‘Let The Buyer Beware’

Not everyone realises the harsh truth that when you buy a property, legally speaking you’re pretty much on your own.  Actually, this is nothing new – the Romans had a phrase for this:   ‘Caveat Emptor’ . Or ‘Let the Buyer Beware’;

So suppose that on the day you move in to your new home, the toilet doesn’t flush, the drains overflow with sewage or your foot crashes through the rotten timber floor. Unlike buying a new telly or even a box of dog food, you haven’t got a leg to stand on in terms of consumer protection.   You can’t take a house back to the estate agent and demand a refund!


How it works

When you agreed to pay the price you assumed that all the important stuff were fit for purpose– the foundations, electrics, heating, drains, walls and roof etc –

Fair enough, you probably had a bit of a haggle to cover the cost of replacing the old kitchen units and peeling wallpaper or misted windows. But most buyers don’t get much of a chance to look behind the scenes.

And estate agents have no legal duty to point out serious problems – which in most cases they probably aren’t even aware of.

So here are just a few examples of things that surveyors look for:-


  • Has the owner made any dangerous illegal structural alterations, like knocking through internal walls, cutting out roof timbers or chimney breasts, or dodgy DIY electrics?


  • Did the original builders botch the construction, such as leaving out firebreak walls in the loft or perilously thin rear addition walls?


  • Is there a hidden backlog of neglected maintenance? If so it may be causing hidden leaks, damp problems and timber decay.


  • If the roof is nearing the end of its life the cost of replacing it could set you back £10k or more. And if old ceilings have lost their key is there any risk of collapse, perhaps in a child’s bedroom?


In a typical house survey, surveyors identify a number of potentially costly, and sometimes dangerous defects. So it’s good to know that the place you’re buying is free from nasties like asbestos, radon gas, subsidence, beetle infestation, fungal decay, damp and mould.


Who can you turn to?

If there are problems, who can you trust for independent advice? You really need someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in drumming up business.

That’s where having an RICS chartered surveyor on your side can come in very useful – and save you many thousands of pounds.

But it’s not all about delivering bad news. They can reassure you they’ve looked at the whole property and given most of it a green light. And things look worse than they are, like old sloping floors where a surveyor can use their experience to determined if the movement is ‘historic’, or that cracking is just seasonal movement.

It’s a no brainer really – without a survey you’re risking being lumbered with a ‘money pit’ that could cripple you financially with a long list of expensive repairs!

Best of all, there’s every chance that you’ll get your survey fee back, and more, by renegotiating the price if it turns out there are significant defects.


Re-negotiating the price to cover the cost of repairs

When the estate agent originally valued the property they weren’t aware of the defects the survey has flagged up. So it’s only reasonable that the price should be adjusted to reflect the cost of putting things right.

Compared to risking buying your home ‘blind’, a survey could save you many thousands of pounds in expensive repairs.

So what’s the right survey for the house or flat you’re buying? The truth is, nine times out of ten a relatively inexpensive RICS Homebuyer report (a.k.a. a Homebuyer survey) is perfect.

The surveyor will report on the whole property where accessible from the loft down to the drains, including the building’s structure. You don’t need a more expensive ‘full structural’ building survey unless the house is very old (pre- late Victorian) or very big (5 bedrooms or more) or obviously very dilapidated (perhaps a development project).

Finally, to be sure you’re not paying over the odds for your survey, it makes sense to use a price comparison site like Rightsurvey. Our panel of local surveyors will charge you less than it would cost booking a survey without first comparing prices.

To see a range of Homebuyer survey quotes at low prices for free just click here.