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House Survey Report: What are the Dealbreakers?

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There is a lot of information to take in when you get the house survey report

How can you tell what requires a little attention or investment to remedy and what could be considered a deal-breaker?

To try and help – we’ve taken a closer look.

Is the survey important?

A property survey can make or break a property deal. It can lead to cold feet and a sale falling through if it uncovers major problems.

Surveys can be full of technical jargon, so don’t be afraid to ask your surveyor to go through it with you – ideally, do this as you walk around the property. You can then understand what the issues are, the cost implications and key deal breakers.

Essentially, they give you an insight into the condition of the property.

Types of survey

We recommend you use a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Don’t simply go with the first surveyor your estate agent suggests. There are three types of property survey you can instruct:

  • RICS condition report: the most basic house survey using a ‘traffic light’ system. Green means the condition is good, while red suggests there are severe issues. It won’t include any advice, though. It also does not include a mortgage valuation. This is the most basic survey, costing around £300.
  • RICS home condition survey: offers two options: survey only or a survey and valuation. Both highlight important issues, such as rot or subsidence, but RICS homebuyer reports are non-intrusive. So no drilling into the walls, which means you may miss significant problems. 
  • RICS building survey: a full structural survey, it ensures no part of the property is left unchecked. The most expensive, but it can be worth it, especially where larger or older properties are concerned. Including advice on appropriate repairs and maintenance, plus their timings or costs, it also says what could happen if you don’t take action.

Each survey has a different cost, and level of depth.

What to do with a bad survey

Of course, its disappointing to get a lousy survey on a home you’ve set your heart on. The first thing to do is to let your solicitor know – they will manage the seller’s expectations and give you time to deal with the issues. Then your options are:

Get quotes for works

A building survey should already cover the cost of any urgent repairs. But if anything else will need repairing or replacing in the next few years, find a local tradesman.

Find Local Tradespeople

Negotiate with the seller

A home report can seriously affect how much the property is worth. If your survey flags expensive work, use this to negotiate the house price by asking the seller to either:

  • Reduce the asking price by the full amount or offer to meet them halfway; or
  • Ask for the work to be done as a condition of sale. Usually, you agree to exchange on the condition the work is carried out before completion. This could delay your moving in, so factor that in.

Walk away

If the problems are too daunting and you’re not up for the challenge, don’t be afraid to walk away. A dream property can quickly become a living nightmare!

Top 7 Potential Deal Breakers

So you’ve got to the worst-case scenario – a lousy survey and a seller unwilling to compromise. After much soul-searching, you have made a sensible choice to walk away from the property.

What might those deal-breakers be? Here are our top ones to lookout for:

1. Structural

Two of the most significant structural problems are subsidence and problems with the roof.

House subsidence occurs when the soil beneath a building expands and contracts as it gets wet and dries out time after time. It can be caused by a leak or through natural conditions.

Very often, the building’s foundations are damaged, and you see tell-tale signs like cracked window sills or cracks through the brickwork.

Foundations can be underpinned, but it is a costly project, and you may struggle to find insurance for a property that has been affected by subsidence.

Issues with roofs are quite common in older buildings. It can be as simple as a leak causing water damage, resulting in damp or rot. But the roof could have been retiled with the wrong type of material.

From the 1950s onwards, it was quite common to replace roofs with concrete tiles. But concrete roof tiles are heavier than traditional clay or slate ones, and the roof timbers can struggle under the load. A sagging roofline is often a clue.

It is possible to re-roof a property, but it may require the roof timbers being (partly) replaced. It is a big project – both in terms of time and money.

Structural issues tend to be costly and lengthy to resolve – enough to put off most people from buying a property.

2. Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant and can grow down three meters with a radius of seven. The roots cause structural damage to walls, drains, floors and hard surfaces, and can cost thousands of pounds to fix.

Removing Japanese knotweed is expensive and can take up to three years to be effective. General insurance policies do not usually cover it – you may have to take out special insurance.

