Are you in the process of buying a new home and thinking about getting a survey done before sealing the deal? Not sure which type of survey you need? Here, we dig into the different types of house surveys, how long they take, and how much they cost.
A house survey (also called a “building survey” or “home buyers survey”) is a detailed inspection of a property’s condition by a qualified surveyor. It’s arranged and paid for by the buyer (apart from in Scotland, where the surveying process is different — more on that below).
There are several different building survey types to choose from, and they’re almost always carried out after you’ve had an offer accepted on a new house but before you exchange contracts.
Each type of house survey offers varying levels of detail, from basic to in-depth. Whichever one you choose, the surveyor will provide a short report based on their observations.
Ultimately, this report can help you spot any potential or existing problems with the property and decide whether you want to go ahead with the purchase.
What types of home surveys are there?
The type of survey you need will depend on the age, size, and condition of the property you plan on buying. Usually, you’ll require a more comprehensive survey if the house is older, larger than average, or in poor condition.
Note: Make sure your chosen surveyor is a member of one of the two main accrediting bodies:
- The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), or
- The Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA).
That way, you’ll know you’re getting expert advice from a qualified surveyor, and the surveyor will be covered by professional indemnity insurance as part of their membership.
Now, let’s look at the different types of building surveys in more detail. The RICS offers three levels of house survey, while the RPSA offers two — and there’s a specialist survey for new-build homes, too.
1. RICS Level One House Survey (1 to 2 hours)
Previously known as a “Condition Report,” the Level One survey is the shortest and most basic of the three levels offered by RICS.
Perhaps best suited to newer homes, it looks at the general condition of a property, highlighting any risks, defects, or potential legal issues. The report is presented in a simple “traffic light” format without any detailed advice.
It’s the cheapest house survey available, although the cost will vary depending on the property’s value. For example, the average house survey cost for a property valued between £200k and £300k is £380.
2. RICS Level Two House Survey (up to 4 hours)
The Level Two survey (also called the “HomeBuyer Report”) is best suited to conventional homes in reasonable condition. This mid-level survey digs a little deeper than Level One, helping you identify structural problems, such as damp or subsidence.
The surveyor will also spend some time looking for issues inside and outside the property. However, they won’t look behind walls or under the floorboards when conducting a Level Two survey.
Some reports include a property valuation, while others don’t. This could be handy if the survey reveals a lower valuation, as it could give you some wiggle room to renegotiate the price.
The starting price for a Level Two survey is £400, but this can increase depending on the value of the property and if a property valuation is included as part of the survey.
3. RICS Level Three House Survey (up to a day)
Finally, the Level Three survey (otherwise known as a “Building Survey”) is the most comprehensive of the three options.
After spending up to a full day exploring the property (inside and out, behind walls, under floorboards, etc.), your surveyor will draw up a highly detailed report, providing an in-depth analysis of its condition.
Once you get the report, you’ll find clear advice on how to deal with any issues uncovered by the survey. The surveyor will also outline your repair options and describe the consequences if these problems aren’t handled correctly.
Level Three survey fees start around £600 and will vary depending on the size and value of the property.
Do I need a Level 2 or 3 survey?
It depends! You should always choose a house survey based on the size, age, and value of the property you want to buy (rather than the price of the survey).
If the home is in reasonable condition and/or fairly new, a Level Two survey should give you plenty of information to help you make an informed decision. However, you need to remember that the inspection is “non-intrusive”. This means the surveyor won’t be moving furniture or lifting floorboards.
With that in mind, if you have major concerns about the property (or you’re planning a significant renovation), you might want to check beyond “surface-level” issues. A Level Three survey is more “hands-on”, allowing the surveyor the time they need to check beneath floorboards, move furniture, or inspect the attic.
