EASY AS 1, 2, 3?

I appeared on Rip Off Britain recently. Not, I hasten to add, to talk about Arnold & Baldwin, but to discuss the RICS consultation into new home survey standards and how they could offer more protection to homebuyers.

The BBC One programme had highlighted two case studies where homebuyers were presented with inadequate information by their surveyors, partly because they didn’t understand the level of information included in the survey they had purchased.

Speaking on the programme Paula Higgins, Founder and CEO at the HomeOwners Alliance, said:

“There’s a massive variation in surveys. If you were to have one property and two surveyors there, the style of the reports could be very different. One might have very detailed photos, a list of things that need to be fixed and estimated costs. Another one might just have lots of caveats and ask for further investigation.”

There’s definitely confusion around the different levels of survey available in the marketplace. Some people, for example, are buying a Condition Report, which is a basic report, and expecting Building Survey quality.

One of the changes that RICS is proposing will be to emphasise the levels of the survey in a numerical system to make it easier to understand, with minimum levels of service for each one, making it easier for consumers to identify what type of survey they need. So, what is RICS proposing be included in each level of survey?

Survey level one

For each element of the building, the RICS member should:

  • describe the part or element in enough detail so it can be properly identified by the client
  •  describe the condition of the part or element that justifies the RICS member’s judgement and
  •  provide a clear and concise expression of the RICS member’s professional assessment of each part or

This assessment should help the client gain an objective view of the condition of the property, help them make a decision and, once in ownership (if the client is a buyer), establish appropriate repair/improvement priorities. A condition rating system is one way of achieving this, although RICS members may also use their own prioritisation methodology. Whatever the choice, any system must be clearly defined in the information given to the client.

Survey level two

A survey level two service may follow a similar structure and format to level one. It will provide more information, but should still be short and to the point, avoiding irrelevant or unhelpful details and jargon. A level two report will have the following additional characteristics:

  • it should include comments where the design or materials used in the construction of a building element may result in more frequent and/or more costly maintenance and repairs than would normally be expected
  • the likely remedial work should be broadly outlined and what needs to be done by whom and by when (including a summary of legal implications of the work) should be identified
  • concise explanations of the implications of not addressing the identified problems should be given and
  • cross-references to the RICS member’s overall assessment should be included.

Survey level two reports should also make it clear that the client should obtain any further advice and quotations recommended by the RICS member before they enter into a legal commitment to buy the property.

Survey level three

A level three service should reflect the thoroughness and detail of the investigation. It should address the following matters:

  • the form of construction and materials used for each part of the building should be described in detail, outlining any performance characteristics. This is especially important for older and historic buildings where the movement of moisture through building materials can be critical to how the building performs
  • obvious defects should be described and the identifiable risk of those that may be hidden should be stated
  • remedial options should be outlined along with, if considered to be serious, the likely consequences if the repairs are not done
  • a timescale for the necessary work should be proposed, including (where appropriate and necessary) recommendations for further investigation
  • future maintenance of the property should be discussed, identifying those elements that may result in more frequent and/or more costly maintenance and repairs than would normally be expected
  • the nature of risks of the parts that have not been inspected should be identified and prioritisation of issues should be outlined.

These new standards propose by RICS could potentially benefit every property transaction, and it’s not too late to have your say. If you have opinions about how we should look at enhancing the way properties are surveyed, visit the consultation at RICS before 26 July and make your opinion heard.


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