What is the difference between a structural survey, a home buyers’ report and a building inspection report?
There are three types of surveys commonly carried out on residential properties.
The first is a Valuation. This is a survey which gives advice on the value of the property. The surveyor (normally a valuer rather than a Chartered Building Surveyor) will advise in broad terms, on any major defects that are apparent that have a significant effect on value. This type of survey will only report in a very summary manner (ie. on roofs, walls, floors, structural stability and dampness) and will not provide any detail. If you require advice on the condition of the property you are buying this is not a suitable form of survey to rely upon.
The second type of survey is a Home Buyers’ Report. This is a form of report that is intended to be more economic to buy than a full survey (also known as a Building Inspection Report or Structural Survey) by enabling the surveyor to report in a set format reducing the time required to produce a report.
In our experience the cost of a Home Buyers’s Report is normally some 2/3rds the cost of a full survey and should generally provide all the essential information you require. The advantage of this form of report is that it is cheaper than a full survey. The major disadvantage is that at Langley Byers Bennett we do not believe this set format gives the surveyor the opportunity to report in enough detail on defects that have been seen, or deal with any special issues that may be particular to the individual house or flat concerned.
The third type of survey is a Building Inspection Report, also known as a Structural Survey or a Full Survey. This includes a full inspection of all accessible parts of the property and reports in detail upon everything that can be seen. The report is produced in a bespoke style to suit your requirements and those of the property in question and the report will deal with all parts of the building and covers defects or maintenance issues in detail.
Formally known as a Building Inspection Report this type of survey is also sometimes described as a ‘Full Survey’ or ‘Structural Survey’. The term Structural Survey although widely used by the public is not generally used by Chartered Building Surveyors any longer as it is thought the term ‘structural’ is a little ambiguous and left people unsure what precisely was included within the survey.
How much should I expect to pay for a Building Inspection Report (Structural Survey / Full Survey)?
The cost of a survey varies around the country and depends upon the size and value of the property. As a very rough guide we think within the South East and London a full survey for a three bedroom house or flat should typically cost around £1,000.
At LBB, the minimum for a residential survey is £750 plus VAT. For a typical three bedroom property the fee would normally be around £1,140 plus VAT.
Can a Building Inspection Report (Structural Survey / Full Survey) be carried out on a residential flat?
Some surveyors are of the opinion that a full survey cannot be carried out on a flat because it is never possible to gain access to all the flats in the building and therefore they feel they cannot comment properly on the entire building.
Of course to carry out a survey on a block of flats would ideally mean that every flat was seen and reported on but in practice this cannot be achieved. In addition the cost of seeing every flat within even a medium sized block would be prohibitively expensive.
At LBB we feel it is possible to carry out a Building Inspection Report (Structural Survey / Full Survey) for clients by inspecting the individual flat concerned (which becomes the purchasers’ responsibility under the terms of a lease) and inspecting all the exterior and common parts of the block as a whole (which the purchaser will assume responsibility for by paying a share of the buildings’ service charge). This gives us the ability to report all the essential information a purchaser may need to form an informed buying decision regarding the flat.
If the survey identifies defects to the building can I reduce the price I have agreed with the vendors?
Often when a survey identifies issues that you did not previously know about, or if the survey identifies defects that you were aware but that are much more serious or expensive than expected, purchasers often feel the need to talk again about the purchase price with the vendor and sometimes reach an agreement.
However it is not the role of the Chartered Building Surveyor carrying out the survey to advise you as to how you should proceed with you negotiations, and most surveyors will be reluctant to become involved. It is the role of the surveyor to advise you on the condition of the property (or in the case of a flat the remainder of the building also), so that you can form a view as to how expensive any essential works may be, both immediately and in the future. This means that you will have the information you require in order to make an informed decision about buying the property and its value to you.
What information does the surveyor need before carrying out the survey?
Ideally the surveyor should have as much information as you do. The more information the surveyor has about the building the better they can advise you.
However often no information is provided to the surveyor, other than the property address and access arrangements, and in those circumstances the surveyor has to rely on their expertise and experience in identifying issues that you should be aware of.
If available, the sort of information that can be of assistance includes:
Home Information Pack (HIP)
The lease (for leasehold houses and flats)
Previous planning permissions, alterations or building regulation approvals
Service charge budgets or previous service charge accounts (for leasehold houses and flats).
What is included in a full Building Inspection Report (Structural Survey / Full Survey)?
A full survey includes an inspection of all parts of the property that can be seen or easily accessed. This would not include parts of the building that are enclosed or concealed (such service ducts, sealed roof spaces, or floor voids for example) but does include the insides of cupboards, manholes (where the covers can be easily lifted), accessible roof spaces, ducts and service areas. It also includes a visual inspection of the services, such as the gas, water and electrics.
Are building services such as electrical installations included within a full Building Inspection Report (Structural Survey / Full Survey)?
