The Building Survey Report –what exactly is it?

The Building Survey Report –what exactly is it?

A Building Survey and Report will cost anything upwards of around £600 for a small flat, to £1,000 or £1,500 for a large house

A great deal of uncertainty surrounds the building survey report. When do you need one and when don't you need one? How much does it cost? Who should it be conducted by? Once you've got one, what does it actually mean? And what should you do with it – apart from file it away in a big box file labelled 'house purchase'?

Sally Fraser of Stacks Property Search offers her advice: “A building survey used to be known as a structural survey. It is a comprehensive inspection of all accessible elements of a property, and the report provides a detailed evaluation of the condition of the property. The report will suggest which aspects of the property may be a problem, and will point at areas of concern that might need further specialist investigation.

What the report doesn't do is provide a valuation of the property.

Building surveys are conducted by chartered surveyors who should be regulated by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). The Building Survey should not be confused with a Homebuyers Report. The latter is similar to a mortgage valuation, and it may be required by any company you are using for finance for the property. The Building Survey is not required by mortgage companies, but it is, most definitely required by you!

There are very few circumstances when we wouldn't recommend a buyer gets a Building Survey report. If you're knocking down a property and starting again, it's not necessary. And if you're doing a very extensive renovation, it may also be surplus to requirements. Some people feel that it's not necessary if you're buying brand new, and you may decide to take a view, depending on who the developer is.

The Building Survey report is a very useful item. Its primary purpose is to draw attention to anything unexpected, unusual or concerning that wasn't evident when you inspected the property that might affect your decision to buy, or the price at which you buy.

But beyond that, it will provide you with a working document outlining what work needs to be done, either as a one off, or as an ongoing piece of maintenance. Remember, a building costs money to maintain to a good standard, and problems that are ignored will only get worse and cost more as time elapses.

A Building Survey and Report will cost anything upwards of around £600 for a small flat, to £1,000 or £1,500 for a large house. If you don't know who to use, ask for recommendations. Local estate agents are a good starting point. Ring them up for a chat. If your property is very large, very old, or perhaps Listed, it's sensible to find a surveyor who specialises in such properties, or has extensive experience. If timing is an issue, establish exactly when you can expect the Report. It's not unreasonable to ask for a turnaround of a week, and two weeks should be fairly standard. And ask for a quote.

Some buyers think that the Building Survey's main purpose is to find reasons to further negotiate on the price of the property. Remember, your offer is based on the property in the condition in which it's seen. So if it's clear to see that a wall is falling down, and the window frames are rotten, there's no point going back with a Report that itemises these issues, expecting a discount.

Issues that may indicate that some renegotiation is possible include things that you could not have known about or seen in the course of your viewing, that will require substantial outlay in the short term. For example, subsidence, a roof at the end of its life, unsafe building practices, or Building Regulations not complied with. Rather than jumping straight in with a tough re-negotiation, it may be more effective to ask the vendors to fix the problem prior to exchange.

 The Building Survey Report is a daunting document, generally at least 30 pages long, and full of jargon. Sometimes it's difficult to tell what's vital and relevant, and what isn't. Almost without exception, every single Building Survey Report will say “electrics need updating” as regulations go out of date on a regular basis. So some of the content will need unpicking and explaining.

Ask the Surveyor to take pictures, and choose one who is happy to talk on the phone to give you a verbal topline. Even better, meet the Surveyor on site, preferably as he's finishing the job, so he can talk you – and walk you - through the main issues.

Beyond that, start with the conclusion which will list the priorities. Then give yourself plenty of time and sit down and read the whole thing. Highlight the issues that will need attention, either immediately, or in the future. Be realistic – all houses need ongoing maintenance, and will almost always have a few problems. The older the property, the more there will be to do on a regular basis.

The Building Survey Report is your friend! Use it to help you keep your property in perfect health.”

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