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types of property
survey explained

what are the types of house survey?

Once you’ve had an offer accepted and appointed a solicitor, the next thing to consider is a survey. There are three main types of survey; mortgage valuation, homebuyers survey and building survey.  The prices of these surveys differ quite significantly, so you want to choose the type which is most appropriate for you.

Please note the below information is for buyers in England and Wales. The process in Scotland is slightly different.

Be sure to read the FAQ at the bottom of the page!

Mortgage Valuation

Most lenders require this basic level of survey. If you are buying a property and need a mortgage, the lender must check you aren’t paying too much and the property is suitable for lending. This is because if you don’t keep up your repayments, the lender needs to know they can repossess the property, sell it and recover their money.

Valuations are generally very brief visits, often only around 20 minutes. The surveyor conducting the valuation checks the property is structurally sound and suitable for lending. All lenders have their own suitability requirements. For example, these can encompass location, construction type, condition and lease length.

Next, upon return to their office, the surveyor will look for comparable evidence. Comparable evidence is the details of properties which have recently sold. Properties which are on the market and haven’t yet sold are not generally considered acceptable evidence. Most lenders require evidence of three sold comparable properties.

You probably won’t receive a copy of the mortgage valuation. This varies between lenders, though.

The lender or financial advisor contacts you in the event of a problem. it is unlikely you will have direct contact with the surveyor. If you don’t hear anything, no news is generally good news and the mortgage offer will follow in due course.

Please note that mortgage valuations don’t always include an internal inspection. Sometimes a surveyor will look from the outside only. In some instances, the lender might even conduct a desktop valuation with no visit to the property whatsoever. This very much depends on your ‘loan to value’ and the type of property you are buying.

Your lender sets the price of the mortgage valuation. Sometimes you can add it to the loan amount. Occasionally, mortgage valuations are free of charge but this is more common when re-mortgaging.

Mortgage Valuation

Homebuyers Survey

We find homebuyers surveys to be the most popular type of survey for buyers wanting a more thorough report. Homebuyers surveys are suitable for most properties which are in reasonable condition. If there’s no obvious cause for concern but you want to check there’s no hidden problems, this is probably the survey to choose. Here’s some examples of what your surveyor will normally be looking for:
  • Rising or penetrating damp
  • Failed roofing felt, flashing and missing tiles
  • Timber decay and infestation
  • Structural defects, including the roof framework
  • Blocked or damaged guttering
  • Failing lintels and wall ties
  • Presence of asbestos
  • Evidence of blocked drains
  • Insufficiently supported chimneys following removal of lower stack
  • Presence of Japanese Knotweed and similar plants

And here’s some examples of things your surveyor can’t normally check:

  • Defects which cannot be seen due to floor coverings, furniture/chattels or inaccessibility.
  • Electrical systems (these can only be checked by a qualified electrician).
  • Gas heating and water systems (these can only be checked by a qualified gas engineer). However, you surveyor may turn the boiler on to ascertain whether it appears to be functioning normally.
  • If the property is drained down, the surveyor may not be able to detect water leaks.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) have a standard format which many surveyors use. This incorporates a traffic light style rating system making the report straightforward to understand.

Sometimes lenders give the option to upgrade your mortgage valuation to a homebuyers survey. Because only one visit is required, the total cost is usually less. The downside to taking this option is that you probably won’t get to choose your surveyor. Many people prefer to choose their surveyor, especially if it’s somebody they have used in the past.

Mortgage Valuation

Building Survey

Building surveys are very similar to Homebuyer surveys in terms of the aspects which they cover. However, the building survey will give more detail about the problem and the possible actions which could be taken to resolve it. Some surveyors will offer estimates for the cost of repair as an option.

Building survey reports will also include details such as the construction type, materials used and how the structure is likely to perform or deteriorate in the future.

These surveys are especially suitable for old properties, those which need significant works or which have non-standard construction types.

house Survey FAQ

I'm having a mortgage valuation, do I also need a homebuyers survey?

The mortgage valuation is for the lender and isn’t very thorough. It’s a basic survey to check for major defects and also to ensure you aren’t overpaying, because the mortgage is secured against the property.

Do I get a copy of my mortgage valuation?

It depends on the lender and some do send them out to the buyer, but generally speaking you’re not entitled to see it. Even if you’ve paid for it, the report was undertaken for the lenders benefit to ensure your proposed purchase is a suitable security against the loan.

Do I need to have a homebuyers survey?

It’s mostly sensible to do so and we generally advise having one done, but it ultimately depends on the property you’re buying so a pragmatic approach is best. If it’s a brand new flat which has just passed building control and comes with a house builders warranty, then it’s less important. If you’re buying a 100 year old run down cottage, it’s probably foolish not to have a survey.

Should I upgrade to a building survey?

You should upgrade from a Homebuyers Survey to a Building Survey on higher risk properties. Example reasons include:

  • It’s an old property.
  • Major structural alternations have been made.
  • It’s over 100 years old.
  • You know it has suffered movement in the past.
  •  It’s in very poor condition.

do I need to have a survey on a flat?

Even though many of the important things such as the structure, roof and externals are the responsibility of the freeholder and management company, as a leaseholder you are usually liable to pay for your share of the repairs.

When a major problem occurs with a block of flats, the management company will source quotes, choose a contractor and instruct the works be undertaken. If there are sufficient monies in the ‘sinking fund’ you won’t normally receive an invoice, but if the funds are insufficient you will be invoiced for your share. If you’re having a survey on a flat, ask the surveyor to report on the general condition of the building in which the flat is situated.