In short – Japanese knotweed is extremely tough to remove. Think twice about buying, even if it’s your dream home

3. Rot and woodworm

Rot is a major cause of wood decay and can present a big problem if found in structural timbers like joists or roofs.

Dry rot is a type of fungus that weakens a property’s timbers and can spread rapidly. If dry rot is present, your surveyor should confirm the extent and likely cost of treating it.

Wet rot is usually more localised and usually caused by a leak. It can be easier to treat once you have stopped the source of water.

Woodworm – caused by beetle larvae burrowing into timber, causes structural damage too. Look for tell-tale signs – small, round holes on the surface of the wood. If extensive, it may require expensive treatment and repair work.

Window frames can be expensive to mend, especially if local planning dictates you need to replace with traditional sash windows. It is possible to repair them, but it may be more cost-effective to replace the whole frame.

Any of these projects will take time and money – if the vendor doesn’t acknowledge this, you may be best to walk away. 

4. Damp & mould

Damp can look (and smell) awful but is usually treatable. It is crucial to do so, as it can also make life very difficult for people with health issues such as asthma or weak immune systems.

The three main types of damp are: rising, penetrating and condensation. It can be expensive to identify the cause and to fix it, so ensure you get expert advice on what the cost may be.

It may be an external maintenance issue, like a missing damp-proof course, leaking gutter or even a loose roof tile. But it can be hard to identify the cause and prove costly to resolve.

Make sure it can be dealt with – otherwise walk away!

5. EPC

An EPC gives a home an energy rating, based on its energy efficiency, informing you of:

  • How energy efficient a property is
  • The approximate cost of running the property
  • Suggestions to improve the energy efficiency

 Sellers must provide a home energy efficiency rating in Northern Ireland, England and Wales. It lets buyers know how costly the property is to run.

The energy certificate will give your property a rating from A (highly efficient) to G (inefficient). The UK average is D!

Insulating the loft, installing high-performance glazing and cavity wall insulation all make a big difference to the energy efficiency of a home. They come at a price, though!

Buyers are starting to realise a home with a poor energy efficiency rating could be a potential deal-breaker. If the seller doesn’t factor this in, think twice before going ahead.

6. Wiring, Plumbing & Central Heating

Don’t underestimate planning major works and home improvement. Rewiring a property is not a quick job and can be disruptive – lifting floorboards up, drilling into walls and re-plastering – it’s not for the faint of heart!

Installing new central heating, including a combi boiler, copper pipework and labour, comes with similar disruptions and costs.

Get expert advice on how extensive a project this may be, it could be just too much disruption and cost to consider. Unless you are experienced, you may want to leave the property alone.

7. Asbestos

The word asbestos can strike fear into the heart of a buyer because this fibrous mineral has significant effects on health.

It is usually found in older residential properties where it’s used to strengthen other materials. Corrugated roofing or decorative wall coatings such as Artex are common places it is found.

But it can be hidden away and turn up in gas pipes, water cisterns, pipe lagging, loose-fill insulation and behind fuse boxes and around boilers.

Local authorities sometimes offer a free pick-up of asbestos-cement sheeting on shed roofs for example, but experts need to remove it from elsewhere.

Removal is complicated and costly so it is vital to get expert help and not attempt to remove it yourself.

You will need to use a licensed removal firm, who will carry out a preliminary test and take samples first. This may be a deal-breaker so budget carefully.

Don’t be afraid to walk away!

Always buy with the head, not the heart – being practical will pay off, as there will be other properties. You are looking to buy a home where you can enjoy life, not a money-pit that sucks the life out of you!

Unless you know what you are doing and are up for the challenge, discretion is the better part of valour if the survey throws up significant issues with a property you want.

Back up the survey with estimates from local expert tradesmen – this will help you negotiate with the seller (if the problems are salvageable) or they will give you the reality check you may need to walk away!

You paid for the surveyor’s expert advice – it makes sense to listen to it!

Need to find a surveyor?

We can put you in touch with our panel of approved, RICS qualified surveyors. This will help give you peace of mind and ensure this is the right home for you. Get survey quotes for free below.

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Last Updated: January 3rd, 2024