Essential Guide to Property Surveys

Tuesday, 30th August 2011 | by: Peter Barry

Chartered Surveyors can carry out several different types of surveys to residential properties. The purpose of this article is to give an insight into the different types of reports that are available and the circumstances in which one type of report may be more suitable than another.

The starting point may seem a bit obvious but the first aspect that we need to clarify is what we mean by the term survey. There is often some confusion between the terms ‘survey’ and ‘valuation’. It is not just surveyors being pedantic. Surveys and Valuations are two different types of service and are carried out for different reasons.

Valuations are carried out by Chartered Surveyors for a number of reasons and, although the Surveyor will inspect the property to some degree to arrive at their opinion of value, the inspection is not really focused on the condition of the property and the valuation report will not discuss the construction or condition of the property in any great detail. A Valuation Report is meant purely to provide an opinion of the value of either a leasehold or freehold interest in a property at the date of the valuation.

A Survey of a residential property can contain an opinion of Market Value, but this is not the primary focus of the report. The main focus of a survey report will be the construction and condition of the property. The level of the inspection and the level of detail in the report will depend on the type of report, the type of property and the purpose for which it is required.

The three principal types of residential surveys that we can carry out as Chartered Surveyors are:-

The first two reports are documents that are produced by Chartered Surveyors under licence from the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) and are in a standard format. All reports are in the same format and individual surveyors or firms are not able to vary the standard format.

Whilst the RICS produce detailed guidelines with regard to what should be included in a Building Survey, the format of the report is not standard and individual surveyors or firms are free to adopt their own layouts, logos and formats for this type of report. Condition Reports and HomeBuyer Reports will look the same whoever carries out the inspection, whilst Building Survey Reports can look very different.

The RICS Condition Report is at the lowest end of the scale, both in terms of cost and the level of inspection. It is intended for use on conventional houses, flats and bungalows that are built from traditional materials and are in apparently reasonable condition.

This report focuses purely on the condition of the property and does not provide any advice on value. The report operates on ‘traffic light’ system that allocates a condition rating to each element of the building, including services, garages and outbuildings. The condition ratings are as follows:-

  • Condition Rating 3 Defects that are serious and/or need to be repaired, replaced or investigated urgently.
  • Condition Rating 2 Defects that need repairing or replacing but are not considered to be either serious or urgent. The property must be maintained in the normal way.
  • Condition Rating 1 No repair is currently needed. The property must be maintained in the normal way.

There will also sometimes be a Condition Rating of Not Inspected ‘NI’ where the surveyor is unable to inspect an element that would normally be reported on.

This report could be carried out for a potential purchaser who requires a low cost, concise report on a property that they are intending to purchase. It would also be suitable for a potential vendor who wants to know if any works are likely to be required on the property they are selling.

The RICS Homebuyer Report is the next step up the ladder. It includes all of the features of the RICS Condition Report but the surveyor will carry out a more extensive inspection of some elements of the building, including the roof space and the underground drainage system.

This report is also primarily intended for use on conventional houses flats and bungalows that are built from traditional materials and are in apparently reasonable condition.

The HomeBuyer Report uses the same traffic light condition rating system as the Condition Survey but will include additional advice on any further investigations that need to be carried out before exchange of contracts.

The report will also include advice on future maintenance requirements and will include the Surveyor’s opinion of the Market Value of the property and the re-instatement cost for insurance purposes.

The RICS HomeBuyer report is the one that tends to be chosen by most purchasers of conventional properties as it provides a clear and concise report on the condition of the property as well as giving a Market Valuation and advice on future repairs and maintenance requirements.

The cost of the HomeBuyer Report is obviously somewhat higher than the Condition Report, but most purchasers find that the additional information provided is worth the additional expense.

The Building Survey is at the top of the range of survey products both in terms of cost, the extent of the inspection and the level of detail included in the report. This report used to be called a structural survey, but this term is now no longer used.

This report tends to be commissioned by purchasers of properties that are older, large, of unusual construction or in poor condition. It may also be requested by clients who are considering carrying out extensive alterations to the property.

As noted above, this is not a standard format report and individual surveyors and firms are free to use their own format and logos on the report. The report does not use the ‘traffic light’ system of condition ratings, but will include a detailed description of the construction, condition and repairs required to the property.

The report will cover all of the elements included in the Condition Report and HomeBuyer Report but will also include

  • a thorough inspection and detailed report on a wider range of issues;
  • a description of visible defects and potential problems caused by hidden flaws;
  • an outline of repair options and the likely consequences of inactivity; and
  • advice for your legal advisers and details of serious risks and dangerous conditions.

A Building Survey does not automatically include an opinion of Market Value or an assessment of the reinstatement cost for insurance purposes, but these can be included in the report if the client wishes.

We can also include specific advice on potential alterations or extensions to the property.

Our staff will always be happy to discuss your requirements before you book a survey and will help you to choose the level of survey that is most suitable.

We do find that a number of clients will automatically choose a Building Survey as they feel that this must be the best product as it is at the top of the range. A Building Survey is not always appropriate, however, and our staff will always advise whether or not we feel that this is the best product for a potential client.

Check out the following pages for further information on our property surveys in North West London, property surveys in West London and property surveys in South West London.

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