/ Home & Energy

Structural surveys – what exactly am I paying for?

A structural survey is the most comprehensive survey you can get when buying a home. But is it thorough enough? Mine cost £700 but still left my most important questions unanswered.

Last year, my partner and I found a house we wanted to buy. It was over 100 years old, was in poor cosmetic repair, and bore evidence of roof leakage. So we decided it was essential we get a full structural survey before committing to the purchase.

We found a surveyor in the local area, and paid around £700 for the survey and associated report, which turned out to be really disappointing.

According to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the report that comes with a structural survey should describe each element of the property (roofs, walls etc) and note anything that gives cause for concern, and may need further investigation.

What do buyers want to know?

I reckon most potential homebuyers want to know the following four things as a priority:

  • Is the property subsiding, or otherwise structurally unsound?
  • Does it contain asbestos?
  • Is there rising damp, and if so, how bad is it?
  • Are the gas and electric systems safe and fit for purpose?

All the other information is nice to have, but it’s window dressing compared to the main event.

Unfortunately, these are just some of the questions a structural survey won’t definitively answer.

Are buildings surveys too vague?

Paradoxically, the report we received was both very long and very vague. For example, it told me that ‘no evidence of asbestos’ was found – which sounded great, until I spoke to the surveyor on the phone and realised that essentially, all he’d done was look up at the ceiling.

The report made a vague mention of damp ‘on the ground floor level’ – which of course got us both panicking about the possibility of rising damp and rotting joists.

Again, it was only when I pinned down the surveyor on the phone that he clarified things, admitting that he’d taken the damp reading right next to a leaking radiator, which ‘might’ have been the cause.

Many points were so heavily caveated that I felt it became more about covering the surveyor’s back than coming to helpful conclusions. For example, when it came to cracks in the plaster, the report essentially said (though not in so many words) ‘they’re probably nothing, but you might want to get them looked at’.

I felt like shouting: ‘Isn’t that what I’m paying you for?’

What isn’t covered

It turns out, it’s not. I hadn’t fully understood all the areas a structural surveyor isn’t obliged to investigate.

For example, I now know that a standard structural survey report won’t generally comment in detail on heating or electrical systems. Nor will it typically cover “deleterious materials” – for example asbestos – in any depth.

So, my surveyor wasn’t shirking his duties, but it makes me think that there’s a gap in the market: could a survey be created that does promise to investigate my four main areas of concern?

We’re currently investigating the subject, so we’d love to know about your experiences of structural surveys. Have you felt let down by a structural survey? Or perhaps yours proved invaluable?

Comments
Guest
D Gravell says:
27 October 2012

I’ve just ha a full structural survey and i agree that it doesn’t cover all the main issues. Electric and Gas supplies being the main ones.

Guest
SimBob says:
22 February 2017

A surveyor should describe the services in general terms and then go on to advise of any obvious defects, noting the age of the systems and need for upgrading to meet current standards or good practice, highlighting any safety issues etc. If a surveyor falls short of this then you have not chosen a good surveyor. However, homebuyers can honestly not expect a surveyor to provide in-depth advice in this regard, as by law, only Gas Safe registered engineers can test and work on gas / heating installations, EIC or comparable registered electricians for electricity and so on… Therefore, a surveyor cannot comment on services in-depth as clearly they will not be competent, trained or allowed to do so to these levels, or carry out testing of any kind which could reveal hidden defects. If they did offer this level of service, it would require them to carry out 3-4 years to be a heating engineer, 3-4 years to be an electrician and so on, which, unfortunately, there is not a surveyor in the land which will be able to do this for you. Services is therefore a tricky one in this respect.

I would add, buildings are complex structures with many areas concealed from view. It is not possible to open-up the structure, drill holes in walls, take samples or lift up floorboards etc., unless the owner allows it, which they usually don’t. Would you be happy to come home and find a hole in your house wall? For this reason, and the fact that homeowners will never hesitate to claim against a surveyor and sometimes for very minor things, caveats are added (these simply state what could not be seen which, in my view, is a reasonable statement to make). Further investigations are also recommended where there are legitimate concerns. For example, despite what you often hear from damp-proofing companies, it is not generally possible to confirm whether a wall is actually damp unless a sample of it is taken and tested with specialist equipment, which involves damage to the wall. This is easily done and well within the remit of a good Building Surveyor but unfortunately it cannot be done in a normal pre-purchase inspection / survey, so a surveyor may well recommend ‘further investigation’ and rightly so. This is not usually incompetence.

Movement to buildings is another complex and tricky case. A surveyor who states ‘the movement may not be historic’ is not automatically providing poor advice. Many Chartered Structural Engineers state the same thing. Why? Because again, buildings are complex and sometimes it is not possible to confirm the cause of movement without monitoring the building over a period of time. Insurance companies regularly monitor possible subsidence cracks for 6 – 18 months before confirming the cause and scope of necessary repairs! A pre-purchase surveyor has to make a judgement from one single inspection, without exposure work and usually within a few hours.

