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Which type of survey do I need?

A Mortgage Valuation is not sufficient!

When buying your new home an independent survey is always recommended. You should not simply rely on the mortgage valuation, for several reasons:

  • the mortgage valuer is instructed by the lender, and is working for them, not you
  • the valuation may not be carried out by a RICS Surveyor, and may be cursory at best,
    because...
  • the mortgage valuation is simply for the mortgage lender to check that if you default on your payments there will be enough residual value in the house for them to reposess and sell it, and recover the outstanding amount of the loan,
    and not...
  • to determine whether the property has defects that will require significant sums to rectify in the future
  • or whether the purchase price is a fair open market price for the property

So, which survey do you need?

The RICS has 3 Levels of standardised survey type, categorising the minimum specification that each survey level covers.

These are:

  • RICS Level 1 Condition Report
  • RICS Level 2 HomeBuyer Report
  • RICS Level 3 Building Survey also commonly known as a 'Full Survey' or 'Structural Survey'

(Details of what each of these survey levels cover are covered below)

The RICS sets a minimum standard for what is covered in the three levels of report. For consistency the RICS also recommends surveyors use the RICS standard report layout for Levels 1 and 2, and most surveyors will adhere to that. However, the report specifications provide scope for individual surveyors to customise, or even to create their own custom reports, provided they adhere to the overall scope and general format of the relevant RICS level.

This flexibility allows surveyors to adapt their methodology and presentation to suit local building conditions and materials. For example there can be significant differences between standard construction methods in urban brick built homes and stone built rural properties, and the RICS Levels are intended to create a consistent minimum level that can be applied to surveys for the different types of property across the country.

It should be noted that the RICS Survey levels set only a minimum specification for each survey type, and many surveyors will include additional information and photos to support their findings, and this is just one of the reasons that there can be quite a variation in  survey fee.

This means that when comparing different surveyors' offerings you do need to check what exactly you will be getting for your money, whether the surveyor is sticking to one of the RICS standard surveys, or whether they are offering extra services and adding additional value. You would normally expect Level 1 and Level 2 surveys to more closely adhere to the standard RICS format, but Level 3 Building Surveys can have a lot more variation, as they are more in-depth, and are by definition aimed at older and more diverse properties.

You will also need to check if a valuation is included in the fee - a valuation is not included as standard in RICS Level 1 Condition Reports. RICS Level 2 HomeBuyer Reports are available with or without a valuation, RICS Level 3 Building Surveys do not usually include a valuation, and you will need to request this separately.

RICS Valuations are not surveys as such, but will generally involve a visual inspection of the condition of the property, together with desk research to determine the 'open market value' of the property in accordance with the RICS 'Red Book' guidance. RICS Valuations should only be prepared by an RICS Registered Valuer.

RICS Level 1 Condition Report

The RICS Level 1 Condition Report aims at providing a clear and concise overview of the condition of a property, without going into extensive detail. This report is the most basic of the RICS survey levels and is designed to complement the mortgage valuation. It does not include any advice or a valuation. The inspection of the property is less comprehensive than higher-level surveys, focusing on only the condition of the visible and accessible parts of the building, and the Identification of any major risks and urgent defects that are apparent at the time of the inspection.

It gives a simple "traffic light" rating system to highlight the condition of different parts of the property, where:

  • Green (Condition Rating 1) indicates no repair is currently needed
  • Amber (Condition Rating 2) suggests defects that need repairing or replacing but are not considered to be either serious or urgent.
  • Red (Condition Rating 3) signifies serious defects that need urgent repair or replacement, or that need further investigation by a specialist.

This report is most suitable for new-build homes or conventional homes in a good condition, where the buyer simply wants a basic check that there are no significant problems. It is particularly useful for buyers who are confident about the general state of the property but require formal documentation to confirm there are no visible major issues.

The RICS Level 1 Condition Report is often chosen by buyers looking for a cost-effective way to gain assurance about the property they are considering purchasing, without the need for detailed advice on repairs or maintenance.

RICS Level 2 HomeBuyer Report

The RICS Level 2 HomeBuyer Survey is a more detailed survey than the RICS Level 1 Condition Report, and is designed to provide homebuyers with a more comprehensive assessment of the condition of a property. It is particularly suited to conventional properties in reasonable condition built in the last 150 years, and aims to give you an understanding of any issues that could affect your decision to buy and at what price.

It doesn’t detail every aspect of the property, and only focuses on urgent matters needing attention. It’s not usually suitable for properties that have been significantly altered, are in need of renovation, or if you’re planning major alterations, in which case you should consider a Level 3 Building Survey.

