To survey or not to survey?

(31 Posts)
AnnaBegins Tue 08-Jan-13 13:19:36

We are in the process of buying a house, it dates from the early 1800s, so we were planning on having a full Buildings Survey done. However, DH has been wondering if it's really necessary. Reasons being:

1) Before the couple selling would accept our offer, they sent us a copy of the survey the last buyers had done (about 3 or 4 months ago, they sadly had to pull out) and their responses to it (e.g. survey said, some evidence of rot in timbers, they said, had wood treated professionally in 2010 etc etc), so that we knew what we were dealing with and wouldn't pull out upon doing our own survey. So would having our own survey done tell us anything we don't already know?

2) It is an old house, we have both grown up in old houses and understand the issues that go with them, so again how much difference will a survey make, as I understand the surveyors can't guarantee any of their statements/suggestions.

3) Our mortgage providers only require a Basic survey and Valuation - this has just been done - so we wouldn't be doing the survey for them.

But it just seems like the "done thing" to have a survey and the assumption seems to be that we'll get one, so am I missing something?

Any help and opinions appreciated please!

rubyslippers Tue 08-Jan-13 13:21:45

i would absolutely on a house that old

i know you say a survey has been done a while ago but a few hundred pounds now in the scheme of putting something right is IMO a small price to pay

Mandy21 Tue 08-Jan-13 13:24:44

I think the mortgage company will insist on a valuation, but that is different to what you want to do. From your own point of view, we were in a similar position when we went to sealed bids on a "doer upper" and went to see an IFA afterwards to get all the finances in place. He advised that it was probably a waste of money to have a full survey - thats even more true for you if you have a copy of the survey that was done by previous buyers. It is likely to flag up the need for specialist reports - electricity, damp, timbers etc, so he advised just going ahead with the specialist reports for details of the likely costs / issues.

georgedawes Tue 08-Jan-13 13:35:20

I would always have a full survey on a house that old.

Mu1berryBush Tue 08-Jan-13 13:37:35

I would because, who knows, there couldhave been two surveys done and that is the least bad, and they're giving you the least bad one, whcih seems very honest but it could be disingenuous of them. my old bf was an estate agent.

Mu1berryBush Tue 08-Jan-13 13:37:54

decades ago, but still, can't imagine that doesn't happen ifit once did

Mu1berryBush Tue 08-Jan-13 13:39:46

if i order my own survey (when) I will ask for the surveyor to categorise the issues into 1) urgent recommendations 2) lonng term recommendations and 3) other improvements and other notes.

often survey comes back and it's hard to know what is vital, what is urgent.

Do you know if your offer is similar to one the couple who pulled out made? Do you know the reason they pulled out?

AnnaBegins Tue 08-Jan-13 13:48:53

Thank you, yes my first thought would have been to have a survey as the house is old, but I'm wondering what more it would tell us? Or is it just for peace of mind? Most surveys on a house of this age make scary reading, but in reality you can expect an old house to have some evidence of woodworm, likely to need a new roof at some point, etc, and it's nothing to be scared of if it's dealt with.

We'd redo the electrics, so that's not a problem, but maybe getting specialist reports for damp (though it had damp proof work in 2010) and roof/timbers would be a better use of money and tell us a little more.

The Mortgage company's Valuation has been done already, just last week.

Thank you Mu1berry, good advice on categorising recommendations.

AKiss, our offer is lower than the previous offer, they pulled out due to redundancy, it's very sad, and the sellers had already moved out, so were needing to sell quickly, luckily for us.

We know this was the most recent survey, and tbh it would make grim reading if you weren't used to old houses, but having corresponded with the sellers, they've done a lot of work to the house and preempted a few issues, so it seems to have been in safe hands.

But maybe we should just spend the money. Moving house is so expensive!

jennybeadle Tue 08-Jan-13 13:52:15

How about compromising with the sort of surveys (damp, timber, roof) that won't cost you anything, but might give you some ball parks for future works. There will always be things that no survey on earth will find (we found some dry rot when plaster was removed e.g.), and you know roughly what you're dealing with. Especially if the previous survey was done by a reputable company.

georgedawes Tue 08-Jan-13 13:57:23

But that survey could be out of date for all you know. Yes it's unlikely, but what if they had discovered dry rot in the interim? Unlikely I know but for a few hundred pounds you could save yourself a fortune in the long term.

No brainer in my opinion.

ClareMarriott Tue 08-Jan-13 18:26:37

Anna

The survey you are speaking about is someone else's survey done on the property and you say the sellers have already moved out. For your own piece of mind, I would get my own full structural survey carried out

PolterGoose Tue 08-Jan-13 19:31:09

Well, we've been in our c200 year old house for a couple of years now. We paid a surveyor £100 to do a visual inspection and to provide verbal feedback. We also paid for an independent damp and timber survey from here. We expected damp, worm, electrics, boiler, kitchen and bathrooms to need doing. The roof was done 25 years ago and the windows in last 10 years. We had engineers reports and evidence of other remedial works from the vendors.