My point here, is that homeowners have a very unrealistic expectation of surveyors and what pre-purchase reports are designed to provide. They are not an inventory of every single defect nor are they a schedule of repair or specification.

So what benefit do survey reports have then? Well, a good survey report should still be able assess and advise upon the condition of most building elements and the site (such as – is the roof coming to the end of its life), most defects to the building including causation, prognosis and what repairs are necessary (including movement, asbestos, dampness and decay). It should provide general advice regarding the services, I.E. an indication of whether rewiring is clearly needed, or obvious safety issues. This should therefore provide enough information for purchasers to decide whether they wish to purchase, or what they need to do in order to decide.

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Guest

I agree with SimBob. The purpose of a pre-purchase survey is to identify potential problems and get an assessment of their seriousness and the urgency or otherwise of any remedial action. When a prospective purchaser views a property, sometimes for a very brief period and usually in the company of the estate agent or owner, it is not easy to notice all the things that need to be checked or any tell-tale signs that might require examination. The surveyor goes round the property in a disciplined manner, usually on their own and uninterrupted [because it is in the seller’s interests to facilitate a thorough survey], and knows what to look for and where to find it. The surveyor’s report will therefore be either (a) a useful guide if the prospective buyer completes the purchase, or (b) a caution if the problems identified are very serious, or (c) a responsible and justifiable basis for negotiating a reduction in the price. Sometimes a property is described as requiring updating and that its condition is reflected in the price. A survey is a useful means of validating that proposition.

If people are worried whether every light switch and socket is correctly wired and that the circuits are correctly identified and protected then they do need to have a qualified electrician carry out an inspection and test which will result in an approved form of report indicating what action is necessary for legal compliance and what is recommended for safety and conformity with the latest standards, and will state the urgency in each case. This is worth it for peace of mind alone because many owners do not reliably know the state or condition of their own systems and because something works they assume it is safe.

A number of detailed concerns can be covered by asking the solicitor or conveyancing executive who is undertaking the legal work on the purchase to include specific questions to the owner in the pre-contract procedures and to request production of certificates and guarantees in respect of any work that has been carried out to the property during their period of ownership. Failure to produce such documents is a good indicator of something that might repay further investigation and the buyer can ask for certain things to be done before exchange of contracts. Where a vital certificate is absent [building regulations approval for an extension for example] the purchase can be made dependent on the owner purchasing an indemnity to cover any future claims or adverse consequences.

Guest
Michael Pemberton says:
27 October 2012

I believe that a Building survey should comment on the services but you should be told up front that we are not qualified to carry out tests. Again, this is all about managing client’s expectations.

I normally say to clients that I will look at the services and ask whether regular inspections have been carried out. If there is evidence of a problem (ie no recent tests, displaced drain runs, old wiring or consumer units etc etc) I will recommend test and explain why and what, in all liklihood will need to be done.

If everything looks modern and free from defect I will say so but I will always say that if you want to be 100% sure you will need to instruct an electrician, drains specialist etc to test.

Whilst this may seem like a get out, imagine this scenario:

There is one manhole on site. I lift this and see 1m of clay drain in good condition. I make the assumption that because this bit is ok, the remaining 15m is also ok. Is this the best advice to my client? or should I be saying ‘the bit I can see is fine but this is no guarantee the the remaining 15m is in good condition and you would be sensible to get checks done’. Cost of lining 15m of drain if there is a problem £1500. Cost of digging up and replacing the drain (c.) £3500.

Hope this helps you to see the issue from the surveyors side. I am not condoning lazy surveying but there are limits and you should be made aware of these before you commissioned your survey.

Guest
Chris Watson says:
3 April 2013

I live in a block of apartments which are approx. 8 years old. Although the landlord has responsibility for ensuring that the building is insured how often should a buldings survey be carried out please?

Guest
Michael Pemberton says:
3 April 2013

There is no specific requirement to have a Building survey of the block done. Regular inspections to ensure it is well maintained should be part of the management companies remit.

Re-assessment of the insurance valuation should be carried out (every 3 years or so) to ensure that the property is neither over or under insured.

Guest
Andrew D Thompson says:
3 April 2013

In the context of this thread the type of “Building Survey” is the pre purchase type. Therefore an inspection need would be triggered everytime at the point of sale of the block. These should be spread out but you might get in one short period a series of inspections by differing interested parties.

However taken in the wider context of a management inspection of a flat within a large block these can be triggered by a range of technical issues. The routine are all linked to the need to inspect for good block management however the nature of block living is sometimes problems above/below/to the side of your own unit may trigger a need for inspection. It is sometimes the nature of block living that a problem somewhere elese triggers a need for a series of inspection in the other units. The surveyor should inform you of the basic purpose of the inspection but may not be able to discuss the detailed as this maybe sensitive to your Landlord. The rules for access to your property by the Landlords Surveyor are typically set out in the lease so no inspection should come as a suprise.

