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?