The one piece of advice I would give anyone who is considering buying a secondhand property is to have a structural survey carried out.
The principal purpose of this survey and report is to tell you if the house is structurally sound. It should go further than this, but this is the main reason for getting such a report. It is the ‘money shot’.
If your survey fails to give you a clear opinion on this head, then it has failed.
But in addition to this most critical opinion a good report can and should take care of some other matters, too.
It should provide an opinion as to whether the boundaries of the property on the ground correspond with those set out on the Land Registry folio. Absolute accuracy may not be necessary or desirable, but you do need to know if there is any difference which may give rise to disputes in the future.
For example, I have seen boundaries marked on maps which have travelled through the centre of the house and which chopped off a quarter of a garage which was supposed to be included in the property.
A further useful object of a surveyor’s report would be to give you an indication of what work you may need to carry out on the house, whether that work is minor or major in terms of cost, and urgent or not in terms of timescale. Some jobs can be put off, some are urgent and may your immediate attention after the purchase. This may be something that you will almost certainly not have budgeted for.
A fourth area which might be covered is if there is any obvious work carried out to the property which might require planning permission (for example a small extension) or compliance with building regulations (for example, an attic conversion).
If these four areas are covered in your report, you will be getting value for your money.
On the other hand, I have seen reports which are no more than descriptions of how many rooms in the house, the weather on the day of the survey, pseudo-legal advice or advice to flag up certain matters with your solicitor, all of which is so heavily qualified by disclaimers in the report itself as to render it useless.
In the same way you will come across conscientious, professional, hardworking solicitors and solicitors with diametrically different characteristics you will also encounter surveyors/architects who are serious about their profession and giving value for money, and the others.
For this reason, you should try to get a personal or professional recommendation before you instruct one. Regardless of who you choose ensure that he or she has professional indemnity insurance.