What is a survey?
"It is an inspection by someone with a knowledgeable eye experienced in practice who knows where to look."
Mr Justice Henry in the Judgement of Lloyd v Butler 1990
"The survey of a building is part art and part science. The art is knowing where to look and the science is the interpretation of what one sees."
Professor Malcolm Hollis
What types of survey are there?
There are three principal types of general building survey which are of interest to a prospective purchaser:
1. Mortgage valuation
A valuation survey is intended only for the lender to ensure that the property is adequate security for the loan. If land value is 60% of capital value that is not difficult, even if the house falls down. A valuer is principally concerned with open market value and would typically spend half an hour to one hour inspecting the property. The result is often a one page tick box form. The report should highlight readily apparent fundamental defects which affect the valuation but does not give detailed information on the condition of the property and should not be relied upon by purchasers.
It should be borne in mind that a mortgage lender spreads it risk across many loans and so does not have to be as concerned as an individual purchaser is about defects in a particular property.
2. Home Buyer's Report and Valuation
A HomeBuyer's Survey and Valuation is a simple form of report using a proforma. It is intended for structures of simple, modern and conventional construction which are apparently in reasonable condition and which have not been substantially altered. Typically 1960s onwards. The form of survey was devised to cope with modern suburban houses and flats of say four bedrooms. With very rare exceptions it is not applicable to our area. We do not offer this service.
3. Building survey
A building survey (until recently known as a "structural survey", for which see below)
is a report on the general condition of a property and is the only type of survey appropriate for purchasers of houses and flats in our area. It follows a detailed examination of the fabric of the building by an experienced and professionally qualified surveyor who knows what to look for and where to look.
- An appraisal of the form and materials of construction.
- A technical analysis of significant defects revealed and advice on appropriate further actions.
- Identification of less significant defects, general disrepair and shortcomings in the physical condition, maintenance and design of the building.
It is not a structural engineer's report.
We do not sell surveys by weight but a typical building survey of a three bedroom flat or house is about 35 pages, including the summary of the principal matters. A five bedroom house, perhaps 50 pages.
The other types of survey have more specific purposes:
4. Single issue report
A report on a particular area of concern.
The spoof particulars of Fawlty Mansions give particular examples. Such reports are often required by those who already own the building. What is wrong? - how do we put in right? - specification - quotations - liability for cost - supervision.
5. Condition survey
A snapshot of the condition of a building, or part of a building. Usually a typed schedule, often illustrated with photographs and / or sketches.
Condition surveys are sometimes required to be annexed to a lease where there is agreement with the landlord to hand back a property in no worse condition, particularly where a property is old and not in good condition, but still fit for its purpose, such as with many business premises.
Condition surveys are nearly always appended to Party Wall Awards prior to building work commencing so as to record the condition of adjacent property and protect a building owner against unwarranted claims for damage caused by works in progress.
Sometimes the condition survey will be photographic only, in which case we use high quality photographic equipment and high resolution film with output to either colour laser printer or CD ROM.
6. Dilapidations survey
A survey for landlord or tenant to record defects and wants of repair, sometimes costed.
Leases spell out who is responsible for repair and maintenance. A dilapidation survey may be required during the lease or at the end to require landlord or tenant to keep their part of the bargain.
7. Measured survey
An accurate drawing of a property - plans, elevations, sections at the agreed scale - typically 1:50 1:100 1:200
We now use AutoCAD (Computer Aided Draughting) in preference to traditional drawing boards. Following survey on site the drawings are prepared on the computer screen and can be sent to clients by e-mail for viewing on their screen, or printing at the local printers.
Our CAD drawings service is explained and illustrated on a separate web page.
8. Structural engineer's report
A report on an issue of structural stability.
A structural engineer's report may be requested as a follow up to a mortgage valuation or building survey having identified a crack or weakness which requires further investigation, loadbearing calculations and a repair to be designed.
A structural engineer's advice is often required in connection with alterations required by a client, as calculations will be required for building control consent.
For further advice contact our structural engineer:
Ian R Gill BSc (Hons) CEng MIStructE
What types of property do you survey?
We survey almost all types of residential and commercial property.
We would advise you if we did not feel comfortable surveying a particular type of property, perhaps because of its unusual method of construction, or if it were essentially an engineering structure, such as the GPO Tower or the Millennium Dome.
What do you do?
Our duty to the client is to:
- Identify the form of construction
- Identify any defects
- Identify any symptoms of defects and weaknesses and project forward the consequences of leaving those weaknesses unattended.
- Identify, where possible the causes of the defects
- Recommend what action needs to be taken to put right any defects.
- Give a balanced opinion of the property by comparison with similar properties in the area.
What do you charge?
The cost depends on the size, age and complexity, which determine the time likely to be spent.
Most surveys have to be booked to take a day. Say, six hours at the property and four hours editing and amending a report, plus a day's typing for a secretary.
Even our core area of operation comprises such a huge range of house types and sizes that we need to consider and agree a fee for each individual instruction.
We request to be sent a copy of the estate agent's details and will then confirm a fixed fee for the survey of that property.
We have been offered a HomeBuyer's Report and Valuation for less than the cost of a building survey. Why?
Because it is a simpler form of reporting. The form of report is not suitable for the majority of property in our area of operation.
We are telephoning for quotes to see who is the cheapest....?
You are likely to receive what you pay for.
We produce a product at a price which we believe gives value for money, rather than cutting a service to the lowest price.
We have a small, efficient, high technology properly set up office. Our fee reflects the time reasonably spent inspecting and reporting, with some subsequent telephone "support" time answering the inevitable follow up queries.
