We have gone ‘sale agreed’ on a house, what type of survey does it need?

Property Clinic: Your questions answered

There are three types of house survey. Photograph: Getty

There are three types of house survey. Photograph: Getty

 

I have recently gone sale agreed on a small bungalow in a suburban area. My wife and I are downsizing as our family have now flown the nest. The bungalow needs work. My solicitor has recommended that I source a building surveyor to advise on the condition of the bungalow which is around 30 years-old. The problem is that my contact with surveyors has left me confused as to the type of inspection I need. There appears to be a large discrepancy in the quotes I am receiving. When comparing their service and quotes I am not sure if I am comparing apples with apples. Why is there such a discrepancy in what I imagine should be a fairly straightforward task?

Comparing levels of service and associated fees has always been an issue when obtaining quotes for building surveys. So much so that the consumer magazine Which reported a number of years ago that most people were disappointed with the amount of information they received in survey reports on their new home.

In response, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) introduced a grading system for residential property inspections. The inspections range in detail and subsequent cost. There are three types of inspection with the level of inspection, detail of the report and fee increasing in increments. The SCSI has issued a guidance note to its members detailing the three survey types to be offered, the equipment they must use and the level and extent of inspection to be undertaken for each survey type.

– Type 1 surveys involve a very cursory “walk-through” inspection of the property and a short summary report. Attics would not be accessed and some elements of the property, such as planning issues and other such matters, would not be commented on. The report would be brief. This type of inspection is more suited to a recently constructed, speculatively-built house. The fact that many properties were constructed in the past without meaningful monitoring or supervision means that this type of inspection and report is not ideal. It may not fully protect the consumer in terms of the identification of potential defects, which could be found if a more thorough inspection were carried out.

– Type 2 surveys involve a thorough inspection. A surveyor is expected to follow a logical process which will identify relevant issues. Experience and expertise will be used to diagnose the cause of defects and advise on the correct remedial action required. For example, attic spaces will typically be entered to view the roof structure, insulation and fire stopping; manhole lids and drains will be opened; services installations will be inspected; alterations will be reviewed and planning matters and condition of boundaries will also typically be commented on. Most surveyor practices will have their own reporting style, but in general the reports should be detailed and can, in some cases, explore various options in terms of remedial work.

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– Type 3 surveys involve a more thorough inspection again and typically will involve the raising of floorboards, the removal of access hatches on walls and the like. Heating systems would be switched on to view them in operation. Reporting will also be more detailed and fees will be significantly higher.

In all cases the purpose of the surveyor’s report is to clearly impart the findings of the inspection to you in layman’s language. This will help you to make an informed decision with regard to a property.

Fees

Typically most people want a Type 2 inspection and report. Surveyor’s fees associated with this type of instruction are typically based on the time it takes to provide the service. Unlike most other professionals associated with property transactions, chartered building surveyors do not typically estimate their fee as a percentage of the property value. They factor in travel time to and from the property, the number of hours spent on the site, and the time spent drafting and finalising the report. Time spent discussing the report with the client afterwards and the high insurance costs associated with this type of service will also be factored in. It is not unreasonable therefore to estimate that a moderately-sized property could involve a full day for the professional involved. Fees can typically be in the order of €500-€1,000 depending on the size, complexity and age of the property involved.

In the case of the property in question – a 30-year-old bungalow requiring work – a Type 2 inspection is recommended. Given the age of the building, many of the elements within the property, particularly services, will be approaching the end of their functional life and will require assessment. Insulation will fall well short of modern standards and the surveyor will advise with regard to this aspect. Woodworm, possible use of asbestos, alterations which may have required planning permission, would all form part of the overall report on the property.

The full knowledge of all the works needed to bring the house to a satisfactory condition is valuable to you in terms of your planning for the future, and in order to assist you in establishing if the property represents good value for money.

When obtaining quotes for the work, the surveyor should make clear which type of service is being offered. You can then compare the fees you are being quoted. If the services being offered by the surveyors you contact are comparable, then typically the fees shouldn’t fluctuate too much. However you also need to check if the prices include or exclude VAT as this can significantly distort competitiveness.

Considering the substantial risk associated with buying a second-hand property, I believe building surveyors’ fees are a relatively small price to pay for peace of mind.

Noel Larkin, chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

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