House Surveys – What Are They and Why Do You Need Them?


Find out how much a house survey costs and which type of survey might be best for the property you’re buying.

What is a house survey?

A house survey is an expert inspection of a property’s condition, which identifies problems to a prospective buyer.

It’s completed by a surveyor who visits the property, carries out an inspection and prepares a report on what they’ve found.

Home buyers generally have a survey done on a property after their offer has been accepted by the seller (but the system works differently in Scotland).

Before commissioning a survey, you should check that the surveyor is a member of one of the two main accrediting bodies:

  • Rics – Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Rics surveyors provide three ‘levels’ of survey: Rics Home Survey – Level 1 (previously called a Condition Report), Level 2 (previously called a HomeBuyer Report) and Level 3 (previously called a Building Survey). Level 2 reports are available with or without valuations.
  • RPSA – Residential Property Surveyors Association. The RPSA provides two levels of survey: a Home Condition Survey and a Building Survey. It also offers a specialist buy-to-let survey for landlords.

Types of house survey

The type of house survey you’ll require depends on the age and condition of the property you’re buying.

Buyers most commonly choose a mid-level survey (such as the Rics Home Survey – Level 2 or RPSA Home Condition Survey), but for older properties, a more comprehensive survey may be recommended.

Rics Home Survey – Level 1

This is the most basic type of survey. It uses traffic light ratings to give an overview of the property’s condition and highlight significant issues, but doesn’t go into detail.

A Level 1 survey is suitable if you’re looking to buy a standard, modern property that’s in good condition, and want to confirm that everything looks okay. You can download an example report on the Rics website.

Rics Home Survey – Level 2/RPSA Home Condition Survey

A mid-level survey is the standard choice for most properties in reasonable condition. This level of survey will look at everything that would be covered above, but with added extras.

It will highlight any problems that might affect the property’s value, and include the surveyor’s advice on repairs and ongoing maintenance. It should also highlight issues such as damp and subsidence, and point out anything that doesn’t meet current building regulations.

The inspection is non-intrusive, meaning the surveyor won’t look behind furniture or under floorboards, so they’ll only be able to identify ‘surface-level’ issues.

Rics Level 2 Surveys are available with or without a market valuation. You can download an example of the RPSA Home Condition Survey on its website.

Rics Home Survey – Level 3/RPSA Building Survey

This is the most thorough type of survey. It provides a comprehensive analysis of both the property’s structure and condition.

A Level 3 survey is a good option if you’re buying a property that’s over 50 years old, of unusual design, or in poor condition.

It can also be worthwhile if you’re planning to do significant work or have major concerns about a property. The surveyor will be ‘hands on’ and do things like check the attic and look under floorboards. The report will list any defects and advise on repairs and maintenance.

You can also ask the surveyor to include projected costs and timings for any repair work recommended in the report.

House survey costs

The cost of your survey will vary significantly depending on the location, size and type of property.

Different surveyors may charge varying amounts, so make sure you get a few quotes before deciding who to use.

The figures below give a rough idea of what you might pay depending on the price of the property you’re buying.

Rics Home Survey – Level 1 £500 £600 £700 £950
Rics Home Survey – Level 2/RPSA Home Condition Survey £500-600 £600-700 £700-800 £1,000
Rics Home Survey – Level 3/RPSA Building Survey £700-750 £800-900 £900-£1,100 £1,500

Do I really need a house survey?

When you’re already spending a lot of money on buying a house or flat, a survey can feel like an unnecessary expense.

But it’s far better to be aware of any problems before you buy a property, so you can make an informed decision about how much you’re willing to pay for it and, if necessary, budget for any repair work that needs doing.

If major problems are uncovered, you may be able to use the information in the survey to negotiate with the seller.

For example, if your survey finds that you’ll need to carry out repairs costing £10,000 you could ask for a reduction on the property price, or ask the seller to make the necessary repairs before you exchange contracts.

House surveys vs mortgage valuations

When you apply for a mortgage, the mortgage lender will carry out a valuation on the property to make sure it’s worth roughly what you’re planning to pay for it.

The mortgage valuation is sometimes called a valuation ‘survey’, but this can be misleading.

A mortgage valuation is nowhere near comprehensive enough to take the place of a proper house survey. In fact, it sometimes won’t even involve anyone visiting the property in person.

So you should always arrange your own independent survey after you’ve had an offer accepted, to make sure you’re not overpaying for your new home or about to buy a property with significant problems.

How to find a surveyor

House surveyors range from local one-man bands to much larger companies. No matter who you use, you should check they’re registered with Rics or RPSA.

  • To find a Rics-accredited surveyor, visit www.ricsfirms.com
  • For an RPSA surveyor, email info@rpsa.org.uk or visit www.rpsa.org.uk/surveys

Some homebuyers also find surveyors through local listings, personal recommendations or comparison websites.

When booking a survey, make sure you do the following:

  • Read the Terms of Engagement that the surveyor provides you with. This will tell you what they will (and will not) be doing.
  • Ensure you know when the surveyor will be carrying out the inspection and when you will get your report.
  • Ensure have direct contact with the surveyor who will be carrying out your inspection, so that you can ask questions if anything is unclear.

How long does a house survey take?

The amount of time a house survey takes depends on the level of survey you choose and, of course, the size of the property.

For example:

  • A basic survey might only take an hour to complete.
  • A mid-range survey could take up to three hours.
  • The amount of time a full structural survey takes varies considerably depending on the type of property you’re buying, with some taking as long as a full day.

When will I get my house survey report?

This depends on the individual surveyor and the complexity of the report.

Your surveyor will inform you how long they’ll take to provide the report, but it shouldn’t be longer than five days (level one or two) or 10 days (level three).

Are you looking to sell/rent your property?

Or do you simply require more information?

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