Understanding building surveys: their value for buyers and investors

Understanding building surveys: their value for buyers and investors Architecture Glossary

Buying and renovating a property can be a major investment that comes with some big decisions. Before going ahead with any purchase or investing in major works, it is important to check that the building in question is structurally sound. This is where a building survey comes into play and why it is worth understanding the value in having one.

Building surveys can help you understand whether a property is in good shape physically. Whether you are on the verge of purchasing the property or consulting architects on potential renovations and design choices, it is essential to understand the various types of building surveys and how they work. 

As surveys also vary in cost, it is also good to be aware of any potential issues that may arise during the survey process and be armed with some practical advice on how to address them in any project management stages. This guide explores the intricacies of building surveys and their importance when you invest in a property. 

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What is a building survey?

A building survey is an extensive inspection of a property both inside and outside the building. A building survey is vital for shedding light on areas that might be vulnerable or in need of immediate attention. It can alert buyers and property investors to any safety issues and hazards, such as loose handrails, broken steps, or missing smoke detectors as well as assessing potential environmental issues (like asbestos). A survey will also evaluate whether your property complies with local building codes and regulations.

Whether you’re a homeowner, a potential buyer, or you are working out the feasibility of any potential renovations, understanding the importance of having a comprehensive building survey can be pivotal in making informed decisions and will ensure you are safeguarding your investment for the future.

What does a building survey cover?

A comprehensive building survey inspects your property in general . The foundations of your property will only be inspected in a structural survey (which is another type of building survey). However, not all structural survey reports will inspect the foundations of a building either, such as a heritage report.

Building surveys, in general, carefully examine the integrity of the property, ensuring that the beams, walls, roofs, and floors are sound and secure. From the condition of the roof tiles to the stability of the basement, every part is meticulously checked. Your building survey identifies defects, issues and necessary repairs, typically looking at every aspect of a building, including:

  • Foundations – checking for stability, cracks or other signs of damage (including loft and basement areas).
  • Exterior walls – looking at their condition, dampness, discoloration, or other signs of structural damage.
  • Roofing – assessing the condition of the roof, tiles, gutters and chimney (which includes looking for leaks, damage, or signs of wear).
  • Windows and doors – surveying their functionality, signs of wear and the quality of seals.
  • Interior walls and ceilings – inspecting interior walls and ceilings for signs of dampness, mould, cracking, or other damage.
  • Floors, driveways, fences and landscaping – evaluating for signs of sagging, unevenness, or damage.
  • Plumbing, electrics, insulation and heating systems – ensuring they are in good order.

Gardens, boundaries, external buildings or garages are also assessed to ensure that they are in good condition and that there are no concerns that could affect the property’s value or its safety.

Moreover, the survey does not just stop at highlighting visible issues. It explores the potential safety hazards and any underlying problems that may not be immediately evident, or areas that might pose challenges in the future. By choosing a comprehensive building survey, you are investing in peace of mind, knowing that every corner of the property has been examined, evaluated and documented.

Why are building surveys so important?

Building surveys are an indispensable tool and safeguard your most significant investment and asset, i.e., your home. A well-conducted survey is like a protective shield, proactively identifying potential pitfalls or structural concerns that could compromise the integrity or value of your property. Building surveys will help to ensure that you step into their purchase well-informed and confident that your investment is a wise one.

If you already own a property, regular surveys can also be instrumental in pre-empting significant issues, facilitating timely interventions and ensuring the property remains a safe and valuable asset now and if you’re considering further work down the line, such as adding extra storeys to a property and other larger permitted developments. In essence, building surveys are not just about bricks and mortar, they are about reassuring you and supporting you to make informed decisions.

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What are the different types of building surveys?

When it comes to building surveys, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Different properties, with their unique characteristics, age and history, require distinct levels of scrutiny. Fortunately, the field of property inspection offers a range of survey types tailored to these needs. Here are the various types of building surveys to help you consider and select the right one for your specific property.