Guest
PMcB says:
15 April 2013

I feel that the money I paid for a full survey was completely wasted. Most of the issues I can understand that the surveyor might not be able to fully inspect but I’m really annoyed that I have a roof of asbestos that wasn’t mentioned. A builder that came round instantly took one look at the roof, spotted it and queried had that been mentioned in my survey.
I’d be interested in finding out whether it was just my particular surveyor was poor or do they not generally comment on this issue (something that anyone would really, really be better off knowing)

Guest
Michael Pemberton says:
15 April 2013

A survey is not an asbestos audit but advice on where asbestos may be found should be given. Just because there is asbestos present does not mean there is a health risk and you might like to have a look at the guidance which can be found on line on the Health Protection Agency website. Often removal of the asbestos material is the worst thing you can do. Much will depend on condition and the type of asbestos material.

Ultimately, if you feel let down by the surveyor, you should make contact and voice your concerns.

Please be aware that on occasion, contractors can over state issues. I remember identifying asbestos to a ceiling in a garage and advised on it presence. The client had an asbestos contractor look at it who instantly pronounced it to be blue asbestos. There is no way to identify the type of asbestos without tests and this was pointed out. My client had another company look at the issue and the material was deemed safe but recommendations for encapsulation and monitoring were made.

Guest
Steve says:
4 May 2013

I totally understand why people feel totally miss informed from their surveys. I had a survey completed 12 months ago, the surveyor missed key areas such as:
1) Stated all the windows were uPVC, they are actually all very old aluminium – cost to replace about 10k.
2) Missed obviously signs of structural movement, including big cracks in 1 ceiling beam and 1 wall is actually ‘leaning’ – cost to repair – still unknown but given initial idea of 15 to 20k.
3) Various other issues that they totally missed.

We complained and they said we were right and without saying in so many words that they were wrong, we asked for compensation, they laughed!
Unfortunately there just isn’t a real form of redress without going through a long drawn out court process, as the property ombudsman a worse than useless, as they basically back the surveyor up. Again stating they were wrong, but it doesn’t really make any difference!

Guest
Michael Pemberton says:
4 May 2013

Steve

It is very disappointing that you have had the experience you have. I wouldn’t try to defend the mistakes or attitude of the surveyor if they are as you say they are. If the cost of repair work exceeds £25,000, you will have to look at the Court route but there are solicitors out there who will take cases on a non win no fee basis.

What sort of survey did you have and what type/age of property did you buy?

Make sure you have asked for and followed the surveyors complaints handling procedure (CHP). Ultimately, if the attitude of the surveyor has been unprofessional you can report them to the RICS.

The Ombudsman service is there to provide unbiased opinions based on the facts before them. Ask a surveyor and they will complain that the Ombudsman is biased toward the consumer!

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Guest

If the surveyor is A chartered RICS surveyor and you have a complaint send your compliant to them in writing and if you do not get a satisfactory answer then the RICS has an arbitration process. The issues you raise could be potentially serious. There is a point about detail because the cheaper surveys do not give much detail as to what to do about some defects or how to asses them or costs for repairs. They are designed to be an initial heads up with recommendations to follow up. The more detail you obtain the better you can negotiate but I agree there is no room for negligence. As a general tip be sure to use a suitably qualified surveyor for the more complex and period properties. Some surveyors are linked to agents and lender so this can be an issue of a conflict of interest for some clients which they avoid by using an independent chartered surveyor.

Guest
Mrs b says:
4 July 2013

We bought our house a year ago it’s about 60 years old. We paid for a full survey. Funnily enough things like non safety glass in interior doors were picked up but not the fact the roof was in need of replacing. We now have to add another 5k to our costs! Shameful

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Guest

It don’t know the facts of this and I’m sorry you feel caught out but how did the issue of the need to replace the roof arise? If a builder has suggested this is the best remedy then this would be a matter of opinion not necessarily a fact. You do have redress if it is found the surveyor was negligent but do be careful that others that follow often have a completely different view on how something is remedied. Contact your surveyor and ask why roof replacement was not flagged up. I see many roofs with poor detailing that don’t leak. In these cases I explain in my survey what I have seen and how much it would cost to upgrade but the roof is not necessarily defective. The client can then choose how to negotiate the price by balancing the risk to market conditions.
The term “full” survey is often used by agents and solicitors but it is an old term. It implies that everything is checked and tested and often this is not the case. In my experience of offering options to test everything that very few clients pay for that. When they do it is amazing how strong a negotiating position they have and the survey pays for itself.

Guest
Geoff says:
7 December 2013

Purchaser has recently had a survey on my property and they have now withdrawn offer but will not tell us what was in the survey.

Under the data protection Act can we insist that the findings be revealed because it is about our property?

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Guest

Often vendors ask to see the report but the issue is that the information is not public. It is specifically for the client and is confidential. It is the buyers responsibility to check all issues and to ensure they are happy with the price offered. In my experience there is no knowing what a buyer may perceive as a problem. One mans “defect” is another man’s “character.” What I have experienced is vendors trying to sell an adulterated survey which is very deceitful. Do not Buy the last survey as you are not party to it and you will have no redress. Check your surveyor is independent for absolute certainty and make sure you know that there is a difference between a Building Surveyor and a Valuation surveyor. Most House surveys are not undertaken by Building Surveyors.

