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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?

Comments
Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

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.

Profile photo of wavechange
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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.

Profile photo of Lauren Deitz
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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 🙂

Profile photo of wavechange
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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.

Profile photo of Lauren Deitz
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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!

Profile photo of John Ward
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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.

Profile photo of Lauren Deitz
Member

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.

Profile photo of Ian
Member

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…

Profile photo of John Ward
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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!

Profile photo of alfa
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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 !!!

Profile photo of wavechange
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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.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
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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.

Profile photo of wavechange
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My surveyor did explore the loft and made some useful comments. He explained the potential dangers of the halogen downlighters in the bathrooms and suggested that ‘fire rated’ fixtures be fitted if not already present. Halogen downlighters create a lot of heat and thick loft insulation deprives them of cooling.

Fire rated downlighters help prevent spread of fires to the floor above.

Profile photo of John Ward
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If ever there were a bad light source for a bathroom it is a halogen downlighter! Apart from the technical and economic shortcomings they give the worst possible illumination whether for shaving or make-up as they cast an unfavourable light with awkward shadows. Because they are recessed in the ceiling they project a narrow vertical cone of light interspersed with pools of shadow and no reflection of light back off the ceiling to create an ambient light. I would demand at least £200 off the price for immediate rectification! Replacing the halogen lamps with LED lamps would mitigate the heat problem in the ceiling void or roofspace but would not improve the illumination performance of the bathroom lighting.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I could not agree more, John. I did replace the lot with LED bulbs, but I resisted encouragement to install halogen downlighters in my previous home. I suspect the vendors were very happy with the bathrooms and might not have agreed that this was a valid reason for a price reduction. I used other tactics.

One of the things that put me off some of the houses I looked at was kitchens with downlighters, sometimes not even well positioned. I don’t like my bathroom downlighters but at least they are carefully sited.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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In any room you ideally need light from all directions. The effect of overhead lighting – even some pendants – can be greatly improved by using uplighters, table lamps, wall lights for example – anything that puts light on walls and the ceiling. In a bathroom one good way is to have either a mirror over the basin with inbuilt lights, or separate wall light(s) to the side. Alternatively use something like a ceiling track with lights that can be aimed around the space, using an existing supply point. Worth spending money on decent lighting and professional installation; rarely done, seemingly.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I agree, but I’m not keen on the idea of track lighting in a bathroom, where the humidity can be high.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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You need the appropriate light fittings designed for bathrooms. These will have protection against moisture. Mine has screw-fit glass cylinders over the TH lamp capsules and a neoprene gasket between the body and the backplate. A b***er to install when up the steps. I don’t know why evolution did not provide us with an extra hand and arm. mrs r was fortunately to hand.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

A better design is to use a captive gasket silicone rubber O-ring that might not get lost or forgotten when the lamp is replaced. I was lucky with mine but in future it is a feature I would look for before ordering. Whatever the IP rating I would not want track lighting in a bathroom.

I agree about the need for third hands and that could be included in revised standards for human beings, along with eyes that don’t need sight correction and teeth resistant to abuse by 21st century diets.

Profile photo of John Ward
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I have recently had some excellent John Lewis bathroom ceiling lights installed that are integrated LED’s. When it fails the whole unit will have to be replaced but that should be many years away. They fit flush to the ceiling and have a shallow enclosing translucent bowl that illuminates the whole area very satisfactorily with virtually no shadows and in a diffused opal glow. They are certainly bright enough and are probably the best bathroom lights I have seen for a long time [good value for money at £55 each in my opinion]. I could have fitted them myself but we were having other electrical work done at the time so the electrician put them up for us.

Profile photo of wavechange
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They should last for long enough unless you are spending much too long in the bath.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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“revised standards for human beings, ”
And bodies that don’t over-enlarge. To clarify, the backplate gasket is only fitted at installation. The lamps are simply replaced by removing a protective glass cylinder. However the principle was to distribute light around the room, and the usefulness of adjustable multiple lights on a backplate is you can aim them to suit the room they are in.

