Commonly asked and tricky questions about Building Surveys

In this article we will address some of the commonly asked and tricky questions questions in connection with residential building surveys.  These answers relate to England and Wales only.  Our reference to ‘building surveys’ includes all building survey types.

1. Which governing bodies regulate the provision of building surveys?

The principal governing body is The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors or RICS, which is an internationally renowned professional body that regulates all surveyors including those who perform building surveys.  Members of RICS are Chartered Surveyors.

The term Chartered Surveyor is a common description for all types of surveyor who have gained, and consistently demonstrate, a high level of skill or competence in their field of work, recognised by the award of formal accreditation from RICS.

Record Associates are Chartered Building Surveyors so we specialise in surveying of buildings of all types.  However, building surveys of residential property are not restricted to Chartered Building Surveyors only.  They may be undertaken by general practice surveyors, but their skills are often limited to valuations and the Level 1 and Level 2 building surveys with Level 3 building surveys being undertaken by Chartered Building Surveyors.  It is down to the competence of the surveyor.

Residential building surveys standards are regulated by the Home Survey Standard, which provides professional standards and guidance.

The Residential Property Surveyors Association or RPSA is a small, not-for-profit representative body for independent residential surveyors in the residential property surveying industry.  Their membership includes members of RICS and surveyors which have obtained a diploma in residential surveying and valuation via SAVA.  Standards are set by RPSA’s own standards and guidance.

2. What are the different types of building survey?

There are various types of building survey which are called different names by different organisations.  These include:-

Via The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)

  • Level 1 – Equivalent to old RICS Condition Survey
  • Level 2 – Equivalent to old RICS Homebuyer Survey
  • Level 3 – Equivalent to old RICS Building Survey

Further information can be found in the Home Survey Standard.

Via Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA)

  • Home Buyer/Condition Survey
  • Building Survey
  • Buy To let Survey
  • New-build snagging inspection

Further information can be found using this link.

Both organisation offer good ‘products’ but commissioning a building survey is not like buying a TV where differences are very slight.  The quality of the ‘product’ is very much down to the skills and experience of the surveyor doing the building survey.

3. What are difference between a RICS Level 2 and RICS Level 3 building survey?

Now we are getting into the nitty gritty!.

In general, the differences between the two levels of building survey are subtle.

Both levels cover all the principal building elements.

However, the RICS’ guidance provides a sample based approach for the Level 2 building survey whereas the Level 3 building survey checks everything.  An example being the operation of all the windows, not just some.

The style of the report is also very different.  A level 2 building survey report will provided a far more concise description of any damage and the likely remedial works.  In the case of a level 3 building survey report, the detail is to a much greater depth. A range of remedial options should be set out together with timescales and risks of not undertaking such work.

Level 3 building surveys are therefore more suited to older, more historic properties where the risk of more widespread issues being identified is higher.  However, we regularly undertake level 3 building surveys on much newer properties where there may still be significant issues with insulation, thermal performance and old services.

No matter which level of building survey is commissioned the value which can be derived is linked to the quality of the advice provided and the avoidance of widespread limitations.  For a customer, this is a very very difficult judgement to make.  The only advice we can offer is to speak with the surveyor about the survey – We always look at the property in question on Rightmove, seek references, request a copy of a previous building survey to see how the reports are structured and remember, You get what you pay for!.

A cheap survey will in our opinion be undertaken by someone very quickly, will be filled with standard text and will seek to limit their liability wherever possible.  Conclusion » Poor value.

4. What format of report is produced?

The formats vary widely.

The RICS have a standard report style for each level of survey and a traffic light rating system is used to categorise issues.

Members of RICS are not obliged to use the RICS format.  Members can use their own report formats as we do at Record Associates.  The reason for this is that the prescribed software can be awkward and licences need to be purchased.  Also the format cannot be changed!.

We routinely use an executive summary at the front of our Level 3 building survey reports to summarise the key issues in detail.  The RICS formats do not offer this same capability.

In terms of the RPSA, they also have their own format which is similar to that produced by RICS.

No matter which format is used, the quality of the building survey and the advice provided is very much down to the skills and experience of the surveyor doing the work!.

5. How much does a level 3 building survey cost?

The cost varies depending on the property size, age, type, location and any add ons.  Generally, our fees range from around £750 + VAT for a small property to several thousand pounds.

6. What areas are not covered by the building survey?

Aside from the subtle difference between Level 2 and Level 3 building surveys, some common exclusions or limitations are:

  • Roof spaces where there is no access or access is unsafe e.g. access point too small !
  • Concealed roof coverings which cannot be seen
  • Roof coverings which cannot be reached with a 3m ladder
  • Drainage which cannot be accessed
  • Disconnected services
  • Elements which are concealed behind furniture or possessions
  • Household appliances
  • Testing of heating and electrical services
  • An asbestos survey in accordance with the Control of asbestos Regulations 2012
  • Market valuation (can be an added extra)
  • Building reinstatement valuation (can be an added extra)
  • Repair costs (can be an added extra)

Some of these items would ordinarily be included, but due to the idiosyncrasies of the property are later excluded.  In these instances it is critical that the surveyor clearly sets out their limitations and the risk of unidentified issues being found so that further surveys or investigations may be commissioned accordingly.

