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Surveys and Valuations Explained

When we talk about buying and selling properties, it’s common to come across the terms surveys and valuations. Surveys and valuations are often used interchangeably, but there are key differences. Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, or you’re planning to start an investment portfolio, it’s important to understand the differences between surveys and valuations and to be aware of how they are used and the benefits they offer.

In this helpful guide, we’ll provide detailed information about home surveys and valuations to help you decide which one you need. We’ll also offer tips to get your home ready and make sure you know what to expect if you’ve arranged for a surveyor to visit your home or you’re awaiting the results of a survey on a property you wish to purchase.

What exactly is a home survey?

If you’ve ever bought a house before, there’s a good chance that you had a survey done. A home survey is an assessment, which provides useful information for prospective buyers. In the last decade, only 9% of buyers purchased a property without having a survey. However, the figure rises to 37% among buyers who bought their homes more than 20 years ago (source). The primary aim of a home survey is to identify structural issues, which could impact your decision to buy. In many cases, surveys flag problems that are not routinely visible or noticeable during a standard viewing appointment.

When you look around houses, you tend to focus on the size and space and the visual appeal of the property. In some cases, there may be nothing to worry about in terms of what is lurking beneath the wallpaper or in the loft, but in others, surveys highlight problems that could prove costly to fix. It is hugely beneficial for aspiring homeowners to be aware of any issues that need urgent action or treatment before they exchange contracts and agree to proceed with the transaction. Statistics suggest that over 10% of sales fell through in 2021 as a result of survey findings (source).

Types of home survey

There are three types of home surveys, known as levels 1, 2 and 3. The most common types of property surveys are level 2 and 3 surveys. These are more comprehensive than level 1 surveys, which provides a basic overview of the condition of the home using a traffic light system. Typically, level 1 surveys are recommended for brand new flats and small modern houses that are in good condition.

●     Level 2 home surveys

Previously known as the Home Buyer report, the Level 2 survey is the most popular choice. This mid-range survey is suited to most buyers and it is presented in a standardised format according to RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) guidelines. The Level 2 survey provides comprehensive information about the structure of the property, but it is a non-intrusive assessment. This means that your surveyor will not look under floorboards or carpets or behind furniture. This survey will flag surface issues and it should offer guidance related to common problems, such as damp.

If you choose to have a Level 2 survey, you can decide whether or not to include a property valuation. This is a valuation provided by the surveyor, which will give you an accurate idea of how much the property is worth. It can be beneficial to have this estimate, as valuations between estate agents and surveyors often differ.

Level 2 surveys are suitable for properties that are in good condition and standard houses that don’t have unique features or quirky architecture. This type of survey will be suitable for most houses that are less than 100 years old.

●     Level 3 home surveys

Level 3 home surveys are the most comprehensive and detailed form of property survey available. You may decide to have this type of building survey if you are buying an old property, the house is unique in its design, you plan to undertake extensive renovation work, or the property is in poor condition. The survey will give you an insight into urgent problems that need fixing, provide information about defects and offer analysis of the condition and structure of the house.

Buyers can also ask their surveyor to share ideas about projected costs and timeframes for urgent repairs and remedial work.

If you are taking on a significant building project, or you have plans to restore an older property to its former glory, a Level 3 survey will provide you with detailed information and advice to help you determine whether it’s a good idea to proceed. It’s wise to consider the findings carefully before you make a decision.

Home valuations explained

Home valuations provide you with an estimate of the value of a property. Many people put their homes on the market at a price that is based on a valuation from an estate agent. Property valuations provided by chartered surveyors can be helpful for both buyers and sellers. There is often a difference between valuations put forward by estate agencies and surveyors. Sometimes, estate agent valuations are inflated to try to attract customers. Surveyor valuations take a number of key factors into account to produce an accurate estimate, which may give sellers a more accurate impression of the price they are likely to fetch and provide buyers with an idea of a fair offer.

A surveyor will consider the condition and structure of the property when providing a valuation, but they will pay more attention to other factors, which influence property prices, including:

  • Location
  • Size
  • Characteristics and features
  • Outdoor space
  • Potential to add valu

It is important to note that RICS valuations are carried out by RICS registered valuers. They are not available from all surveyors.

What are the advantages of a property valuation?

RICS valuations offer advantages for both buyers and sellers. As a seller, it’s understandable to want the best offer for your property, but what if the valuation from your estate agent far exceeds the market value? Sellers can get frustrated and become disappointed if the house doesn’t sell or offers are far lower than the asking price and buyers can be put off even looking at homes that seem too expensive. An RICS valuation provides an accurate estimate based on the size, location and characteristics of the property and comparisons with similar properties in the same area. For sellers, it can be helpful to have a realistic idea of the value of the property before it goes on the market. For buyers, a valuation can provide reassurance that the price is fair. Buyers don’t want to pay over the odds for a property that has an inflated asking price.

Do I need a home survey or a property valuation?

This is a common question. The answer will depend on your objective. If you are buying a house, and you want to make sure that you know exactly what you are getting into and what you are spending your money on, it’s wise to organise a home survey. If you are selling a property or your personal circumstances have changed, for example, you are going through divorce proceeds or you want to buy a larger part of a property under the shared ownership scheme, you will need a valuation. Valuations may also be required for dealing with wills and estates and for paying off a loan or buying part of a property through the Help to Buy scheme.

