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What is the value in getting a house survey?

House Survey

A recent survey carried out by Which? Mortgage Advisers found that two thirds of people either ​negotiate a better sale price or get the problems fixed by the vendor before exchange. So how valuable can a property survey really be?

When I purchased my first house earlier this year, the expense of paying out for a survey was one I was keen to shy away from. After all the transport costs involved in going to view properties, the looming stamp duty and the conveyancing fees, I felt the survey would be a grudge purchase.

But knowing I was soon to be entirely responsible for the bricks and mortar around me, not to mention almost every piece of advice I was given or read saying: ‘GET A SURVEY’, I knew it was a must. And so I paid for one.

Why a survey matters

In hindsight, my survey could have saved me a bit of money, but I didn’t tap its full potential.

A recent survey carried out by Which? Mortgage Advisers found that two thirds of homebuyers use their survey to negotiate a better deal. While a quarter of them managed to get the current homeowner to pay out for repairs to the property before the exchange, around four in ten knocked some money off the agreed sale price.

I feel now that I went through the process too hastily in a bid to complete on the property. My other half and I had been so keen on the house, which was in the perfect area for us, that we fought to view it before the open day, knowing that being the first viewers would be key to securing it.

Although it seemed structurally sound, we had a few concerns when we looked around. It had Artex ceilings everywhere, so the presence of asbestos was my main fear, and the boiler had seemingly been relocated inside the property a few times.

So, I opted for a full building survey costing £800, and a week or so later was handed a very comprehensive document.

We were both so excited it said no asbestos had been identified and that it confirmed the building was structurally sound that we didn’t pay much attention to the rest.

Read the report

Suffice to say there were other issues that we could have and should have raised with the vendor at the time.

We moved in and soon discovered that was all the rooms had been wallpapered and painted over. This fact was reported in our survey, we just didn’t consider the consequences. But what we thought would be just a quick paint job resulted in a full three-month redecoration challenge. In fact, I never EVER want to see a wallpaper steamer EVER again.

And then there was the query about the roof tiles. The surveyor noted that the roof seemed sound, but suggested we check out a few bits. Which we did – when we woke up one morning to find water trickling down the bedroom wall.

Now I’ll accept that my situation could have been a lot worse. Friends of mine had a survey done on a house they were buying recently and discovered that the entire roof needed replacing. This resulted in tense negotiations with the vendors to lower the sale price, but they got there in the end.

Value of a survey

I do wonder now if I’d used my survey as less of a reassuring report and more of a bargaining tool, whether I could have got a better deal on my property.

But hey-ho, as my grandmother said: ‘Welcome to the world of home ownership.’

Perhaps next time around I’ll be a bit wiser to the game.

How valuable has a house survey been for you? Have you ever negotiated a better deal because of one?


The cost of a full survey is a pittance compared to the cost of most houses. It beats me why anyone should not have one done, except in particular cases, to understand what they might be buying (and having to subsequently spend) as well as possibly negotiating the price. It would help, of course, if they could be arranged very quickly to avoid the news that someone else has stolen your dream house. I wonder if you were buying for cash (lucky souls) whether you would be more sensible than if you were buying with someone else’s money (a mortgage). Few of us are expert enough to assess the condition – particularly structural – of a house.


A former colleague had a survey on a 1960s house and having looked round the house twice with her, we had a good idea of what the surveyor would come up with. I decided to appoint the same surveyor rather than the other two who had given estimates. The surveyor was very helpful with answering my questions but when the report came in it was superficial compared with that done for my friend. I did not expect as much depth since my prospective new home was less than 20 years old, but he could not even successfully count the number of trees in the back garden. The only significant problems were Leylandii too close to the house and the need to replace the mortar roof verges on the gable ends. Quite a lot of the report was standard text, similar or identical to that in my friend’s report. There were some small points that I had missed – including a distribution board with a plastic case – but nothing that made me want to change my offer to the vendor.

