Interpreting surveys

Surveyors are sometimes regarded as the ‘Doctor Deaths’ of the property world, with barely a positive word to say. But it’s important to bear in mind that the surveyor’s job is to highlight defects and flag up future maintenance concerns. You’re not paying them to tell you what a lovely sunny outlook the property has. As a result, survey reports tend to read a trifle gloomily, even for the most delightful residences.

            Survey reports are written in a logical sequence, methodically describing all the external parts (walls, roofs, floors etc), followed by all the internal features (ceilings, walls, fireplaces etc), and then the services, grounds and outbuildings. Reports summarise the significance of defects with ‘condition ratings’ illustrated with traffic light symbols. Issues flagged up in red and orange could affect the price you are prepared to pay for the property.


RED           Condition Rating 3

Serious defects or those requiring urgent repair or replacement. These are the ‘killer items’ that need to be rectified immediately.


ORANGE    Condition Rating 2

Repair or replacement work is likely to be needed but is not currently serious or urgent. Maintenance work may be necessary.


GREEN     Condition Rating 1

No repairs are currently needed, but normal maintenance work may still be required. Observations may cover things you’ve noticed yourself, such as the tired decor and decrepit boiler, so it’s unlikely you could use these as ammunition to renegotiate the price.


Top tip

The use of simple traffic light ratings gives readers an easy ‘at a glance’ way of seeing where the main problems lie. But it’s important to actually read the content.  One area where over-zealous use of red ratings can sometimes cause concern is with the services – electrics, heating, water etc. Surveyors are advised by their insurers to give the services a level 3 (red) condition 3 rating on services even where no visual clues to possible defects are evident, on the grounds that the surveyor doesn’t actually carry out electrical testing etc. So dangerous hidden defects in wiring and pipes could potenatially be masked by superficially OK finishes. Where actual defects have been spotted they should be mentioned in the text.


Specialist reports

Where urgent or significant defects are reported in your survey, the next step is normally to get an idea about what it’s going to cost to fix the problem by obtaining quotes from contractors. In some cases, such as serious cracking, further advice from a suitable specialist, such as a structural engineer, may need to be obtained to assess the true extent of the problem. Our next blog will look at the main types of specialist reports that surveyors recommend.

Specialist reports are also sometimes made a requirement of mortgage valuations. But banks usually insist that mortgage valuers faithfully reproduce lender’s own ‘standard phrases’ (eg to describe structural movement or damp or timber problems). The use of such standard phrases, sometimes drafted by lawyers with little experience of property, may automatically trigger a follow-up ‘white van man’ inspection, whether or not the surveyor in truth believes this to be necessary. This often results in unnecessary expense and hassle, and can even lead to inappropriate remedial works (such as injected chemical DPCs) that can actually damage older buildings.

            The same ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ lending mentality applies to shrubs or trees within ‘influencing distance’ of buildings, for fear they could potentially contribute to structural damage. This is another reason why commissioning a Homebuyer Report or Building Survey is advisable, since the surveyor has the scope to actually explain what they really think.

            Experienced estate agents will only too familiar with the scenario where progress suddenly stalls as downhearted buyers react in horror to the news that their dream home may not be in as healthy condition as they’d imagined. But a good agent should normally be able keep things on track and organise estimates or reports for common ailments such as suspected damp and timber decay, electrical faults and cracking. When it comes to footing the bill for specialist reports there’s often some debate as to who should pay. Splitting the cost 50/50 with the seller is sometimes an acceptable compromise.


Our next blog – coming soon …….

The main types of specialist reports          


Check out our Rightsurvey blog page for more industry tips and secrets written by property professionals to help put you in control.