Knowing how to choose a chartered surveyor is important once you reach the stage where you need a survey carrying out on a property.
That’s because the survey is one of the most important steps in buying a house. It will identify any issues with the property and provide advice on what needs to be repaired or maintained.
A good survey will stop you from buying a property that you can’t afford to bring up to standard. Even on a property in a good state of repair, a survey will become an essential ‘to-do’ list of jobs once you have moved in.
We’ve always made sure we use a chartered surveyor when we buy a property and we’ve had everything from a basic homebuyers report through to specialist damp and structural surveys done.
So, using our experience as a guide, here’s how to choose a chartered surveyor to ensure you get the most informed report at the lowest possible cost.
Why You Need A Chartered Surveyor
We have already touched on why you need a chartered surveyor but, in short, it’s to protect you.
A chartered survey is a highly qualified job. You only become a chartered surveyor once you have passed all of the training requirements and achieved an official qualification from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
Chartered surveyors are trained to look out for possible defects and potential problems with a property that the untrained eye may not spot, such as subsidence, damp, and structural defects.
Therefore, spending a couple of hundred pounds on a survey can save you thousands of pounds if it identifies a major issue you hadn’t noticed.
And believe me, you won’t notice everything! We’ve looked around properties and missed even quite obvious issues. The thing is, you’re trying to consider whether the property works for you, what furniture might go where, AND spot potential issues.
We’ve even had sellers try and hide problems only for the surveyor to quickly spot what they’ve done and highlight the issue to us.
Once you know the issues, you can make an informed choice whether to continue with your purchase, negotiate a lower sales price, or pull out of the purchase altogether.
Homebuyers Report Or Building Survey?
There are actually four types of property surveys to consider:
Valuation Survey (Approx £200)
This is commonly the one that your mortgage lender will carry out as a condition of your mortgage. Its primary purpose is to provide an accurate valuation of the property to ensure you are not overpaying for the home.
Although it may point out any major issues that will affect the value of the home, it should not be relied upon to uncover defects.
While we’ve had valuation surveys done to satisfy the mortgage company, we’ve never relied on them as a good indicator of issues. That said, we did once lose a mortgage on a property because the valuation survey highlighted a serious structural issue on the extension.
Condition Report (Approx £300)
This type of survey is designed to complement a valuation survey by going into a little more detail about the exact condition of the property and any repairs that may need to be made.
However, it does not provide advice as to what you should do about any of the issues it uncovers.
Again, this is not a type of survey we’ve ever really used ourselves since it doesn’t cost much more to do a homebuyers report which is much more comprehensive…
Homebuyers Report (Approx £400)
The Homebuyers Report is a more detailed version of the condition report and will check for signs of rot, damp, subsidence, and more.
Furthermore, it will also provide advice on the best way to approach any problems uncovered. Typically, a ‘traffic light’ system is used to help identify which problems are minor, and which are potentially more serious.
Keep in mind though that it’s a non-intrusive survey, so the surveyor won’t drill into walls, move furniture, or pull up floorboards. This means it’s still limited in what it will uncover.
You can download an example Homebuyers Report, here.
This is the type of report we usually go for. The exception is when we are particularly concerned about an issue or range of issues, then we might skip and go straight to a more specialist report.
For instance, in our current home, the sellers had a homebuyers report from when they bought the property 2 years previously. As the property appeared well cared for, we felt it didn’t make sense to get a new one done.
However, since the property was quite old and had a few signs of damp, we opted for a damp and timer report instead. It cost us just over £400 but gave us complete peace of mind about exactly what was causing the damp issues and how we could resolve them.
As the homebuyers report is quite general, it will often highlight things you should look into further. This happened on another property we bought where the homeowners report indicated a few issues that led us to getting a structural survey done too, as we’ll go into in the next section…
Building Survey (£500+)
This type of survey is the most expensive but also the most comprehensive. The surveyor will go into the loft space, check under floors and behind walls to uncover every issue they can find.
It will also give you the most detailed advice about how to approach repairs, what they will cost, and what the consequences are of not carrying them out.
It, therefore, gives you the most complete overview of the property and the things you need to be concerned about.
Some chartered surveyors specialise in conducting certain types of surveys. Therefore, deciding which type of survey you require is the first step towards choosing the right chartered surveyor.
Structural Survey (£500+)
Alongside a building survey is a structural survey which is conducted by a structural engineer. These types of survey are used when there is a specific concern around the structural integrity of a property.
While the whole property is usually checked, the report will often focus on any known issues and provide advice as to whether any action is required and the potential costs involved.
The report will often be backed by a guarantee, meaning if the report turns out to be inaccurate, you may be able to claim for the additional costs you incurred in rectifying a misreported issue.
We had a structural survey done a property we were looking to buy after our Homebuyers Report identified some pretty major sounding issues to do with subsidence.
Essentially, the extension was built on top of a retaining wall that wasn’t designed to take the weight of the extension and cracks had appeared. The surveyor who conducted our Homebuyers Report had stated that the cracks were significant and the extension ‘probably needed underpinning’.
Naturally, that scared the life out of us and we nearly walked away. However, it was our dream home so we decided to invest in a structural survey.
The structural engineer visited the property and concluded that, while there had been some movement, the issue was long-standing and non-progressive – meaning that it was safe for us to proceed with the purchase.
Sure, it added on a little extra cost to our purchase but it was worth it for the peace of mind. It also came in very handy when we sold the property as we had something to show the surveyor to avoid a repeat of the scaremongering our surveyor had done on us!
You can download an example of the structural survey we had done, here.