When comparing notes I discovered that my surveyor had been the senior partner in the firm and my friend had the more thorough junior one. I have not found any unexpected problems and have now stopped worrying that the survey could have been more detailed.

Lauren – Artex ceilings don’t present a problem if they are in good condition and undisturbed. More recent textured ceiling coatings don’t contain asbestos but there is always a possibility that old stock has been used. I hope you enjoy your new home after all the work.


Hi Wavechange, that’s interesting to hear that your survey varied so much from that of your friend’s – did you follow up with the surveyor at all?

Indeed the Artex ceilings were undisturbed in any case, but knowing that we would want to move light fittings I needed some reassurance. I am very much enjoying my new home, it’s been quite hard so far but it’s getting there 🙂


Hi Lauren – After my initial disappointment, I realised that there were some good reasons that her report was more detailed than mine. It was considerably older, had had a recent major extension and new windows throughout. On the other hand mine just had a conservatory added, soon after construction.

After the survey I had a long chat with my surveyor and he was very reassuring. His report alerted me to the fact that the textured ceilings were probably free from asbestos since the house was built in 1998, but advised testing prior to work being carried out. On the phone he told me that tests on nearby houses had not revealed asbestos, which was reassuring. He was also able to tell me that he had not seen any evidence of local problems with subsidence or drainage. If I had pointed out that his junior colleague had produced a more comprehensive report for a friend, I doubt he would have been as helpful.

I have since heard that some surveyors are happy for potential buyers to go round with them. This might be a useful for those who are aware of defects and would benefit from a more detailed survey of the problems, obviously at extra cost.


That’s good to hear that there was some good reasoning for the difference, Wavechange.

Also, I’ve not heard of people going round with the surveyor – sounds like a good idea to me!


Lauren – I was surprised to read in your summary of the Which? Mortgage Advisers survey results that there were no references to any cases where an offer to purchase had been withdrawn following a survey. Such cases have cropped up in relevant Conversations here down the years, sometimes because the seller was not prepared to negotiate a lower price, sometimes because the buyer had gone off the property altogether. This emphasises the importance of making sure that any offer to buy a property is always qualified as being subject to survey. The usual wording is “subject to contract” which is fundamental and somewhat superfluous [nothing can proceed unless the parties sign the contract] but adding “subject to survey” puts down a marker that the buyer reserves the right to reconsider their offer in the light of the survey report. This does open up the risk that another prospective buyer might come along and make a matching offer on price but decide not to have a survey so that their offer becomes the recommended one. However, in reality, any buyer can pull out before exchange of contracts so a “no survey” offer is not necessarily superior to a “subject to survey” one. Indeed, looking at it from the seller’s point of view, I would argue that commissioning a survey demonstrates a greater commitment to the property than otherwise. Sellers who are frightened of buyers who want a survey should have made doubly sure their property and its description were in good condition at the outset. Once an offer on price has been agreed and hands have been shaken it is not easy for a seller to repudiate the offer in favour of another one at the same price. Gazumping is a different issue and not directly linked to the question of getting a survey. An £800 survey would still be less than one two-hundred-and-fiftieth of the purchase price of the average house so, as Malcolm says, it’s worth it – even for reassurance alone.

In the intro you are using the word “survey” in two different senses: the research function and the property examination. The first paragraph is therefore open to misunderstanding as the final sentence casts some doubt over the value of the research survey. Could I suggest that you insert the word “property” before the word “survey” in the final sentence of the first para, and again in the fifth para where both senses of the word “survey” also appear. . . . I know . . . . I am often to be found in the detail.


Hi John, that’s a very good point. I didn’t include this finding and maybe I should have, the survey found that one in 10 have pulled out of a house purchase because of the survey findings, but that first time buyers are less likely to withdraw their offer. Having just gone through this process as a first time buyer, we knew we had a ‘sound’ property and so really didn’t pay attention to what we wrote off as minor issues and we just really wanted to get moving. Like I said, I knew we needed to get a survey, and an £800 survey was reassurance in helping us to proceed with the sale that we were 95% sure we were going through with anyway.

