Essential Property Surveys and Searches:  A Buyer’s Guide to Making Informed Decisions

When buying a property, whether a previously owned home or a new construction, understanding the significance of property surveys and searches is crucial. These procedures are vital for prospective homebuyers to make well-informed decisions, providing comprehensive information on the property’s physical state and legal standings.

Caroline Walton - Head of Residential Property -and our team of conveyancing experts highlight the essential surveys and searches prospective homebuyers should consider before making informed decisions.

Homebuyer Survey and Valuation

The Homebuyer Survey and Valuation are typically conducted by a qualified surveyor, who is also a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). This ensures that the survey you receive is comprehensive and adheres to the highest standards of quality and credibility.

A Homebuyer's Report normally includes details of:

  • The general condition of the property
  • Any major faults in accessible parts of the building that may affect the value
  • Any urgent problems that need inspecting by a specialist before you sign a contract
  • Results of tests for dampness in the walls
  • Damage to timbers - including woodworm or rot
  • The condition of any damp-proofing, insulation, and drainage (though drains and electrical systems are not tested)
  • The estimated cost of rebuilding the property after a fire, for building insurance purposes
  • The value of the property on the open market
  • Any alterations to the property that may have required planning consent or building regulation approval and whether or not permitted development rights applied. Homebuyers are advised to get the latest information from the government website

This report does not detail every aspect of the property but only focuses on matters needing urgent attention. Therefore, it is not a guarantee as to the condition and state of the property*. The surveyor will usually inspect the main structure, including the roof space if there is access to it.

*It is not usually suitable for properties in need of renovation or if you are planning major alterations.

Building Survey / Structural Survey

This surveying process is usually conducted by a RICS-accredited building surveyor, and it involves a detailed examination of the property's structure and condition, including visual inspections and assessments of accessible areas. The surveyor will look for signs of defects, damages and wear, and provide a comprehensive report that outlines any discovered issues, their implications, and possible repair solutions.

A Building Survey generally includes details of:

  • Faults, both major and minor - and what they could mean
  • The possible cost of repairs
  • Results of damp testing on walls
  • Damage to timbers, including woodworm and rot
  • The condition of damp-proofing, insulation, and drainage (though drains are not tested)
  • Technical information on the construction of the Property and the materials used
  • The location
  • Recommendations for any further special inspections

After assessing the physical conditions of a potential property, it is equally important to examine the legal and environmental aspects surrounding it through various property searches. These searches reveal the property's legal standing, potential environmental risks, and other factors that could influence your decision to purchase.

Local Authority Search

Usually, a homebuyer hires a conveyancing lawyer to conduct a Local Authority Search with the local council. This search aims to reveal any legal constraints or problems that might impact the property’s value, usability, or potential for future development.

The Local Authority Search provides information about the property including: 

  • Planning history, such as planning applications, building regulation approvals, etc
  • Adoption of roads and paths abutting the property, road developments, traffic, and railway schemes within 200m of the property
  • Public footpaths affecting the property
  • Conservation Area, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or other designated area
  • Whether the property is a listed building, or subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO)* etc

*When a property is subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO), it means that specific trees in the property area are protected by law. This order makes it an offense to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage, or destroy any tree covered by the order without the local planning authority’s written consent.

Water and Drainage Search

The Water and Drainage Search confirms whether the property is connected to mains water and drainage. It includes a plan showing the approximate position of the nearest mains sewer and mains water pipe. The key components of a Water and Drainage Search typically include:  

  • Water Supply
  • Sewage Disposal
  • Surface Water Drainage
  • Sewer Adoption
  • Water Meters
  • Charges and Liens

Environmental Search

The Environmental Search is an internet-based search providing information about the locality of the property, and the possible environmental risks associated with it that could affect the property’s value, safety, and the health of its inhabitants. This due diligence process typically includes: 

  • Industrial use of land in the area
  • Landfill, waste sites, and scrapyards
  • Storage of hazardous and dangerous substances
  • Accident hazard areas
  • Risk of subsidence and flooding
  • Radon gas precautions

It is important to acknowledge the time commitment required to complete these property surveys and searches. Typically, the entire process can span several weeks to a few months, depending on the complexity and specific circumstances of the property. This investment in time is crucial to ensure that you are fully aware of the property’s condition and legal standing before making a final decision.

How We Can Help

Leveraging decades of combined expertise in property transactions, Caroline and our skilled conveyancing team are dedicated to providing trusted advice. We support you from start to finish in purchasing your dream home or securing a smooth sale of your property.  

If you would like to speak to Caroline or any of our team of experts about your conveyancing needs, please contact us on 01258459361 or visit our Residential Property page.

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