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What is a Property Survey? A looking glass held over a typical UK house. SAM Conveyancing explains what happens during a building survey, what the chartered surveyor checks, and the purpose of getting a house survey

What is a property survey?

(Last Updated: 19/03/2024)
13 min read
Key Takeaways
  • A property survey (or conveyancing survey) is a crucial stage during the conveyancing process for any buyer
  • A surveyor checks the whole property to give a formal report of the condition of the property
  • The results help you decide whether you should proceed with the purchase at the current asking price, negotiate with the seller due to defects or even pull out from the purchase
  • The surveyor applies a condition rating to different parts of the inside and outside of the property
  • Our survey costs start at £400 EXC VAT for a RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) home survey Level 2 (also known as a home buyer report) and £500 EXC VAT for a RICS home survey Level 3 Home Survey (previously known as a full structural survey)
  • If defects are discovered, you can negotiate with the seller for an adjusted price on the property

What is the purpose of a building survey?

Property surveys aim to protect the buyer from dangerous and expensive surprises by identifying problems with the building before you exchange contracts.

A property survey is a reliable, accurate and expert inspection & report on a property conducted on behalf of the buyer. The property surveyor will check for visible signs of problems, which may only be evident to people with the proper skills and qualifications. This can save the buyer from buying a house with serious issues, which may make it unsafe or diminish its value.

You should choose a qualified surveyor with knowledge of the local environment and property market.

Why would you need a surveyor?

You should get property surveyors to assess a property's condition before you buy it, typically with a home buyer's detailed report (L2) or, comprehensive building survey (L3), but you might also get a snagging survey on new build properties, a mortgage valuation, a land surveyor to settle a boundary walls dispute or a building control surveyor to make sure your building works meet building regulations and planning permission.

There are more specialist surveys that are used for further investigation when a problem has already been identified, often as part of the property survey. If you are buying a home, you only need to book a specialist survey if your surveyor recommends one specifically.

Get in touch for free guidance on what type of survey is appropriate for your property.

What do surveyors do?

There are more than 100 different types of surveyors of property, land, construction and infrastructure. RICS states: "The role of a surveyor is to guide construction and development projects and to provide professional advice on matters such as the structural integrity of a property or its value."

Surveyors visually inspect the whole property give detailed feedback using a traffic light system, with a basic check of visible issues affecting central heating, main services and drainage services, main walls, roof structure, roof space, chimney stacks and chimney breasts from up to 3 metres above ground level, as well as future risks if you opt for a structural survey level 3.

This article describes what a RICS surveyor does and doesn't do during an RICS Level 2 Home Survey (previously the HomeBuyer Report) and Level 3 Home Survey (formerly the Building Survey, or full structural survey).

At what stage do you have a survey when buying a house?

What does a surveyor check when you're buying a house?

Inspect the outside the property

  • Roof
  • Gutters
  • Wall
  • Windows and doors
  • Porch/conservatories

Inspect the inside the property

  • Roof and loft
  • Ceilings and walls
  • Floors
  • Fireplace, chimney breast and flue
  • Built-in fittings (built-in kitchen and other fittings, not including appliances)
  • Woodwork such as the staircasing
  • Bathroom fittings

Inspect the Services

The surveyor can only inspect the visible parts of the available services, and they do not carry out specialist tests. The visual inspection cannot assess the services to ensure they work efficiently and safely and meet modern standards.

  • Electricity
  • Gas/oil
  • Water
  • Heating and water heating
  • Drainage
  • Common services

Inspect the Grounds

  • Garage
  • Permanent outbuildings and other structures

Issues for your legal advisers

Property surveyors cannot comment on any legal documents but, if, during the inspection, they identify issues that your solicitor may need to investigate further, the surveyor will refer to these in the report (for example, to state you should check whether there is a warranty covering replacement windows).

  • Building Regulation certificates for works completed
  • Warranties or guaranties for installed items such as solar panels
  • Freeholder certificates such as EWS1 Form for cladding


The structural surveyor highlights defects and issues that could present a risk to the building or grounds or a safety risk to people. The issue may have existed for some time and cannot be reasonably changed.

  • Risks to the building
  • Risks to the grounds
  • Risks to people

16% of homeowners discover defects

In our recent survey, 16% of homeowners found defects; including 2% who were able to pull out of a bad purchase, 7% who were able to negotiate a better price, and sadly, 7% of homeowners who did not get a survey and discovered defects after the purchase.

12 of the 39 who remembered how much these defects cost to remedy spent over £5,000

Don't burn your money, book a survey.

RICS Surveyors | Fixed Fees | Same week availability | Access arranged


What is the survey process for buying a house?

Step 1 - Arrange the survey

In a purchase, the buyer is responsible for arranging the survey. If you choose us to handle your purchase we'll sort all of this out and arrange access with the sellers. We negotiate the best prices with our nationwide panel of hand selected, local, chartered surveyors.

RICS Surveyors | Fixed Fees | Same week availability | Access arranged

Step 2 - Pre-Survey investigations

The surveyor reviews the following:

  • the Energy Performance Certificate for the property;
  • the sales particulars provided by the estate agent; and
  • the property's online listing to ensure the correct Home Survey has been booked.