Guest
Spring999 says:
14 April 2014

Hi recently I have make an offer on the flat in Orpington and the bank survey come back and saying parts of the property are thought to contain asbestos material. You should take care when carrying out repairs, maintenance or renewal. I did called the agent to ask about the details, but there is nothing serious about it the surveyor is only wanted to cover his back.

Is anyone facing the same issue before? This flat was build in 1984 or before.

Any advice?

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Guest

My son bought an ex-council house and, when renovating, found asbestos where a heating boiler had once been installed. This possibility had not been mentioned in his own survey and, being cautious, he contacted his insurance company. They paid for all costs of having the asbestos removed and disposed of, and replacing all items where asbestos fibres may have been caught – carpets, curtains, clothes,even household appliances like a toaster. Was it overkill? Maybe, but it put his mind at rest.
If, before purchase, the survey detects asbestos then presumably you would have to pay the (potentially high) cost of removal and disposal if you disturbed it through renovations.

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Guest

Asbestos has to be managed carefully and with some basic precautions it can be left in place safely enough so no expensive removal need be employed. Much of the asbestos left now is hidden. However renovations do cause a lot of disturbance which is a risk in older buildings. If you intend to undertake such work a “Residential Building survey” might be more valuable as you can ask the surveyor to comment on your proposals and the risks associated. This will help you budget your contingencies. It is quite likely that in a house built before the 1970s that asbestos can be present so “project” houses need more investigation and a two way discussion with your surveyor is needed. I would recommend people looking at older properties brief an independent chartered Building surveyor rather than a standard template home buyers survey.

Discovering asbestos in your project will stop it instantly for at least two weeks for notices to be given so it is very expensive if you have to stop contractors. I hope his project is well under way now. Interesting to hear that his insurance company paid up. Not all of them do that.

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Guest

Hi Malcolm,
We just bought a house and found out that there is Asbestos Insulation Board in the cupboard. It is in rather bad condition (i.e. broken with pieces on the floor!) so it will need to be removed. It will cost thousands as far as I know and we don’t have budget for it.
May I ask you how your son claimed the insurance company for it? Will it be covered by basic home insurance or it will need to be premium?
Thanks a lot!

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Guest

My son took a sample when he discovered his asbestos to a local company that dealt with that sort of problem. They confirmed it was hazardous and he then claimed on his insurance as he had accidental damage cover. His asbestos only came to light when he was doing an alteration.

In your case it maybe should have been discovered by your surveyor, depending on the type of survey requested. They may be liable (they would be insured). You could also consult the solicitor that did the conveyancing for advice. Then try your insurance company. But I would think if the sellers knew there was asbestos present and didn’t disclose it they may have liability; I don’t know whether claimed ignorance on their part would be a defence.

Maybe Which? (Legal?) could help or comment.

Guest
Gordon bidwell says:
9 December 2014

My son is trying to buy out his ex girlfriend. He has just been refused a mortgage as the current survey states that there are problem with the structure of the house. Prior to the original purchase of the house a full structural survey was completed with no major issues. How long is the original survey valid for. We are considering legal action against the surveyor.

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Guest

Hi Gordon – Sincere apologies for not responding sooner. It’s a rather debatable issue where the person who gets the survey done expects it to cover everything.

Unfortunately, we don’t know off the top of our heads what the legal status of surveys are or if there is a limited period this applies for. Have you been in touch with our Which? Legal Service?

Guest
Martin says:
28 February 2015

We moved into our property in July of last year having had a full structural survey. It’s an old property and of course we expected there to be some issues.
The report gave no indication of damp, just noted a small area near the front door, but nothing else of note. Within 3 months of moving we have uncovered widespread damp in our hall and one of the living rooms. To date we have paid out £8500 to get it sorted out and possibly not quite finalised.
What is the responsibility of the surveyor in this instance?
Seems like we wasted £800 up front for a worthless piece of paper.

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Guest

Hi Martin, thanks for your message. It’s difficult for us to say because it all depends on if the survey was expected to cover everything.

As previously mentioned, you could contact our Which? Legal Service for further advice. Also, here’s our guide about dealing with damp – I’m certain you’ll find this content useful:

http://www.which.co.uk/home-and-garden/home-improvements/guides/dealing-with-damp/

Guest
Martin says:
28 February 2015

The report does appear to have get out clauses suggesting additional reports as back up! We didn’t do these as nothing in the main report was identified.

