/ Home & Energy

Getting a proper house survey should be mandatory

Hammer, tape measure and drawing of house

If you don’t get a proper survey done when you buy a new home, you could be looking at big bills further down the line – or worse. Is it time for full surveys to become mandatory?

I hate spending money – especially when I don’t get anything tangible in return. Library fines, TV licences, booking fees – I loathe them all.

I know I have to pay them, but I don’t actually see anything for my money.

Don’t rely on mortgage valuation reports

Worse than any of these is the mortgage valuation report you have to pay for when you buy a home. This is simply a confirmation to your lender that it will get its money back on your property if you can’t pay. However, the valuation isn’t a survey and won’t tell you if there are any potential problems with the building.

Recent research from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) reports that a quarter of homebuyers are only having mortgage valuation reports instead of surveys – and it’s costing them an average of £1,818 on unplanned building work after they move in.

This tallies with our own research from 2008, where less than 50% said that they’d had a proper survey and a quarter of people who’d bought homes in the past five years found faults after moving in.

But surely we wouldn’t purposefully ignore problems that could cost us later? The RICS report went on to say that 58% of respondents wrongly believed that a valuation report covered the building’s condition, including nasties such as damp and risk of subsidence.

Make surveys mandatory

Clearly, many buyers are unaware of how little they’re getting from a valuation report – and just how much it can cost them in the long run. When we’re buying a home, it’s imperative to get either a homebuyer’s report (which covers structural safety) or a complete building survey (which gives a more detailed report on the condition of the property).

If you watched any of Sarah Beeny’s recent fear fest Help, My House is Falling Down, you’ll have seen how few of the buyers had full surveys. Sadly (but not surprisingly) their homes were often infested with rats, sinking with subsidence or, in one case, flooding due to a unnoticed water well in the basement.

Ok, these were extreme cases that make for good viewing, but in my mind there’s a simple way to avoid these problems – make surveys mandatory on all properties.

That way, we can all avoid nasty surprises and get on with the business of turning our homes into castles. Or, do you think this is just a way for surveyors to make more money and that it’s down to the buyer to do their homework?


Which? has said in the past that the average consumer gets more upfront information when buying a tin of beans than when buying a home. That was why Which? originally backed the principle of HIPs that included a basic condition survey so that buyers got more information upfront about the property they were thinking of buying (ie before they were too financially or emotionally committed). It was a shame that in 2006/07 the Labour Government decided to go ahead with HIPs without including a survey. This meant they were of limited value and is one of the things that led the Coalition Government to abolish them in May 2010.
It’s also worth mentioning that the situation north of the border in Scotland is different. Scotland has always had a different home buying system and since Dec 2008 all properties for sale must have a basic condition survey done as part of their Home Report (equivalent roughly to a HIP). Which? has been instrumental in fighting for this.
So do you think it is a better and easier process to buy a home in Scotland or south of the border?

Michael Pemberton says:
7 January 2011

As a Chartered Surveyor with over 18 years of experience, I loose count of the number of times that I am asked to comment on problems found by purchasers after they have bought (either through poor surveys or reliance on mortgage valuations). I am not convinced that forcing purchasers or vendors to have a pre purchase survey is the answer but I do remain totally convinced that the survey (actually, a condition report) developed for the HIP was a) not fit for purpose and b) dangerous in the hands of inexperienced ‘home inspectors’. I for one was hugely relieved when this product was shelved.

What should be the aim of Government and the relevant professional bodies is to get the message accross to the public that:-
1. A mortgage report should not be relied on by a purchaser as part of the decision making process.
2. Not all surveyors are the same. Shop around to find surveyors with the appropriate experience for the property being bought.
3. Cheapest is certainly not best. Low price may be an indicator of inexperience, pre-populated reports or simple desperation for work.
4. Don’t blindly agree to use the mortgage companies panel or in house surveyor. The price is often higher, you are unlikely to have contact with the surveyor and you may not be getting well qualified, experienced or local advice.

My experience is that local independent surveyors whilst perhaps not the cheapest, may well offer the best advice. Surely it is worth paying a little more considering the investment being made.

pickle says:
12 November 2010

South of the border for sure…..Anyone who does not get a proper survey done is a twit.

It is hard to be certain which system north or south works better. I for one am not prepared to get drawn into a debate that will end in hard words and little satisfaction.
What can be said from a solid basis is that clearly it is vital for purchasers to get a proper survey done. However it is hard for many buyers, who are probably strapped for the deposit, to want to shell out on ‘yet another survey’ as they will often see things. Just for the record I have had that said to me by many times by many people. I have just funded a ‘proper survey’ for my daughter’s intended house. There were few surprises but one or two very useful inclusions, not only were problems highlighted but also a schedule of probably costs along with an suggested schedule of works, from pressing to desirable.
The simple answer is perhaps to ban basic ‘valuations’ in favour of proper surveys. Then insist that the valuation/survey process is made transparent with mortgage companies playing a useful role in guiding purchasers. Combine this with a sensible attitude to education of house buyers through estate agents, solicitors and the like and we might get somewhere. Just hoping…

Really? I couldn’t agree less!