The most comprehensive of all, a full structural building survey is a deep dive into the property’s structure and condition. They are often performed by Structural Engineers and are ideal for older homes, unique properties or buildings where you are planning significant alterations, these surveys leave no stone unturned. Depending on the level you choose, they detail both major and minor defects and provide advice on repairs, maintenance, and potential impacts on the property’s value.

Condition reports

Starting with the most basic, a condition report provides a visual snapshot of the property and are done by a Chartered RICS Surveyor. Think of it as a surface-level health check. It uses simple traffic light ratings to highlight areas of concern and is especially useful for newer properties or for buyers on a tighter budget.

Stepping up in detail, homebuyer reports go beyond just the visuals and are also overseen by a Chartered RICS Surveyor. These are non-intrusive surveys, meaning they do not look behind furniture or under floorboards, but they provide a deeper analysis than condition reports. They often include a valuation and are suitable for relatively modern properties that appear to be in a decent state.

Specific issue surveys

As the name suggests, specific issue surveys are tailored for investigating a particular concern. Perhaps you have noticed an alarming crack or are concerned about a large patch of mould or damp? This survey homes in on that specific problem, offering insights and recommendations.

New-build snagging surveys

Snagging a property can be undertaken by an Architect. It is normally associated with a new-build property or a property that has undergone recent renovations and extensive building works both inside and out. If you have invested in a brand-new property, this new-build survey type is for you. It identifies any snags or defects, from cosmetic issues to more significant structural problems, ensuring you get the best from your new home.

Older properties and listed buildings with historical significance have their own set of challenges whether you’re buying or undergoing some renovations. Historic surveys are performed by a Heritage Consultant who is specialised to assess historic or listed buildings’ unique needs, focusing on preservation while addressing any contemporary concerns.

By understanding these distinct types of building surveys, you can better determine which one aligns with your property’s characteristics and your objectives, ensuring that you receive a thorough and relevant assessment tailored to your needs.

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How much do building surveys cost?

Investing in a property is not just about the purchase price; understanding the associated costs, including the various costs of building surveys is essential. Different properties come with varied survey costs, influenced by factors ranging from the survey’s depth to the property’s age and location. For instance, a basic condition report is typically more affordable than a comprehensive structural survey.

The cost of a building survey will vary according to the:

Size and age of the property

Larger properties require more time to survey, hence may be pricier. Additionally, older homes often have more intricate details and potential issues, necessitating a more intensive investigation, which can influence the cost.


Just as property values vary by location, so do survey costs. In areas with higher living costs, surveyors might charge a premium.

Special requirements

If your property has unique features, like being a listed building or having undergone unconventional modifications, it may require specialist surveyors with expertise in those areas. This specialised knowledge often comes at a premium.

Additional expenses

It’s also beneficial to consider potential additional costs. For instance, if a surveyor identifies a major issue, you may need to invest in a more detailed, follow-up survey to understand the full extent and implications.

Why is investing in a building survey so valuable?

While it might be tempting to opt for the cheapest survey available, it is vital to recognise the value of a thorough survey. A detailed assessment can identify potential problems that could cost significantly more in the long run if not addressed promptly. Think of it as an insurance policy; a small investment that could save you from hefty bills in the future.

While the cost of surveys varies based on numerous factors, understanding these variations helps property buyers budget appropriately. More importantly, it is important to recognise the long-term value of a comprehensive survey.

WindsorPatania: Expert services for all your property needs

WindsorPatania understands the complexities and technicalities of building surveys and are committed to simplifying these for our clients. Navigating the world of home design and site appraisals requires a guiding hand. WindsorPatania stands out with its comprehensive services that cover everything from private residence design appraisals to personalised home designs.

Our team of expert architects and designers can help you to draw up a new living space and bring your vision to life. If you are ready to start your journey towards designing your ideal home, book a free discovery call with us today.


This guide was written in collaboration with our content team member Annie Button.

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