When buying a house, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) endorse three levels of survey that you can choose to have carried out upon the property. These are a Condition Report, which includes the least amount of detail, a HomeBuyer Report that is suitable for most homes, and a Building Survey. Building Surveys offer the deepest investigation into a building’s condition and structure.

Deciding which survey to have for your home can be confusing, and the most appropriate choice will depend on the age, construction and condition of the building. Generally speaking, Condition Reports are best suited to new or nearly-new homes and HomeBuyer Reports are designed to investigate conventional buildings which are a little older. There are several scenarios in which a full Building Survey (previously called a full Structural Survey) might be appropriate.

The building is more than 50 years old

This depends somewhat on the style and condition of your home-to-be, but in most cases, you may want to consider commissioning a Building Survey if the house was built in the 1960s or earlier. This is because most building materials will get weaker over time, and an experienced, accredited surveyor will be trained to notice the first signs of a structural problem.

Buildings older than 100 years are more likely to have distinctive period features or construction methods that will not be sufficiently inspected during a HomeBuyer Report or Condition Report. For a Building Survey, your surveyor should have extensive experience in the type of property you’re buying, and have a good idea of the kinds of issues typical within a building of its age, style, location and construction.

The property is especially large

A HomeBuyer Report (let alone a Condition Report) simply does not allow your surveyor enough time to sufficiently investigate a larger home. A Building Survey ensures that your surveyor is prepared for several hours of inspection – potentially up to a full day, depending on the size of your home.

There have been extensive modifications to the original building

With very few exceptions, houses are built as a complete structure and aren’t specifically designed for extensions or significant alterations. When these are made, the meeting of old and new parts of a building can cause problems, like trapped moisture. While a straightforward conversion or addition to a building may be inspected during a HomeBuyer Report, if there have been several changes or several decades between two parts of a building, then it would be wise to appoint an accredited surveyor to check whether there are any issues at the seams.

There are visible defects in the property

Condition Reports and HomeBuyer Reports are ideal for uncovering issues which you may not have noticed with untrained eyes. If a structural flaw is already apparent, then Building Surveys are the only kind of report that will help you decide how to tackle the problem, give you an idea of the urgency required in dealing with it, and offer estimates for repair costs.

In the case of some defects, such as extensive damp or rot, additional specialist consultation may be required to determine the full effect of the damage.

The building is listed

If the property you are intending to buy is a listed, heritage site then it’s important that you get a Building Survey before you move in. There is additional legislation surrounding the alteration of a listed building, and if you move into a property that is in breach of these rules then you will be liable – even if the modifications were made by a previous owner. The penalties can be severe, so it’s best that you engage a solicitor and surveyor to identify where any illegal changes to the building or landscaping may have occurred.