You would be advised not to buy a building without first commissioning a building survey from a chartered surveyor.
It may be just as vital if you are taking a lease. You need to know what repairs you might face and you may need the evidence of the survey later if your landlord tries to make you pay for work that you do not think is justified. You need to be sure that the condition of the building when you move in is properly recorded.
When do I first need a building survey?
Before you buy a property or take on a lease you need to know of any problems prior to committing yourself. Whether you are buying or leasing you need to know the condition of the building and the likely repair or maintenance costs.
A lease will normally require you to maintain the property in good repair and probably to put it in good repair if it is in a bad state at the outset. Just occasionally the lease may state that you do not have to return the property to the landlord at the end of the lease in better condition than it was at the beginning. In all cases you need clear evidence of the condition of the building when you take it on.
A survey will provide this. A schedule of condition attached to the lease at the outset is your safeguard for later.
What does a building survey cover?
You need to tell your chartered surveyor the purpose of the survey and its scope. A chartered surveyor would not report in detail on the heating or electrical equipment in the premises or the underground drains, for example. If you want these items covered you must tell your chartered surveyor, who can arrange to bring in the appropriate experts.
Other items normally excluded, but where sampling and testing may be included if required, would be the presence of damaging (technically, deleterious) materials – such as high-alumina cement. Specialist surveys are available to cover asbestos and the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act.
You should negotiate the fee for the survey in advance with your chartered surveyor.
How does the chartered surveyor go about the survey?
The chartered surveyor starts with a visual inspection of the building. The usual pattern is to take it top to bottom externally, then top to bottom internally. The chartered surveyor will inspect floors, walls and ceilings and will be paying particular attention to signs of settlement, damp or timber decay etc.
The state of roof coverings, gutters and downpipes will be noted, as will the condition of doors or windows which may be approaching the end of their useful life. Your chartered surveyor is noting not only the present condition of the building and its individual elements but also the items that will need attention in the foreseeable future. The immediate repairs that will be needed plus the likely timescale of future maintenance and repair work, with an indication of the probable cost, will be noted in the building survey.
What if I lease only part of a larger building?
The survey will need to cover the part you are planning to lease but will also need to take account of the condition of the building as a whole. The cost of repairs to common parts may be apportioned among the tenants.
What will the survey report tell me?
Your chartered surveyor’s report will be presented in ‘elemental’ format. In other words, it will describe each element of the property – roofs, walls, floors, etc – in turn. It will also note the items that have not been covered, such as deleterious materials (unless you have requested this). He or she will, however, note anything emerging from the inspection that give cause for concern and suggest that further investigation is needed. Your chartered surveyor will also note anything that could not be inspected during the survey.
May I use the survey report for whatever purposes I like?
No. The report will probably note that it is confidential to you, as the client, and to your professional advisers. It will exclude any liability to third parties who make use of the report without the chartered surveyor’s express permission.
The position is rather different in the case of a ‘vendor survey’: a survey for an owner who is planning to sell the building. In this case you will be allowed to show the report to prospective purchasers within a specified time frame. The time limit is there to prevent other people from being misled as to the state of the property by an out-of-date report.
How can a chartered surveyor help with planning maintenance?
Your lease will probably require you to keep the premises in good condition and may impose a timetable for internal and external decoration. After the inspection your chartered surveyor will be able to help you prepare a maintenance schedule both of day-to-day items and of other items that will need attention at longer intervals. This will probably be supplemented by an interim inspection by your chartered surveyor every couple of years. Sticking to this schedule may save you greater expense later and enable you to budget more efficiently over the period of your lease.