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There are generally four grades of survey for a house. There are valuations, carried out for the lender, surveys of limited but defined scope appropriate for most house purchases, full structural surveys, and specialist surveys. They are all different and care must be taken in their selection.
The lender valuation is one which you pay for, but it is intended to assist the lender only, and is not strictly a survey at all. In most situations you should assume that you will not be able to rely upon this valuation. Many people rely only upon these, but this is unwise.
Home-buyers survey. This is a standard defined by the Institute of Chartered Surveyors, and is generally recommended for most house purchases. It will cost more than the lender's valuation. Ask your lender whether they will rely upon such a survey if you have one. You can sometimes combine the lender's valuation and homebuyers survey, saving some money. This is by no means always possible, but it is worth asking.
Full structural survey. This is the survey proper. It is the survey of choice if your budget allows. It is usually only necessary if the homebuyers survey throws up indications of significant problems. It is common in such situations to ask seller to share the cost. If you need a full structural and survey, there must already be doubts about the purchase, and the seller needs to know. Again this is not always possible and you should also clear this with the surveyor. He needs to know to who he is responsible.
Often problems will arise which require a specialist survey. Typically these will involve some double checking of wiring, or checking for damp, or for wall-tie failure. Usually these reports will be free, and you should certainly check with us before paying for such a report, but this has consequences. The person preparing the report has a financial interest in persuading you the work needs to be done. Double check any such report to make sure that the problems identified are real.
It is important to recognise that every survey is limited. Many problems could only be revealed by destructive investigation. The survey you receive may contain seven pages of advice about the house, and seven pages of rather more closely typed descriptions of what is not being investigated. That is proper and inevitable. Nevertheless, surveys will usually prove their worth. Many surveys turn up one or two problems which can affect the offer you make, and can support a discussion with the seller about the price.
It is important to have the survey to rely upon, but in practice it is as important to know that the person carrying out for survey will do his job conscientiously. Do feel free to speak to us about whom you instruct for the survey.
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