You have agreed to buy a Home and have all sorts of costs: is a House survey essential and if they are all the same why would I not buy the cheapest.
Often I hear this, usually from first-time-buyers but also from seasoned buyers. The answer is simple – the chances are that you are correct but a significant proportion of buyers purchase a problem and then wish they had taken better quality, or any advice at all. Do you really want to take a chance with such a big investment?
If you are prepared to rely on chance then you don’t need me, or any other Surveyor. Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors research suggests that the average homebuyer faces an unforeseen repair bill of about Â£2,000. If you don’t want such an expense, and don’t want to rely on chance, then you only have one way to go – talk to a Surveyor to see what survey options you have so you use your money wisely, not blindly.
A good Surveyor will reveal these currently hidden defects, tell you what a reasonable repair budget cost is, the effect of that cost on the value of the home (often more than the cost of works) and how to best re-negotiate your offered price. If those negotiations are successful your survey fee will repay itself many times over.
So, what are the hallmarks of a possible cheap survey service as opposed to those of a high quality survey service?
Well – first of all let’s define the core quality areas:
- Fee Costs are explained
- Good communications means
- Initial Free Consultation available
- Product options are explained
- Choice of Adviser
- Short term appointment scheduling
- Good local knowledge
- Verbal initial Report
- Report explanation meeting
- Later further advice is available
- Simultaneous Loan Valuation with the private Survey?
If you were to not exercise any quality control self-protection by letting non-property Advisers design your property advice then the answers to the above 11 core advice areas would look something like this:-
- FEES – 2012 rates start at about Â£400 for a private Homebuyer Report.
- COMMUNICATION – via an intermediatory, not a Surveyor direct.
- FREE CONSULTATION – not available from a Surveyor.
- PRODUCT OPTIONS – Often not discussed at all (do you want a survey or not, is the only advice offered!).
- SURVEYOR CHOICE – Despite the BIG NAME or Branding you are dealing with you will have no idea who is to work for you, or his/her experience and record.
- APPOINTMENTS – Often within a 7 to 21 day range (too long).
- KNOWLEDGE – Without talking to your Surveyor how do you know they will have knowledge of the house type, its local area and the specific type of defects it is liable to suffer from.
- VERBAL REPORT – This speeds things up and provides re-assurance you need BUT is lacking when you are using a cheap, non-personal Survey Company.
- REPORT EXPLANATION – You must understand the whole report – can you get at the Surveyor to explain all matters to you? Probably not.
- FURTHER ADVICE – Along the route to a successful purchase or disposal all sorts of problems and queries crop up. Is your Surveyor available to field questions at any time and long after the initial survey was completed?
- LINKED LOAN VALUATION – If your Advisers tell you to link the Loan Valuation to the private survey then you are running some serious risks of undeclared commissions and quality issues. Never mix Loan Valuations with Private Surveys.
If you grasp the initiative and control the way you instruct a private Surveyor direct, the core quality benchmarks will revert to something like this:-
- FEES – Private Survey fee costs will start at about Â£500.
- COMMUNICATION – Will always be direct with a Surveyor, and only that Surveyor.
- FREE CONSULTATION – Your Surveyor will always be available for free advice.
- PRODUCT OPTIONS – These will always be discussed.
- SURVEYOR CHOICE – You will be able to ensure your Surveyor ticks all the boxes you demand.
- APPOINTMENTS – Survey inspection will be scheduled within the next 2 to 7 working days.
- KNOWLEDGE – You can check this because you have access to your Surveyor.
- VERBAL REPORT – Yes – this can be arranged to suit you so you have the reassurance to proceed as soon as possible.
- REPORT EXPLANATION – Once you have the written Report if you need further explanation and advice this can be arranged.
- FURTHER ADVICE – Property transactions always throw up uncertainty and confusion and any high quality Surveyor will be available to smooth things over and at any time (all part of the service).
- LINKED LOAN VALUATION – Never do this: too many conflicts of interest exist and the ability of a Valuer to produce a high quality Survey is open to question.
So a summary of the self-protection you need can be recognised. Below are 11 further benchmarks to be on the lookout for as they can tell you if you are being taken for a ride by an intermediatory:-
- Your Financial Adviser will recommend a simultaneous Loan Company Valuation service with the private survey added to it (supposedly to save you money).
- Your Solicitor should recommend a private Surveyor to you so why would you need to rely on the choice of an Estate Agent, Financial Adviser or other such Non-Surveying middleman?
- Often the Survey Appointment is delayed for many days as Valuations are more important to Loan Companies than Private Surveys.
- Your Surveyor may be a great local Valuer, but is he/she an experienced Surveyor as well (probably not). Ask the Surveyor how many surveys he completed in relation to the number of pure valuations he completes!
- If you pay for a simultaneous Valuation and private Survey but these are done by two differing people then the Loan Company have probably out-sourced your Survey out to a cheap Surveyor who is paying the Loan Company a commission for that service (often not disclosed to you even though it is mandatory to declare any such arrangement).
- No Surveyor will call you to discuss your needs and worries. This means a tailored service cannot be designed for you.
- When you next speak to the Sellers, ask them how long the Surveyor took on-site (under two hours and you should be worried) and whether detailed questions were thrown at the owners (if not, then the Surveyor has not done his job properly).
- If your Report is full of repetitions and standardised text/paragraphs (easy to detect as the language used is similar for all sections and can be full of “appears to be… ” phrases) then the Surveyor is not using his brain to report to you individually but instead is more concerned to reduce liability to you by treating you like any other client and therefore no personalisation can be built in to your report.
- If you have Report queries just try to talk to the actual Surveyor to have a detailed conversation with him/her. If this is difficult or not possible then the chances are you are talking to a Big Name but cheap-service Company (often with very familiar Names and Branding).
- To the actual Surveyor who is going to inspect the premises for you, ask (before they inspect your next home) if he/she has any negligence claims at all in their career. Many Surveyors have large numbers of claims against them and they are not expelled from membership of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) as RICS do not follow such trends.
- If you can get through to talk to your Surveyor ask if they can recommend local Contractors and Specialists to further investigate the problems identified in the Loan Valuation or Survey Report: lack of positive response will probably mean a lack of local knowledge and so why did they accept your job in the first place?
At the end of the day it comes down to a basic choice – are you going to take the initiative to create self-protection or roll over and let the system make money out of you whilst protecting their own backs, not yours? The choice is yours.