Lighting fittings can be quite expensive. The example I put in my bathroom was £150 from a well-known retailer. I bought the self-same product online for £45 from a reputable source. It is a shame many regard lighting as a necessary service but don’t put much thought or money into it – perhaps because they need it installed by an expensive electrician. Yet it can do as much, or more, to enhance a space as expensive decoration.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I see, Malcolm. Nevertheless there are examples of lighting and other products where important parts may become detached and not refitted. I agree about the value about having adjustable lights. When doing DIY I prefer screws to nails because it’s easy to make changes. 🙂

I don’t know if surveyors comment on lighting but mine did not, apart from the bathroom downlighters. A friend who helped me look round the house I bought commented on the lack of ceiling lighting in the main room. I will probably replace the uplighters as those in neighbouring houses have done, but I prefer table lamps, reading lamps etc., which can easily be moved when needed. One of the things I looked for was the number and position of sockets in the rooms.

One of the surveyors I spoke to suggested that it might be useful to get an electrician to look at the property. I might have done that if it had been an older property but there was no evidence of DIY work and the bathroom lighting was the only problem.

Profile photo of John Ward
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I should think the overwhelming majority of full building surveys are carried out thoroughly and diligently by the professional firms engaged. Errors and omissions occur as with any human activity but since firms can be held liable for the consequences of such lapses [although perhaps not without a struggle] they have a vested interest in getting it right. These firms usually set out clearly the scope of their survey and any limitations. What Which? could usefully do is to produce a guide to surveyors’ specifications as a checklist to see that all important elements are included and reported on [or a reason given for not doing so where appropriate] and to identify other possible areas that could be reported on if relevant to particular types of property relating to age, condition, construction materials used, etc.

Personally I would not advise using a surveyor recommended by the selling agent – it is better to choose one independently using the RICS website or from local knowledge. Template and pro-forma survey reports have become the norm unfortunately in this age of copy and paste so it is vital to study them carefully to make sure (a) that they make sense, and (b) that, so far as the buyer can tell, there is nothing missing from the report and nothing in it that shouldn’t be there. On receipt of the surveyor’s report it is a good idea to go back to the property and use the report as a guide to check the location and condition of everything mentioned so that you can get an idea of the scale and likely cost of any rectifications. A good survey report will also look at the Energy Performance Certificate produced for the seller to see that it is materially correct and represents the present condition of the property [an EPC is valid for ten years but a lot can be changed in that time and the surveyor should comment on any significant variations]. Surveyors would usually indicate the order of urgency for attention to defects with roofing, drainage, structure, dampness, flues, electrical and other services taking priority.

Sellers need to be under an obligation to cooperate with surveys by ensuring that roofspaces are accessible and clear of obstructions, floors can be looked at if necessary by pulling back carpets, and cupboards can be checked. What is not often appreciated is that a surveyor’s nose is just as useful as their eyes, torch and other equipment so it is pointless for sellers to try to disguise problems. Knowing that the lender’s valuation survey can be over and done with in ten minutes, sellers might be apprehensive of a full structural survey and find the necessary intrusion unwelcome but a good estate agent should prepare them for it and reassure them.

If a survey report reveals significant defects that are not already reflected in the price [bearing in mind that a property’s value is a matter of opinion and not a certainty] a formal submission of a lower offer should be made, either through the selling agent or via the buyer’s conveyancer, with the reasons given for the proposed price reduction. I would say that anything within about 1% of the offer should be disregarded and just taken on board since chiselling a sliver off the price could upset the sellers disproportionately to the amount involved and sour relations through the rest of the buying process where everybody needs all the cooperation still in the cupboard. Trying to build up a menu of problems in order to justify a big price cut is not helpful either so long as the price is generally in the right place. If a property is so bad and the price too high just leave it for someone else; sometimes reality sets in and the same property returns to the market a bit later under a different agent at a more acceptable price or with improvements carried out.

