What type of survey should I get?

A recent survey suggested that more than half of all homebuyers questioned, who found that their new home needed major work said the issues were serious enough that it would have influenced their purchase decision had they had a comprehensive survey and known of the problems before they bought.

So, getting a survey is important.

But what type of survey should you get? A Condition Report, a Home Buyers Report, a Home Condition Survey, a Full Structural, a Building Survey? Or is the lenders mortgage valuation sufficient?………. It’s no wonder many homebuyers are confused!

So let’s try and help make it clearer.

A mortgage valuation is simply that. A very brief look at the property, often as little as 15 minutes, and sometimes without the property ever being visited at all, purely and simply to establish the market value. It’s not a survey. It’s not designed to give the buyer information about the condition of the property. And, most important, it may not even identify serious defects such as failure of the roof structure, drains or floors.
Every lender now highlights in their literature the importance for homebuyers not to rely on the mortgage valuation, but to get independent advice about the condition of the property.

So your next stop is your local surveyor who may offer you a range of survey products.
To me, this seems illogical. If you come to me you are asking me, as a professional expert, to advise you about the condition of the home you are about to buy. So why would I, as the expert, ask YOU to advise me on what type of survey to do?
I’m of the opinion that, if you are buying the whole house (and I think it’s a reasonably safe bet that you are!), then it’s my job to look at the whole house.

It doesn’t matter what I call the survey, what matters is what I do. And what do I do? Well, I look at everything that I can possibly, reasonably, look at. It’s not possible, in the context of a pre-purchase survey, to pull up fitted carpets, dig holes in walls, erect scaffolding to inspect the roof, or bring in an army of removers to shift all the large heavy sofas and tables. So, as with all surveys, I will carry out a methodical, visual inspection of all those parts I can reach, and use my experience, and knowledge of building construction and pathology to form an opinion about the condition of each part of the property. I might not be able to see some areas, but circumstantial evidence will often tell me what’s going on behind the scenes.

I have a duty of care to you, my client, to give you reliable advice. And only by carrying out a full inspection can I do that. If I said I could do the job more cheaply and quickly then I would have to look at less. And if I look at less, then I can tell you less. And I would have to fill the report ever more exclusions about what I didn’t do.

The guidance tells you that my survey inspection is that of a Building Survey (what used to be known as a “full structural”), but I prefer to call it a “proper survey”. Because, anything less than a full, thorough and proper inspection cannot give the reassurance that you, as the homebuyer, deserve and need.

So while it may look attractive to save a couple of £00’s by getting a lesser type of survey, the chances are that the surveyor will have to reduce the time he spends on site, and reduce the amount of information he can give you. And, as the research tells us, many of those who select the cheaper survey options end up regretting their choice when faced with unexpected repair bills.

So whether you are asking me to look at a 1990s estate type house, a Victorian semi, or a 16th century listed timber framed historic home, my approach is the same. Of course, the more modern house will be quicker to inspect than the much older building, and this is reflected in the fee I will charge, but the job is the same. Look at the property as thoroughly and completely as possible, and report in as much detail as is necessary to ensure that you have the right information on which to base your purchase decision.

Unlike many surveyors, I don’t need to confuse and bamboozle my clients with multiple survey options. For me, the simple approach is the right approach. And, when I walk away from a property, after 3, 4, or more hours on-site, I know, in my own mind, that I’ve unraveled all of its secrets, and can give you clear advice about what you are intending to buy.

Concerned about asbestos?

It’s not unusual for survey reports to contain seemingly dire warnings about asbestos in the property you are hoping to buy. Should you be concerned? What you need to do about it?

Between about the 1950’s and 1980’s asbestos was commonly used as a building material because of its fire resistant qualities which made it, apparently, ideal for such uses as lining the inside of boiler cupboards, lagging pipes or forming fire barriers between garages and living accommodation.

But it became increasingly clear that asbestos could cause serious health problems when fibre particles are inhaled.
And so, since the 1990’s the use of asbestos as a building material has been illegal.

So many homes that were constructed, refurbished or renovated in the past may have included asbestos containing materials (ACM’s), and many of these are still present today.

The first thing to say is that no standard condition survey (such as a Home Buyers or Building Survey) includes specific testing for the presence of asbestos. There are some materials, such as the corrugated cement roofs of sheds and garages, or some types of textured ceiling finishes often known generically as ”Artex”, which are known to commonly contain asbestos, but without carrying out laboratory tests it is impossible to confirm its presence or absence.

In the vast majority of cases, where the suspect material is in good condition and is not broken, powdery or flakey, then it is unlikely that any harmful asbestos fibres will be released. Textured ceilings can simply be painted or skimmed and the risk of fibre release is all but eradicated, as long as you don’t start drilling or sanding the material. Asbestos cement corrugated roofs can be left in situ if they are in a stable condition, and they’ll usually be completely safe.

So, in most cases, there’s little to worry about as long as you adopt a sensible approach and are aware that asbestos may be present. However, if you’re planning significant refurbishment or alteration of the property that might include ACM’s, then it is sensible to take a cautious approach and seek advice about how to proceed safely. The Health and Safety Executive website includes large amounts of useful information which will help you in deciding how best to proceed. Http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/

So, when faced with warnings of potential asbestos in your survey report, don’t panic, but be aware that it may be present and that you should stop and think for a moment before drilling or sanding materials that could be affected.

Why bother with a survey?

When buying a house money is almost always in short supply and difficult decisions have to be taken about how to prioritise expenditure. And the first question many people ask themselves is whether or not they should bother having a survey, particularly if the house is quite modern. After all, the mortgage company will be doing their own survey, won’t they?

The fact is that your lender has only one interest, and that is whether or not they can get their money back if you stop paying the mortgage. They’re not too bothered if the boiler was old, or the drains are a bit blocked. Those are minor details in relation to the overall security of their money. But those things are probably very important to you.
So, instead of being a 15-minute surface scan of your new home, a proper survey will give you an in-depth review of the condition of all of the elements that go to make up the building.

But most surveys are so full of excuses about why something couldn’t be examined, and so vague about whether or not something is right or wrong that they really aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Aren’t they?

The sad fact is that some surveys, particularly when they are provided by your lender alongside the valuation, and prepared by a corporate-employed surveyor, are like that.

But not all.

Surveyors like myself take pride in providing our clients with clear and valuable information and try to avoid those annoying caveats and get out clauses.
My approach is that I will look at everything I can possibly, reasonably, inspect during the course of a non-invasive inspection, and give you my own honest opinion of the condition of as much of the property as possible. Surveyors don’t have x-ray vision, but what we do have is an in-depth knowledge of the way a house is constructed. And we can use that to extrapolate the evidence we see on the surface to understand what is going on beneath.

So a good survey will give you the knowledge and information to allow you to make an informed judgement about your new home purchase.
When you’re making the biggest purchase of your life a few £hundred spent at the outset on a good survey can help you negotiate £thousands off the purchase price, or save you facing large and unexpected repair bills.

And when money is tight it makes good sense to know what you’re spending that money on.

But if you’re not sure about whether or not a survey is right for you then feel free to call me for an informal and impartial chat. I won’t force you to buy a survey if you don’t need one, but I’m happy to explain how it could be of benefit to you. Call me on 01243 887999.