Surveyors come in assorted shapes and sizes. Anyone can call themselves a ‘surveyor’, a title that’s sometimes adopted by double-glazing salesmen for enhanced credibility.
Qualified surveyors, however, are always the chartered variety and are members of RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) and bear the qualification MRICS or FRICS after their names (denoting either a Member or a Fellow – there’s no material difference ).
You will obviously need a residential specialist, as opposed to those whose expertise lies in the fields of shops or offices, agricultural land, auctioneering, rating, quantity surveying or architectural design. You also want someone with lots of local experience.
Recommendations can be useful, but be aware that estate agents may be under commercial pressure to recommend firms with business links to their company, and may not always be the best source of impartial advice since they are acting for the vendors.
Banks and building societies are often very keen to arrange your survey, mainly because they get to keep a sizeable chunk of the fee.
They will probably already need to instruct a mortgage valuation on the house you’re buying, and may suggest that there is a saving to be made by having the same ‘panel surveyor’ undertake your Homebuyer or Building Survey at the same time. But in actual practice you should get a better deal by arranging the survey yourself.
Another concern about letting the lender arrange your survey is that you have no control over the quality and experience of the surveyor they appoint. Panel surveyors working for large corporate firms may be under pressure to cram as many ‘points’ into the day as possible and consequently have less time to spend doing a quality job or to take the trouble to discuss the report with you afterwards.
So when picking a surveyor there are a number of issues to consider:
Assuming that getting access to the property isn’t a problem, a good surveyor should normally be able to carry out the inspection and have a Homebuyer report emailed or posted out to you within a couple of days. Building Surveys take a little longer, often about a week or so.
ii. Talking it through
A good surveyor should be willing to take your phone calls before and after the survey. Within reason clients should be free to make requests in advance, such as ‘Would the loft be suitable for conversion?’ or ‘Could you take a close look at the damp patch on the bedroom wall.’
At this stage in the process, everyone involved wants the purchase to go through as soon as possible. So news of defects that could hold things up is rarely welcome.
But surveyors know that buyers sometimes change their tune a few months after moving in. Suddenly every dripping tap will be blamed on them, and there will be cries of ‘I wouldn’t have bought this property if I’d known it needed a new boiler!’ So there is a fine line to tread when writing reports, alerting buyers to the potential risk of defects without scaring everyone’s pants off and derailing the purchase by overreacting to minor issues.
If it does turn out that there are some significant defects it’s important that your surveyor is willing to discuss them with you afterwards in plain English, and can clearly advise on the next course of action.
iii. Local knowledge and experience
Surveyors should operate within a maximum radius of about 25 miles from their office, but it is not unknown for corporate firms to send surveyors twice this distance.
It is always advisable to appoint someone who lives and works locally and knows the area inside out. This means they will be aware of local risks such as those from subsidence, mining, flooding and radon. They will also be better equipped to judge property values.
All RICS chartered surveyors offering services to the public must carry suitable professional indemnity insurance. This covers them and their clients in the event of a claim should they miss a serious defect.
So if you move in and promptly disappear down a hole in a rotten floor that the surveyor didn’t spot, you should be able to claim compensation.
Having selected your surveyor, the normal procedure is for the surveying firm to send out a conditions of engagement form, which you need to sign and return together with payment up front.
The terms are standard RICS-approved wording that brings to your attention the various limitations found in occupied properties, such as fitted carpets and furniture, and inform you about restrictions, such as the fact that the services won’t be tested.
Our next blog – coming soon …….
Interpreting your survey report
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