Interestingly, properties in poor condition are generally sold by auction these days and there is sometimes very little time to arrange for a survey to be done before the auction date. In many cases the defects are immediately apparent because the properties are unfurnished, but having a professional survey carried out is nevertheless highly recommended. The important thing in such situations is to make a realistic estimate of the cost of putting the property into good condition bearing in mind its likely top valuation once the work has been completed. It is sensible to identify a combined price total for buying, commission, fees, and works comfortably below that figure and then set a bid ceiling and stay under it. People buying a property at auction to live in themselves should realise that they will be competing against property developers, professional landlords, and tradesmen who can achieve economies in improvement works that are not open to others so they should avoid getting carried away in a bidding battle. If a builder has dropped out you will be paying far too much if you continue, and nothing is cheap if you can’t afford it.

Profile photo of wavechange
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There is plenty of advice online about how to get the best out of a survey. What I found most useful was to examine a recent report done by the company. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see a report done for a friend, but perhaps surveyors would be prepared to provide an example of a recent report for a similar property – with name/address etc removed of course.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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We see a lot of money made by amateurs out of auction properties shown on “Homes under the hammer”. I would like to see a similar programme that shows all those who lost money – just for balance. “Homes that bombed”.

I believe the copy and paste technique for surveys simply automates a process – many features will be inspected and found satisfactory; it doesn’t mean they have been ignored. However as I understand it if a survey fails to disclose a problem that it should have, or gets it wrong, then you can claim on the surveyor who will be insured against such events. Another reason to protect your investment by having a proper survey.

I agree that the vendor should allow furniture to be moved and carpets lifted; they can be used to deliberately conceal problems. My sister-in-law bought a house that was subsequently found to have a damp patch on the floor that had been concealed by furniture – caused by a leak from the drain in a shower above.

I’d far rather Which? had a scheme to provide “Trusted Surveyors” than spending £millions on mortgage advisors of their own, when they already abound and could be covered by a “Trusted mortgage adviser” scheme. We could put the money lost to much better use.

Profile photo of Lauren Deitz
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Hi Malcolm, actually surveyors are part of the Which? Trusted Traders scheme. We don’t have many registered as of yet, but this is something that we want to grow in numbers

Profile photo of malcolm r
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Thanks Lauren

Profile photo of wavechange
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I did speak to three surveyors before deciding which to choose. I did it to compared costs (not much difference) but in each case I was given some advice that was useful. One warned me that it was standard practice to word reports very carefully to minimise liability. I saw evidence of this in my report and presume that it is standard practice. I wonder how many people are successful in taking action against a surveyor that has produced an unsatisfactory report.

Profile photo of Lauren Deitz
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It would certainly be interesting to hear from anyone who has challenged an unsatisfactory report. I did try and get a friend to challenge one a couple of years ago, they paid about £500 for a report that was full of ‘didn’t check’ with multiple excuses as to why not, which in my opinion boiled down to an ill-equipped surveyor. When we looked for a surveyor we went for a Rics registered one in the local area, we did compare two prices and actually went for the more expensive one, but when commissioning the survey we were really clear that they would need a ladder to examine the loft area and as it was an empty house we saw no reason as to why they wouldn’t be able to access any part of the property.

Profile photo of John Ward
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I have developed a very detailed check-list for the second viewing when considering a house purchase. It takes about an hour to go round all the rooms and complete the details. I record the dimensions of each room, width of alcoves,the number of electric sockets, lighting points, TV aerial points, telephone points, radiators, floor material, decor [paint/wallpaper/woodchip/Artex, etc], kitchen features [like oven, hob, cooker hood, pan drawers, carousels], boiler type and approx age, bathroom features [like type and condition of all fittings], airing cupboard, CH & HW system types, and so on and so forth. With the aid of the estate agents’ photos we can then get a very good idea of what the house was like when considering it after the second viewing.

I should be interested to know what others think of the idea of taking photos in other people’s homes. When selling, our estate agents have always disapproved of the idea and said they would not allow it when showing prospective purchasers around, but attitudes might have changed now that everyone is using their phone to take pictures all the time. I have never done it and personally I am still against it, primarily for security reasons; after all, one has no idea where the photos go after being recorded, but I wonder whether younger buyers would consider it to be perfectly normal to take pictures and find a refusal rather disobliging.