We are now using drones to view roof covering which are not visible, but there are a host of limitations with the use of this technology also!.  We make a great effort to ensure that customers are fully appraised of any and all limitations both before and after any building survey is undertaken.

7. Do I need a building survey for a new build property?

We always recommend that purchasers get a building survey for new builds in order to identify any potential issues or construction faults.  This is even more important when dealing with a small house builder or developer where the quality assurance processes are less robust.

Also, you need to beware of Professional Consultants Certificates.  These are not the same as a NHBC or similar building warranty.  These are often used by smaller developers.

We offer a different approach to such inspections.  In summary, we undertake a Level 3 survey or inspection and then produce a Snagging Schedule as opposed to a formal building survey report, typically a Level 2.  The reason for this is that survey reports include descriptions of the property which we do not feel adds value. Customers wants to know if the property has been properly built and what defects exist!

8. Can I speak with the surveyor or meet the surveyor on site?

Of course.

The way we approach this is to undertake the building survey and pre-agree a time when we anticipate the survey will be completed.  Once the survey is completed we can then provide an on the spot summary of the key findings.

We also routinely provide telephone updates following our surveys for those who are keen for immediate feedback.

These are all the advantages of using a local practice and a known surveyor rather than purchasing a building survey via a survey portal or the mortgage company, where the person doing the survey is at arms length.

9. What are most common issues identified by a building survey?

Ah ha!

Our top five issues are:-

  1. Poor insulation (this is my No.1 by a country mile!)
  2. Fire precautions
  3. Out of date or inefficient services
  4. Cracking & distortion
  5. Damp

Surprising, poor insulation crops up on most properties >15 years old so lots!

10. How long does it take to obtain a report?

We advise a week from doing the building survey to receiving the report.

Lead times will, however, vary from 1 week to 2-3 weeks depending on how busy the surveyor is and the time of year.

We don’t book any building surveys > 3 weeks away.

11. Should repairs costs be provided?

These are generally excluded.

If you require repair costs then you should clarify this at the outset.

We exclude the provision of these, but if for example we are of the view that the property needs a new septic tank, a new roof or a new heating system then we will often give a budget in order to convey the significance of the issue.

12. Is a market valuation or building reinstatement valuation provided?


These used to form part of the old RICS Homebuyer Report but the equivalent Level 2 building survey does not include this as standard.

If you require either then you should clarify this at the outset.

13. What happens after the survey?

You’ll received a detailed report outlining the findings.  This can guide your decisions regarding the property purchase, repairs and maintenance.

A copy of the report should be provided to your solicitor.

If you have any questions then these should be raised with the surveyor.

14. Who should carry out the building survey?

A qualified and experienced surveyor ideally a member of a professional body like the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

15. Can a building survey report help in negotiating the purchase price?

Yes, if significant issues are uncovered, which are not immediately apparent to the estate agents and / or a lay person.  Generally, if a property is clearly in a poor condition and requires, for example, re-wiring then the assumption is that this is already reflected in the sale price so negotiations over a price reduction are very unlikely to be successful and such an approach may well cause some considerable damage to relations.

However, where a unforeseen issue arises then that is a different matter.  We did a survey of an old stone property a number of years ago which we advised needed to be completely repointed.  A price reduction of £18,000 was later agreed on our recommendations, which paid for the survey multiple times over.

Our recommendation is always to agree a price reduction and undertake the repairs yourself so you are in control of how the works are undertaken.

16. What happens if the building survey misses something?

Good question.

The answer is really down to whether the surveyor failed to use reasonable skill and care in identifying the issue and advising accordingly.  It is a key requirement of the surveyor to “follow the trail of suspicion” and advise accordingly so the surveyor is expected to advise on something which might be concealed but there are tell tale signs that a larger issue is possible.

An RICS expert witness would then need to be engaged to make such an assessment, which we regularly undertake.  The report would then underpin any claim against the surveyors’ professional indemnity insurance.

We were engaged on a case where a surveyor failed to identify, from the narrow thickness of the external walls, that the property was of non-standard construction.  Some investigations were later undertaken and this was confirmed.  The walls were also found to have been built with asbestos.  Our case is that the surveyor failed to follow the trail of suspicion when faced with walls of such unusual thickness and advise accordingly.  The size of the claim is very significant.

17. Am I insured if a defect or problem arises?

All Chartered Surveyors regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors are required to have professional indemnity insurance in line with RICS’ guidance.  Our insurance details are set out within all our appointment documents.

If a problem arises after the purchase of the property then you will only be able to claim against the surveyor if the company is proven to have not used reasonable, skill and care.


If you would like to discuss your situation on a confidential basis please contact our Julian Record and he would be delighted to assist.