You’ve chosen your perfect house, your offer has been accepted and now you need a survey. The problem is which one? There are three different types of surveys and there are no hard and fast rules as to which is best for you, because everyone’s circumstances are different. Here’s a rough guide to what’s involved:


Valuation Survey:

This is carried out on behalf of the lender to verify the value of the property, as well as to investigate whether it has any major structural defects, such as subsidence. You should remember that it is not an assessment of the overall condition of the property, but how much it is worth and is specifically undertaken for the benefit of the lender. All lenders will insist on this survey. You will probably have to pay for it, but you will not necessarily be able to read the resulting report. Don’t despair if the valuation survey is negative. It’s not that unusual. If you can find out why, it will give you the chance to argue your case with the lender. You could also use the information to renegotiate the sale price or ask for any necessary work to be carried out before the sale is completed. Clearly, if there are major structural problems, this may not be possible.

Homebuyers report:

The service is carried out to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) guidelines and is the most common report type. It’s commissioned by the purchaser, either through their mortgage company, or directly with a surveyor. It is not as comprehensive as a full survey but will provide peace of mind when making one of life's biggest investment decisions. The survey covers all areas of the property that are visible and will give a good indication of the overall condition of the building. However, it is not all encompassing, it will highlight problem areas, but will only recommend you speak to a relevant expert for further information or for an estimate of the work involved. It will also give you feedback on the value of the property, point out any local issues that need discussing with your solicitor- such as rights of way, access roads etc- and will prioritise the urgency of any repairs that are required.

Typically, this type of survey will be carried out within a few days of a booking and costs between £250-£500 (depending on the value of the property). It will take a couple of hours to do, with the finished report delivered four to five days later.

Full structural survey:

This is the most comprehensive and expensive of all the surveys. It’s especially relevant if you are considering buying any building that: is obviously in poor condition, whose structure is out of the ordinary, is an older building or shows obvious signs of alterations.

According to surveyor John Clarke of Latimer West,

"I am increasingly seeing DIY alterations, inspired by TV makeover programmes, that are having a negative impact on the fabric of the building. For example, when people turn their attic spaces into offices, it is frighteningly common for them to remove vital, structural parts of the roof to improve the headroom."

The survey itself involves the detailed examination of the property and will investigate and offer estimates for any problem areas that are uncovered. The report will take up to two weeks longer than a Homebuyer one to produce and will cost as much as £1,000.

Surveyors have a tendency to be cautious in their approach and you should be aware these reports have a reputation for pessimism. There are endless defects to note and the guide budgets for sorting them out tend to be excessively generous. You can, of course, tailor your own survey. You can mix a Homebuyers Report and a consultation with a relevant specialist, such as a roofing contractor, if there is an obvious problem. You can also commission a full survey if the Homebuyer's Report uncovers anything that warrants further investigation.

Finally, when you commission a survey, you should remind yourself that you are not buying a new car, you are buying something that may be over a hundred years old. Most older houses will have some problems. The issue is, whether they are serious. And remember, any problems, however serious, may already be reflected in the asking price.