A standard Level 2 HomeBuyers Report includes details of:

  • The general condition of the property
  • Any major faults in accessible parts of the building that may affect the value
  • Any urgent problems that might need inspecting by a specialist before you sign a contract
  • Results of tests for damp in the walls
  • Damage to timbers – including woodworm or rot
  • The condition of any damp-proofing, insulation and drainage (though drains aren’t tested)
  • The estimated cost of rebuilding the property for insurance purposes

As with the RICS Level 1 Report, the Level 2 HomeBuyer Report uses a simple "traffic light" system to rate the condition of various parts of the property, with:

  • Green (Condition Rating 1) indicating no repair is currently needed.
  • Amber (Condition Rating 2) suggesting defects that need repairing or replacing but are not considered to be either serious or urgent.
  • Red (Condition Rating 3) highlighting serious defects that need urgent repair or replacement, or that need further investigation by a specialist.

It focuses on identifying significant problems that could affect the property's value, including structural movement, dampness, rot, and woodworm, and will highlight any defects that require urgent attention or are serious enough to affect the property's safety.

Unlike the Level 1 Condition Report, it will provide advice on repairs and maintenance, giving you a clearer understanding of what actions you may need to take after purchase.

Market Valuation

A Level 2 HomeBuyer report should provide the cost of rebuilding the property for insurance purposes. Optionally the RICS Level 2 HomeBuyer Survey may include a market valuation. You can choose whether to have a valuation included or not when you search. Market valuations by a RICS Valuer involve more work, so are usually more expensive. As not all RICS surveyors are accredited RICS valuers you may get a different selection of surveyors from your search.

RICS Level 3 Building Survey

The RICS Level 3 Building Survey, often referred to as a 'Full Survey' or a 'Structural Survey', is the most comprehensive of the 'standard' RICS home surveys. Although suitable for all properties, it's highly recommended for older or unusual properties, or ones that have either been significantly modified in the past, or that you intend to modify. It goes into more depth than the other RICS survey levels such as the Level 1 Condition Report or Level 2 HomeBuyer survey. 

A Level 3 Building Survey is generally less standardised, and is often tailored to suit the specifics of the property and the local building conditions and materials. Although a Building Survey should meet the minimum Level 3 RICS standards, the content, format and scope of the report may vary considerably between surveyors. So when choosing your surveyor we recommend discussing your requirements to make sure the report covers any particular aspects you may have concerns about.

In general, a RICS Level 3 Building Survey examines all accessible parts of the property - and you can ask to have specific areas included, so it addresses any particular concerns you have about the building. It is a survey which can be tailored to your needs, agreed between you and your surveyor.

The RICS Level 3 Building Survey is the most comprehensive and detailed of the standard RICS property surveys, designed to provide an in-depth analysis of a property's condition, including its structure, construction, and fabric. This survey is particularly recommended for:

  • Listed buildings
  • Older properties
  • Buildings constructed in an unusual way, however old they are
  • Properties you plan to renovate or alter in any way
  • Properties that have had extensive alterations in the past

Typically a Level 3 Building Survey provides a thorough examination of the property's visible and accessible features, offering an in-depth analysis of the condition and construction of the building. It looks for a wide range of issues, including structural problems, dampness, decay, insulation, and potential hazards. The survey highlights any defects and offers advice on repairs and maintenance.

The report includes detailed technical information on the construction of the property and the materials used, which is particularly useful for older or unique properties. Unlike the simpler traffic light system used in the RICS Level 1 and 2 surveys, the Level 3 Building Survey provides a more detailed understanding of each issue's severity and implications.

Additionally a RICS Level 3 Building Survey should include guidance on repair options, including suggestions for dealing with any identified issues and an indication of the relative costs and priorities, also advice on future maintenance to help you plan for ongoing upkeep and potential costs.

No Market Valuation

A Building Survey doesn’t usually include a valuation, but your surveyor may be able to provide this separately if you need one. Any valuation has to be prepared by a RICS Registered Valuer, and there will be an additional charge.

General limitations on surveys

It is worth stressing that all standard survey types are 'non-destructive' - in other words they won't cover areas that cannot be easily accessed; surveyors aren't usually able to raise carpets or flooring, check under insulation in roof-spaces, or remove contents of cupboards to gain access for example.

Access may also be limited by the current home owner. If you have concerns about any specific aspect of the property where access might be restricted, it's worth speaking to your surveyor about the options available, including the possibility of improving access arrangements.

Surveyors will generally not be able to advise on remedial work in many specialist areas, such as plumbing, damp-proofing, heating, gas or electrical installations, as these are regulated professions where only licenced or registered professionals are allowed to work. Their report may highlight observable problems, but will not offer specific recommendations other than to recommend gaining the appropriate specialist advice.

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What is the RICS?

RICS - London

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is the organisation responsible for the training and regulation of Chartered Surveyors. To be listed on Local Building Surveyors, surveyors must be either a RICS Member (AssocRICS, MRICS/FRICS) or a Firm Regulated by the RICS, so you can be assured that your survey will be carried out by a qualified regulated professional.

Find out more about the RICS

What type of survey do I need?

Find out more about the different RICS Surveys

There are three standard RICS Survey Levels. Check out the links below to find out more:

RICS Level 1 Condition Report

RICS Level 2 HomeBuyer Report

RICS Level 3 Building Survey


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