The purchase of a property is likely to be one of the largest financial commitments an individual or company will undertake. It makes sense therefore to try and find out as much as possible about the property before being committed to a purchase. The way to do this is to have a full Building Survey carried out by a Chartered Building Surveyor.
At J G Adair we have a wide range of experience of surveying all types of buildings. These include surveys of residential properties ranging from the smallest flats to large country houses, surveys of commercial properties from small storage sheds to large multi-storey technical installations and surveys of historic and public buildings from schools to hospitals.
Many people who have little experience of buying property are not sure what to expect from a building survey, whilst those who have had many properties surveyed are sometimes confused by the widely differing types of report they have received.
In order to help those who are about to buy a property we have tried to explain the various matters, which may be included in a building survey. Clearly, not all of the matters are applicable to all properties, nor will all clients wish for all of the various items to be dealt with. The paragraphs not in italics, however, form the basis of our standard survey, insofar as they are applicable to the building being surveyed. Clients requirements differ so much that it is desirable for the survey to be discussed with the surveyor before the survey is carried out if you information beyond what is described here (eg can it be extended), although it is recognised that this is not always possible.
The fee for a structural survey is based on the time spent on it. This depends partly on the size, condition and complexity of the building and partially on the extent of the work instructed. It is usually possible to give an idea on the cost of the survey before it is carried out if some information on the property is available.
At J G Adair we believe that the most appropriate way to report on the condition of a building is to consider it systematically on an elemental basis so that for example all external walls are dealt with under one heading.
Our report therefore will generally take the form of an introduction followed by sections dealing with the structure and finishes, the environment of the building, its services and sanitation and then the site, boundaries and ancillary buildings, all as described in the details of the survey on the following pages.
The report will also set out the extent of our instructions to avoid misunderstanding as to what is and what is not included in the survey.
The building will be described very briefly to set the scene for the report and the aspect of the house will be noted, as will the weather conditions at the time of the survey.
The accommodation will be listed briefly but room dimensions will not be taken unless we are specifically instructed to do this.
SURVEYS OF FREEHOLD BUILDINGS
Where J G Adair are instructed to survey a freehold building the following matters will be included in the standard survey and report (insofar as they are applicable to the property) except those paragraphs set in italics. Such additional items as required will be included on receipt of particular instructions. (Surveys on other kinds of building may require some variation of content and procedure according to the particular problems of the type of building concerned. This is explained more fully at the end).
THE STRUCTURE AND FINISHES
In this part of the survey we consider the structural elements of the building, the non structural elements such as doors and windows, the finishes and decorations. In addition we consider matters affecting the internal environment of the building.
The roof will be inspected externally from the ground with the aid of binoculars and, where accessible, from inside roof voids. The report will describe the form of construction and materials used, insofar as these can be ascertained, and will comment on the apparent stability and condition of the roof and roof coverings, although no structural calculations will be made.
The surveyor will have a 3.66m (12ft) ladder. In some cases, long ladders are necessary to make the survey. Reliance must be placed on clients to advise whether it will be necessary to have long ladders brought to the site, and these will be brought only on the clients instructions and provided that need is established before the survey is made.
The rainwater disposal and rainwater goods will be inspected from the ground and if necessary through binoculars. They will be described and their condition noted. If instructed, inspection will be made from long ladders (and this will be done as a matter of course if instruction has been given for ladders to be brought for a roof inspection).
Flow tests to determine freedom from blockage will be made if so instructed (provided that there is an adequate head of water available) and if instructions for the use of long ladders have been given.
The walls will be described and their condition noted where these can be inspected from the ground, (with binoculars if necessary) and from within the building.
Cavities in walls cannot normally be inspected but, if so instructed, the void in cavity walls may be examined with a fibre optic viewer, subject to the necessary permission being given.
The foundations will not normally be exposed but comment made on any indirect evidence which indicates the condition and suitability of the foundations.
If so instructed and provided the vendor agrees, excavation will be made to expose the foundations and the nature of the bearing soil. (It is rare to do this, partly because of the cost but principally because most vendors are unwilling to permit the work.)
Damp Proof Course
The evidence for any horizontal damp proof course will be noted and visual inspection will be made to look for any signs of dampness which might indicate any failure of the damp proof course to prevent water rising from the ground. This inspection will be augmented by random tests made with an electronic moisture meter.
If we are asked (and subject to the Vendors permission), more accurate tests will be made to determine the moisture content of the walls. This will be done by taking core samples of the wall and testing by drying and weighing.
The structure and condition of the floors will be described from observations of what is accessible.
When floor coverings are loose and unobstructed they will be turned back in places to expose floorboards or other finishes, but not all floor coverings will be turned back, even if they are loose.
