Buying your first home? Get the right survey, by the right surveyor

As a first time buyer it’s often difficult knowing where to start. But one thing that isn’t always top of the agenda is making sure you get a house that’s worth the investment. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) undertook some research that showed that 20% of those who did not bother with a survey later uncovered faults that cost more than £5,750 on average. The research showed that 17% of new owners ended up paying more than £12,000 to make their homes habitable. Collier Stevens regularly save their clients’ money.

Practice principal, Steven Way, says that every survey identifies something that the vendor was unaware of.

Having a survey is important. Choosing a surveyor that is right for you, and choosing the right survey, is vital.

Choose a Chartered Surveyor

First things first – get the right surveyor on your side. A surveyor is not a protected title like an architect, or solicitor, so that means anyone can call themselves a surveyor. For example, a window company will send a ‘surveyor’ to measure up your windows, but he or she can’t advise on the structural faults of a window, or the wall it’s built within.

When you choose a surveyor, choose a ‘chartered’ surveyor. This means the surveyor has followed an approved training course of at least three years before undertaking a minimum of two years’ work competence training. This is then followed by a professional entrance interview which, if passed, allows one to become a member of the RICS. It’s not easy (with only a 59% rate for chartered building surveyors) and requires a breadth and depth of knowledge and professionalism which is reflected in the service they provide.

RICS logo
Collier Stevens are Chartered Surveyors and member of RICS.

So, when you choose a surveyor, make sure they are chartered and state that they are ‘Regulated by RICS”. You can identify a Chartered Surveyor with the letters MRICS (Member) or FRICS (Fellow) after their names. More about the ‘Chartered Surveyor’ is in one of our previous blogs.

The right survey

One thing that confuses some first time buyers is their mortgage provider’s reference to the valuation survey (sometimes called a level 1 survey). This is not a Homebuyer Report (an ISVA, or level 2 survey), or a full building survey (a level 3 survey). A valuation is an inspection carried out on behalf of your mortgage lender to determine the amount and terms of a mortgage offer. It is not a detailed survey and you should not rely on it – although you probably won’t ever get to see it.

Image of row of terraced houses.

So – Homebuyer report or full survey? Level 2, or Level 3?

A level 2 Homebuyer Report (or ISVA report) is a service carried out to a standard format, designed for properties built after 1900, which are of conventional construction and in reasonable condition. It is a Level 2 Survey. Collier Stevens use a standard form of report provided and prepared by the Independent Surveyors and Valuers Association (ISVA). In a nutshell, it includes:

  • The property’s general condition;
  • Any significant defects, in accessible parts of the property, which may affect its value;
  • Urgent and significant matters that need assessing before entering into exchanging contracts;
  • The recommended reinstatement cost for insurance purposes;
  • The value of the property on the open market

This report is not a detailed survey of every aspect of the property and focuses only on significant and urgent matters. It’s not suitable for properties built before 1900, those in need of renovation or that you are planning to extend.

A full building survey is a detailed and comprehensive inspection suitable for all properties but especially recommended for:

  • All listed buildings;
  • Those built before 1900;
  • Any building constructed in an unusual way regardless of its age;
  • Properties which are in a dilapidated condition;
  • Properties with unusual features;
  • Properties you are planning to renovate or alter in any way;
  • Properties which have already had extensive alterations.

A building survey involves a detailed examination of all accessible parts of a property and can be tailor-made to suit your individual needs and concerns. It includes the following:

  • Major and minor faults;
  • The implications of any defects and possible cost of repairs;
  • Results of testing walls for dampness and timbers for damage including woodworm or rot;
  • Comments on the existence and condition of damp-proofing, insulation and drainage (although the latter will not be tested);
  • Extensive technical information on the construction of the property and details about material used in construction;
  • Information on the location;
  • Recommendations for any further specialist inspections.

Surveyors will comment on all parts of a property that are readily accessible, but are not obliged to inspect areas that are difficult to access. They won’t lift carpets, shift furniture, use a ladder to inspect the roof if it is more than one storey up, or move items stored in the loft.

Most surveyors are not experts in electrics or plumbing, so won’t test services, such as the wiring and water supply. However, they may comment on their condition. Where necessary, surveyors will recommend that an expert examination be carried out.

Collier Stevens surveys are always conducted by Chartered Surveyors with many years appropriate experience. You can of course choose a surveyor who is not Chartered, but experienced. You may wish to use your mate the builder, or you might decide not to bother. But this could be a costly mistake. We think you and your property investment are best protected by a proper survey, by a proper Chartered Building Surveyor. You can also shave the cost of the house price with the right survey – see our blog on how we saved buyer £1000s.

This video by RICS may also help you to decide which survey you need.

Contact us today for more advice, or to book your survey.

(Originally published by Steve Way, 16 October 2017)