations

You can find names of Chartered Surveyors in your area by contacting the RICS Find a Surveyor facility on ://

It is a good idea to forward the sales details for the property to a small number of Surveyors to obtain quotations.  When you obtain quotations for surveys, ask for sample reports so that you can compare the level of detail in addition to the price.  Also, ask who will be carrying out the survey and check that you are happy with their level of experience.  Remember that price is not the only factor in choosing a surveyor.




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What a survey report will tell you (and not tell you)

A survey report will tell you the condition of a property at the time of the inspection. It is not a guarantee that no other defects will occur during your ownership.

A survey report will provide you with sufficient information (after carrying out any further investigations, etc) for you to decide whether or not to proceed with the purchase, or, whether to renegotiate the purchase price as a result of the findings of the report. It will not specifically tell you whether you should buy the property or not.

A survey report will tell you whether there is any evidence of settlement or subsidence to a property. It will not tell you whether any movement will or will not occur in the future.

A survey report will tell you whether there any are defects to the visible parts of the property. It will not tell you the condition of any hidden areas. However, if there is a reason to suspect defects to hidden areas, (e.g., damp walls at low level and lack of ventilation to a sub-floor void may cause dampness, rot and/or woodworm to hidden floor timbers) then the report should point out the risk and recommend further investigations are carried out before you exchange contracts.

A survey report will tell you the visible condition of the service installations. It does not include a test of service installations such as the electrical installation, heating system, drainage installation, plumbing installation, alarm system, etc. However, the survey report will recommend whether such installations require testing by specialist contractors.

A survey report will tell you whether any materials or products were noted during the course of the survey which may contain asbestos.  However, this will not be an Asbestos Survey and will not include taking samples to test for asbestos content.  An Abestos Survey and any testing of samples would need to be carried out by a specialist asbestos company.


See also instructing a surveyor,     what type of survey do I need? How much does a survey cost? and what should I do after having a survey?

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Instructing a Surveyor when buying a house or flat

Reports are produced in different formats and have differing names including Structural Surveys, Building Surveys and HomeBuyer Reports. Ask for a sample report and the surveyor’s term of engagement to make sure the service you choose meets your needs.

Instructing a Surveyor when buying a house or flat

A survey will give you valuable information on the condition  of the property  you have chosen to buy.  A survey is not to be confused  with a mortgage  valuation as explained in Is a Mortgage Valuation the same as a Survey?  

Obtain quotations from Chartered Building Surveyors.  It is a good idea to ask friends, family or your solicitor for recommendations before instructing a surveyor.   Remember you do not have to have the survey carried out by the person who carries out the mortgage valuation.  You can also contact to find a surveyor  in your area.

Reports are produced in different formats and have differing names including Structural Surveys, Building Surveys and HomeBuyer Reports.  See What type of survey do I need?  Ask for a sample report and the surveyor’s terms of engagement to make sure the service you choose meets your needs.  Some inspections will be visual only, while others may be more detailed and include lifting a sample of floorboards to inspect the floor structure where this is possible without causing damage.

If you plan to carry out any alterations then inform the surveyor prior to the date of the survey so that these can be considered.   For example,  if you plan to build an extension it is useful to know where the drain runs are located, also, if you plan to remove any walls you will need to know whether they are load bearing or not.

If you  have noted anything of concern then bring this to the attention of  the surveyor prior to the inspection.

Decide whether you require any additional services such as an insurance rebuilding cost or valuation, prior to instructing a surveyor.  There may be additional  costs if the surveyor has to return, for example to take measurements to calculate the rebuilding  cost.

If you are buying a buy to let property then inform the surveyor before the survey is carried out.  The surveyor can then advise on any relevant matters, particularly safety issues such as fire protection, lack of adequate balustrading/guard-rails, lack of safety glass to low level glazing, etc.  Also, it is important to have the electrical installation and any gas appliances checked regularly (and prior to a tenant moving in) to ensure they are in a safe working order.

Allow the surveyor to inspect the property without you.  This will enable the surveyor to give you the best advice.  Some house buyers like the idea of being at the property whilst the survey is being carried out so they can ask questions but it is far better to allow the surveyor to do their job uninterrupted.  You will be issued with a report after the survey has been completed and will have the opportunity to ask questions if needed.  You must remember that the house an any contents belong to someone else (even if the house is empty or forms part of a deceased estate) and you should not assume that you can be attend particularly if the owner is not present.

Forward a copy of the survey report to your solicitor as there are likely to be items which require input by your solicitor.  If you have a digital copy this can easily forwarded by email.  See Instructing a Solicitor.

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