Step 3 - Collection of Keys

The surveyor will have already arranged access, which is either:

  • key collection from the estate agent's office or
  • the vendor will grant access.

Step 4 - Survey takes place

The survey is divided into two parts: an inside and outside inspection. Depending on the light conditions, the surveyor typically starts the inspection outside and then moves inside. What happens during a survey will depend on the property type, but the checklist in the tabs above is the guide surveyors use.

Step 5 - Post survey call

The surveyor calls the buyer to run through their findings. This is a summary; the buyer should wait for the fully typed report before exchanging contracts.

Step 6 - Survey Report

The surveyor types their report and sends it to the client via email or post within 5 to 10 working days**.

Does the surveyor pull up carpets?

The Level 2 and 3 Home Surveys are non-intrusive surveys of the inside of the property and the outside garden and outhouses (sheds). Non-intrusive means the surveyor doesn't drill holes or pull up carpets. The seller is unlikely to allow you to drill holes, pull up carpets or even lift floor boards whilst you have yet to exchange contracts and can pull out at any stage.

This is an extract from the standard terms from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors:

"The surveyor does not force or open up the fabric without owner consent or if there is a risk of causing personal injury or damage. This includes taking up fitted carpets, fitted floor coverings or floorboards, moving heavy furniture, removing the contents of cupboards, roof spaces, etc., removing secured panels and hatches or undoing electrical fittings. The under-floor areas are inspected where there is safe access."

If there is an agreed intrusive survey, the RICS surveyor will typically request that a builder be at the property to effect the intrusive survey, as the seller, not the buyer or their surveyor, will bear the repairs for any intrusive assessment. All surveys undertaken by SAM's panel of RICS surveyors are non-intrusive unless otherwise agreed upon in writing with the seller and confirmed as included within the scope of work.

What does a building surveyor cover?

The survey includes all accessible areas. During the inspection, the local surveyor will need access to all areas of the property and outbuildings, including basements, lofts, cellars, garages and barns. The seller must provide this access to the surveyor.

What if the seller hides a property defect?

A seller who knows of a defect may not be forthcoming about allowing access to an area where that defect can be found. The estate agent must allow the surveyor access to all areas. If access is not granted, then this will be reported in the surveyor's report, and we strongly suggest you instruct a revisit so that a thorough assessment of the property can be made.

Unfortunately, the buyer bears the cost of a revisit, even though it's the seller's fault. However, it is worth being thorough as hidden defects can cost you thousands to remedy. Fortunately, you won't have to pay the total cost of another survey, as you would if you pulled out and made an offer on a different property instead. The revisit cost depends on the surveyor and how convenient it is for them to return to the property. It will typically cost up to £100 plus VAT.

Negotiating with the seller to knock the revisit cost off the purchase price may be possible. The main issue comes when a landlord is selling the property and their tenants have obstructed access, not to hide a defect, but because they can't be bothered to empty and repack their storage areas.

How long does it take for a surveyor to come out?

We can have a surveyor out to you within a few working days*; they'll call you on the inspection day to discuss their findings, and you'll get your report a few days later**.

How long will the surveyor be in my house?

The length of time depends on the type of survey and the size, age, and condition of the property. Here is a guide by the survey level:

How long does a homebuyer's survey take?

A Level 2 HomeBuyers Survey can be completed in under 2 hours, and it could take an hour for properties in relatively good condition.

How long does a building survey take?

A Level 3 Survey takes longer than a Level 2 HomeBuyer Survey as the property is usually older or in a condition requiring further investigation. The surveyor is at the property for at least 2 hours but may take longer if they encounter any significant defects requiring further investigation.

When a surveyor spends less than 2 hours at the property, likely, the condition of it didn't merit a Level 3 Home Survey.

RICS Surveyors | Fixed Fees | Same week availability | Access arranged

What do surveyors look for when buying a house?

A chartered surveyor will look for general indicators of the condition of the property, but they'll be keeping an eye out for tell-tale signs of specific defects: red flags that could devalue the property, make it unsafe or make it expensive to run and heat, which may be costly to rectify and which may become worse if they are not dealt with swiftly.

What are the red flags on a house survey?

  • Damp, mould or rotten timbers
  • Subsidence or signs of movement
  • Infestations such as rats, mice or woodworm
  • Rotten window frames or blown glazing
  • Dangerous materials such as asbestos
  • Blocked drains or leaking pipes
  • Damage to the roof or missing tiles

You can learn more about common defects in House survey problems.

Frequently Asked Questions
Andrew Boast of Sam Conveyancing
Written by:
Andrew started his career in 2000 working within conveyancing solicitor firms and grew hands on knowledge of a wide variety of conveyancing challenges and solutions. After helping in excess of 50,000 clients in his career, he uses all this experience within his article writing for SAM, mainstream media and his self published book How to Buy a House Without Killing Anyone.
Caragh Bailey, Digital Marketing Manager
Reviewed by:

Caragh is an excellent writer in her own right as well as an accomplished copy editor for both fiction and non-fiction books, news articles and editorials. She has written extensively for SAM for a variety of conveyancing, survey and mortgage related articles.

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