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Types of house survey

Updated: 27 Sep 2022

What is a house survey and do I need to get one?

If you are in the process of buying a home and have just had an offer accepted, then chances are you’ll be weighing up what kind of house survey to get or what a house survey is in the first place.

Read on and we’ll explain what a house survey is and what kinds of survey you can get.

What is a house survey?

A house survey is an assessment of your property by an independent surveyor from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), designed to reveal any structural issues which may impact your decision to buy the property you have had an offer accepted on.

In most cases, surveyors will also provide a market valuation, giving this figure to lenders so that they can determine whether the property is worth what’s being paid for it.

In having a survey, you may find that structural issues require work and immediate attention, in which case you can either negotiate a lower price with the vendor or decide to pull out of the purchase completely.

There are various different kinds of house survey available and you are not obliged to have one.

However, choosing not to have a survey means that you may discover problems after you assume ownership which you will need to cover the cost for in full.

What types of house survey are there?

RICS has three different levels of house survey, with each varying in cost and scope and designed to suit all needs and budgets.

RICS Level 1

Also called a Condition Report, the Level 1 Survey is the most basic house survey available. It does not include a market valuation or a rebuild cost for insurance purposes.

Only visual checks will be carried out, with no interrogation of the building’s structures or fabrication and there will be no advice on the need for immediate or ongoing repairs.

The report will come in the form of a traffic light system to show the overall condition. Level 1 Surveys cost between £300 and £900 depending on the size of the property and take around an hour to complete.

RICS Level 2

The Level 2 RICS survey is an intermediate survey, designed to reveal any major structural issues and ongoing problems with a property, while also providing a valuation for a mortgage lender.

While no specific tests on the property will be carried out, surveyors will undertake a comprehensive visual inspection and give you a breakdown of what problems need to be addressed, a property valuation and a mortgage rebuild cost.

They will look in concealed areas such as lofts and cupboards for any issues too. An easy-to-understand traffic light report will show what issues there are, if any, and details about problems that could affect property value.

Level 2 surveys take between one and four hours and cost between £400 and £1,000 depending on property size.

RICS Level 3

Known as a building survey, a RICS Level 3 survey is the most complete kind of house survey available.

As well as a visual inspection, market valuation and insurance rebuild cost. Services will be turned on to check they work properly, the structure will be assessed for issues such as damp, woodworm or subsidence.

You will also get a complete description of the construction and materials used in the building.

A Level 3 survey is a good idea if you are buying a larger, older property which may have structural issues that need addressing, thereby helping you to negotiate on price. Level 3 surveys can cost between £600 and £1,200.

Valuation Report

This is simply a validation carried out by the mortgage lender to ensure that the property is worth what you have offered for it. It does not involved any checks on the structure of the property.

How much does a house survey cost?

The cost of a house survey varies depending on the kind of survey you opt for.

  • Level 1 - costs between £300 and £600 depending on property size

  • Level 2 - between £400 and £1,000 based on property size and need for more extensive assessment

  • Level 3 - at between £600 and £1,200, Level 3 is the most expensive but is also the most comprehensive of all the surveys available

Which kind of house survey should I get?

The kind of house survey you should get depends on the kind of property you are buying and how much you are willing to pay.

While it can be tempting to go for a basic Level 1 Condition Report, this does not come with a valuation, meaning you will need to arrange for your lender to assess the value of the property separately. It does not reveal any major issues either, meaning you could be in for a nasty surprise when you get the keys.

A Level 2 survey is enough for most people, especially if you are buying a modern home built in a standard style without any obvious structural defects.

If you are buying a property over 150 years old or one that has been altered significantly by previous owners, a Level 3 survey can provide peace of mind and reveal any major problems.

Level 3 surveys are more expensive but can give assurances or show up problems that may be insurmountable.

As sellers are not obliged to reveal any problems, a Level 3 is a good choice for those who can afford it.

What is the most common type of house survey?

Level 2 RICS surveys tend to be the most popular, as they offer a good level of detail on a property’s condition, aren’t overly expensive and allow buyers to see any potential issues.

As most people are not buying large or very old homes, Level 2 is the way to for peace of mind and wider detail on what you can expect before moving in.

Do I need a house survey?

In short, no. House surveys are not legally required. However, it is highly advisable to get one.

Failure to do so can mean finding major issues after you take ownership, meaning you won’t be able to negotiate on price or get the seller to help cover some of the cost of repairs.

Even on new build properties it is a smart idea to get a survey done.

* Survey price figures from Home Owners' Alliance and RICs.