Surveys - buyer beware

Surveys can be time consuming and costly and ultimately they just feel like one more obstacle in the way of you occupying your dream home. But, a word of caution, without a survey you have no idea what’s going on behind the perfect plasterwork or the beautiful brick façade. And, where buying a property is concerned, that’s a risk that falls squarely on the buyer.

Buyer beware

It may sound like the title of a budget horror movie but ‘caveat emptor’ or ‘buyer beware’ is a long held principle in English law. Its consequence is that when you exchange contracts with a seller you accept the property in the physical condition it’s in at the time. In a recent case - Laughton Manor – the Court of Appeal upheld this principle. The purchase of £3.6million Laughton Manor was cancelled by the buyer after damp, rot and timber decay had been found in the property. However, it was cancelled after contracts had been exchanged and not before. As a result, the court found the buyers had to pay £385,000-£235,000 damages for breach of contract, in addition to a £150,000 forfeited deposit.

Why might you decide not to have a survey?

Maybe you’ve got friends who bought a property without a survey and didn’t suffer any adverse consequences. Or perhaps you just don’t see the value of them. Below are just a few of the most common excuses posed for why people don’t get a pre—exchange survey done, as well as the very sensible reasons why you should.

1. The mortgage lender deals with this. No, lenders only protect their interests, not yours.

2. It’s too expensive. But if you have to carry out extensive, unexpected repairs after the purchase you’ll pay a lot more.

3. The property is a new build so should be fault free. No building is fault free. The new build guarantee only covers major and minor issues for two years and then major issues after that, up to 10 years. In the grand scheme of property ownership that’s not very long.

4. We’ve already agreed a purchase price so why bother. The purchase price can be renegotiated right up to exchange.

The different surveys to consider

These are a few of the most popular buyer surveys, what they cost and what they might reveal.

  • RICS Home Condition Report – a fairly basic survey that will tell you about the property’s general condition and any urgent issues (approx £250).
  • Home Buyers Report – one level up, this one also covers structural issues, the central heating, roof, electrics and damp (approx £400-500).
  • RICS Building Survey – if you want a survey that will uncover everything, even behind the walls and under the floorboards this is the one. (approx £600 - £1,000).

According to industry research only 1 in 5 buyers commission surveys before buying their own home and there are still too many cases of people who have found out to their cost why this is an erroneous move. Buying a property is the biggest investment that most of us will ever make and it’s important to protect that investment from the start.