Buying a House > Structural Surveys

A Full Structural Survey, or a Building Survey as it is now commonly known, is a detailed and extensive look at the structural condition of a property. This differs from the HomeBuyer Report, although it does use a similar condition-rating system – highlighting problems with a property on a scale of mild to severe.

While the HomeBuyer Report follows a set format, the Building/Structural Survey can be modified to suit your needs. You also have the option of getting the property valued during the survey, although this valuation will need approval from your mortgage lender if it is to replace a mortgage valuation.

When might a structural survey be relevant?

Structural Surveys are suitable for all properties, but they are mainly relevant for older properties (>50 years old). Additionally, they are advisable for:

  • listed buildings (a building on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest)
  • unusual constructions (regardless of age)
  • buildings that you intend to renovate/change or that have already been renovated or significantly altered
  • properties in unusual locations like marshes or hills

Older properties in particular can conceal many issues, especially when they’ve been in a single family for generations. Just like it’s easy to overlook the shortcomings – and even borderline psychopathy – of family members, your seller may be blissfully unaware that the family home they’re selling you is a deathtrap.

Building Survey Checklist

A full structural survey typically includes a building inspection and a full survey report (including a condition rating system), as well as a property valuation if requested. As part of this the surveyor will inspect all visible and accessible parts of the building, including:

  • Roofs
  • Walls
  • Floors
  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Chimneys
  • Cellars
  • Attics
  • Garages
  • Outbuildings

Surveyors have a legal responsibility to discover and report any major problems within a property. This includes areas like cupboards or manholes, but does not include a concealed room like roof spaces. Here are common things that structural surveyors will look for and assess:

  • Damp in the walls
  • Alterations that have been made to supporting walls
  • Renovation that have occurred without necessary planning permission
  • Presence of hazardous material (e.g. asbestos)
  • Evidence of subsidence – where the property is sinking into the ground
  • Damage to the masonry and roof
  • Damage to timber, especially thanks to woodworm and dry rot
  • Large trees close to the property
  • Conditions of any existing damp proofing, insulation and non-tested drainage
  • Type of materials used to build the property and any relevant information pertaining to them

The survey report may include recommendations for further investigation on the property. It will not, however, provide detail on heating or electrical equipment, but you can request that your surveyor arrange for a suitable expert to examine these.

Arranging a Structural Survey

You can book the survey whenever you like, but it is most commonly taken when an offer has been accepted. Often, the accepted price is based there being no negative findings or potentially costly defects turned up in the survey.

Building Surveys are conducted by Chartered Surveyors. It is vital, as with any survey, that you ensure the surveyor you select is regulated by either the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), or the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RSPA), as they ensure any advice you receive is independent and expert. Building Survey costs vary from £500 to £1300, depending on the property, its size and its location.

On the day of the survey, you can ask the surveyor to cover any particular areas of the house that you have concerns about. It’s important to note beforehand that a building survey can take between 4-8 hours to complete. Thereafter, you may have to wait anything from 5 to 10 working days to get the final report, depending on the size of the property.

Understanding Your Structural-Survey Report

Once the survey is completed, your surveyor will produced a final report laying out any major and/or minor defects that could comprise the structural integrity of the property. The report will describe the problems and possible causes, and provide recommendations for further investigations and estimated repair costs.   

The Building survey is designed to be super easy to read. To help you understand the severity of any issues that have been found, it uses a ‘traffic light code’ system. This highlights in red any areas that need addressing immediately.

  • Green, or Condition Rating 1 – this indicates “no concerns”, and that the area needs no repairs
  • Amber, or Condition Rating 2 – areas with defects that need repairing or replacing but are not considered urgent or serious. Amber-rated areas may affect the overall value of the property.
  • Red, or Condition Rating 3 – this means that immediate action is required, such as serious repairs or replacement.

Once a survey has been completed, you’ll have some time to read through the report and consider the advice that the surveyor has noted. Red-rated areas should be seriously considered as part of the overall conditional offer. They can be grounds to renegotiate price – to reflect the potential cost for the buyer of fixing these issues. As a last resort, you are always free to retract your offer and walk away.

Assuming no major issues have been found, you can go ahead with the original conditional offer and continue down your path to happy home ownership.