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How to choose the right building surveyor for a historic property

How to choose the right building surveyor for a historic property

One of the most important things you can do as a responsible future property owner is to get a home survey before you buy. The benefits of a professional survey are undeniable. It can give you a clear idea of the condition of the property, highlight any issues and save you money further down the line if you need to make repairs. It can also act as a bargaining tool, with an expert estimate of what work will need doing and how much it will cost.

Choosing the right building surveyor for the property is key to get the best results. Obviously, you will be looking for a qualified and experienced professional in your area who can provide a good service at competitive rates. But what if you are thinking of buying something other than a conventional, modern home? What if you’ve fallen in love with an old building? Should you be looking for something extra in your chosen surveyor?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. Whether you have your heart set on a listed building, a thatched cottage, Victorian terrace or country manor, the skills needed to expertly survey a building of this type are clearly different to those required for a recently constructed family home. So, what are the important criteria for choosing the right building surveyor for an old property?

Professional qualifications

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is the professional body for surveyors, and your chosen surveyor should be registered either as a full member (MRICS) or as a fellow (FRICS). RICS surveyors adhere to a strict code of conduct, and there are disciplinary, complaints and arbitration procedures to ensure clients receive a professional service. RICS offer additional accreditation for old buildings. Take a look at the Register of RICS Certified Historic Building Professionals to find a RICS surveyor with Building Conservation Accreditation.

While RICS sets a certain standard for surveyors, and is certainly the biggest and best known professional body in the UK, there are others. Many surveyors choose alternative professional bodies and may be registered with the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA), Independent Surveyors and Valuers Association (ISVA) or hold qualifications through organisations like SAVA.

It is always difficult to tell the level of quality you will be getting from your surveyor purely from the letters after their name. Particularly if you are looking for a professional surveyor who specialises in old buildings, it’s important to research the actual work they do to ascertain whether they are going to be suitable for your property.

Surveys offered

If you are looking for a residential property survey, you may be confused by the wealth of choice out there. What type of survey should you pick? RICS surveyors will typically offer three levels of home survey: RICS Condition Report, RICS HomeBuyer Report or RICS Building Survey. Of the three, the RICS Building Survey is the most comprehensive report and is aimed at larger or older properties, or where major works are planned. It’s an in-depth analysis of the building’s condition and includes advice on defects, repairs and maintenance options. All RICS reports are to a greater or lesser extent templated. They use the same simple and clear presentation style and a 1, 2, 3 rating system designed with user friendliness in mind.

With historic buildings, no two are the same, meaning a templated survey is unlikely to be the right approach. The report you need must not only take account of the size, age and condition of the property, it should be specifically tailored to its unique building characteristics and methods of construction.

Look for a surveyor who will carry out a full structural survey, also known as a Building Survey and the most comprehensive survey suitable for all residential properties. In addition, find someone with a specialisation in historic property surveys or listed building surveys, or specific timber framed building surveys, thatched building surveys, cob building surveys and so on.

Special property experience

When it comes to surveying older, historic or non-standard buildings, specific knowledge and experience is worth its weight in gold. You want to find a surveyor who has dealt with more period buildings than you’ve had hot dinners, who’s been there and done it all. For that, they need to have a clear understanding of the building they’re looking at. Consider the following key points:

  • Do they have an advanced knowledge of traditional building materials such as lime mortar, timber framing, traditional plasters, linseed paints? Many surveys fail to observe that a building is breathable, made from lime mortar, brick or porous stone. Using modern construction methods or materials on these period buildings is an unsympathetic approach that can have long-term ramifications.
  • Are they equipped with the advanced tools necessary for surveying historic buildings? Can they demonstrate a working knowledge of modern equipment for thermal imaging and moisture control? Do they practise non-invasive testing or use drone surveys? Any surveyor claiming to specialise in old buildings with nothing more than a basic damp meter should be viewed with caution.
  • Are they a member of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC), or actively involved with architectural conservation organisations such as Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, Cadw, The Society For The Protection Of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), The Landmark Trust or English Heritage? A keen, demonstrable interest in protecting our national heritage is a reassuring quality in a surveyor who specialises in old buildings.

 

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