What to do when your property survey findings are not what you expected
Investing in residential property is not for the faint hearted. The financial commitment involved may be the biggest you’ll ever make, so you’ll want to make sure you’re getting value for money, not buying a pile of problems.
Whether you’re looking to buy your first home, your forever home or a buy-to-let investment, vigilance is highly recommended. After all, the principle of caveat emptor (‘buyer beware’) applies to all property transactions, so it is up to you check every detail before you sign on the dotted line.
This is where a property survey comes in very handy indeed. Choose the most suitable RICS home survey for your requirements and take advantage of the professional experience and expertise of a qualified surveyor who can give the property the once over and tell you what’s wrong with it, what’s involved in fixing the problem(s) and how much this is likely to cost.
And while no prospective buyer is keen to receive bad news, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world if you do. Wouldn’t you rather know now about any serious issues with the property rather than discovering ‘nasty surprises’ once you’ve moved in? And if you really feel strongly that the findings devalue the property you are in the process of buying, you always have the option of consulting your solicitor to discuss the possibility of renegotiating your offer with the vendor.
Once the survey results are in, ask your surveyor to explain to you in detail what each ‘problem’ means, and to give you a comprehensive overview of their assessment of the overall condition of the property.
While some surveys are more detailed than others, all RICS surveys use a traffic light condition rating system to mark issues found in terms of severity and urgency. Some bespoke structural building surveys may not use the green/orange/red system, preferring to explain things in more detail.
If the report has flagged up something that requires further investigation, the surveyor should be able to advise you on the next steps to take. Should you get a builder in to take a look and give you a quote? Do you need to get a specialist involved? Is it something your vendor should fix? Is the issue a minor one that is safe to ignore for the time being?
If you’re unsure about how to proceed after speaking to your surveyor about any building defects or other issues affecting the property you’re about to invest your hard earned cash into, or the survey you commissioned was simply not detailed enough, it might be wise to get a second opinion.
Specialist surveys can be commissioned to further investigate identified problems in a myriad of areas including damp and timber defects, dry rot and wet rot, subsidence and heave, electrical problems, the presence of asbestos or Japanese knotweed and much more.
Find a specialist building surveyor, consultant or tradesman who can give an expert opinion of the significance of the problem, how best to tackle it or whether to walk away from the purchase.
Once you have a clear idea of what the main sticking points are, it’s time to put some meaningful figures together that will form the basis of any further actions. If you are planning to approach your vendor, the hard facts provided by expert surveyors must be accompanied by robust figures in order for your concerns to be taken seriously enough to for a vendor to consider a price negotiation.
Obtain at least two quotes from independent, reputable tradesmen for the required remedial works. It’s best to do this promptly so as not to delay the purchasing process and frustrate the vendor unnecessarily.
According to English law, your accepted offer is subject to contract, meaning you’re not legally bound to purchase the property until contracts have been exchanged. If your survey has flagged up important issues that you weren’t previously aware of, you are absolutely within your rights to go back to the estate agent or vendor with the new information and put in a revised offer.
This is by no means a done deal. Depending on how much the vendor wants to sell to you and how much both parties are happy to compromise, a new agreement may or may not be reached. In a fast moving market, there may be other interested buyers, making the vendor much less likely to want to consider a discount. That said, if the property has been on the market for some time or the vendor wishes to achieve a quick sale, he may be more inclined to negotiate.
Remain assertive yet cooperative when dealing with the other side. There’s no need to be shy – after all you have the facts and figures to support your case – but neither will it serve you to be arrogant or aggressive in your business dealings.
For your best chances of achieving the desired outcome, keep your demands for a price reduction in line with the costs of the works required. Use the survey results and builders’ quotes as a valid reason to negotiate a discount on the original price.
Alternatively, rather than pressing for a lower purchase price, you could ask the vendor to remedy the problems you are concerned about. This should be happening prior to, or as a condition for, exchanging contracts. If the vendor is amenable, consult with your conveyancing solicitor about the best way to deal with this, including getting the work signed off as being of a good standard, complying with relevant regulations and getting copies of receipts or warranties.
Realistically speaking, the vendor is unlikely to be motivated to make property improvements that he won’t benefit from, but neither will he be keen to knock thousands off the agreed purchase price. But perhaps he could be persuaded to make a fair financial contribution towards the cost of the works flagged up by your survey. As so often in life, you may find that the best path for achieving a mutually acceptable outcome is to meet somewhere in the middle.
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