Red Flags On House Survey – What To Look Out For

Red Flags On House Survey
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When you are buying a property, it’s important to have a surveyor’s report to check for any red flags that could indicate serious problems.

Some of the biggest issues you might encounter when buying a house are structural or roofing problems, which can be costly to fix.

If you get several red flags on house survey, it’s best to either walk away from the deal or get a further survey done so you can understand the problem and the cost to fix it.

Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to buying a property!

We’ve had surveys done on every property we’ve bought. Some have been bad enough for us to walk away, most have simply reassured us there’s nothing major.

Every single one has brought up issues though and so this article is based heavily on our real-world experiences.

What is a property survey report?

A property survey report is a document that outlines the condition of a property.

It is compiled by a qualified surveyor, who inspects the property and then documents any defects or issues.

They will be a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), or the Residential Property Surveyors’ Association (RPSA).

Their report will identify any red flags, which are issues that could cause problems in the future.

It is important to understand what these red flags are, as they could affect your decision to buy the property.

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What type of property surveys are available?

Until early 2021, there were three types of property survey available, they were the condition report, the home buyer report, and a building survey.

However, the survey names have been changed and there is more detail as to what the survey provides.

RICS Home Survey – Level 1

This was previously known as the condition report and is the cheapest and most basic of the surveys available. There’s a traffic light rating system for each part of the building and services, plus the grounds.

The traffic lights will help highlight any issues that may require attention – and give an indication of how serious a problem might be.

There’s also a summary of any potential risks though there’s no valuation advice or indeed much detail about any problems and no advice as to whether the property is worth buying.

RICS Home Survey – Level 2

A RICS Home Survey - Level 2 will include all the features from Level 1 plus other areas such as the cellar and the attic.

This was known as the home buyer report and is a popular choice for most homebuyers – if they are buying a conventional property. It’s an enhanced version of the Level 1 home survey report and includes areas such as the cellar and attic for surveying.

There are more recommendations about whether further investigations are needed into the conditions and there’s no conclusive advice about whether the property is a sound investment.

It will, however, give some advice about necessary ongoing maintenance and the cost of any repairs. There will also be a market value, details of problems, and an insurance reinstatement figure.

RICS Home Survey – Level 3

This was previously known as the building survey and is a full structural survey of the property.

It’s the most thorough offering and is a good choice if the property you are buying is more than 50 years old or is in a poor condition.

The surveyor will give details of any remedial work that is needed and highlight the consequences of not repairing issues that have been itemised. The survey will also give details of how long these crucial repairs will take.

RPSA Home Condition Survey

This survey from RPSA is the equivalent of the Level 2 survey from RICS and comes in an easy-to-understand format.

These reports are also checked for quality and consistency and add more information including potential boundary issues for your conveyancer to consider, any damp problems, and even the home’s broadband speed connection.

RPSA Building Survey

This is the highest level of survey provided by RPSA and it builds on the home condition survey by adding more details about defects and how to go about rectifying them – and the problems that may arise if you don’t. There are also more details about the property’s construction.

The costs for a home survey range from £300 for the RICS Home Survey Level 1, while the RPSA Building Survey and the RICS Home Survey Level 3 will cost from £600 and potentially £1,500 depending on the property’s location.

Is it worth getting a property survey done?

The answer to this question depends on several factors, including the age and condition of the property, and your own financial situation.

It is usually a good idea to get at least a Level 2 or home buyer survey done before buying a home.

This will see a surveyor thoroughly inspecting the property so you fully understand any problems – though the Level 1 report will not offer the same level of detail.

Opt for the Level 3 survey – or the full building survey – and you will get a comprehensive understanding of your next home from a property professional so you can make a well-considered decision about buying it.

The Level 3 or building survey report will look at:

  • Structural problems;
  • Roofing problems;
  • Foundation issues;
  • Plumbing problems;
  • Electrical problems.

The surveyor’s report will then highlight the potential red flags, and these will vary from property to property. Some red flags may be minor, while others could be indicative of serious structural problems.

How is a property survey different from a mortgage survey?

Having discussed the different types of property surveys, it’s also worth answering the question, ‘How is a property survey different from a mortgage survey?’

A mortgage survey is a preliminary assessment of a property’s value, which is carried out by a mortgage lender. It is not as in-depth as a property survey and does not identify any red flags.

This can be a confusing term and is often referred to as a mortgage valuation.

What should I do if I find red flags in my property survey?

If your property survey returns some red flags, one of the things you can do is to contact the surveyor to seek additional information.

You may have fallen in love with a property that is up for sale but be prepared for the red flags that a property survey may throw up – particularly in an older property.

If there are red flags on house survey, you should take the following steps:

  • Contact the surveyor who compiled the report and ask for clarification;
  • Get a further survey done, such as a Level 3 full building survey;
  • Decide whether to buy the property or walk away from the purchase.

If you decide to buy the property, you may need to renegotiate the price with the seller based on the issues that have been raised in the survey.

We’ve taken each of these steps ourselves. Whenever there’s an issue that concerns us, we always start by asking the surveyor to clarify the seriousness of the issue.