Arrangements will be made, if requested, for lifting of floor coverings and boards to be carried out. This requires the Vendors agreement and permission.
Doors, Windows, Staircases and Other Joinery
These elements will be described and their condition noted. External inspection of windows will be made from ground level and with the aid of binoculars where appropriate. Vendors should be asked to unlock windows before the survey starts.
Internal Wall and Ceiling Finishes
The nature and condition of plaster and other internal wall and ceiling finishes will be described and their condition noted.
It must be realised that the full extent of any loss of key of plaster may only be discovered as and when wallpaper or other finishes are removed.
In addition to reporting on the damp proof course the general ability of the building to resist dampness will be considered.
Where appropriate the problems of condensation will be considered.
Within the limitations of access, evidence of fungal decay will be noted. The vulnerability of timbers in the property to fungal decay will also be considered.
Infestation by Wood Boring Insect
Evidence of woodworm attack in accessible timbers will be noted. Random search for evidence of attack will be made in the roof void and on floors but widespread and systematic examination of timber surfaces will not be made.
If so instructed, an inspection in greater detail of the accessible roof timbers will be made.
The efficiency of the building in this respect will be considered in general terms, although no heat loss calculations will be made.
Good sanitation is vital to the health and welfare of the occupants of a building. Although much can be learnt about the installation by visual inspection, it is usual for a large part of the sanitary installation to be concealed in the building.
More information about the system will be obtained by the inspection of the installation by a sanitary engineer, particularly in the matter of drain tests. The engineer will have equipment to lift heavy or stuck covers on inspection chambers but, even more importantly, the drains will be given a water pressure test. This is the only way to determine whether the underground drains leak.
If a sanitary engineer is not instructed the following works will be undertaken:
Sanitary Fittings and Soil and Waste Pipes
These will be inspected by visual examination only and their condition reported upon. Externally, pipes will be examined from the ground or from windows.
If water is available, flow tests will be made to determine the above ground drainage layout.
Where possible, the drain runs will be noted. Where inspection chamber covers can be lifted without assistance or special equipment, the chambers will be inspected and their condition reported upon.
If so instructed, pressure tests will be carried out on the drainage installation where this is possible, to determine the water tightness of the drains. Alternatively a camera survey can be arranged with a specialist contractor. (These tests are very desirable because they will disclose leaks in the drains).
Ancillary Buildings, Site and Boundaries
Many properties being surveyed comprise, in addition to the main building, a number of ancillary buildings. These can range from substantially built structures such as staff cottages or stable blocks to derelict sheds or greenhouses.
It is for the client to indicate whether a report on these buildings is required and , if so, whether the report required is to be in the same detail as the report on the principal building. If no instruction on these matters is received the procedure described below will be adopted.
Although the majority of dwelling houses do not stand on a large area of land, some country properties have extensive grounds and the actual boundaries of a property are not always easily identified.
The survey will not establish ownership, definition or location of the boundaries; this is a matter for legal advice.
Substantially Built Structures
These will be inspected for major defects and will be reported upon briefly. If so instructed, these will be surveyed and reported upon in the same detail as the principal building.
Temporary or Semi-derelict Outbuildings (Sheds etc)
These will be dealt with briefly and in general terms.
In the standard survey boundary fences which are accessible and in the environs of the house and garden will be inspected.
If so instructed, the inspection will be extended to all identified boundary walls/fences on larger properties.
Paths, Drives and Fences
These will be described and their condition noted. On properties on large sites all of these items will not be inspected in detail unless specific instructions to do so are given.
There are certain other matters, which may be included as described below. Most of these will only be dealt with on receipt of specific instructions.
Rebuilding Costs for Insurance Purposes. The survey will not include an assessment of rebuilding costs for insurance purposes.
If so instructed such an assessment will be made. This requires that measurements are taken on site and therefore it is more economical if instructions are given for this assessment to be made at the time of the instructions to carry out the survey.
The survey will not normally include a valuation for mortgage or other purposes.
Means of Escape and Structural fire Precautions
Where appropriate (in tall buildings, blocks of flats, etc) this matter will be considered.
If so instructed, investigation will be made with the appropriate authorities to determine whether the necessary permissions, certificates or waivers have been granted.
We will not comment on planning matters in the course of the standard survey.
If instructed, the local planning office will be contacted to discuss planning matters which may affect the property but which may not be revealed in the local searches conducted by the client's solicitors. Because such approaches are informal, the official will probably give opinion without responsibility but, nonetheless, such discussions can be very useful. We would note that increasingly council's are charging for such advice.
The same matter can be dealt with in greater detail by making a visit to the planning office and examining the maps on which planning decisions are recorded.
Building Regulations or By-Law Approvals
In certain instances, such as after the conversion of a house into flats, it is important to know that all statutory controls have been complied with. If so instructed, this matter will be investigated by visiting the relevant offices of the Local Authority.