How To Find RICS Surveyors
As we mentioned earlier, a chartered surveyor is basically a surveyor that has received an official qualification from RICS. This means you can have confidence they are fully qualified to conduct a proper survey on a property.
Finding RICS surveyors is not that difficult. You can either use the RICS directory to find surveyors near you, or you can use our handy tool to find local RICS surveyors and compare their prices.
Questions To Ask A Property Surveyor
Once you have decided to get a survey carried out on a property, you’ll need to think about the questions to ask potential surveyors before you hire them.
This is an important step in knowing how to choose a chartered surveyor as it will help you narrow them down and ensure you go with the best one for the job.
Here are the key things to ask:
Where Are You Based?
Ideally, you want to use a chartered surveyor that is local to the property you want to buy. That’s because they will be used to surveying properties in this area and therefore will know the specific quirks and common problems properties in this area tend to have.
This local knowledge can be vital in spotting any potential subsidence risks or unusual building materials that have been used.
We also found that the location of your chosen surveyor can be important as they may charge for travel time & costs.
For instance, our most recent property purchase was in a rural area and we didn’t have too many surveyor options close by.
In the end, we had to get someone from a nearby city and they added petrol and travel time costs on top of the survey cost. However, this was worthwhile just so we could get a surveyor we felt we could trust, though it did mean they lacked some of the local knowledge we would have preferred.
All our previous purchases were in larger cities though, which meant we had plenty of local surveyors to choose from and lots of local knowledge to gain from which was a blessing.
How Much Do You Cost?
While the price of surveys is somewhat consistent across surveyors within a local area, there will still be subtle differences in their price. That’s why we recommend using our free charter surveyor comparison tool.
Clearly, the cheaper you can get the survey done, the better. But, make sure you are still getting the quality you need and that the surveyor is charging enough to justify their time to do it properly.
Do You Have A Sample Report?
Ask any surveyors you are considering for a sample report. Ideally, this will be an actual report they have carried out for someone but with any sensitive information removed.
What you are looking for here is a surveyor who is detailed in their report, not just copying and pasting standard statements and one which is clear in their feedback without simply trying to cover their own back all the time.
When we bought our first two houses we didn’t know about this.
The first house was in pretty good nick, so the survey didn’t bring up much that concerned us. But years later, when we were house hunting for our second home, we offered on a house that we knew had some problems.
But when we got the survey report, it sounded quite bad. We decided to pull out of the sale as a result. We then used the same surveyor for the next house, thinking that he was really good.
However, when we got back his report, it read very similar to the first one. He clearly was copying and pasting. Not only that, but he also seemed to us that he was just trying to cover his back. Everything he noticed he made out as if it was a big problem and needed to be remedied immediately.
Even things that we know weren’t really an issue, because my father-in-law, who knows a lot about these things, already told us so. What worried us the most is that he mentioned a crack under the kitchen window, which he said showed signs of recent subsidence.
We weren’t sure about this, so we paid for a structural engineer to conduct a survey (as we mentioned, above!). His report was much more positive, and he said that the crack wasn’t caused by a new issue. Any subsidence was long-standing and nothing to worry about.
This reassured us, and we bought the house and didn’t regret it. This shows that it pays to ask for a sample report to see what a report from a survey looks like. Since then, we now always ask for a sample report and would recommend anyone to do the same.
Is There Someone Who Can Recommend You?
Don’t be afraid to ask a potential surveyor if you can speak with one of their previous clients who can vouch for them. If they can’t provide that, many will have reviews of their service available for you to read.
Reading what past customers have said can help you narrow down your choice to only the very best surveyors in the area.
How Soon Can You Carry Out The Survey?
Some surveyors are busier than others, therefore asking how quickly they can carry out your desired survey and get the report back to you is vitally important.
Remember, the sooner you get a survey conducted after having an offer accepted, the better. It will allow you to move forward more quickly, whatever the outcome.
So, check the lead time your surveyor has on providing your report before you give them the go-ahead.
We always do this and push for it to be completed as soon as possible. If the delay is too long, we either find another surveyor (if we have a few good options to choose from) or at least booked it in and informed our buyers so they are aware of the situation (when we didn’t have any good alternative surveyors).
How To Choose A Chartered Surveyor
So, when it comes to knowing how to choose a chartered surveyor, it essentially comes down to the following things:
- Whether the surveyor is a qualified RICS chartered surveyor
- If the surveyor can do the survey you want to carry out
- How local they are to the area the property is located in
- What kind of price they charge
- If they provide a good quality report that’s recommended by others
- How quickly they can carry out the report
Remember, you can find and compare chartered surveyors here to help you choose the right one for you.
What To Ask A Surveyor To Look For
What you should ask a surveyor to look for once you have found one you want to use will depend entirely on the property they are surveying.
If it is one that is in reasonably good condition with nothing standing out as particular issues, it’s probably best to just let the surveyor do their job. They’ll tell you if there is something you need to pay particular attention to.
However, if the owner has mentioned something, or you have spotted something that concerns you, by all means, ask the surveyor to check it and give you their opinion.
Naturally, they will only do it if it falls within their normal checks for the level of survey you are going for, but it’s still worth pointing out.
Our experiences have shown that all sorts of different issues can come up at the survey stage but it’s well worth doing both for peace of mind and to help protect you from the costs of unexpected issues.
Just be sure to factor in that some surveyors (like one we used!) can overestimate problems to protect themselves.
So, we hope that helps you understand how to choose a chartered surveyor to get the best report on a property. If so, the next step is to use our tool to find and compare chartered surveyors in your area.