I think, if you know old houses, you know to expect to do work, a survey is not going to tell you very much. When we have had full surveys done they've just covered their backs and recommended further specialist reports, may as well go straight to the specialists for all the usual old house problems IMO!

Anifrangapani Tue 08-Jan-13 20:23:47

Get your own survey done because if the other person's surveyor has missed something you will not be able to claim on their liability insurance.

kirstytate Tue 08-Jan-13 20:34:04

I agree with what PolterGoose says. If you know old houses then you can probably work out what is going to be in the survey - horror stories of damp, woodworm, etc.

When we moved into our c500 year old house we paid for a specialist survey by an experienced surveyor who works with our particular style of building. Even that was pretty useless, but it did tell us some interesting things about the building that we didn't know, and also pointed us in the right direction in terms of doing repairs etc.

The mortgage valuation survey said something along the lines of "well, it's lasted 500 years so it should be OK for another 15 or so" no kidding!

If you are going to pay for a survey then I would try to find a specialist who is going to provide additional information beyond what you can already work out for yourselves.

lottiegarbanzo Tue 08-Jan-13 20:43:11

You have no relationship with someone else's surveyor, with your own you have a contract and, if they fail to tell you something they should have, can claim against their insurance.

You may feel you can trust the vendor but again, that relationship means nothing if something is not as it seems.

Practically, I agree that getting quotes for the obvious stuff will probably be more enlightening and you need that information anyway but the point of a structural survey is to look at things an amateur, or a specialist tradesman might not notice or describe in the same terms.

lottiegarbanzo Tue 08-Jan-13 21:01:43

Maybe I should add that I know this from bitter and prolonged experience - but this is tempered by the fact that, after two years and much time and effort, we've recently accepted a substantial claim from our surveyor's insurer, as he'd failed to mention some causes for concern that necessitated expensive, urgent work.

The point is that surveyors are regulated and insured. They are the only people who can tell you anything about the state of the house who are, so who you could realistically seek redress from if there's a problem.

nightshade Tue 08-Jan-13 21:06:39

I had a basic survey done with the company then asking for specialist damp and timber. It was still cheaper than a full survey and ten years on there have been no surprises!

mycatlikestwiglets Wed 09-Jan-13 09:52:44

As lottiegarbanzo points out, you can't actually rely on the survey because you didn't contract with the surveyor. It means that if the surveyor has missed something material (and they sometimes do), you will have no rights against them. The point of a survey is twofold: to make sure you are fully informed about the state of the property before you reach a decision to buy, and to give you a right of recourse against the surveyor if they have missed something material. If you're happy that you can cover any unexpected costs if something is majorly wrong with this property, then you are probably right that it's not worth you incurring the costs of another survey.

What might be worth doing in this case, however, is contacting the surveyor in question and asking whether they would be prepared either to assign the benefit of the previous contract to you (probably for a fee), or to update the previous survey for a lower fee than if they were starting from scratch. They may not be prepared to do so but it's probably worth making enquiries.

wonkylegs Wed 09-Jan-13 10:06:28

Whatever you do do not get specialist surveys for damp, rot etc from company's for free. These are not unbiased surveys they are sales tactics and will usually highlight a problem which will require a solution that they can provide for a fee. Quite often these solutions are unnecessary, inadequate or can actually damage the building fabric. If you need an expert survey get an independent survey (google relevant professional bodies for lists of qualified providers) it will cost money but will probably less than a 'free' one in the long run & will explain why not just what needs doing.

Goodwordguide Wed 09-Jan-13 10:29:22

Interesting wonky - we've had the independent survey on the house we're (supposedly) buying and it has recommended that we get specialists in to asses for eg, damp treatment, woodworm, subsidence/movement etc.

I'm also concerned we're going to be recommended unnecesary work and, given I'm not an expert in this at all, how do we know who to trust? I know it needs woodworm treatment but damp in a 200+ year house? Are damp specialists likely to survey and say 'no work neded'?!

wonkylegs Wed 09-Jan-13 11:30:09

If you get a specialist that only surveys and doesn't sell then they don't have anything to gain by recommending unnecessary work they also will be mote likely to understand the underlying cause which means that whatever treatment you get will actually address the problem fully not just what the particular company deals with. For example the developer we bought this house from put in an injected damp proof course which we were told by the surveyor had failed in one area, unknown to me DH got a damp proofing company out to survey & they said we definitely needed new damp proof course in this area + new plaster work etc. I wasn't convinced (I'm in construction) and after proper investigation found out that the cause was actually that the developer had blocked up two air bricks in the floor void. New air bricks means that now the problem is actually solved and hasn't reoccured.

soverylucky Wed 09-Jan-13 11:56:33

We had a survey done. Cost us hundreds of pounds - wasn't worth the paper it was written on. As pp said - you buy an old house than you expect work. It is sometimes better to get a good builder round to check things over.

soverylucky Wed 09-Jan-13 11:57:37

Re damp - you must get someone in who does not work for a damp proofing company. The damp companies say free survey but they just want to sell you a damp proof course and this can often be very damaging to historic properties.