When a property is situated in an area not well known to the buyer, investigations may be made concerning public transport, schools, shops, etc.
Inevitably, the nature of the construction of buildings and the presence of furniture and fittings internally means that some of the component parts remain hidden and cannot be inspected in a normal survey. (See "Limitations and Liabilities¨ below).
If so instructed, and if the owner's permission is given, arrangements will be made to carry out certain exposure work so as to reduce the extent of the hidden parts.
If so instructed, and subject to the building owner's permission for 10mm diameter holes to be drilled into the structure, a fibre optic viewer will be used to inspect certain hidden voids under floors, in flat roofs and in wall cavities, etc, to allow us to report on otherwise inaccessible parts.
Necessary Repair Works
The report will indicate where it is considered that repair of elements of the building will need to be undertaken but the report will not specify the repairs in detail. Such specification of works may be undertaken as a separate instruction.
We are often asked to advise on the cost of repairs highlighted in the survey report.
Determining the true cost of repairs calls for the preparation of a specification or schedule of works which is beyond the scope of a building survey. Even when such a document is prepared it is necessary to obtain competitive prices from competent contractors.
Without these work estimates of possible cost of repair may differ substantially from the true cost.
If so instructed and if time permits before exchange of contracts (and if the vendor allows) we will be happy to return to the property to prepare a schedule of works for contractors to price against.
SURVEYS OF LEASEHOLD PROPERTIES
A leasehold property, on a full repairing lease is, from the point of view of the survey, much the same as a freehold property. The main difference is that the need to keep in repair does not just depend on what is prudent but is strictly governed by the terms of the repairing clauses in the lease.
For this reason it is desirable for a copy of the proposed lease to be produced before the survey is made so that particular liability may be taken into account when making the survey.
Where the repairing liability is divided between Landlord (or management company) and tenant, as is often the case with blocks of flats, the problem of carrying out a survey is greater. If, for example, a tenant has a 10% liability for the cost of external repairs in a block of ten flats, it is necessary to survey the whole block to find the total state of disrepair so that the true extent of the liability can be assessed.
In the majority of cases such a survey would involve a disproportional amount of time in relation to the value of the flat. It is normal (for financial reasons) for the survey to be confined to the flat or part to be demised, and for inspection of the building as a whole to be limited to a general overview to give a clue as to the general state of repair of the whole block. Such a survey usually fulfils a useful function but there can be no assurance that all defects will be seen. Even when the instructions concerning the landlord's liability are not limited, the survey is likely to be restricted by the difficulty of obtaining access to other flats. (Often, the indication of a defect which is the landlord's liability shows only internally).
Unless instructed otherwise, surveys of flats in blocks of flats will be subject to the limited inspection of the buildings as a whole which is indicated above.
SURVEYS OF OTHER TYPES OF PROPERTY
Although other types of property may be surveyed in much the same way as described above, the details and scope of such surveys will vary according to the particular problems involved.
Timber framed buildings will need to be dealt with under rather different heads because it is important to consider the structural frame as a whole as well as the component parts of roof, walls and floors. This would apply to certain other types of framed building also.
Buildings of architecture or historic interest do not differ, basically, from other types of building but it is important to keep in mind their particular character when reporting. It is not however the function of the surveyor to make aesthetic judgements on the building as part of the building survey report. However the character and construction of the building must be to the forefront of the surveyors mind when making any recommendations for repair.
Non-residential buildings present their own particular problems and, although much of the matter of this paper is applicable, these surveys require their own special form of inspection and report.
LIMITATIONS AND LIABILITY
Unless specifically requested, no tests will be carried out to determine whether high alumina cement was used during the construction or subsequent renovation or extension of the property. Without such tests, however, it is not normally possible to determine whether such material has been used. The use of high alumina cement in certain buildings is unlikely.
Where J G Adair are instructed to carry out a survey, the responsibility of that company and their employees will be limited to the person or company giving these instructions (or on whose behalf the instructions were given) and will not extend to any third party.
The company is often asked, for various reasons, to give an oral report on the property. This is usually given before the formal report is drafted and, in these circumstances, such a report will be incomplete and may not have the same emphasis as the carefully reasoned written report.
It is most undesirable for a client to enter into a commitment to purchase a property on the strength of an oral report only. It is the experience of this practice that many matters in the oral reports are not fully understood by some clients (even when the surveyor has had time to marshal the material gathered on the survey).
In those cases where an oral report is made and is acted upon by a client before a written report has been submitted, it has to be accepted by the client that this report may be incomplete. The emphasis may differ from what would have been written or else that the emphasis placed upon certain matters may be misunderstood by the client. Because of this J G Adair will give oral reports only without responsibility.