If you are unsure whether you need a property valuation or a home survey, it’s an excellent idea to speak with an experienced surveyor and get advice based on your requirements.

The key differences between surveys and valuations

Surveys and valuations are often talked about within the same articles and guides, but they are not the same. There are critical differences and they offer advantages for different types of customers. Here are some key differences to consider:

●     Function

The primary difference between home surveys and valuations is the function. A survey is designed to provide information about the structure of the property and its condition. It is advantageous for prospective buyers to have a survey done before they exchange contracts to highlight any issues that need urgent attention, as well as those that could be expensive to remedy or repair. If you are buying a house, for example, and it is already at the top end of your budget, the last thing you want is to be faced with huge repair bills within a few months of getting the keys. Property surveys can flag up issues that are virtually impossible to spot with an untrained eye during a regular viewing. They provide information to help buyers to decide whether or not to proceed with the purchase.

The main function of the valuation is to provide an accurate estimate of the value of the property. An RICS valuation is carried out by trained, registered valuers. Estate agent valuations are often designed to attract sellers and encourage them to choose that specific agency. This means that they can often be higher than the market value. A surveyor valuation can be beneficial for buyers and sellers. Sellers have realistic expectations and buyers can ensure that they are paying a fair price.

●     Focus

The focus of the survey and valuation is different. Surveys concentrate on the condition and structure of the property, while valuations consider additional factors, which may influence the value of the house or flat. A surveyor will analyse features and characteristics, potential to add value and look at prices and amenities in the local area, for example, as well as considering the condition of the property to provide a valuation.

When to arrange a property survey

Buying a house is one of the most exciting life events, but it can be stressful. Arranging a home survey can help to provide peace of mind if you have concerns about the condition of the house or you are buying an old property. If you’re already stretched financially, it can also be helpful to make sure that you wouldn’t be taking on a property that needed a lot of money spending on it urgently. If you find a house you love, you have an offer accepted and you’re ready to proceed, it’s beneficial to contact experienced, reputable surveyors and arrange a visit to the property. Your surveyor will assess the property and provide you with a report, which you can read before you decide whether or not to go ahead with the acquisition.

When to organise a property valuation

There are various instances and scenarios, which may prompt you to organise a property valuation. In most cases, property valuations are used to provide an estimate of the value of a house or flat when the owner is ready to sell. However, you may also need a property valuation if the following scenarios apply to you:

  • You are going through a divorce and have shared assets
  • You have bought your home through the Help to Buy scheme and want to either pay back the loan or buy a bigger share
  • You are the executor of a will that involves real estate assets
  • You want to buy a larger share of a property bought through the Shared Ownership programme

What happens if the survey flags up unexpected problems?

This is a scenario that most prospective buyers dread. The survey comes back from the surveyor and there are unexpected issues. If your home survey flags problems that you were not expecting, the best thing to do is to talk to the surveyor and take your time to go through the report and think about your next step. There are different avenues you could pursue, including renegotiating, going ahead with the purchase as planned, or pulling out.

If you choose to renegotiate, you may ask the seller to drop the price or to undertake some or all of the work that is required. Studies suggest that around two-thirds of buyers are able to renegotiate successfully after a survey (source). If there are issues with the roof, for example, you could liaise with the seller to see if they could reduce the price or cover the cost of roof repairs. If you can’t afford to cover the cost and the project is no longer viable for you and the seller rejects your request, you have the right to pull out. You can walk away until you exchange contracts.

If you are desperate to buy a house, and the survey brings bad news, it’s helpful to figure out how much it would cost to address the issues raised in the survey. You may find that the costs are lower than expected or that the seller would be willing to drop the price to secure the sale.

What to expect from a property valuation

If a surveyor is visiting your home to value the property, they will carry out visual assessments and investigations. They will look around the house, inspect the living spaces and outdoor areas and check the general condition of the building. They will also take a look around the local area and carry out research on sales prices, market movement and potential for adding value, for example, if a property has planning permission. The surveyor will use the findings of their assessment in combination with research into the local area and property market to provide you with a valuation. In most cases, valuations don’t take long and you will be provided with your estimate shortly after the visit. You don’t have to do anything to prepare your home, but it’s beneficial to clean and tidy up and make sure every room is accessible.

What to expect from a home survey

If you have arranged for a survey to be done on a property you wish to buy, the surveyor will visit the house or flat and work through a framework, which is designed to highlight potential issues and provide detailed information about the condition of the building. Depending on the type of survey, the surveyor will check accessible areas of the property and inspect internal and external areas. They will take photographs and measurements, make notes while they walk around the property and record observations. It can take up to a week for a surveyor to prepare a report for the buyer.

When you receive your home survey, it’s important to take the time to read each page, digest the notes and work through the report. Don’t hesitate to seek advice if you have any further questions and take your time to make a decision if there are issues that could impact the viability of the sale.

Summary

Surveyors offer a range of property services, including preparing home valuations and surveying properties to check the structure and condition. Valuations and surveys are not the same, but they do both offer benefits for buyers and sellers. Surveyor valuations provide an accurate estimate of the market value of the property, while surveys flag problems that need addressing urgently or may require money spending on them in the future. If you have any questions about surveying, valuation or property, it’s hugely beneficial to contact experienced, reliable surveyors.