Profile photo of wavechange
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The house I eventually bought was unoccupied, but the vendors had not yet moved the larger pieces of furniture. After the first visit I asked the estate agent to find out if it was OK to take photos. I was given the go-ahead and told that personal items had been removed. In all I must have made at least six visits before the survey and another one while negotiating a price, mainly because I wanted to check information for insurance purposes. I did delete the photos soon after completion and the friend who had helped with the inspection did the same.

Profile photo of Lauren Deitz
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That’s a good idea John, I had a small list too but no where near as detailed as this. Like Wavechange, the house I purchased was vacant so I asked the estate agent if they had any objection to me taking photos and they didn’t. I should imagine that had the property been occupied still then I would have felt uncomfortable about taking photos.

With all the properties I looked at I had a print out of the property details and marked it up with extra detail as I went round. There was one property we looked at where we were given a very generous 10 minutes to look around, the property had 28 offers on it and had been on the market for two days. After that 10 minutes the estate agent asked us what we would be offering… I was quite shocked and completely unprepared for that.

Profile photo of John Ward
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I think it is quite ludicrous to expect people to view a property in ten minutes and then make a financial offer and the estate agent sounds a bit sharp to me – but then I am no longer closely in touch with the London market. Having said that, two years ago I was involved in selling my late mother-in-law’s house near a tube station in SW17 by auction and it attracted over 180 viewings spread over three days in one 30 minute time slot each day and then absolutely galloped away at the auction even though it probably needed £100,000 spending on it.

To some extent the time required for a first viewing depends on the size of the property and its condition. However, in the circumstances you have described with 28 offers it is difficult to see how the agent could handle it much differently – other than by setting the price at a more realistic level in the first place; I would expect they were hoping to end up in a “sealed bids – best and final offers” situation in order to take the price way beyond what it was placed on the market at. This wastes so much time. That scenario shows the advantages of doing your homework before even viewing a property: marking up the sale particulars, being sure of your financial limits and any stretch potential, checking out the local amenities and facilities, transport links, schools, day nurseries, parking restrictions, neighbourhood quality, and so on, so as not to waste too much time looking at unsuitable properties.

Profile photo of John Ward
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Wavechange – you were fortunate to have the opportunity for a number of visits, presumably because the house was vacant. Most people get only an initial pre-offer viewing and then a second viewing after acceptance. Sellers invariably say “feel free to come back for another look or to check anything over” but British reserve seems to inhibit this. Once the transaction gets into the hands of the conveyancers and the formal questions and answers stage the informal contact does not seem appropriate. I am sure that in many cases, however, sellers are willing to exchange e-mails and perhaps even send photographs if it will help their sale along. When we sold our previous property the buyers came from the west coast of Wales, about as far apart as it was possible to get between two points in Great Britain on a line of latitude, so their daughter came for the initial viewing and reported back and the buyers came just once for an extended viewing. We then had quite a bit of e-mail correspondence with them about local amenities and a lot of very detailed information about the house [including my shrubs list!].

Profile photo of wavechange
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After the first viewing, I said that I would like to make a thorough inspection, including the loft and garage, confirm room sizes, check windows and doors, look at the garden and look for problems with the heating, electrical and plumbing systems. They allocated only 45 minutes per viewing because appointments were arranged at hourly intervals but were happy to come and take a seat while I did a full examination, took photos and made notes in case there was something worth discussing with the surveyor. Had the estate agent not allowed me multiple viewings I would have spent more on a survey.

John – I was very fortunate and was able to do plenty of checks during the visits including plugging a tester into every power point in the house and garage. I checked that every radiator had no cold spots (an indication of advanced corrosion) and looked for sediment in the header tank in the loft, inspected visible joints for leakage and so on. My friend’s vendors were happy to offer multiple viewings because a chain was involved and they needed to sell quickly. I was dragged round on three of the viewings and asked to deal the technical matters. It was nice to be made coffee and have questions answered but it’s difficult to make a thorough inspection when a house is occupied if you have any respect for people’s privacy. On the other hand, it is a surveyor’s job to do this.

