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Residential Property Searches & Surveys Explained

Residential Property Searches and Surveys are both key parts of the home buying process, yet despite this, many aspiring homeowners aren’t completely sure of the difference between the two. 

Throughout this in-depth article, you will learn the differences between a Property Search and a Property Survey and come to understand why & when surveys are needed, as well as what types of surveys are out there.


Searches vs Surveys 


Before detailing what property surveys are and why you need them, it’s vital first to understand the difference between a property search and a property survey. 

A residential property search is done during a part of the housebuying process known as conveyancing. A property search refers to several detailed reports carried out during the homebuying process. Typically these searches are done by an appointed conveyancer and are intended to give you a comprehensive picture of the property that you intend to buy.

There are a wide range of property searches available, and depending on the location, the condition, and the type of property/land you’re purchasing, the number of searches needed can vary dramatically.

The most common (and often most important) property search is a Local Authority search. Local Authority searches serve to protect homebuyers from potential issues that could affect their property, as well as its current and future resale value. As such, a Local Authority Search is absolutely vital to mortgage lenders as it will allow the lender to assess whether the property is worth the requested mortgage valuation.

To learn more about Local Authority Searches, please take a look at our comprehensive guide here.

The other types of property searches include things such as Land Registry Searches(required to prove the legal ownership of the property), Environmental Searches (used to uncover detailed information regarding the condition of the land) as well as occasionally a Chancel Repair Search(often used to ensure that your property does not have any existing liabilities to help pay for church repairs). 

Please see our comprehensive guide to conveyancing to learn more about property searches and the conveyancing process.

A Survey, meanwhile, is similar to that of a Search. Both are equally important when buying a property and can reveal critical information about the property’s condition. 

As the name suggests, a house survey is conducted by a surveyor and serves as an expert-level inspection of the property, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of the condition and any problems found with the property during their survey.

Typically, surveys are conducted on the instruction of the homebuyer once their offer on a property has been accepted. 

The most well-known group of surveyors in the UK is RICS – the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. However, there are three accrediting bodies for surveyors, which along with RICS, includes Sava and the RPSA (Residential Property Surveyors Association). 

To avoid any nasty surprises later down the line due to an improper survey being carried out, it’s important to ensure that you only hire qualified professionals from one of the three bodies mentioned above.


How to Find a Surveyor 


Surveyors can either be one person-operations to much larger firms operating nationwide. Regardless of whether you prefer to choose a smaller or larger surveyor/surveying company, you should always ensure that they are registered with one of the three trade associations listed above. 


Do I Have to Conduct a Survey?


Officially no, you don’t have any legal obligation to conduct a house survey. However, despite this, you really should be considering a survey to avoid any unwanted surprises once you have completed your purchase.

Buying property is not a cheap endeavour. As such, it’s very important that you’re fully aware of any problems with the house or flat before you commit to your purchase. 

Failing to conduct a survey could not only leave you facing costly repair work down the line, but it could also see you paying over the odds for a property that has underlying issues. 

One of the often-overlooked benefits of conducting a survey is that as a buyer, you can use any negative information to your advantage and attempt to negotiate a better price with the seller.

For example, if your survey uncovers the presence of asbestos in damaged walls, or ceilings that could potentially collapse, repairs could cost thousands depending on the extent of the damage.

A survey will be able to find out the extent of the damage and give you a better idea of how much it will cost to repair.

Once you have a cost estimate, you can then negotiate with the seller to agree to a reduced purchase price that takes into account the cost of repair work required. While a seller does not have to agree to your reduced offer, most sellers will be willing to reduce their prices if they feel that the reductions are fair.


The Types of Surveys


So now that you’re familiar with what a survey is, when it’s conducted and how to find a surveyor, it’s now time to discuss the various types of surveys on offer. 

In the following section, we will go through each type of survey and explain their purpose, how long they’ll take, and most importantly, their average cost.

For RICS, there are three levels of surveys available (Condition Report, HomeBuyer Report and a Building Survey). Meanwhile, for RPSA and Sava, there are only two levels (Home Condition Survey and a Building Survey). 

Regardless of the association you choose, each survey ranges from a standard, run-of-the-mill report on new homes that are considered to be in good condition to older homes that are in a major state of decay and destitution. For more details, please see below:


Level One – (RICS only) Condition Report


Unsurprisingly, the first level of survey that RICS offers is its most basic type of survey available.

A Condition Report gives an overview of the property’s condition and highlights significant risks, potential legal issues and any serious defects using a traffic light rating system to illustrate the condition of different parts of the property. However, unlike later levels of surveys, the Condition Report doesn’t go into detail about much of the faults. As such, a Condition Report is most suitable if you’re looking to buy a standard new build or similarly modern property that’s in good condition. 

The average cost of a RICS Condition Report can vary between approximately £500 – £900 – However, the cost of the survey can differ depending on the size of your property, location and the surveyor. As such, it’s important to get as many quotes as possible before making your decision.


Level Two – HomeBuyer Report & Home Condition Survey


The RICS HomeBuyer Report is by far the most popular type of house survey and is typically the go-to choice for most properties that are in a reasonable condition.

The RICS HomeBuyers Report (along with the RPSA and Sava’ Home Condition Survey’ version) covers everything that the Condition Report would typically do, but it also reveals any problems that might affect the property’s value. 

The HomeBuyers report will also give you the surveyor’s advice on repairs and ongoing maintenance that they recommend that you carry out on the property. In addition, the HomeBuyers Report should also highlight any issues such as damp, and point out any irregularities that fail to meet current building standards and regulations. 

Lastly, a Homebuyer Report may also include information that reveals how much the surveyor thinks the property might be worth on the market, as well as how much it would cost to completely rebuild the property in the event that there were any issues with the property that could not be fixed.

On average, the cost of a HomeBuyer Report or a Home Condition Survey can vary between approximately £500 – over £1,000, 

Please note that the cost of the survey can differ depending on the size of your property, location and the surveyor. As such, it’s important to get as many quotes as possible before making your decision.


Level Three – Building Survey


A Building Survey is the most thorough and comprehensive survey that you can get. Offered by all three associations, it is a complete analysis of both the property’s structure and condition. 

A building survey is best recommended if you happen to be buying older property (i.e. over 50 years), and especially if it has a unique/unconventional design or is showing significant signs of damage and decay. 

Sometimes, even if the property is less than 50 years old, if you’re planning to do significant work on the premises to fix damages, change its use or any other sort of grand design, a building survey is highly recommended. 

Level 3 surveys are more’ hands on’ than other surveys and will often require a surveyor and their team to look under floorboards, examine any exposed/damaged walls and ceilings. Suppose you’re buying a property with the intention of fixing it up and selling it at a later date. In that case, a Building Survey is a no-brainer as you’ll also be able to ask the surveyor to include their thoughts on the projected costs and timings for any repair work that they recommend in their report.

As a Building Survey is the most intensive of the three surveys available, the cost tends to be considerably higher than other forms of surveys. The average cost of a Building Survey is approximately between £700 to over £1,500. 

Please note, that as always, the cost of the survey can differ depending on the size of your property, location and the surveyor. As such, it’s important to get as many quotes as possible before making your decision.

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