Guest
Gerry says:
1 March 2015

I bought my current house 22yrs ago the surveyor picked up Garage roof at bottom of garden may be aspestos, the vendor was adiment it wasn’t, as he had had it built only a few years earlier & had all the docs, about the said garage, this was all presented to the during convaincing and no test of materal was ever done!! & been a bit green I just accepted the explanation and thought as lawyer haven’t pushed for more evidence all was ok…
The Garage had many uses down the years play house for the children, used as a gym in their teenage years never worried as was convinced not aspestos.
I have recently sold this property & on buyers homebuyers survey came back last week, been informed that in fact it is aspestos sheeting on the roof. The buyer demanded I address the issue and use a company to not only test but establish exactly what aspestos we were dealing with at a cost to me of £100 pounds.
What I want to know have I any redress with the lawyer that lead my convaincing as he not doing correct investigations back then that I’ve been made to not only do as seller but bear all the costs *testing * and pay for removal or knock value of my sale by approx £2’000
Angry is an understatement and what about future health of my family who played and came in to contact with said garage throughout their childhood.
Where would I go with this
Grateful of any advice

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Guest

Hi Gerry, thanks for your comment. In your position, I would definitely give our Which? Legal Service a call for some advice about this matter:

http://legalservice.which.co.uk/

Guest
Mary says:
9 March 2015

Can you please tell me what a structural survey consists of? i had one done however no testing was carried out for example no damp readings, no physically checking the roof or gutters no dye testing on the gullys grids etc, the surveyor initially refused to go into the loft i had to insist he did where he found daylight through the tiles, no felt and a fire wall missing!!!!!! when i recieved his report it stated the gutters needed lining how would he know this from the ground, the report also stated the back kitchen wall has to be rebuilt due to the gully possibly being blocked but again no testing carried out,i was informed the wal,ls needed rebuilding but was not informed why are all surveys visual reports,or are they supposed to use equipment like damp meters, thermol imaging, dye testing and physical inspection like actually getting up on a ladder and looking at the roof and gutters? can some one please enlighten me!

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Guest

Afternoon Mary – I’m pleased to let you know that you can have a read through the different types of house surveys here:

http://www.which.co.uk/money/mortgages-and-property/guides/buying-a-house/house-surveys-explained/

Guest
Mary says:
12 March 2015

Hi Andrew
Thank you for your reply, i have looked at the info on the link you sent, i have read and researched every piece of information regarding different types of surveys, but my question is are all surveys visual only, it seems surveyors state things and assume things need doing without actually testing, this is what happened with mine, i just want someone to tell me the house i want to purchase is structurally safe, my surveyors report was so ambiguious is was contradictory for example, the gutters need lining, my reply how do you know that you did not go up to check the gutters his reply, well they may or may need re lining!
The front portal frame needs removing and rebuilding (its part of the house 200 years old) as it has gaps down the side of the door, or fill with cement and resin bond or fill the gap with timber, when i questioned these very different options he was unable to tell which one!!!!! the list went on, he was unable to tell me the value of the property, so basically i am back at the begigning no wiser if my house is safe or not, when i have read the info on the internet regarding what is done and what is used on a survey be it home buyers or structural it seems that the surveyor just looks at the property without investigations, so can you tell me if surveyors are to use equipment like damp meters, thermol imagers, dye testing, ladder etc it seems everything is assuming and none commital when challenged.
Thanks
Mary

Guest
Marc L says:
5 May 2015

My house was under offer but when the purchaser had a survey done it was reported that the roof was structurely unsound and they pulled out of the sale. The house is a middle terrace built in the late 60’s early 70’s when regulations and hence construction were different, apart from that there is nothing wrong with the roof and it has been well maintaned. Does this mean that all properties with this type of construction should have their roofs replaced? How should I deal with this issue as it will probably be failed again in future surveys, and surely is also an issue with even older properties.

Thanks

Marc

Guest
Silva says:
18 July 2015

I’ve recently had a structural survey done, awaiting the report. I didn’t shop around and went with a friend’s recommendation. However the terms and conditions included one paragraph of what the surveyor can do and 2 pages of what they can’t do! I’m no expert but it read like an expensive homebuyer’s report. Is this typical?

Guest
Tina Jefferies says:
30 July 2015

Hi we bought our 1950s bungalow 8 years ago and had a full structural survey. I’ve just had an electrician tell me we have no earth to gas or water pipes and none into a box next to the electric meter…fairly serious I think! None of this was brought up in the survey nor was the fact it’s obvious there is some original wiring in there which may mean a total rewire.
Nothing is hidden in terms of them being able to see these things so I would have thought at least they should have raised some concerns and if they had I would have thought twice before buying the house or at least paying what I did for it. Is this something I can take issue with the surveyor about?
Thanks

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Guest

I am buying my Mother’s house, which I have lived in for fifteen years since she bought it. It is over a hundred years old. I know the house well, but obviously I am wondering whether I should still have full structural survey. The survey done fifteen years ago mainly mentioned an issue with a garden wall which was apparently about to collapse (still standing) and that the electrics were about to fail (still working with no repairs)… my only current concern is damp. I notice two areas which may / may not be cause for concern. So light it’s hard to tell. Really I don’t know whether I need to get the survey done? Incidentally the first surveyor I rang didn’t call back. I called again assuming it was an error, and again he failed to call back… yet another emailed me back even though he was on holiday!