From there, if we feel we need to, we’ll organise a specialist survey. For example, in a property that the homebuyer’s report had said ‘probably needs underpinning’ we got a structural engineer to take a look (spoiler alert – they gave the all clear and proceeded with the purchase).

In most cases we have proceeded with the purchase with some renegotiation to factor in the survey results. However, one particular survey highlighted so many issues that we simply walked away entirely. We just didn’t trust the property had been looked after so we decided to find something less risky.

Bad house survey examples that surveyors come across

Property surveyors are trained to look for red flags that could indicate problems with a property.

Some of the most common issues include structural issues, subsidence, damp, and mould.

These can all lead to big problems in the future, so it’s important to have them resolved as soon as possible.

Here are some bad house survey examples that property surveyors come across:

Damp

Damp penetrating via windows and doors
Our damp issues were relatively straightforward to resolve.

One of the most common problems that surveyors come across is damp. There are a few causes of damp, including:

  • Poor ventilation;
  • Leaks in the roof or walls;
  • Condensation;
  • Dampness caused by rising or penetrating groundwater.

Damp can cause a range of problems, including mould and structural damage.

It is important to address damp as soon as possible as it can be costly to fix.

Our current home was built in the 1850’s and is mostly solid brick wall which is more prone to damp issues. As a result, we had a specialist damp and timber survey done which reassured us that none of the visible damp was anything major.

We still had to make various repairs and improvements to rectify it, but nothing was serious enough to cause us to walk away. Of course, that will depend on the exact cause and the damage that’s been done.

Typically, if the damp hasn’t begin to cause rotting timbers, you can probably rectify it and be OK, though of course that’s what you pay your surveyor to advise on.

Damp can result in a host of health complications. From colds to an increased dust mite population and even reduced mental well-being, damp housing can set you back in many ways other than structural (Boomsma et al., 2017).

Old wiring

A dated fuse board at a property we viewed
Updating electrics to modern standards can be expensive.

Surveyors often come across old wiring, which can be a fire hazard. If you find old wiring in your property survey, you should get it replaced as soon as possible. This is a job for a qualified electrician.

Depending on the type of property you’re looking for, you may see this issue come up quite a lot. Many people update electrics after moving in but then don’t touch them again. So, if you have an old property or one where the owner has lived there a long time, don’t be surprised if this comes up.

We had to have our first home rewired to bring it up to modern standards. Luckily, as it was our first home we could have all the work completed before we moved our furniture in. However, it can be fairly disruptive.

We spent a few thousand pounds on the rewire. While the electrician did a good job at running wires through existing conduits, there were a few places where he had to run new ones. That meant some cosmetic work needed to be done afterwards to make things look good again.

On the whole, it’s a relatively simple job but can be quite time-consuming so expect to pay £1,000-£5,000 or so for a rewire. Your surveyor should be able to help estimate the cost and then you can use this to negotiate with the seller.

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Structural timber damage

Structural timber damage is another common problem that surveyors come across. This can be caused by several factors, including pests, rot, and fire. If left untreated, structural timber damage can lead to structural failure.

Luckily, this isn’t an issue we have experienced so far, though it has always been a concern – especially if damp is detected anywhere. Again, a damp and timber report like what we had done on our current home is a good idea here as it will check for damage to timber joists and beams.

Rotting window frames

Rotting window frames are another common problem and this can be caused by several factors, including water damage and poor ventilation. Rotting window frames can lead to energy loss and increased heating costs.

Of course, these days most homes have UPVC windows, but there’s still a lot that have wooden frames even with new double-glazed windows.

Our existing home is a good example of this. Most of the windows are UPVC, but the previous owners opted for wooden-framed windows when they added an extension. As the windows were relatively new, we didn’t have to worry about them rotting but it’s definitely something to check on older or uncared for windows.

Japanese knotweed

Japanese knotweed is a plant that can cause serious damage to property. It can grow quickly and spread easily, and it is very difficult to get rid of.

Originally introduced as an ornamental plant in the Victorian era, this invasive species can penetrate cavity walls and even take root inside the floors of your home (Payne & Hoxley, 2012).

If you are buying a property that is affected by Japanese knotweed, you should get a specialist in to treat it before completing the purchase – though this can be expensive to fix.

Subsidence

Our structural survey showed our cracks were non-significant
We’ve always found structural surveys more reliable when it comes to subsidence issues.

Subsidence is the gradual sinking or caving in of land. It can be caused by several factors, including:

  • The drying out of the soil;
  • Groundwater seepage;
  • Poor construction.

Subsidence can cause serious structural damage to a property and can be costly to rectify.

According to Freeman et al. (1994), it can be caused by a variety of factors such as soil type, historical mining activity, water, and flaws in the foundation.

In our experience, many surveyors deliberately exaggerate the seriousness of cracks and the likelihood of subsidence in order to cover their backs.

This was common when we lived in Nottingham as it is a former mining area so many of the buildings have historical cracks and movement. Pretty much every house we’ve ever had surveyed in Nottingham raised the issue of subsidence, with one even suggesting the property would ‘likely need underpinning’.

While comments like this can be very concerning, we found it’s best not to panic until you’ve had a structural engineer check it out.