QUOTE “Or, do you think this is just a way for surveyors to make more money and that it’s down to the buyer to do their homework?” UNQUOTE

House surveys are a great earner for Surveyors, but I certainly don’t want to line their pockets to be told “we have lifted no carpets or floorcoverings”, we “recommend you get a dampproof company/ heating engineer/ electrician etc etc” to ACTUALLY look at things, cos you don’t expect ME to actially lift a floorbaord or check the drains, do you?? – which is what people get for their hundreds of pounds spent on a 45 minute walk around. Mmm….

If you aren’t knowledgeable enough to insist of the Vendor &/or their agent that they allow you a proper look at things, I’d suggest you ask your friends to recommend a straight builder [I know, not entirely straightforward!], and ask him/her to come and have a jolly good butchers!

But NO WAY Mandatory surveys, for Lords sake.

I have to agree with Which?, to me, it seems a no brainer for all houses to come with a survey. Currently, the onus is on the potential buyer to undertake a survey. So you now have the situation where one buyer has to spend a fortune getting surveys completed for each house they’re interested in and each house being surveyed by each potential buyer. Crazy!!

A house should come with a survey. To make it easier there probably should be different levels of survey (call them bronze, silver, gold) depending on how thorough they are but even a ‘basic’ survey should cover fundamental issues such as subsidence and damp.

The seller can always recoup the cost of the survey in the price of the house. Including a survey also includes the marketability of your house.

Can someone tell me why this isn’t done because it seems like common sense to me.

Correction, para 3: for ‘includes’ read ‘increases’.

Richard says:
13 April 2011

Fat Sam asks why condition reports are not obtained by sellers when they place their property on the market. Several reasons, even though it is the most logical & potentially cost-effective thing to do. Some of these are:
some sellers are “kite flyers” – they are testing the market, which, now there isn’t even the need for a HIP, costs them almost nothing (just an EPC is required) so they resent paying for a report;
a fear that a condition report will find problems that they may otherwise have “got away with”;
there has not (until now) been a suitable type of product available;
estate agents & conveyancers never suggest the idea, it’s just not been part of the conventional practice;
the professional surveyor body RICS has never, until now, promoted the idea.

However that could change – a new Condition Report has just (April 2011) been launched which is ideal for sellers to use to get their house in order & help with the marketing strategy. It’s more basic than a Homebuyer Report or Building Survey but will be more useful & cost effective than the hassle of buyers prevaricating or pulling out when a mortgage valuer asks for more reports or a proper survey finds problems just before contracts were due to exchange.
It makes obvious sense to get as much up-front information as possible. HIPs intended that & when the condition report was removed, that was the death of them. Useless implementation by government, but the trouble is the diverse parts of the industry don’t seem to agree on what to do – they just talk about reform being needed (everybody agrees on that) but nothing ever happens.

mike servini says:
30 September 2011

If you know an experienced builder with local knowledge,pay him or her for a survey on a domestic property rather than an unknown so called professional .

Graham Wyllie says:
10 January 2012

I paid £1,400 for a building survey. It reads like a Thomsons holiday tourist guide. After moving in we discovered £40k of repairs needed and having to move out for 3 months. We complained to the surveyor who re inspected – after 10 weeks and complaining very strenuously to RICS – “lost in the post” re inspection reports suddenly appeared – refuting all of my complaints. Complained to RICS – they rejected my complaint. As the ombudsman’s awards are capped at £25k – I now have to follow very expensive and risky court action – where – yes you guessed it – the judge relies heavily on the opinion of a RICS expert witness who I have to pay for (chances that I will find a fully objective one prepared to report on a colleague, “who does not look after his own”?)

Pay for a survey if you feel necessary to protect you from the absolute worst – but please do find a decent builder to tell you what really needs doing – the surveyor reports are riddled with caveats and recommendation and ons for additional inspections and do not expect to be treated decently by them – a law into there own

Sally says:
12 April 2012

We paid £600 for a survey and it failed to report that our new home was rat infested. The surveyor had visited precisely one month earlier and had reported nothing about the problem, yet it was obvious to us after only two minutes in the house on completion day that we had a serious infestation. Surveys are not always the answer, no matter how much you spend:


Jason Williams says:
5 May 2012

I am undertaking my dissertation to complete my BSc in Building Surveying with the College of Estate Management. I am looking to get members of the general public to anonymously answer only 10 questions on their understanding of residential building surveys. Please can you spare a few minutes:


Many Thanks

Andrew D Thompson says:
29 July 2012

The problem with the English format of HIP and the HCR was that rather than having experienced surveyors undertake the inspection Labour attempted to invent a new job called a “Home Inspector”. Labour refused to listen to the RICS and this required a High Court case that Labour lost. The HIP failed due to a general lack of interest and the very hign cost of training.

In Scotland rather than inventing a new inspector the Scotish accepted that existing Chartered Suveyors could do a simple convertion course and they fitted the system into the current process. Hence that system worked from day one.

In the next property boom when HIP is given a second chance in England the key will be to provide existing Chartered Surveyors a simple low cost CPD route to learn the new product as done in Scotland.