Survey: Typical Terms & Conditions

This is an example of the Terms and Conditions for a Structural Survey. It includes the object or objectives of the survey, the need to access parts of the building for a full survey, what to do about hidden areas, how the roof, walls and floors will be inspected, the issue of dangerous materials and the occupants' health, the inspection of Services including incoming mains, electrical or gas installations or central heating, how dampness will be identified, and special terms for flats.

1. Object

A 'Structural Survey' (sometimes now known as a 'Building Survey') is a visual assessment of a building, intended to:

  • relate its construction both to today's standards and other properties of similar style and age
  • give a balanced general view of its overall condition
  • advise on repairs necessary, both immediately and in the future
  • outline any further investigation needed to support initial findings
  • advise on the likely consequences of non-repair

2. Access

In order to achieve this, every effort will be made to inspect as much of the property as is practicable. The surveyor cannot cause or risk damage, and must accept any restrictions imposed by the vendors. Fitted carpets and heavy or fitted furniture cannot normally be moved. Hatches, panels and floor boards will be opened up if the surveyor considers that this can be achieved without unacceptable disruption or damage, and access will be gained to voids wherever it is considered safe and sensible so to do.

3. Hidden Areas

Where elements are concealed, for example foundations, cavity wall tiles, chimney flues, hidden timbers, plumbing and drainage, the surveyor will express an opinion based upon the evidence available, or advise upon the desirability of further investigation, but cannot give any warranties without being able to open up these parts. No advice can be given on the practicality of using fireplaces or flues.

4. Roofs

Visual inspection will be made of as much of the interior and exterior of roofs as can be seen:

  • from within the building or site
  • by using the surveyor's 3m (10ft) ladder
  • from any other vantage point to which access is permitted

Calculations to check the strength of structural elements in roofs will not form part of the survey.

5. Walls and Floors

The metal ties used in cavity wall construction cannot be viewed without considerable damage being caused. Corrosion of these ties is usually difficult to detect without an internal inspection of the cavity. The surveyor will advise if he/she has reason to consider the property to be at particular risk, but cannot provide positive assurance unless instructions are received to open up the structure.

Compaction of solid floors can arise over a number of years, and it is beyond the scope of the survey to assess the likelihood of any such problems in the future. Any evidence of an existing problem will be highlighted in the report.

6. Materials and Health

If asbestos-based materials are found or suspected, attention will be drawn to these together with their implications. The removal and disposal of asbestos are covered by stringent regulations. High alumina cement concrete or calcium chloride additives cannot be identified without specialist analysis, although the surveyor will advise if he/she considers these to be a risk. In the timescale available, no enquiries can be made into the question of contaminated land, or the re-use of former landfill sites, and your legal advisors must make specific enquiries on these issues if you require any assurances. If the surveyor notes transformer stations or overhead power lines which might give rise to electromagnetic fields, he/she will highlight these but cannot assess any possible effect on health. For obvious reasons the surveyor cannot report on any underground cables.

7. Services

Surveyors are not qualified to comment in detail upon incoming mains, electrical or gas installations or central heating, but will carry out a visual inspection and may recommend further investigation by specialists. Supplies will not be switched on if the occupiers are not present. Electrical and gas regulations change frequently, and written confirmation of compliance should always be obtained from the supply company. The route and condition of the incoming mains cannot be assessed, but you should note that these may be the householder's responsibility.

Private drainage systems (i.e. septic tanks and cess pools) will be identified, but it is not possible to comment upon their size, effectiveness and compliance with relevant regulations based on a survey of this nature. Wherever possible, manhole covers will be lifted and fittings run from within the property.

8. Dampness

Moisture meter tests will be taken at appropriate points internally to confirm the effectiveness of any damp proof course. Fitted kitchen cupboards and tiling can often restrict access to walls for this purpose.

Much dampness evident within houses results from condensation, especially in bathrooms and built-in wardrobes where ventilation is poor. Specific problems will be highlighted if they are evident at the time of the survey, but some such difficulties only become apparent at a later stage, and cannot always be predicted.

9. Flats

The extent of inspection for flats depends upon the age, type and responsibilities for repairs. A copy lease and the most recent management accounts should be made available to the surveyor prior to the survey, but even if this has been possible, you should still study the completed survey report with your legal advisor so that you are aware of your rights and responsibilities.

Possible rights and implications of enfranchisement and lease renewal legislation will not be considered.

The interior of the subject flat will be inspected, together with sufficient of the exterior to assess repairing responsibilities or likely contribution to shared costs in blocks where this applies. The report will set out any assumptions which the surveyor has made and limitations on that inspection.

10. Outbuildings, Boundaries and Paths

Only permanent outbuildings, such as conservatories, garages and brick stores will be considered in detail. Comment will be passed upon the overall condition of fences or garden walls, but it is usually difficult to establish repairing responsibilities for these without reference to title deeds. Paths and drives are often built upon limited foundations, and can be subject to considerable movement; only surface inspection is practicable.

11. Valuation/Insurance Cost

The report will not normally give an opinion on open market value or fire insurance reinstatement costs, but the surveyor may be qualified to advise on this if desired and can do so if specifically instructed. A further fee may be payable in this respect.

12. Repairs

Estimates or quotations should be obtained from builders or appropriate specialists before entering a binding contract for the purchase of the property. The full extent of repair work necessary may not become apparent until after work has started, and any figures given by the surveyor must be taken only as broad guidance.

13. Verbal Report

If a verbal report is given after inspecting the property, it is essential to recognise that this cannot provide an overall balanced view of the building, and that a full written report must be awaited before making any legal commitment to proceed.

PLEASE SEE OUR DISCLAIMER OF LIABILITY. We are grateful for the advice provided by Mass & Co, Chartered Surveyors, based in Essex.