A visual inspection of the electrical installation is included although sometimes the only visible parts of the electrical installation are the consumer unit (fuseboard), meter and electrical sockets and switches.
Having said this from experience a Chartered Building Surveyor will often be able to form an initial opinion as to the likelihood of there being defects with the installation even if it cannot be seen fully. There are also some items of documentation that can sometimes provide an indication as to the condition of the electrical installation that can assist.
If the vendor pulls out of a sale after I have paid for a survey can I ask for my money back?
Unfortunately no, unless you have reached previous agreement with the vendor about the sharing of purchase costs.
A survey is an expensive and many purchasers leave it towards the very end of a negotiation so that they can be sure everything appears likely to go ahead subject to the survey results. However unless you have reached an arrangement with the vendors there is no legal right for you to recover your survey costs.
If however the vendor pulled out after exchanging contracts the cost of your survey and other legal expenses may form part of your claim for damages for a breach of contract.
The selling agent of the property appeared very keen to sell me a homebuyers report. Is there a reason for this?
Many estate agents have formal or informal associations with Chartered Building Surveyors so that surveys can be swiftly carried out on properties that they are involved in. Some purchasers may feel that using a surveyor recommended by the vendors agents may constitute a conflict of interest and would prefer to use a surveyor they know, or have chosen themselves.
You could ask friends or neighbours if they have received a particularly good service from a Chartered Surveyor, ask your solicitor to recommend one to you or look at a website such as that of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors who run an on-line directory of surveyors who carry out residential surveys.
The property I am buying is Listed. Is there anything I should be aware of when buying?
In collaboration with English Heritage the Planning departments of Local Authorities list buildings that are considered to have a historic or cultural significance in order to preserve them in their entirety or presume certain elements of them.
Many home owners consider it a privilege to live in a Listed Building. Many Listed Buildings are also interesting or unusual properties making them a nice place to live.
However there are some implications of owning a Listed Building that you should be aware of. There are various categories of listing with different standards. Below, we set out some general comments about these. You should consult your solicitor or surveyor for more specific advice regularly in your particular situation.
Obviously no alteration work is permitted to a Listed Building without formal approval from the Local Authority. This includes works to the interior. What may be people are not aware of is that work to any part of a Listed Building is prohibited, even if it does not appear to affect the external appearance or the historic or unusual elements of it. You should always consult the Local Authority before carrying out any alteration works however minor.
You must also be aware that even works of repair or maintenance may require approval. This applies even if a “like for like” replacement is proposed. It is always better to consult first with the Local Authority.
To make an approve alteration or repair to at Listed Building is a criminal offence and can result in a fine or even imprisonment in the most severe cases.
Because many Listed Buildings are older period properties some repair and maintenance work needs to be carried out using specialist repair methods or materials. This can add to the cost and maintenance and repair and make it more expensive than a ‘regular’ building.
The need to obtain approval for works from the Local Authority can also add to a delay in carrying work and add to the expense.
VAT can be waived on some approved alterations to Listed Buildings.
What should I do if my surveyor tells me that damp is present? They have said that a specialist should inspect the property and advise me of the cost of work.
Dampness is a deeply contentious issue in the surveying world. Certainly, when severe, it can be extremely destructive and cause substantial damage to a property. It promotes conditions where mould growth can develop leading to poor quality accommodation and damage to the internal finishes and decorations. Dampness can also be conducive to the development of various types of timber decay. Perhaps the best known (and potentially the most dangerous is dry rot which can cause substantial damage to timber elements within a building if it is allowed to develop.
However often minor dampness is present which is not nearly so severe and can sometimes easily be managed or controlled by relatively simple and less expensive means.
When paying for a survey, you should expect your surveyor to test for dampness throughout the property and advise you where it is present. Your surveyor should also advise you as to the severity of the dampness, the potential defects or damage that may arise as a result of it and the sort of steps you should consider to alleviate it. however they would not be expected to provide a detailed description of the precise works in every case.
Sometimes surveyors recommend a specialist damp-proofing company to inspect. Surveyors should only do this where they believe such treatment is likely to be necessary. Despite making this recommendation to you in their report, a surveyor should also go on to report the extent of the dampness and give you some guidance as to the sort of work you should expect to be necessary so you can make an informed judgement about the house and the cost of the work.
It is not sufficient to pass this responsibility over to a contractor who may not have so much experience and expertise as a Chartered Surveyor and, of course, may derive a financial benefit in exaggerating the amount of work that may be required.
Obtaining a specialist contractor’s estimate for work is useful but we recommend it to be used only as a guide to the likely costs involved.
From our experience, these contractors often omit to include the cost of associated work that may be necessary along with the treatment (such as the clearing of rooms, removing skirting boards and floorboards and reinstating them afterwards).
We have also found cases where contractors have not thoroughly researched the dampness and leapt immediately to conclusions which recommend work (typically waterproof renders when a simple repair in the first place is sometimes sufficient.
You should always proceed carefully and take good advice from a variety of sources.