Other types of surveys when buying a house
4. RSPA surveys
The RSPA offer two levels of house survey — the Home Condition Survey and the Building Survey. These are similar to the Level Two and Three RICS surveys, respectively, both providing:
- Detailed inspections to identify common defects such as rot, woodworm, damp, or subsidence
- Colour-coded condition ratings
- Photos to highlight potential problems
- A thorough review of environmental issues, such as flooding
Prices start around £400 and vary depending on the survey level and the size and value of the property.
5. New-build snagging survey
Finally, if you’re asking yourself, “What type of house survey should I have when buying a new build?” the answer’s simple: a new-build snagging survey.
This specialist survey is designed to identify issues with a brand-new property. Ideally, it should be carried out before you move in, giving your developer time to fix any “snags” (or larger problems) while your home is still under warranty.
Costs for new-build snagging surveys start around £300, depending on the size and location of the property.
Why should you get a house survey before buying?
It’s important to note that you don’t need to get a house survey done when buying a new home. It’s not a legal obligation. You can risk it and push ahead with the purchase without checking the underlying condition of the property.
However, it’s often a good idea to pay for a home buyer survey as some problems aren’t always immediately obvious — and they could come back to bite you further down the road.
For example, you might not spot issues such as faulty plumbing, damp, or roof damage during your initial house viewings. And once you finalise the purchase, you’ll inherit these problems, which may be expensive and time-consuming to fix.
That’s where a house survey can ride to the rescue. If your surveyor uncovers these problems before you complete the purchase, it puts you in a stronger position to either:
- Renegotiate the final sale price down by the amount it would cost to have these issues repaired, or
- Request that the seller make the repairs before you go ahead with the purchase.
And if the survey shows the house is in a far worse condition than you initially believed, you could pull out of the sale altogether — saving you time, money, and a lot of stress in the long run.
Which is better, RICS or RPSA?
In truth, there’s no definitive answer to this question. Both governing bodies set the standards that surveyors must meet, and they’ll monitor their members to ensure you’re getting the right level of service and advice.
Choosing between RICS and RPSA-accredited surveyors may come down to personal preference. You can ask for sample surveys when you’re shopping around for a surveyor to see if you like one approach over the other.
Here are a few tips for choosing a surveyor:
- Don’t go with your estate agent’s recommendation straight away. They might receive a commission, which could drive up the cost. Instead, try to shop around and get three to four quotes to find the best price.
- Consider asking friends or family members who’ve moved recently for recommendations.
- Hire a surveyor familiar with the area. They’ll probably have a better understanding of the local property market, including valuations and wider environmental issues.
- If you’re buying an older or unusual property (for example, one with a thatched roof), hiring a surveyor with a track record of inspecting those types of buildings is always best.
A quick note if you’re buying or selling in Scotland
While in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, it’s up to the buyer to arrange and pay for a house survey, it’s a little different north of the border.
In Scotland, it’s the seller’s job (by law) to provide a survey and property valuation as part of a Home Report within 12 weeks of putting their property on the market.
The Home Report pack should also include:
- An Energy Report with an Energy Performance Certificate
- A property questionnaire completed by the seller or estate agent detailing issues such as council tax and energy providers
Of course, for your peace of mind, you may still want to pay for your own detailed house survey, especially if you have any concerns about the underlying condition of the property.
Is a mortgage valuation survey the same as a house survey?
No. A mortgage valuation is not the same thing as a house survey.
A mortgage valuation is carried out by your lender to make sure the house you want to buy is worth what you’re planning to borrow for your mortgage. But this survey won’t look at the property’s condition in great detail. And often, it won’t involve someone visiting the property in person.
In short, you can’t rely on a mortgage valuation survey to tell you anything about the property beyond what your lender thinks it’s worth. If you want to identify issues before buying, you’ll need an independent house survey by a qualified surveyor.
Choosing between the different house survey types can seem daunting at first. However, once you know that you need to pick a survey based on the property’s size, age, and the condition of the property, rather than the survey’s price, it can be easier to narrow down your selection.
And once you’re happy with the property’s condition and finalise the deal, remember to sort out your new home insurance policy before you get the keys! Get started here.