According to a 2018 article on the This Is Money website, one in five home sellers has experienced a sale gone wrong and on average a collapsed sale costs the seller £2,727. More than 300,000 property transactions collapse each year. And some of those failures are down to ‘bad’ surveys.
As professional registered surveyors, UK based and trusted by Londoners to help them make excellent property deals, we’ve seen a lot of very detailed, fascinating and insightful surveys. But are they really bad?
To the uninitiated, a building or full structural survey report – the most comprehensive survey and one that’s particularly good for older homes or those needing work – can read like a long list of disasters. To someone thinking about buying a property, it can be off-putting. But a ‘bad’ survey doesn’t have to kill off a sale or ruin a purchase. As a buyer, it can save you a fortune, and the things it highlights that need attention form a comprehensive and very useful post-purchase project list. A detailed survey might even give you the knowledge you need to renegotiate the price.
Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, an in-depth survey is always a good thing. Here’s how to survive a less than 100% positive one.
Remember a survey is all about identifying faults
You probably wouldn’t be very happy to pay out for a full structural survey that didn’t include any details. The idea of a survey like this is to identify every single issue there might be, so the buyer knows exactly what they’re buying. It’s our job to find faults and tell you them, not pin down all the great things about a property and report on them! What you see is a registered surveyor like us doing a proper job.
Talk to the surveyor
The first way to reassure yourself is to actually have a conversation with the surveyor. They’ll be able to give you a comprehensive overview of the report and help you understand what the issues are. They’ll also be able to explain any language you don’t understand and go through anything that he or she has highlighted for future investigation.
Most proper registered surveyors, UK and beyond, rank the issues they discover in order of seriousness, which is helpful. A homebuyers report, for example, gives defects a traffic light system while a full building survey goes into the fine detail of the defect and advises what’s needed to fix it, whether it’s an examination by builder, a chat with the vendor, or help from a specialist of some kind. Your surveyor’s advice is covered by the cost of the survey, so it won’t cost you extra.
Decide if you need a second opinion from an expert
If you’ve spoken to your surveyor but still don’t feel fully reassured or informed enough to seal the deal, it’s time to call in the experts. Find a specialist who can give you their expert opinion, giving you more detail about the issue, its extent, its urgency and the cost of fixing it. Someone who knows the problem you’re facing inside out and is familiar with it should be able to reassure you. If they can’t, at least you’ll know all the facts, everything you need to make a sensible financial decision.
Take damp. Damp can look dreadful but it isn’t always as serious as it looks. It could be a simple matter of external maintenance. It could be rising damp, penetrating damp or condensation. You need to know exactly what’s what before deciding whether or not to buy.
It might turn out that the roof that the surveyor says is ‘at the end of its useful life’ might last another five or years, or that the party wall issue they’ve identified can be sorted out quickly without too much of a financial hit. On the other hand, they might put you off completely. But at least you’ll know the facts.
Know the cost of getting things fixed
Find out how much it will cost to fix the problem, getting three quotes so you get a fair picture of the expense. It’s best to use an independent person, not someone recommended by the estate agency or the seller. Do it quickly so your seller doesn’t get impatient and put the place back on the market.
What happens if it’ll cost a fortune to put things right?
You’re not legally bound to buy a property until you exchange contracts, and you can still make revised offers beforehand. You might want to negotiate a lower purchase price once you know how much it’s going to cost to fix the urgent issues identified by the survey. You might have to tackle the most urgent fixes straight away, but the less urgent faults can be left for a while, maybe even a few years. Just knowing that can help you make a good decision.
It helps to share the relevant parts of your survey plus feedback from experts with the estate agent and seller, so they’ll understand if there’s a need for renegotiation. Sometimes the seller will offer to fix any problems before exchange, with the work forming part of the contract. Your solicitor will know all about this, and they’ll be able to advise you. You should also get solid evidence that the work has actually been carried out by the vendor, things like copies of agreements, invoices, guarantees, warranties and receipts.
Always use a proper RICS registered surveyor, UK based and trusted
At the end of the day, a house is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and what the seller is happy to sell it for. A comprehensive survey helps you to make wise decisions. So don’t be put off if it looks frightening at first glance. Use it to your advantage.