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Safe as houses

29 Jun 2010

Colin Sim, a partner in the residential property team of Hay & Kilner looks at the importance of surveying a property before you buy.

For most people, other than the average professional footballer, the purchase of a house is the largest financial commitment and investment they will make in their lifetime. So it is really important to do as much preparation and background research as possible before entering into a contract to buy.

One of the most important steps is to consider whether to have a survey carried out before contracts are exchanged and a binding commitment entered into.

Many people choose to rely on the survey carried out by their mortgage provider, often assuming that this will highlight any problem areas. However the purpose of this survey is normally only to give the lender a valuation to enable them to assess how much can be lent in relation to the property’s value.

The lender’s valuer or surveyor would only be concerned with issues that might affect the security of the loan and would not be viewing the property to see if there are any structural or other defects that might affect it.

A home buyer should in these circumstances consider whether to have a survey carried out. This would flag up any structural problems or defects which might otherwise only come to light after you have moved into the property.

The most commonly used survey is the RICS (The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) Homebuyers Survey and Valuation which provides a thorough and detailed report on the principle features of most properties. The surveyor will also comment on the value of the property, which could be significantly different from the value placed on the property either by the seller or their estate agents.

The survey will also highlight areas where more specialised surveyors may be needed, for example, to see if the property has been affected by damp or woodworm. Other areas of concern can be the electrics and central heating.

A home buyer could also opt to have a full Building Survey which provides an exhaustive analysis of the property being bought but obviously at a much higher cost than that of the Homebuyers Survey.

Many people decide to rely on their lenders survey assuming that if has been “passed” by the lender then the property must be in good order. This is not the case and many problems will only come to light after a person has moved into their new property.  For example, you may have viewed the property in the summer when the central heating was switched off but then when you turn it back on in the winter you discover that the boiler does not work and has not worked for some time.

It is customary for sellers to provide information about the property through their solicitors but even a seller will not necessarily know all the defects which may affect their property. In addition, an unscrupulous seller could conceal defects that they are aware of. Such a concealment could lead to an action for misrepresentation but it is possible that the seller can no longer be traced or has spent the sale proceeds or indeed that the costs of recovering the money outweigh the actual loss incurred.

The cost of obtaining a survey should be outweighed by the potential of identifying hidden and expensive faults which could cost the unwary buyer thousands of pounds.

For further information contact Colin Sim at Hay & Kilner on 0191 232 8345 or email: colin.sim@hay-kilner.co.uk 

Please note:
This article is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues. Please contact us to discuss how the contents of the article may affect you.