They are far better qualified to advise on potential subsidence than the general surveyors who do homebuyer’s reports and so their opinions carry more weight.

When we’ve had ‘possible subsidence’ mentioned, we’ve had a structural survey carried out and every time that has reassured us the issue isn’t that serious. Usually, it’s been classed as ‘long standing and non-progressive’ which is what you want to hear.

Structural engineers will often offer a guarantee of their advice too so you’re legally protected if the issue turns out to be more serious than they claimed.

Leaking roofs

Repaired chimney & ridge tiles
Our roof looked great after a small repair to fix a leak caused by loose ridge tiles and a damaged chimney stack and lead flashing!

A leaking roof is a serious problem and should be repaired as soon as possible. However, don’t take ‘serious problem’ to necessarily mean ‘serious cost’.

Often leaking roofs are caused simply by a few missing or cracked tiles or a chimney that’s in need of repointing.

This happened to us in our current home where several ridge tiles had come loose and the lead flashing around the chimney had broken it’s seal.

While it was causing issues with water ingress, and would have eventually caused significant issues, it was caught early enough and only cost us a few hundred pounds to repair.

Of course, in more extreme cases you may be looking at having to replace the entire roof which can be very expensive indeed (£5,000-£15,000 or so). Therefore, it’s always worth getting it checked properly to see how serious the issue is.

Do you need a second expert opinion from a property surveyor?

A second opinion can always be valuable in order to collect as much information about a property as possible.

If you’re not sure whether to buy a property after receiving a bad surveyor’s report or if you want a more in-depth understanding of the problems highlighted in the report, you may want to get a further survey done.

This is a good idea if you need a more detailed understanding of the state of the property and the cost of repairs.

You may not like spending yet more money on a surveyor, but this will bring peace of mind.

The costs involved should be seen as an investment if the surveyor highlights potentially expensive problems that will blight your enjoyment of your new home.

This is certainly the attitude we took on our last two property purchases, both of which had issues highlighted by the homebuyer’s report that required a follow-up specialist report.

On one property the highlighted issue was to do with subsidence, do we had to spend £800 on a structural engineer survey that confirmed there was nothing to worry about.

On our current property, there were issues with damp that required another £400 spending on a damp and timber specialist report. Again, this confirmed that while there was a slight issue, it was mostly cosmetic.

We consider this as money well spent though as, in both cases, the risks were that if the issues had been serious, they would have cost us several thousands of pounds to deal with. Therefore, we felt much happier buying the property and knowing what we were getting ourselves into!

Red flags on house survey – who pays?

If you do receive a poor surveyor’s report, you may be wondering who pays for the further surveys that need to be carried out.

In most cases, the buyer will pay for any further surveys that are required. However, in some cases, the seller may be responsible for paying for them.

The other issue is who pays for the highlighted problem to be fixed – it should be the house seller because they own the property.

But they may be reluctant to do so for a range of reasons which is why you should look at the price to be lowered to match how much you’ll need to spend to fix the problem – or problems.

And if there are lots of problems, this is where you should really consider pulling out and appreciate that the money you spent on the surveyor’s report will be lost – but you’ll save by not forking out a fortune on house repairs.

That’s what we did on one property were there were so many issues, we just wondered what else we would find once we moved in. It put us off completely and we just didn’t feel comfortable proceeding, so we pulled out and found a less risky property instead.

If you do find issues but want to try and proceed with the purchase regardless, it’s important to discuss any red flag issues with your solicitor before you purchase the property. They can help advise you as to what further actions or surveys are appropriate.

What happens if the survey report failed to pick up a problem?

If you’re buying a property and receive a surveyor’s report that doesn’t highlight a problem, you may be wondering what happens next.

In this case, the buyer is usually entitled to a full refund from the surveyor.

In addition, you’ll need to seek legal advice because if there is a red flag issue that was not picked up by the surveyor then you might be entitled to compensation.

This will be based on the discrepancy in the property’s value without any issues – and its value once a serious problem has been found.

However, it’s important to appreciate that a RICs Level 1 report is not as comprehensive as a Level 2 or 3 report. When considering which report you should buy, this really is a case of getting what you pay for.

So, if you’re concerned that a problem may have been missed, it’s best to get a further survey done – or buy the most in-depth report first.

Making a decision on red flags on house survey

A bad surveyor’s report that highlights red flags for potential problems means you will need to take the necessary steps to get them fixed before you buy.

If you’re not sure what to do, or if you have any questions, then you must speak with your conveyancing solicitor – or decide that the dream home you have set your heart on, is simply not worth the risk and walk away.

Walking away won’t be easy – but it may be the easiest and cheapest solution.

Authors

  • Steve Lumley

    Steve Lumley has years of experience writing about property. His output has covered everything from property investment, news for landlords and student tenants to articles on how to run a successful portfolio and starting out as a property investor. He has also written several books on the subject.

    View all posts
  • Paul James

    Paul James, is a marketing expert with a passion for property. As well as being a property investor, Paul has also worked within the marketing departments of some of the UK’s leading estate agents. Paul is the founder of Property Road.

    View all posts
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