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Guest

Hi, I was due to exchange contracts on a property two weeks ago after have a full building survey completed. It picked up the usual visual stuff (i.e. the things we already knew about!!) and cost around £900. Of course the reports had all the usual caveats (“need a specialist report on this and that” without really offering any advice at all). Anyway, two days before exchanging contracts my husband visited the property. Whilst in one of the rooms he thought he could hear the faint noise of running water…. to cut a very very long story short, it turns out that there was a major leak under the house that has been leaking for some time (property has been vacant for 12 months). Thankfully we have pulled out of the purchase as we were advised that there could be issues with subsidence in the future due to the movement of the soil under the property. We have contacted our Surveyors to complain – WHY DID THEY NOT PICK THIS UP? To date we have just been batted from pillar to post and no-one is accepting any responsibility. What are your thoughts?

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Guest

Hi WA, thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear that you’ve found problems with the property that you were buying, although at least it was pre-purchase that you discovered this issue.

My understanding with house surveys is that they come in differing levels of investigation, which essentially depend on how much detail you would like about the condition of the property. Although you would expect an issue such as audible running water to have been reported.

It’s possible to escalate your complain higher if you’re not happy with the response you receive from the surveyor. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors deal with such complaints, details can be found here: http://www.rics.org/uk/regulation1/complaints1/

Alternatively, if you’re considering taking legal action then there’s a useful guide on using the Small Claims Court on the Which? Consumer Rights website: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/action/how-to-use-the-small-claims-court

Hope that you mange to resolve this issue.

Happy New Year

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Guest

my purchases pulled out after having a structural survey, it found the property was out of square?
we had the property piled 22 years ago ? I don’t understand there concerns

Guest
David says:
17 March 2016

I have recently exchanged and will complete shortly, there was no mention of possible asbestos in the report but it put our minds at rest as every ceiling in the house is textured. After the visit of our builder regarding some changes we want to make he said that we should check for asbestos. When I queried it with the bank, they put in a complaint to the surveyors. The surveyors are now paying for all the ceilings to be tested. My worry is that now, there is no chance of changing our minds about the purchase and a possibility that the whole house has asbestos coating on the ceilings. I have two children, my wife & myself all planning on moving in having given notice on our rental property. Added to this I was diagnosed with cancer last year so am doubly worried about the possibility of there being asbestos. If the ceilings contain asbestos, I have no idea what the next steps will be. Does anyone have experience of this & what it could mean for us?

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Guest

Asbestos is only a danger if disturbed, for example if you wanted remove an Artex-coated ceiling or carry out structural changes to the house. My understanding is that later textured ceiling coatings are unlikely to contain asbestos, so you might have nothing to worry about.

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Guest

Post 1999 I have seen quoted as the end of the asbestos products. I have a friend who is an asbestos surveyor and it has been interesting to hear his tales.

Asbestos as a scare tactic is often due to mis-identification of the particular type.

AFAIR Reading University around 20 years ago set up a house and had many surveyors come to do a brief survey for the benefit of the mortgage company – though paid for by the applicant. They were fairly dire almost universally.

Perhaps it is time for another sting!.

Full structural surveys are an interesting case as without getting involved with removing parts there is a limit as to how much can be seen. I do have a copy of the RICS manual so feel reasonably competent but anyone with some intelligence should be able to notice most things.

Blocks of flats …aah … they can be a whole different problem.

Incidentally in France they do not instruct surveyors! Perhaps a tribute to the quality of the original workmen. The vendor though is required to provide reports on the important matters such as drainage , gas , electric , asbestos , and woodworm.

Guest
ann says:
5 April 2016

Hi! Having the manual is a nifty trick – where can i buy it? can you please share the name of the book?

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Belatedly I come back to this subject. The book I bought second-hand at a second-hand bookshop and it is for members of RICS, and possibly libraries.. Annoyingly I cannot find it currently.

There is a huge amount of advice available on the Web and in books and I believe given the money you can spend buying and doing up a property that people really ought to acquaint themselves with the subject.

It is not scary and most “signs of this or that” will probably be minor. Basically though do not rely totally on surveyors and give them a hard time on getting explanations that are satisfactory. The best instrument for you is the Mark 1 eyeball you possess and you really really need to use it on a second visit if you think you might offer.

Also check neighbouring properties to see if there are any curious points. Purchasing this property I noticed that drainage was sluggish by seeing overflow at the external drain for a sink.
Re-lining the main drain and the cost of re-wiring given none since construction 50 years ago saved £8500. I did fail to pick-up the recent flat-roof was shoddily done : (.

As for the surveyor – just a mortgage valuation agreeing the already low offer made by us. I am not a great fan.