I agree on the need to clarify that sentence, I’ll pop ‘property’ in there now.


House buying is a horrendous process, anyway, fraught with disappointment, tension and a welter of conflicting emotions. It’s supposed to be almost as bad as divorce, but I suspect it may easily cause a few.

We’ve moved several times and in each survey you can more or less guarantee that the surveyor’s report will be couched in such as way as to protect the surveyor and cover all eventualities. But when selling one house we discovered that one surveyor picked up the old wiring, whilst the one that eventually bought it missed both that and the heave in the lounge concrete floor, across which we’d strategically positioned a coffee table. The houses in the road all had foundational heave to an extent, possibly caused by fermentation beneath being trapped by the damp-proof membrane, so I was truly surprised he didn’t spot it.

A second house had quite a bit of woodworm, but again the surveyor on that occasion missed it completely – once when we bought it, once when we sold it. But there is some value in having a surveyor’s report, if only for the fact that if they miss something glaringly – obvious like the headstone in the kitchen – you can seek recompense after the event.

The other factor, of course, is that professional surveyors do it all day, every day (surveying, of course…) and they hopefully become familiar with vendors attempting to conceal things, like floor heave and bodies. But congratulations on your new home, Lauren. Once you’ve spent a few Christmases there and got it exactly the way you want it it’ll be ready to sell. And so the wheel turns…


Given the general anxiety involved in house purchase it is understandable that people are wary of putting any obstacles in the way of achieving a smooth transfer and first-time buyers are possibly more reluctant than most. This not just about impatience or lack of funds for a survey but due to the pressures of a hot market when a property can be on and off the market within an hour, although this is mainly a Greater London phenomenon. First-time buyers generally don’t have their own roof over their heads whereas second-time buyers do so they can be more relaxed about letting a prospective purchase go. First-time buyers are also more likely to be willing to deal with problems as they arise and also don’t see their first property as their long-term future home. Something that might be worth considering for any buyers is to carry out a viewing when it’s raining heavily: a bucket in the bedroom will tell you more about a property in an instant than any surveyor’s report!


Mmmm …woodworm !!!

A surveyor’s report said we had woodworm in the loft when you could see the holes were around where a dartboard had hung at one stage.

The building society insisted we had woodworm treatment. We enlisted a specialist who shut himself in the loft for half an hour, issued us with a certificate and left.

Funny, there was absolutely no sign he had done anything, no smell, no sign of liquid, powder or anything else.

Good job there really was no woodworm !!!


It’s difficult to believe that anyone could think that a circle of holes could be woodworm but stranger things have happened. If dust falls out of the holes when wood is tapped, that is a good sign of active woodworm. Maybe listen carefully in case they are noisy eaters.


I am all in favour of proper surveys .

However if I recall correctly there is a wealth of material and court cases on surveyors failing in their duties.
I also recall that in the 1990’s Reading University [?] had a house visited by ten surveyors and found the majority missed easily observed problems.

This is an area ripe for re-visiting as even full structural survesy are not necessarily that useful given the caveats about not lifting carpets or no access to attics.

One thing I always find faintly worrying is the number of people who buy flats without any real idea as to the construction of the whole and the likely future expenditure they will be liable for.

The entire UK building industry could benefit from Which? empowering consumers however it is an area steadfastly avoided whilst Which? does fund the losses of Which? Financial Services to the tuneof £3.3m this last year.

My view is that money would be hugely more usefully spent on highlighting shoddy designs and builds, as highlighted by TV programmes, and buying and transforming various stock houses around the UK as demo homes on how to reduce the costs of heating etc those houses. That thye could be subsequently sold and others bought in their place might make virtually self-financing but very educational.

Given the £21m invested in Which? Financial Services to cover losses, competing in an already serviced business area, I am sure many would think Which? actively working to reduce energy costs might serve more people for a bigger benefit.