Property surveys - don't buy a home without one

With property prices still high and mortgages hard to come by for many buyers, temptingly priced homes and auction properties can prove irresistible.

property surveys

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Unfortunately, some inexperienced buyers who either can't afford or fail to organise a proper survey of their dream house are falling victim to unexpected defects that leave them with hefty bills.

If you're in the market for a new home or are hoping to get a foot on that first rung of the ladder, here's why a survey should be top of your priority list, and what type you should choose.

According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), a brave third of house buyers splash the cash without carrying out a survey, and one in five live to regret the decision. In fact, the average sum those who don't get one have to stump up is £5,750. And when you've already put all your savings into deposits, mortgage fees and moving, that's a most unwelcome surprise.

Buying a house is more than likely the biggest single purchase you will ever make, so doing your homework is essential. What might look like a sturdily built home to the untrained eye may be hiding a multitude of serious sins. Structural defects, rot, damp and subsidence are just a few of the issues you could encounter, and the worst case scenario is that your home is simply uninhabitable.

Which survey?
There are a variety of surveys a buyer can decide to pay for, but it's important to get one thing lodged securely in your mind - a mortgage valuation is not a survey. This is merely a brief inspection carried out on behalf of the mortgage lender (though the cost will be passed onto you, the buyer) in order to establish that the property provides adequate security for the loan you require. It is in no way designed to point out potential problems.

Homebuyer's Survey
In order to be sure that you are not buying what could be a heap of rubble in a few years or even weeks' time, a homebuyer's survey is the minimum requirement.

These are the most commonly used in-depth surveys, and can only be carried out by Chartered Surveyors. They are suitable for most types of properties, both old and new, and cover a number of areas relating to the value of the property and any problems you may face in the immediate or near future.

A Homebuyer's survey will include general information about the property and its location, details of three potentially major threats to the structure - timber defects, movement and damp, and an overview of the services, recommending further testing if necessary.

The surveyor will thoroughly inspect both the interior and exterior of the property in order to check these essential elements, and they will also include a Valuation Report, detailing the current market value as well as a valuation for insurance purposes. Prices start from around the £350 mark, but the final quote will depend on the size of the home you're hoping to buy.

Building Survey
Ideal for older properties and non-standard constructions (for example, timber) a building survey also provides a detailed report of the structural condition of the property, as well as highlighting issues that require further investigation, but there is no valuation included. It's the most expensive option on the list, at up to £1,000 depending on the size of the property, but if you're buying a period home it could save you a bundle in costly repairs.

Home condition survey
Carried out by SAVA-accredited home inspectors, a home condition survey also includes details of the condition of the property, as well as pointing out where further investigation may be necessary. Though a valuation is not included, for insurance purposes, this type of survey will detail the rebuild cost of the property, and the report itself is jargon-free with each aspect of the property given a 1-2-3 condition rating. As a cheaper option (usually between £100 and £250) it is relatively comprehensive, but if you have any concerns about the state of the building, a more thorough inspection would be required.

New-build survey
For those looking to move into a new-build home or apartment, this specialist 'snagging' survey will point out all the niggly mistakes that sometimes occur, such as plumbing problems and poor finishing. The inspector can then arrange for the developer to fix any snag that should arise.

While paying for a survey might seem like just another necessary expense, it really is worth forking out to give you peace of mind. And remember, any hidden flaws that the report reveals at least give you the opportunity to push down the price to factor in essential repairs, so don't leave it to chance.

Did you risk doing without a property survey, and did you live to regret the decision? Leave your comments below...