Guest
Craig says:
21 June 2016

Really can’t emphasize this enough – Don’t use a Surveyor (for the best point about not using Surveyor just skip to the last few sentences). Have a quick look at the forums concerning the usefulness of Surveyors. You will find the reason why very few house buyers use them. The people on these forums are not the minority moaning about a few shoddy individual Surveyors. We made this mistake ourselves and used a Surveyor, and what a surprise, our experience ended up like those people telling us not to use them in the first place. In our case, the Surveyor missed everything to do with water damage to the property (and it was a full survey). Having talked to work colleagues, none of them have anything good to say about Surveyors. Please don’t waste your money. It just makes moving house even more stressful to use a Surveyor. I agree with the essential sentiment of the original article. House buyers need a system that actually works for them. Surveyors can’t provide that. You will see people defending their profession or saying you really need this to buy a house. Well they would, their livelihood depends on you handing over your cash for their limited efforts. Don’t be fooled. If these people were really concerned about your experience they would be pushing for proper reforms. As a profession they need a complete and utter overhaul (I am not even sure the profession is fixable). The best thing would be to start from scratch but if that isn’t possible at least take the Royal Charter (or whatever it is) away from their governing body (it provides them with some air of respectability). You will see the MOT analogy trotted out in many forums. Actually this is quite an accurate analogy for a Surveyor but for the wrong reasons. A car doesn’t necessarily function well just because it has an MOT. My advice having not used a Surveyor for my last property purchase and having used specialist firms – is go for those firms instead. The surveyor will tell you to do this anyway (so cut out the middleman and because even combined they are cheaper, you will save money).

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An MoT will check the long list of safety features that could affect your car. Many people (well, some) would have no idea of the condition of their car, and its threat to other road users, if they were not forced to have an annual check – very good value for money. Just have to overlook the minority of rogue garages (try Which? Local).

Equally with surveyors; unless you know what to look for you cannot assess the problems that might lurk in a potential purchase – and at risk is a lot of your money. Surveyors should be insured if they miss something that you have paid for them to look at, and that gives you protection. If defects are found you can either negotiate the price or decide to reject the purchase. Most of us have very little experience of surveys so to draw a general conclusion is impossible. But I have respect for the professions – bad apples of course but I expect most will benefit from their services. Which Local lists those with personal recommendations that Which? have accepted.

Guest
Craig says:
22 June 2016

Again have a look at what most people think of Surveyors – most do not benefit. An MOT on a car checks it safety, yes. But does not check it functionality. And yes an MOT is a good idea but having a Surveyor isn’t. In the case of a house – a Surveyor it would seem, in most cases, do neither the job of ensuring your safety or make sure of the buildings functionality and take money for nothing. Therefore, they are not value for money. I would also suspect if a garage were found to be giving out dodgy MOTs their ability to supply the certificates would be taken away. And I suspect issuing of such an MOT is a criminal offence.

Surveyors should have a CHP, yes. However, to follow this and get redress costs money. Surveyors appear to know that house buyers have just made the most expensive purchase of their life and hence have little money left over for the extra outlay of taking on the Surveyor and RICS. And due to their ineptitude and/or laziness the house buyer has even less money because they have brought something that requires so much work to rectify they have even less money to deal with the Surveyor and RICS. Also from what I have read sellers can also be hit by the inabilities of Surveyors, as people get margins slashed on their house prices only to find that the initial Surveyor report is wrong. My belief is that most people want to deal honestly with issues. Surveyors are diminishing that interaction between people.

Surveyors should either get on board with an overhaul of their ‘profession’ – or go do a job that actually benefits society. A chartered profession should not require you to have to look up whether they can do the basics of their job title. A Surveyor should know what to look for but in my experience, my work colleagues experience and apparently most of the people who have dealt with a Surveyor (most common experience from posts) – Surveyors don’t know what to look for. This type of experience should not be that common. Hence – get rid of the Royal Charter and because it is so hit and miss (more likely to be miss) you might as well use a registered specialist company (and yes get those from recommendations on Which? and you will save money too!). Or we should have a Danish system where the Surveyor’s work is insured from the start – hence bad Surveyors cannot continue to practice because they cannot get insurance! Doubt any (in this country) would be left though.

Guest
SimBob says:
22 February 2017

What a load of rubbish.

Guest
SimBob says:
22 February 2017

I will add, does anyone who is a satisfied customer ever respond internet forums? Statistically no. The only people who moan are those with a bad experience so how you can draw conclusions of how many people use or are satisfied with their survey based upon reviewing websites? It is not even possible to establish the true circumstances of a problem from what someone states on an internet forum so even those who are dissatisfied may be wrong or exaggerating the issue.

Honestly, do not listen to people like this. Find a good quality Chartered Building Surveyor (they are different to valuation surveyors, damp surveyors etc.) who has a good reputation. Ask to see their reports. You want one which does not make mountains out of molehills but gives you the facts. If you are purchasing a traditional building, IE anything pre-World War II and particularly those with solid walls or historic timber frames, you need a surveyor who has experience of historic buildings as they function differently.

Guest
Craig says:
10 April 2017

SimBob quote: “What a load of rubbish”.

That kind of response is really indicative.

Everything else really goes along with it.

Hold your fingers in your ears and whistle and tell everyone else to do the same.

It doesn’t engage with the main points or concerns – just wants business as normal – i.e. People getting ripped off.

