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Why you really must get a property survey before you buy

Buying your own home is not a walk in the park; they say the process is more stressful than getting divorced! A property purchase is a huge financial investment and comes with its own element of risk. What if you end up with a problem property? The long-term financial consequences of a bad decision could be disastrous.

Of course, the best thing you can do to ensure the house or flat you have your eye on is worth the price you’re prepared to pay is to commission a property survey before you buy. However, according to research carried out by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), as much as 80% of buyers don’t think a survey is worth the bother!

A property survey involves a visual inspection of your prospective home and a report of any defects, concerns and potential risks identified by a Chartered Surveyor. Depending on how in-depth you want the professional investigation to be, there are three different levels of RICS survey you can commission: RICS Condition Report, RICS HomeBuyer Report and RICS Building Survey. Here’s a good comparison of what is included in each option.

Whichever level you choose, all property surveys are designed to provide you with crucial information that you need to know about before finalising your transaction. You wouldn’t agree to the purchase of a second hand car without first giving it the once-over by a mechanic, would you?

Rather than thinking of a property survey as a needless expense when you’ve already made up your mind to buy based on emotion or intuition, bear in mind that some of the most expensive property defects are often the hardest to spot by the untrained eye. Here are 5 reasons why you should commission a survey for your home.

  1. A mortgage valuation is not enough

There seems to be a lingering misconception that the mortgage valuation carried out by your lender will flag up any major faults – but this is simply not the case! The valuation is strictly for the benefit of the mortgage company to confirm that the property is worth enough for them to recoup their losses in case you default on the payments.

Even if the building is down valued, all you will be told is that your lender will either proceed with the agreed offer or reduce it – they won’t tell you the reason why. You will have to make your own enquiries.

  1. Caveat emptor – buyer beware

Property purchases in the UK usually operate on the principle of caveat emptor. We’ve all heard the phrase but are you aware of its significance? Simply put, it means that the vendor is not legally obliged to disclose information about defects of a property unless it’s part of the Property Information Form.

This puts the onus on the buyer to make sure the property is value for money. Even if you’ve had a couple of viewing and can’t see anything majorly wrong with your new home-to-be, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any problems. Of the homeowners who did not bother to get a survey, 1/5 ended up more than £5,000 in unexpected repairs.

  1. Age does not guarantee quality

Many buyers believe that traditional construction methods and materials are superior to modern building techniques, preferring older or period buildings precisely for that reason. However, just because a building has been standing for 100 years doesn’t mean it can’t develop serious problems.

In fact, historic materials often need special care and attention, and the condition of the building is only as good as the maintenance it received from previous owners. If they’ve even been slightly neglectful, the decades will have taken their toll and you could easily end up with a costly wreck of a building. A full Building Survey is the only way to understand if there are any causes of concern and the extent of repair work needed.

  1. Nobody is perfect

Just as an old building is likely to need attention, even new-build homes can suffer from problems. Did you know that your 10-year NHBC warranty only covers major and minor defects in the first 2 years? Dig a little deeper and you could be surprised at what is not covered by the policy.

While you may not need a detailed Building Survey for a brand new or nearly new home, an entry-level Condition Report may be money well spent, confirming that there are no major issues according to a professional surveyor.

What’s more, if the surveyor should miss a substantial fault with the building, they carry professional indemnity insurance so you can sue them for any losses incurred, if necessary.

  1. Dealbreaker or negotiating tool?

Finding out that your new home has major problems will give you a great opportunity to withdraw from the transaction altogether. In that regard, having dodged the proverbial bullet, the survey fee will have been money well spent.

That said, even damp or subsidence don’t have to be dealbreakers when it comes to purchasing your dream home. Savvy buyers know that the survey result can be used as a powerful too to help renegotiate the purchase price, or at least give the seller the opportunity fix the problem issues before the transaction is completed.

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