PolterGoose Wed 09-Jan-13 14:01:02

I've provided a link above to the firm who we paid to do our damp survey. The result was that, yes, lots of damp, but some could be sorted by lowering external ground level as over the 200 years the house has been here the ground has risen, mainly advised to heat and ventilate the house properly and see if the damp actually is a problem. The thing is, using a damp meter in an old house built with lime mortar is ridiculous. Our house is sandstone with lime mortars and render so there will always be moisture in the walls, if it dried out it would crumble and collapse grin

TripleRock Wed 09-Jan-13 14:15:35

I was going to suggest contacting the surveyor who did the previous survey too. They might be willing to produce an updated report for less than the price of a brand new survey.

If you do decide to just rely on the previous buyer's survey you will have no come back against the surveyor if anything nasty has been missed.

Does the previous survey have a date on it?

fussychica Wed 09-Jan-13 18:07:24

Have to agree with sovery - have seen lots and most are pretty piss poor with plenty of get out clauses and ambiguous phrases.

However, we DID get a specialist drain survey on our 1970s property as it was a problems I knew other people had experienced with properties of a similar age. Cost £85 for a video of the drains around the house and a full report. Ours were fine - thank heavens.

AnnaBegins Wed 09-Jan-13 18:08:58

Thanks everyone, and thanks Polter for the link.

I think we will first contact the previous buyer's surveyors, good idea thanks.

The Basic survey report has come back as expected, some evidence of old damp/woodworm etc.

However, we have also just had through all the other docs. Damp proof course and timber treatment for woodworm and rot for whole house done in 2010 and guaranteed for 30 years, at any point in those 30 years we can get a quote and get work done if necessary for free (it's a big national company which I've heard of, so seems legit). So that is nice grin

It also had a survey for subsidence done in 2010 and some underpinning to the (modernish, 1970s I think) bay window, but the rest of the house was fine then. Very reassuring as we've lived in subsidence areas before.

Windows are less than 10 years old with a 10 year guarantee, also nice. (We know one velux window needs replacing, but we offered knowing that.)

I'm leaning towards contacting the old surveyors, but if nothing comes of that then I'm inclined to get some specialist surveys/quotes as at least 2 of those can be done under guarantee if anything needs doing, without the cost of the survey. Also, there's probably nothing the survey could say that would put us off completely! So if it needs work, it might even save time to start with quotes (don't worry, we'd get multiple quotes and not be conned into doing unnecessary work - if there's one thing I've learnt from Mumsnet it's how to stand up for myself and get a good deal!)

Thank you for all the advice and ideas!

mycatlikestwiglets Fri 11-Jan-13 10:17:19

Just also check that the guarantees for damp course and woodworm treatment are transferable AnnaBegins - some of them are worded as being applicable only to the person who contracted them and not transferable at all, some can be assigned to the new houseowner for a fee, and some can be enforced by anyone. Same with windows - best not simply to assume that you will be able to enforce the guarantees.

Patotin Fri 11-Jan-13 13:42:01

Hi Anna, I am a conservation architect, so I can give you some professional advice on your issue. Just to say, if you were given a survey already carried on the property by the previous prospect buyers, then you could assume that the survey was carried out objectively. Needless to say that a good surveyor will always be impartial in their reports. I don´t really think that you will find anything more on the house if you get your own survey.
As usual with old houses, you will find all sort of faults, from structural to damp, etc. However, something that you could do yourself is visit the house again with the survey in hand and check all those things that have been reported.
Then look into what actually requires immediate attention, i.e. dry rot. You said that some timber was treated two years ago, then ask for evidence of it! You
don´t have to believe all what they are saying to you.

Another issue is the listed status of the property. Is it listed? Are you planning on doing any work to it? Some of the reported faults may need to be addressed while you do your own refurbishment work.

AnnaBegins Fri 11-Jan-13 14:03:38

Well we went back to look at the property today, specifically to look at the things the old survey had thrown up (as Patotin said - great minds!), and all was well. We went into the cellar - which is amazing! - and it is dry and the wood looks in great condition. Can see where some of the work they described has been done, e.g. where you can see that it was once damp, warped plaster and stuff, but is now dry, can see improvements outside to airflow etc. So we are pretty happy.

Mycat, the guarantees are transferable, so that's good.

Oh and it's not listed thank heavens.

Am getting excited about moving now!

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now