Profile photo of Lauren Deitz
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That’s pretty much what I thought too, John. In fact, the pressure put me off of the property entirely. It’s not even in London either!

I had some sage advice from my parents. I hope @carneades will appreciate this one, my mother said that if I knew where my Christmas tree would go then I’d found the right house (I’m a big fan of Christmas) and my father advised that whatever I did do not make a decision until he’d checked it out – my dad comes from a construction industry background… I therefore knew I wouldn’t be offering as I had no idea where the tree would go, so in my mind there was no point in wasting any further time on that property.

I’m not surprised you had those people queuing up to view the property, I’ve heard of similar stories from friends who are trying to buy in London. I’m sure it would have been worth the investment to someone 🙂

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Good grief! A soul mate! I’ve never encountered anyone before who makes choosing the location for their Christmas tree a priority!

In our third house, a six bedroom detached with a couple of acres of land, we had an entrance hall the size of most lounges, and it had a real fireplace, so we knew where the tree was going in that one. In the next place we found a house with an upstairs landing where a second tree could be erected, so the children would see it twinkling softly as they went to bed.

In our current place, which overlooks Snowdonia and is high in the Mountains, we’re lucky to have a substantial lounge, and the main tree goes at the East end, with smaller trees in other rooms and locations.

So yes, Lauren; like you I’m a Christmasholic, and we chose our tree last month and will be collecting it on 1st December, by which time it might have grown an inch or so. But I’m really glad we’re nowhere near the SE; prices here are bad enough but I can only imagine what they’d be like for the houses we’ve had.

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A useful point to emerge from various comments is the advantage of appointing a surveyor local to the area where the property is situated. They are more likely to be familiar with the road and other similar properties so will know about construction methods and materials, any subsidence problems in the locality, flooding and drainage problems, problems with roof timbers bowing or chimney faults.

As a matter of interest, are there any aspects of solar panels, whether for water heating or electricity generation, to which surveyors should be paying attention?

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John, from what I recall any specialist work would not be the responsibility of the survey – electrics, gas, drains and solar panels perhaps. Is this correct? Do you need to arrange these separately, or can you arrange for the surveyor to arrange them@ They can be expensive to put right.

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I wasn’t thinking so much about doing any work on or to the panels as reporting on their condition, in particular how well secured they are to the roof or whether there are any potential problems for the homeowner to look out for. Surveyors will normally look at the roof and guttering using binoculars if necessary but would not normally be able to see whether solar panels were fixed properly or whether the underlying roof was damaged. I expect they would charge extra for a special examination if the buyer requested it – especially since only a minority of properties have solar panels. It would depend also on whether they can get into the roof-space to see whether the apparatus looks to be in satisfactory condition.

Generally, unless specifically requested, surveyors will not test utility services but will, as standard, look at electricity consumer unit and advise on any remedial work if necessary; they will also look at light switches and power sockets as they go around the property and report on damaged or defective units. I believe some surveyors do a drain test as standard and some will do a chimney test. Personally I think an electrician’s inspection is worth it after moving in especially to check that earthing is adequate and that circuits are not overloaded.

As Lauren discovered, the surveyor should state what they didn’t check so that either a specific inspection can be arranged if required or a specialist contractor can be instructed to examine it. As you say, Malcolm, putting the fundamental things right can be very expensive, and the whole point of a building survey is to identify any potential defects and estimate the cost of remedying them, possibly also with a view to reducing the price or walking away altogether.

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My surveyor did advise that the consumer unit had a plastic case. I was aware that these have been phased out for new buildings. That will be among the useful information that can be copy and pasted into many reports. A £45 plug-in tester will reveal poor earthing and other problems and requires no skill to use. I lent mine to a friend (who was not moving house) and he found three faulty sockets in the kitchen, probably thanks to a kitchen fitter. An unearthed kettle etc could kill. There are cheaper testers which reveal various problems but they do not show poor earthing. Having seen many examples of earth faults over the years I believe that it would be worth surveyors checking power sockets. Unless a house has been built within the last decade or so, it’s probably worth getting in an electrician to look at electrical installations.

