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What are house surveys?

Troy Stevens 14 September 2022

The results of the house survey can make or break a sale – so to say it’s important is an understatement. But what exactly is a house survey, and why do you need to have one to sell your home?

A house survey is basically an assessment of the house’s condition. House surveys are designed to highlight anything that could affect the value or function of the property, either now or in the future. This is for the benefit of both the buyer and the seller. Things unearthed by a house survey could include anything from minor repairs to major structural or environmental problems.

There are various types of house surveys. The type you need depends on the kind of property that needs surveying, its size and condition, and the level of reassurance you need as the buyer or seller.

What are the different types of house survey?

As previously mentioned, there are different types of house survey for different needs.

But where do you start with finding the right one for you?

First, a house survey should generally be carried out by a surveyor affiliated with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). This organisation is the UK’s gold standard in surveying, meaning their experts are all qualified, and their work is carried out to strict professional standards.

The RICS offers three types of survey. It’s important to note that the names of these surveys changed from March 2021, so even if you’ve booked house surveys through RICS before, you should re-familiarise yourself with the basics.

  • RCIS home survey level 1

Formerly known as a ‘condition report’, this survey assesses the basic condition of the house and confirms that it appears as described. RCIS will send you a report based on a visual inspection of the property, but it won’t be highly detailed. For example, the surveyor won’t lift or remove any panels or locked doors, and the loft inspection will be done from the hatch.

It’s often sufficient to go for a level 1 survey when buying or selling a modern, relatively new house in good condition.

  • RCIS home survey level 2

Much like level 1, this survey is a visual and non-invasive check of the entire property and outbuildings. Also known as a ‘homebuyer report’, it includes everything a level 1 survey does and more, including information on how to rectify any defects found and the ongoing maintenance that might be required. Again, this survey is surface-level only, meaning no fixtures, panels or locked doors are opened.

This survey also includes a valuation, which can help you agree with your agent on the guide price and offer prospective buyers confirmation of its value if they try to reduce their offer amount.

A level 2 survey is advised for slightly older properties or houses showing signs beyond cosmetic wear and tear.

  • RCIS home survey Level 3

This is the most comprehensive house survey, previously known as a building survey or structural survey. This survey type assesses the condition and structural integrity of the property and will include a more thorough look under floorboards and at rafters and joists. It also identifies issues for you to check with your legal advisors, such as whether there is a warranty for window replacement).

If the home you're buying – or selling – is pre-1970s or has suspected subsidence or damp, a level 3 survey is a must.

Does a house survey have to be RICS?

RICS might be the biggest name in house surveys, but industry-leading surveys are also offered by an organisation called Residential Property Surveyors Association, or RPSA. Here’s a quick rundown of the two types of surveys they offer.

  • RSPA home condition survey – the equivalent to RCIS home survey level 2, this survey is a visual inspection which includes a report on the steps needed to rectify any issues highlighted.
  • RSPA building survey – the equivalent to the RCIS home survey level 3, this survey is a rigorous check of the building and its surrounds, which will include a detailed look at structural issues.

Why would a seller get a house survey?

You might think it's just the buyer who needs to organise a house survey. This isn't the case – sellers are also advised to book a house survey before their property goes to market.

But why?

Well, if you’re selling your home, buyers will have a house survey carried out before they buy, as they want a complete picture of the property’s condition and status. Nobody wants to buy a house that is going to throw up unexpected problems down the line and end up costing a fortune in repairs and alterations.

This survey could uncover an issue – anything from rising damp to dodgy electrical wiring. Your buyer will then use the results of the house survey to reduce their offer or even pull out altogether. In fact, along with gazumping and gazundering, adverse findings in a house survey are a major cause of people pulling out of a property sale in the UK. This can happen late during the sale, meaning the seller's chain will be broken, leaving them unable to make their onward sale.

So, with so much at stake, it’s a smart idea for sellers to get one step ahead of the buyers by conducting their own house survey before the buyer instructs their own surveyor. Being informed about any potential issues will increase your chance of selling the house because you’ll have time to either rectify the problem, or declare it upfront and minimise the risk of scaring buyers off at a later stage.

How much does a house survey cost?

A house survey generally costs between £300 – £1500. This might seem like a large price bracket, but the cost very much depends on the age, size, type and condition of the property.


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