The majority of our instructions derive from personal recommendation by solicitors, other surveyors and previous satisfied clients.
We would be pleased to send to you by e-mail a sample of a report of a similar property when we know the type of property you propose to purchase. [Please advise whether you are using WordPerfect, Word, or Mac and which version].
When can you do the survey?
We usually have a lead-in period of three to five days from receipt of instructions.
If your enquiry is especially urgent, (ten days from receipt of documents to exchange of contracts being common) we will seek to carry out your survey early should a cancellation occur.
Does the survey include a valuation?
We can arrange an open market valuation for an agreed fee.
A valuation is 50% estate agency 50% building survey. If we have already inspected the property for the building survey then there is some saving of time. We would still need to obtain evidence of comparable sales to substantiate our valuation, complete any valuation form and accept the professional responsibility for our valuation. Typically we therefore charge 75% of the usual scale fee of £1 / £1,000 + VAT.
How soon will we receive our report?
On return from the property we aim to telephone with a report of the principal findings.
The written report should follow within seven days.
If you have an e-mail address the report will be sent by e-mail as soon as it has been typed and proof read.. Reports are typed in WordPerfect and can be converted to Word or Mac format.
Is it a good location?
We have considerable and detailed knowledge of the area in which we operate and will be pleased to give general and helpful advice of this nature if asked.
Will the property be easy for me to sell later?
This will be a factor of the type and quality of property, location, price and condition.
We will advise you if we consider that there are any features likely to delay significantly the sale, especially during less favourable market conditions.
Can you just do me a quick survey and give me a verbal report?
Unfortunately, English Law does not look kindly on the surveyor who tries to be helpful and is then alleged to have missed a significant defect or given inadequate advice.
There is no acceptable (to the law) halfway standard of service, which means that we must confirm instructions in writing, inspect carefully, make detailed notes and then report in writing.
An exception is where a client requests an initial inspection, perhaps prior to deciding between several properties at auction and is prepared to sign an indemnity against liability. Such a client would be expected to sign an undertaking to either commission a full survey from this firm or from another firm prior to exchange of contracts or in default to proceed at his own risk.
Can you do a survey of just part?
Yes - if the part is clearly defined.
In many cases we are instructed to prepare a "single issue report" on the types of defects shown in the Fawlty Mansions spoof agents' particulars.
We can then prepare a specification of remedial works, seek competitive estimates and supervise the works.
Can you find hidden defects?
No. If they are hidden we cannot.
But we can use our knowledge and experience to recommend that further exposure work be carried out and thereby "follow the trail".
We will open unfixed hatches and raise any loose and easily accessible floorboards.
Except where consent is requested and granted in special circumstances, no disassembly of equipment, opening of walls, floors or ceilings or excavation is performed.
Where appropriate we will recommend the use of specialist diagnostic equipment (such as a fibre optic probe) to carry out non destructive investigation.
What are the limitations of your inspection?
Our conditions of engagement set out the practical limitations of our inspection.
In the case of each individual instruction we will set out our Scope of Services, so as to avoid misunderstanding.
It would be impractical to examine every detail of the structure without partially dismantling it, which destroys what it is sought to preserve. Most sellers would not permit such damage!
A surveyor cannot risk damaging someone else's property. It may not be practicable to lift floorboards covered with parquet or vinyl which is stuck down, or to move heavy items of furniture or safes. If windows have been screwed up or are stuck fast with paint opening them might cause damage.
We will make any limitations clear in our report.
If you are inspecting a flat, do you inspect other flats in the building?
It is impractical and the cost would be unattractive to survey the whole building or buildings.
We make a detailed inspection of the subject flat, an inspection of the related and accessible common parts of the building and the exterior of the building in which the flat is situated to ascertain its general condition and state of repair.
If access is easily available to other parts of the property then a random investigation will be carried out at the surveyor's discretion.
Do you inspect and test the services?
A building survey would include a visual inspection only to confirm the presence or absence of the services and their operation by normal use - drainage, hot and cold water, central heating, electricity, gas.
We will provide you with guidance on having tests undertaken. The technology involved in central heating systems and electrical installation is such that these should only be checked by qualified specialist technicians - typically CORGI and NICEIC registered.
Where there are large or complex systems we would discuss with you the specialist testing of those services, especially central heating and hot water systems, air conditioning, lifts or electrical installations.
Do you have professional indemnity insurance?
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors operates a compulsory professional indemnity scheme.
It is not a defects insurance policy but is a protection against claims for negligence. That is if we were to fall below the standard of skill and care reasonably to be expected of a competent chartered surveyor.
Are you qualified?
Building surveys are carried out by the principal or senior associates who are all professionally qualified.
Is it worth the cost?
We believe it is.
If significant defects are discovered then, depending upon market conditions, the purchaser is given the opportunity to renegotiate the purchase price to reflect the necessary repair cost.
We are looking for defects and potential defects which may give rise to unexpected or unwelcome expenditure. Property is a mixed bag. Of the very many surveys we carry out each year there are some spectacular examples of seriously defective property which justify the very many other surveys which reveal no significant defects.
To proceed without a survey is like playing Russian Roulette with cartridge loaded with ten thousand pound notes. It can seriously damage your wealth.
Do you confirm our agreement in writing?
We have standard letters of confirmation of instruction for surveys of houses, flats and commercial property which are amended to suit the circumstances of the particular instruction.
As a medium sized firm we do not have to offer only standard packages but can tailor our professional services to the specific requirements of an individual client.
Richard Birchall would be pleased to answer any further questions you might have, or to discuss your particular survey, confirm a fee and book a date for the survey.