Organising a Period House Survey

How do you organise a survey? This guidance covers choosing and instructing a surveyor to conduct a Building Survey on a house.

Whichever surveyor you choose, he or she will operate under guidance of the RICS Appraisal and Valuation Manual. RICS has a directory of surveyors. Make sure that the surveyor specialises in and understands period buildings. Seek the advice of SPAB and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation.

You may find that a surveyor from a smaller company is better able to offer a flexible approach to the survey process. For example, you may:

  • ask for a meeting before the survey to agree on the cost and scope of the survey
  • ask to have a purely verbal report
  • ask to have a written report with a meeting to discuss the findings

You will find that surveyors are unwilling to:

  • allow you to attend the survey
  • offer estimates of costs of repairs
  • recommend builders or other trades to give quotations on repairs

Most surveyors will not permit your attendance as fairly intense concentration is required during a survey. This is easily lost by frequent discussions or even by the presence of an interested party, and a balanced overall judgement is often not possible until the end of the survey even though a purchaser naturally requires some feedback during the exercise. It is far preferable for the client to meet with the surveyor at the property once the survey has been completed, with the vendor's agreement, to discuss any significant matters highlighted.

You must be prepared to pay a fee which reflects the services offered, and not negotiate this downwards at the same time as requesting additional advice.

Choosing a Surveyor

Ask whether the company you contact has a surveyor experienced or specialising in houses of the period you are interested in. Request to speak to him or her, and ask for their views on, for example, lime and the management of damp. Establish their opinions on the principles that SPAB espouses. Do you feel comfortable with him or her? You will be paying a useful sum of money so make sure the surveyor knows what you want.

As well as making it clear that you (the buyer) like period houses, it is important to set out whether or not you understand them (or buildings generally) and also your own background. For example, you may be planning to purchase a 16th century timber frame houses but only have experience of one 1950s semi; you may have little or no appreciation of the issues involved, even despite many pages of survey report. His or her assessment needs to have an appropriate focus.

In addition to evidence of rot or woodworm, there is a whole issue regarding the necessity or otherwise to treat with chemicals (deathwatch beetle in particular) and it is useful to establish the surveyor's views on this.

If the property will require expensive or complex repairs, your surveyor could be a useful ally over a long time. He or she can be involved to advise on each major stage, so building a good relationship with the individual is important.

Scope of the Survey

The items you need a clear view on, because they are costly to remedy, include:

  • structural soundness; evidence of settlement, subsidence and implications for the future
  • quality of woodwork; evidence of dry and wet rot, woodworm and attack by other insects
  • quality of the roof; the timber inside, the soffits and fascia, guttering, the roof covering, flashing, and the state of flat roofing
  • the management of damp; exterior and interior wall coatings including render, paints and wallpapers, soil levels, and damp proof course
  • internal plastering; type and quality, state of decorative mouldings
  • pointing and state of the brickwork; the use of lime, state of chimneys
  • windows and doors; quality of wood or metal and their fitting
  • the state of the drains

Any inspection of the drains has its limitations, and there are obvious constraints on access to floors, roofs and other areas which will often only be apparent upon arrival on site. Access to underneath the ground floor is also useful; bouncy floors often indicate a problem but diagnosis is only possible by lifting a floorboard.

A general view on the electrics, boiler and other issues should still be included in a survey since this provides a balanced picture of the property as a whole.

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