What should I look for in a home inspection

Buying a home is so exciting that it’s easy to get caught up in the moment without considering the condition of the property. But looks alone won’t tell you if there are problems so it’s important to obtain a report detailing the property’s overall condition before you proceed.

This report, also known as a home inspection survey, is essential if you want to avoid problems down the line which may end up costing you considerable time and money. The following tips will help you understand what to look for when considering making an offer on a property and help you find a qualified professional to undertake a survey.

Is a home inspection survey the same as a home inspection pack?

No, they’re two different things. There is no longer a legal requirement for sellers to produce a home inspection pack (HIP) for buyers. Instead, a home inspection survey is strongly recommended and is paid for by the purchaser. Home inspection surveys are like an MOT on a property and having one done can save you money if any major structural problems are found. In some cases, you might even be able to negotiate a lower purchase price as a result. The survey should always be performed before any legal contracts are exchanged between the seller and the buyer.

What’s involved in a home inspection survey?

There are a range of home inspection surveys all of which are separate to the mortgage valuation report carried out by the mortgage lender which simply indicates the value of the property and doesn’t highlight potential structural defects. When choosing which type of survey to commission, you might like to consider this general guidance. However, it’s essential to take professional advice before undertaking any survey. To find a local, qualified surveyor, visit the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and speak to more than one to get a good idea of what survey is right for your needs.

What types of home inspection surveys are there?

There are three types to choose from and each offers something different. The type you choose will have a lot to do with the condition and age of the property, and the plans you have for it once you move in.

The condition report

This is the most basic survey and is less expensive than others. It’s usually recommended for homes that appear to be in reasonable condition and those that have been built using commonly available building materials. The condition report examines only the overall condition of the property, although it may also highlight potential problems that will need attention in the future. Being a general overview only, advice on how to address problems isn’t included in this report but it will comment on:

  • The construction and general condition of the property
  • Any serious (not minor) defects which require urgent attention for reasons of safety
  • Any aspects of the property that will need further investigation to prevent serious damage to the stability of the building
  • Other points including (where applicable) building guarantees, planning permissions and building control concerns.

The home buyer report

Although similar to the condition report, this particular survey involves a more thorough visual inspection and goes into detail where potential repairs are concerned. This type of survey is usually recommended for properties which have been built in the last 150 years and are within around 2,000 square feet. Note that if you’re planning to renovate the property, this type of report may not offer you all of the information you’ll need. Additional information provided in this report also includes a valuation of the property which can help you to decide how much insurance cover you should take out if you need to rebuild the property, and advice on repairs that might need to be made. This survey reports on:

  • The general condition of the property and any major (and minor) faults
  • Whether any major faults will require repair and what these might cost
  • An assessment of damp in the walls and damp or woodworm in the woodwork
  • An assessment of the condition of the property’s damp-proofing, insulation and drainage (although do note that drainage will not be tested, and nor will gas or water; you can arrange to have these examined separately)
  • An estimate of the cost to rebuild the property if it were to be destroyed for any reason
  • Recommendations for any further surveys and investigations that may need to be performed on specific areas before contracts are exchanged
  • An estimated valuation of the property on the open market.

The building survey

This used to be called a ‘structural survey’ and is the most comprehensive and detailed of all three types of home inspection survey. These surveys are recommended for older, unusual, altered or listed properties as well as those in need of major structural work. You might also consider this option if you have any doubts about the property’s condition, even if the property is new. The surveyor will undertake a detailed external and internal inspection of the property, and will attempt to access all areas where possible. A surveyor will offer buyers a technical report (also known as a full report) but you might choose a summary report instead which contains less information on the property’s construction and the extent of any required repairs. Although this report doesn’t include a valuation of the property you might be able to ask the surveyor to include one at an additional cost. Do note that this survey will likely take many hours to complete due to its wide scope, and offers insight into:

  • Any major (and minor faults) within the property and details of how much it might cost for repairs
  • Indications of any damp in walls or woodworm in the woodwork
  • Investigation into the condition of any damp proofing, insulation and drainage (note that the drains are not tested but this can be undertaken separately if needed, as can a check of gas and water)
  • Proposals for any further specific inspections or subsequent work which may need to be done on the property
  • Technical information concerning the property’s construction and all materials that have been used (this is usually required when taking out building insurance)
  • General information about the location of the property such as risk of subsidence or flooding.

How much does a survey cost?

The cost depends on the type of survey you want to commission and prices also vary widely depending on the surveyor. This is why it’s crucial to choose the right survey for your needs and a chartered surveyor will be able to advise you. But, do remember that the cost of a survey is a fraction of the cost of a new home, and they save money, time and worry over the long-term.

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