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What to do if you're nervous about your home survey

Troy Stevens 07 June 2022

When you view a house, you're probably looking at the bigger picture. Can you imagine yourself living here? Is it spacious enough, is there lots of natural light, or are there broken-down washing machines and old tyres littering the neighbour's front garden?

You're unlikely to be paying much attention to the angle of the joists or go poking around in the drains. This is where the house survey comes in – where you pay an expert to do this for you.

What does a house survey involve?

If you're buying the house with the help of a mortgage lender – as most of us do – they'll want to arrange a quick valuation survey to check that the house is worth what they're lending you. 

This is different to the house survey. The house survey is the one you arrange yourself, which is more detailed. This is when a surveyor goes into the property to check all accessible areas, including drains, utilities, loft spaces and roofs. 

There are different types of surveys – usually three choices ranging from a basic condition report to a full structural survey. Which one you go for generally depends on how old the property is, the condition it's in and whether there are any unique features. We wrote about what to expect from house surveys here.

You're usually okay with a basic level 1 survey if you're buying a five-year-old property. Suppose you've got your heart set on a converted windmill with a thatched extension and secret underground bunker – best to go for a level 3.

It's normal to feel nervous about house survey results. Even if you've been for several viewings on the house and all seems in order, there could be things lurking that it takes an expert to spot.

What can go wrong during a house survey?

The most common issues unearthed by a house survey include:

  • Damp
  • Japanese knotweed
  • Subsidence
  • Rotten timber
  • Dangerous wiring
  • Contamination
  • Infestation 
  • Asbestos
  • Missing or faulty insulation 

How to relax about a house survey

If the house you're hoping to buy is older, you might be especially worried about the results of a house survey. 

Usually, house surveys don't uncover anything nefarious or unexpected that will prove a deal-breaker to you. In some cases, a house survey will reveal a common issue – for instance, a bit of damp on an external wall or a leaky pipe. 

If this happens, you're in a good position to take this information back to the estate agent and renegotiate the price. It will help you do this if your surveyor gives you a good indication of how much the damage will cost to fix. Sometimes, the seller will offer to fix the issue before legal ownership of the property transfers to you, but be wary of this and get the work checked independently before you exchange contracts.

Can I skip the house survey? 

No. Doing so could prove a very costly mistake.

A house survey may cost a few hundred pounds but could save you tens of thousands if there's a significant problem that needs rectification.

If you're worried about losing the surveyor's fees if the house sale falls through – don't be. Home Buyer's Protection Insurance is a safety net which allows you to get your money back if the sale fails due to something beyond your control. 

This includes things like gazumping, but crucially, it covers you if the results of the detailed house survey uncover extensive work that needs doing, which will cost over 10% of the house's valuation price. This means that you can book that detailed survey with confidence, in the knowledge that if there are serious issues uncovered that prevent the sale from going ahead, you haven't thrown the cost of the survey down the drain.

How to prepare for a house survey

Communication is key. Speak to your surveyor to go through your fears – they should be able to advise on how likely it is that there is something seriously wrong ahead of time. Also, arrange to speak with them immediately after the survey to go through their findings.

In the meantime, decide what you're prepared to do should the survey results be unwelcome, even if you can renegotiate a lower price. If you're buying the house with a partner, have an honest conversation with them about your options should the house survey throw you an unexpected curveball. 

Most of us are prepared to do a certain level of cosmetic work ourselves when we move house – think painting, changing the washbasin or installing new light switch covers. For some of us, getting the contractors in to re-tile a roof or renew rotten timber might be a different matter. Don't underestimate how stressful even minor work can be when you're in the middle of settling into a new place.

If you're awaiting the results of your home survey, the best thing you can do at this stage is to relax. If you haven't booked your survey yet, your priority should be to get Home Buyer's Protection Insurance in place to safeguard your money should your sale fall through as a result of it.

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