What is a Property Survey? The Different Types and Costs Involved

Survey says…

Whether you’re buying your first home or your tenth investment property, a residential property survey is the best way to check if it’s structurally sound. These surveys aren’t compulsory, but they give much-needed peace of mind when buying a new home.

As they say, forewarned is forearmed —  and this is especially true in the housing market.

A property survey means you won’t face unexpected major repairs once you complete your purchase. If any issues crop up, it also lets buyers negotiate on price (if desired), so you’re not overpaying for a structurally unsound building.

So, what is a property survey?

In this article, we explain the main types of residential property surveys (and what they cover) as well as typical costs for property surveys and who’s responsible for organising a survey when buying a house.

What is a property survey?

A property survey refers to checks conducted by a qualified and licensed professional (known as a property surveyor), to highlight structural defects in a building, such as damp or subsidence.

There are various levels of property survey, which we’ll cover below. While the most basic checks (known as Level 1) only identify “urgent defects”, more detailed “Level 3” checks will also advise on steps needed to fix any issues. This could be addressing a single damp patch, right through to replacing an entire roof or the foundations of the property.

A property survey isn’t normally a compulsory part of buying a new home. Nonetheless, your mortgage provider might ask for one, if their mortgage valuation suggests any issues.

Even if your mortgage provider doesn’t ask for a property survey, it’s still advisable. 

Most buyers simply don’t have the technical knowledge (or access to areas such as the loft and roof) to assess whether a building is in good structural condition. But with a house survey, you’ll have all the information you need to go ahead with the sale with confidence. 

What are the three types of house survey?

There are three main types of residential property surveys. These are:

  • RICS Level 1 Home Survey: This is the most basic (and cheapest) level of residential property survey. It identifies urgent defects with a building. A Level 1 Home Survey is a good choice for anyone buying a conventional home built from common building materials in visibly good condition.
  • RICS Level 2 Home Survey: Like a Level 1 Home Survey, this report identifies any serious issues with the building. Unlike a Level 1 Home Survey, however, your surveyor will also check spaces like the loft, roof and any cellars. They’ll give recommendations on any further investigations needed if they aren’t able to reach conclusions (for instance, on drainage issues) with reasonable confidence.
  • RICS Level 3 Home Survey: This type of home survey highlights any structural problems with the property and also provides detailed advice on any repairs needed. This includes the consequences if repairs aren’t conducted. It’s a good option for anyone buying a property over 100 years old, of visibly poor condition or unusual design. This type of survey is also sensible if you’re planning large-scale renovations or have concerns about the building.

Before we explore what these surveys include in more detail, it’s important to note that a mortgage valuation is not a type of survey. This is a common misconception. 

A mortgage valuation involves a cursory look at a building (often just from the outside) to assess how much the property is worth. Mortgage lenders ask for this valuation, so they know your property is worth the amount you’re borrowing.

For more in-depth information on structural defects (and any repairs or costs involved), you’ll need to arrange one of the residential surveys above.

Whatever type of survey you go for, make sure your surveyor is part of a recognised governing body such as the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA).

What do they check on a property survey?

The checks offered as part of your property survey will depend on the type of survey you choose.

In general, though, an RICS Level 1 Home Survey will give you an easy-to-understand “traffic light” rating system on the condition of the various parts of the property, garden and essential services.

  • Green shows there are no concerns 
  • Amber highlights issues needing attention in the future
  • Red highlights significant structural problems requiring immediate attention

These checks include aspects such as the roof, walls and ceilings, any uncovered floors, chimney breasts, fireplaces and flues, woodwork, exposed pipework and bathroom fittings. The report should also cover services such as water, electricity, gas, oil, heating and drainage.

From outside the property, your surveyor will also check walls, windows, guttering, chimney stacks, doors, joinery and the roof. They’ll also look at any boundary walls, fences and outbuildings.

In addition to the above, a Level 2 Survey will check roof spaces and cellars.

While the checks are broadly the same in a Level 3 Home Survey, this report also goes into detail on the causes of any defects, as well as work needed for repairs and ongoing maintenance.

Who organises a survey when buying a house?

It’s normally the person buying a house who organises a property survey. 

This takes place after a seller accepts a buyer’s offer on a property. After this, the buyer arranges and pays for the survey.

While your estate agent might recommend surveyors, it’s a good idea to find a surveyor yourself. This gives peace of mind about complete impartiality and lets you compare quotes. You can find a full list of fully qualified and insured property surveyors on the RICS website.

There are some circumstances where the seller may want to organise a survey before putting their home on the market. For instance, for anyone unsure about their home’s current condition — a survey would help identify and rectify any major structural issues before putting it on the market. Even if you’re not planning renovations before putting your home up for sale, a survey could help with appropriate pricing and arranging a quick sale.

Home Reports in Scotland

In Scotland, it’s the seller’s responsibility to provide and pay for a Home Report when putting their property on the market.

This usually costs around £500 and includes many of the checks involved in an RICS Level 1 Home Survey. 

A Home Report includes:

  • A structural survey report on the property, including past problems and subsequent alterations.
  • A property valuation.
  • Council Tax Band.
  • An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).

How much does a property survey cost in the UK?

The cost for a property survey is set by the individual company or surveyor providing the service.

So to find out how much for a survey of a property, the best thing to do is shop around for quotes.

The price will depend on where you live, the type of survey you want, as well as the size and complexity of the property you’re buying. Unsurprisingly, the larger the home (and the more detailed the survey), the more expensive this will be.

  • As a rule of thumb, an RICS Level 1 Home Survey could cost between £300 and £700.
  • An RICS Level 2 Home Survey normally starts around £500 and could rise to £900 or more.
  • For an RICS Level 3 Home Survey, prices usually start at £700. As people buying older, larger or listed properties often choose this kind of survey, prices can easily rise to £1,500 or more.

Is it worth getting a house survey?

So, with all this in mind, is it worth getting a house survey?

There are plenty of expenses when buying a house, from conveyancing fees to moving costs and mortgage payments. So it stands to reason you’ll want to minimise costs wherever possible.

While a property survey isn’t a compulsory part of buying a home, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Property surveys help you avoid expensive surprises and give much-needed peace of mind. Given the hundreds of thousands of pounds you’re spending to buy a property, a few hundred pounds for the professional advice of an expert surveyor is a sound decision.

While a Level 2 Home Survey is enough for most property purchases, you might go for a Level 3 Home Survey for extra reassurance. The additional advice is particularly useful if you’re unsure about the condition of the property, for instance, if it’s old, listed or features non-standard building materials like a thatched roof.

If your property survey reveals any structural issues, you might also renegotiate the sale price (potentially saving thousands) or even walk away from the sale. For instance, if fixing the roof is likely to cost £20,000, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a similar figure off the sale price. On the other hand, some buyers might ask the seller to fix any problems before the sale goes through.

Looking to protect your new home? For exceptional service and great value cover, get a quote for A-Plan Home Insurance today.

Also read:
Conveyancing: Everything you need to know
What is gazumping? 
Do I need a structural engineer?