What Is the Best Type of Survey When Buying an Old House?

By James Brook FRICS on and updated on

Buying an old, period property full of charm and original features is a dream for many. But if you don’t carry out all the necessary checks, it can soon become a nightmare with hidden defects and excessive maintenance, meaning it becomes much more expensive than initially expected. A survey can help highlight these issues, but what kind should you get, what problems might it identify, and how much will it cost?

Do I need a survey?

The short answer is yes. When buying pretty much any property a survey is recommended – if your potential new home is older, this becomes essential. It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of original fireplaces, sash windows, beams and other features, but these can all hide problems. Not only that, but older properties may not be up to modern-day regulations when it comes to the electrics or even the damp course, and they’re likely to be less energy efficient than more modern properties, adding to the running costs. For most of us, though, this isn’t something we’d be able to spot on a viewing, so it’s essential to get the experts in to give the property a thorough inspection before you potentially make a costly mistake.

What type of survey should I have?

This leads to the question of what survey to have. With money often tight when buying a property, it can be tempting to go for the more basic HomeBuyer Report. However, we’d always strongly advise against this when it comes to buying an older property. Yes, it’s cheaper than a building survey, but it’s also much more concise and simply doesn’t offer the level of detail you’ll need to buy an old house with confidence.

For example, a HomeBuyer Report will only highlight major visible problems and won’t go into detail on issues like damp and timber defects that can plague older homes. For that reason, it is only recommended for more modern properties that are in a reasonable condition and haven’t undergone any major renovations.

So, while it may save a few hundred pounds in the short term, the information provided in a HomeBuyer Report won’t help you to work out the actual cost of living in an old house, and it won’t highlight any potential maintenance issues which could cost you money in the near future.

Therefore, the only sensible option when buying a period place is a comprehensive building survey. A building survey will offer genuine insight into the condition of a property and, crucially, it’ll identify areas that may cause a problem in the future. A Novello Building Survey will also include essential information such as flood maps, broadband speeds, energy efficiency advice, and any asbestos in the property. This will ensure you have a clear understanding of your possible outgoings and any potential issues so you can decide if the property is right for you.

What does a building survey look at?

A comprehensive Building Survey will highlight significant issues and wear and tear defects. More than that, though, it’ll also explain the implications of these findings in terms of repair and maintenance considerations. It will also examine the property’s structural integrity, tell you the materials used for construction, and highlight any repairs that have already been made or works that have been carried out.

As well as taking a detailed look at the inside of the property, including walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, under carpets, in lofts and even the visible parts of the available services such as electricity, gas and drainage, it’ll also inspect outbuildings and outside areas. Technology such as specialist Pole Cams can also be used to access more challenging to reach areas such as roofs and those nooks and crannies that are part of many older homes. Potential legal concerns will also be flagged.

What are the main problems that might be discovered?

Every property is unique, and surveys on older homes, in particular, can throw up completely unexpected findings. However, several issues tend to be found in older properties. The key among them is damp. Various things can cause damp problems, but your building survey will look at likely culprits such as the roof to ensure it is watertight, the slates are in good condition, and flashing and insulation is sound. A survey may also highlight problems with the brickwork. Whereas bricks can last hundreds of years, the mortar will not, so a common issue highlighted is the need for walls to be repointed. This can again help with any damp issues as solid pointing will stop water from getting in and heat from escaping. Your Building Survey report will offer detailed information on damp, condensation, and timber defects as it is more specifically tailored to older properties.

To find out more about the kinds of problems often discovered during a survey, read our blog Common Issues Uncovered by Property Surveys.

How much will I pay for a building survey?

Prices will vary depending on the size and location of the property but expect it to start in the region of £900. With our Quotation service, you can get a more accurate idea of the cost.

The Novello Approach

Novello’s expert RICS qualified surveyors have been active in the London property market for many years and know a thing or two about older properties. This in-depth knowledge, combined with a passion for accuracy, thoroughness and reliability, means you’ll get the information you need to make the right decision.

Not only do we make our Building Survey reports comprehensive, we also ensure they are easy to understand, with photos of defects and a clear traffic light system to highlight issues, so you can quickly identify the biggest areas of concern and those things you need to be aware of in the future. Once you’ve received your report, we’ll also be available to discuss the findings, share our insight on any issues and advise on renegotiating a deal or even avoiding an investment altogether.

To find out more about our Building Survey offering and to make sure you have all the information you need before you commit to the biggest purchase of your life, contact us today.

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