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The Survey Explained

The full building survey, condition survey or as was called structural survey is only one of the many services offered by David George Surveying & Conservation with as the name suggests, particular expertise offered in the assessment of those more historic and often listed buildings.

So what should you expect from a building survey? and indeed what is it?

Many clients admit to being novices in the residential moving market and have often never commissioned what was typically termed a structural survey.

The first point to raise is that this shouldn’t be confused with other types of building inspection: a mortgage valuation for those lending against the property acquisition and is for the benefit of the lender rather than purchaser; a homebuyers report or home survey and valuation, a format promoted by the RICS and primarily appropriate for relatively modern straightforward properties; a full building survey or historically termed structural survey which typically provides a greater degree of explanation and detail and therefore more suitable for the larger, more complex and often more historic properties and something therefore which David George Surveying and Conservation provides.

So firstly what might you expect NOT to be part of a full building survey? As many of the subject buildings are large complex and historic it should not be expected that the surveyor will wish to include or indeed be capable of providing such services as a reinstatement cost assessment (for fire insurance purposes) or a market valuation such as might be provided in a home buyers report as many of the subject buildings are large, complex and historic. These services are often offered as an additional service.

There are matters which are debated when it comes to inclusion in a report such as invasive plant species in the grounds, radon emissions and more localised matters such as Mundic blocks (a china clay industry bi-product). We feel that at very least there should be some reference if not conclusive evidence that these matters are or are not a problem

Also there are a number of specialist aspects of a building and services which, whilst referred to in any survey may need to be the subject further investigation by a specialist including Services tests and health and safety matters such as asbestos.

So what should be included? it should be within the capabilities of a chartered building surveyor to provide some general description if not specific conclusive guidance on issues such as infestations (woodworm or similar) dampness, and decay including wet and dry rot.

Some client’s expectations are often surprisingly limited asking for example whether an inspection includes the roof void, reference to cracking and dampness. On rare occasions expectations are in our view less reasonable expecting all of the above to be included as if to provide a guarantee or indemnification against future disrepair whether known or unknown.

Fundamentally the purpose of the full building survey is twofold, firstly to provide the client with a better understanding of the character of building and to inform on any peculiar requirement for its daily use and maintenance. There have been rare instances where an honest opinion has been offered as to the suitability of the building for the particular client when made aware of the requirements, expectations and financial capabilities. Secondly the assessment of the buildings condition and the identification and diagnosis of repairing concerns along with a broad financial assessment of likely outlay to provide overall assessment of those matters which would affect the investment value of the property, provide technically assistance in the rectification of issues and potentially provide a basis for financial renegotiation of the acquisition figure.

There should in our view always be an aspect of caveat emptor in purchasing an historic building: not all issues likely to arise are apparent; historic fabric can conceal years of abuse or mis-repair or simply hidden degradation and whilst it’s identification is the aim of the chartered building surveyor this is not always possible. Similarly however it should not be necessary to lace ones conditions of engagement with numerous limitations in an attempt to avoid responsibilities.

Further advice and guidance can be obtained from David George Surveying and Conservation. David has over thirty years of experience in Building Surveys, much of which relates to Historic Buildings and Listed Assets.

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