Guest
Ann connor says:
6 July 2016

I feel totally cheated today!
Buying an old house and saw saw cracks and a bit of damp. We decided a full survey was our best option and paid £750 to be told exactly what we knew.
Possibly we were naive but we thought this was the right option…. Now we have to get specialists out for the structure and damp. It eels like we could have just paid for a cheaper survey and the specialists.

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At least a professional has confirmed your findings and, together with specialist reports may help you decide whether you buy or not or enable you to bargain with the seller. The latter should aim to more than cover the report costs and remedial work necessary.

Whilst you spotted damp and cracks the surveyor might well have found other problems you would not have spotted, or otherwise given reassurance.

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I am not sure you would have been in a happier position if your surveyor had also discovered more serious defects – thus justifying the scope of the survey – leading you to withdraw from the purchase and be out-of-pocket for the survey. As Malcolm says, at least you now have a professional condition survey that (a) confirms that the property is in no worse a state than you thought, (b) can be used to negotiate on price for the purchase [to the extent that the condition is not already priced in], and, importantly, (c) can be used to ensure that the specialist repair and treatment contractors that you employ will do what needs doing, will leave nothing undone, and won’t invent work that isn’t necessary, You might find that a friendly word with your surveyor might elicit some useful advice or suggestions for no additional fee.

You would have been entitled to feel cheated if the surveyor had not produced a comprehensive report on the full extent of any defects in the house you wish to buy but since the firm has done what they were paid to do I can’t see how you have been “totally cheated”. As US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said : “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” A good surveyor’s report should cover all bases.

Guest
Jane says:
10 April 2017

Yes Ann,

I feel you are not really being listened to here. You have paid £750 for a report that in all likelihood has taken about 3-4 hours to complete. Work out the hourly rate on that?

This is then compounded by someone saying … ‘oh I don’t really know if that is what I am looking at, you had better go and get a professional to tell you actually what it is’ – lol

Guest
S Barron says:
17 July 2016

I notice that some contributors have mentioned that surveyors are insured. However, my experience indicates that even though they are covered the consumer doesn’t get much of an opportunity to benefit from it. We used a surveyor last year when purchasing a house (approximately 150 miles away), albeit a “RICS Home Buyer Report”, i.e. NOT a Full Survey, but still at a cost of £840 (not cheap). There were a number of issues that he didn’t pick up, one of which was a leaking roof, which cost over £3000 to fix and a large double glazed unit at a cost of £984. However I do reluctantly accept that the Home Buyer Survey is not perhaps detailed enough to include the leaking roof.
There were two other issues that had to be corrected once we moved in which should have been picked up and mentioned in the report. I took this up with the Surveyors who did an in-house enquiry. Unsurprisingly they felt there was not any concern of neglect by their surveyor and therefore I decided to take this up with the Ombudsman. There were a number of issues that they felt we should have picked up on that were not directly mentioned in the survey and got separate reports on, which reinforces some of your contributors comments not to bother with a survey and just get professional companies in that know what they are doing.
The Ombudsman finally suggested a goodwill payment of £100 in full and final settlement of the “shortfall in reporting”. It does beg the question what if there was a more serious problem with the property that they failed to pick up? I will therefore, in future, do a more thorough inspection myself and get in specialist firms if necessary.

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A friend of ours bought a house at the end of last year. She asked me to have a look at it. I am not competent to examine and report on structural and fundamental problems so I said my observations would have to be superficial and that although I could not advise her not to have a professional survey I could certainly recommend one if I thought it would be advisable to do so. We were not certain of the date of the house, either just prior to the Second World War or just afterwards. Outwardly it looked in good condition and appeared to have been reasonably well-maintained, but inside there had been many minor alterations and installations that suggested a lot of odd jobs had been done over the years and the electric circuits had certainly been ‘stretched’ several times with spurs and surface cabling. I thought she should have a survey which she did. The surveyor noted the obvious things and numerous unsatisfactory aspects which might be expected in such a house but also reported that there were signs of woodworm in the flooring and under the staircase. This would not otherwise have been known. Although it means she will now be having extensive timber treatment carried out, by knowing about it at the outset at least it can be dealt with before she embarks on complete bathroom and kitchen refits and other internal alterations. I don’t know how much she paid for the survey but it was probably less than a quarter of one per cent of the price she paid for the house. The remedial work will also cost a small fraction of the purchase price and she will get the electrical work done while the floors are up to minimise the expense and disruption. As well as confirming that other invisible conditions [like chimneys, drains, and rainwater disposal] were satisfactory, the surveyor’s report contained plenty of advice on what should be done and how to go about it.

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Considering the high cost of houses and of possible repairs, and the lack of ability of most purchasers to detect actual and potential problems, it seems surprising that they should quibble at the cost of a full survey. Any expensive problems uncovered can often be partially negotiated off the purchase price, thus saving money (as in the example above perhaps). As John points out, a proper survey will be a minute proportion of the value of what you are buying. Perhaps the trouble is we are so focused on buying to the limit of our finances that we neglect to factor in other items.

As far as I am aware professional surveyors will be insured and if they are clearly negligent you should be able to recoup costs.