Do You Need a Survey?

When buying a period home, you need to decide what kind of survey will give you confidence that the house is a safe investment.

There are three broad kinds of check on a house:

  • a valuation to establish the monetary value of the property
  • a survey to examine the structural quality of the property, in broad terms and at a certain level of detail
  • a structural examination by a structural engineer to look at specific elements of the property


In the UK your lender, such as a bank, will normally require a valuation, to enable them to determine the safety of their investment. You, as the prospective buyer, will normally be given a copy.

The valuation may make general observations and list any essential repairs. For example:

  • the area of the house; is it desirable to future buyers?
  • the general presentation of the house
  • a summary of condition, with comments on any risks to the property from faults
  • brief recommendations to the buyer on further checks to be carried out

Beyond this, it is upto you whether you wish to request a surveyor to conduct a more complete survey.


If you have previous knowledge of this kind of property, you may choose to conduct your own survey. You may support this with a professional survey.

A professional survey provides an impartial view, clear of the purchaser/vendor relationship. The cost is significant but is actually a small percentage of any expenditure on many repairs and of the purchase price. The professional survey would impart a surveyor's local knowledge not only on subsidence but also construction methods, susceptibility to particular forms of decay, past problems with flooding and a whole range of other issues.

All firms of surveyors are required to have a complaints procedure, and to be insured. There is, however, a proportion of purchasers who treat a survey as an insurance policy without true recognition that it is a professional's opinion on the property based on a snapshot and on what is accessible. This can be a touchy subject to surveyors, especially as there is ill-founded comeback from time to time which does cloud the issue. It is possible to look at something and make a judgement and be wrong without being negligent. Chartered Surveyors who are also members of the Independent Surveyors Association, operate to a code of conduct within that organisation as well as under the rules of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

In summary, the pros and cons are:

  Pros Cons

personal survey

free, except for your time

fully tailorable, within any limitations imposed by the vendor

dependent on your own skills

absolutely no legal comeback

professional survey

peace of mind

experience of surveying

local knowledge, for example of subsidence risks


compensation may be payable only in the event of negligence; an error of judgement does not mean that the surveyor was necessarily negligent.

In the UK, you can choose between a 'Homebuyer Survey' or a more tailored Building Survey. These are discussed here.

Given the advice of RICS, for a period property a Building Survey is more appropriate than the Homebuyer Survey.

See the guidance for choosing and instructing a surveyor.

Structural Examination

Instead of employing a surveyor, you could ask a structural engineer to examine the building. Make sure you use one who knows the local area and therefore the risks to the building from soil conditions etc, and with old house experience.

PLEASE SEE OUR DISCLAIMER OF LIABILITY. We are grateful for the advice provided by Mass & Co, Chartered Surveyors based in Essex.