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A surveyor outside a house.

A surveyor outside a house.

Buying a home is expensive enough, so having it surveyed as well can seem like an extra expense you and your bank balance can’t quite manage.

But not getting it done is a false economy.

A surveyor can identify problems you haven’t noticed, and as a result, you may be able to negotiate a lower purchase price, or decide to withdraw from the purchase altogether.

If you’re buying with the help of a mortgage, the lender will instruct a surveyor to value the property to ensure it’s worth what you’re paying. This valuation should identify any very obvious problems with the property, but that’s about it — the lender is simply protecting its interests.

While the valuation is sometimes free, you usually have to pay the lender for it. You can also often upgrade to a survey by paying more, the cost of which may be subsidised by the lender, or you can get a survey done independently of the lender’s valuation. If the valuation is less than the purchase price, the mortgage lender may not agree to give you the loan, or may reduce the size of it. It could also put a retention on some of the loan, which may only last until you fix a serious problem, such as damp, or get a specialist report on it.

Apart from the lender’s valuation, there are two main kinds of survey for buyers: the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) HomeBuyer Report and the RICS Building Survey (or full structural survey) — see {their home page|www.rics.org/uk}.

The HomeBuyer Report is usually quite long, but divided into sections to make it easy to digest. It uses an easy traffic-light system so you can clearly see what repairs (and maintenance) are required, and how urgent they are. A green/number one rating means that repairs aren’t currently necessary, amber/number two means something needs to be repaired or replaced but isn’t serious or urgent, and red/number three means it is.

The surveyor will often recommend getting experts in to make further investigations, such as a timber specialist to confirm if woodworm damage is active or historic, or an electrician to check the wiring. The HomeBuyer Report is designed to provide a snapshot of the overall condition of the property, rather than a detailed investigation. For this, you need the Building Survey.

The Building Survey is the most extensive — and expensive — type of survey. It’s particularly suited to properties that are large, listed, very old, of unusual construction, in need of renovation, or have been altered substantially. The surveyor will check the property thoroughly, but, as with the HomeBuyer, they’ll only examine things that are visible or easily accessible, although they can adapt their inspection to suit your requirements.

Again, the surveyor may recommend getting in specialists to look at potential problems. The Building Survey should be very thorough and lengthy, often containing a long list of defects — but remember all properties have defects, so don’t necessarily be alarmed.

Many buyers trust the surveyor implicitly, but I know, as a seller, that surveyors can get things wrong.

Reporting on one house I was selling, the surveyor said that a lock needed to be upgraded, but it was a five-lever British Standards lock; that the cold-water tank in the loft should be supported, covered and insulated, but it wasn’t connected or in use because the boiler was a combi; and that the (dated-looking) boiler was a new installation, which it wasn’t. The buyers’ solicitor therefore wanted the paperwork for the boiler and wouldn’t believe that we hadn’t fitted it - because the surveyor said it was new - until I produced a photo showing the boiler in-situ when we bought the house.

So yes, surveyors are experts and most of us aren’t, but they’re not infallible, so get a survey done, but use common sense when evaluating it.

Product of the week

Mould on walls and ceilings looks awful and isn’t good for our health. If your home has a mould problem, solving the cause of it should be a priority, whether it’s replacing the windows or opening them more. Even if there isn’t an easy solution, you need to keep on top of the mould. Normal cleaning sprays can struggle to remove mould, but Polycell 3in1 Mould Killer (£5.49, www.homebase.co.uk)) steams through it. It contains a powerful fungicide that kills mould and is designed to prevent it coming back. If you want to paint surfaces that are prone to mould, cleaning off the mould first is essential, and this spray is just the thing for the job.

How-to tip

Bank holidays mean offers galore if you, like me, are doing up your home. Check store and company websites and adverts in the papers and on TV/radio in the run-up to national holidays to make sure you don’t miss out - B&Q, for example, often changes its offers on Fridays, so keep a check on its website, www.diy.com, if you have a DIYing weekend ahead of you.

 

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