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Are Homebuyer or Building Surveys Killing Your House Sale(s)?
October 2023

Buying or selling a property can be a daunting thought, and is considered one of the most stressful things you can put yourself through. There are mountains of paperwork, solicitor enquiries and searches, not to mention the survey of the property to confirm it’s condition. 

 

There are a number of practitioners who offer survey products, probably the most common being the Homebuyer Survey (Level 2) and Building Survey (Level 3). What is not so commonly understood is that these types of surveys are limited in what level of advice they can provide, and often make recommendations for further expert reports, such as structural engineer reports, timber and damp reports, adding further delay and complication to the sale process, not to mention the additional cost for the buyer. In simple terms, only a structural engineer can provide structural advice, and has the necessary qualifications and legal indemnities to do so.

A typical property construction can be broken down into Structural Components which support building loads, e.g. roof timber frameworks, load-bearing walls, floors, foundations, and Non-Structural Components which are non-loadbearing, e.g. guttering, fascia/soffit boards, windows/doors, flashing.

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In any house purchase, the most important issue to confirm in the survey is that the property is structurally sound (or not). Common defects to Structural Components include (i) timber decay/rot to roof frameworks and suspended floors, (ii) cracked/misaligned load-bearing walls, (iii) concrete ground slab settlement/cracking, (iv) rising and penetrating damp, (v) foundation movement/failure. These are the type of issues that would be the most costly to repair, and so one should always get these items checked before agreeing any sale.

If you are buying a house with a mortgage, then the lender will instruct a valuation report to ensure they can satisfy themselves that the property is in a satisfactory condition to lend against. If the valuer presumes that structural issues are present (e.g. if cracks are noted in walls), then the lender will likely down-value the property (sometimes zero-rated in worst case scenarios) until a structural survey has been conducted by a qualified Structural Engineer.  

 

Even for those properties where no obvious structural issues were noted by the valuer, bearing in mind that some valuations are conducted via ‘desk-top’ or ‘drive-by’ means only and don’t actually enter the property, then the risk of structural defects remains. 

 

Structural Surveys UK have received many enquiries from buyers who had initially instructed a RICS Homebuyer (Level 2) or Building Survey (Level 3), only to find that the property had perceived and/or obvious structural issues which the RICS surveyor was unable to diagnose or assess. A common example of this is where cracks are present, but the RICS surveyor was unable to diagnose the cause, i.e. whether the cracks are low grade (e.g. due to shrinkage) or are more severe (e.g. due to building movement). Identifying the cause and severity of any structural defect is critical as this forms the basis of the repair method.  

 

In summary, buying and selling property is very stressful. The type of the survey chosen by the buyer is critical to ensure the sale process is as stress free as possible for the buyer and seller. Opting for a Structural Survey by a qualified Structural Engineer will ensure you obtain the very best advice on the structural condition of the property prior to purchase. This will also increase transaction success for the agent and negate sale collapse as a result of a poor survey.

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