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Have had full structural survey on every house I’ve ever bought (3) ranging in age from about 1800 to 1960s. Without exception they were all a total waste of money & showed up none of the serious faults ranging from wet rot to re-roof required. Each surveyor had covered themselves with caveats (of the “we could not lift the carpets” type) so there was no comeback. They were excellent however at pointing out the bleedin obvious, such as “there is a wrought iron garden gate”.

With one Edwardian flat in London, all you had to do was look up at the ceiling (as I did but the surveyor didn’t) to see it was bulging. This was due to a leaking water tank from the flat above. A builder friend of my then husband’s came round and stuck his car key into the skirting board – it went thru like a hot knife in soft butter. In my current house, which the surveyor said had a sound roof, all you had to do was look up at the roofline, as I did, to see it was sagging and likely had broken timbers & would need re-roofing, which it did – as it was stone slate, cost many thousands.

Use your own eyes, ears and nose + get a builder that you trust to have a look.

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Did you negotiate any price reductions when you saw obvious signs of emerging problems, Ry? And did you actually challenge any of the surveyors when you easily noticed what they had missed?

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Patrick Taylor says:
9 May 2017

There are AFAIR three types of valuation/survey.

The drive-by – it is still standing bog-standard construction.
The wander around the property as the B socy are paying us to do [with your money]
The full structural which unfortunately comes with many caveats like the previous.

I am sure there are good surveyors bu the trouble is they are paid poorly by the lenders and therefore have to scuttle around many properties a day. I do have the RICS book Surveying Properties 3edition 1991 produced around 26years ago detailing the change taking place even then from a half or full day a property that was then allocated.

There is absolutely no reason that Which? could not put something similar on-line so people can really get a feel for the potential pitfalls. I am not suggesting that one can avoid surveys for the lender but at least subscribers could understand more of the process. *

The legal liability of surveyors to those who pay the bill was , and perhaps still is a minefield.

I have bought a 19th century property recently sans survey. At the end of day if a property is cheap enough and in the right position one pays for the expected work. Just deathwatch beetle , woodworm and cracks, inadequate heating and plumbing etc. But all of this was either visible or unsurprising in a very old building.

* Perhaps Which? could trawl up and publish the various cases of surveyor culpability and the ones consumers lost to highlight a problem to be rectified.

There is also an academic report on poor surveying dating back to the early 1990’s and I have no doubt a similar test of a prepared house with defects would also show a wide range of “standards”.

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From speaking to three surveyors it is possible to have customised surveys to suit your requirements. The one I chose had looked at a number of homes nearby and had followed the construction work when the homes were being built, about 18 years earlier. None of the surveyors though it was worth having a full survey and a year later, I am convinced I was right to save my money.

A friend’s daughter has bought an old property and had a full survey. That failed to discover some problems that soon became apparent. The other daughter has recently gained a law degree and has volunteered her services when the case goes to court, apparently with support from others in the firm. I will be interested to see the outcome because there seem to be so many disclaimers in solicitors’ reports.

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” there are good surveyors bu the trouble is they are paid poorly by the lenders”. The lender wants to know if they will get their money back should the borrower default. That is what their surveyor is employed for. As a buyer you can use any surveyor you choose to do the work for you. and instruct them accordingly. They or you can employ other professionals as needed.

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valpy says:
9 May 2017

I had a positive survey on a property only to find on having lunch in the pub nearby that a local builder had worked on the property. He was amazed at the report citing very serious problems with the property. I pulled out and managed to get my survey money back, but this isn’t the first time I have found surveys missing major and sometimes obvious flaws. I would rather get a good builder to survey a property and most don’t charge, particularly if you are going to get any work done through them. I have always had good results this way. I wouldn’t use a surveyor again.

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valpy, a good practical suggestion. I would still use a reputable surveyor and ask for a full survey of all items of concern. if they get it wrong their insurance will recompense you for work needed – I understand. A local builder, ideally who has worked on that or similar properties, will add first hand knowledge.