Category Archives: Buying a Property

Choose a Survey

There are two main types of report that people tend to commission, though its important to note that firms like Spencer Bray will talk to you about what will best suit you and will provide bespoke advice that fits your needs.


The most common reports are the Homebuyer Survey and the more detailed Building Survey.


Essentially, the Homebuyer’s Report is geared to provide an overview of condition of the property together with a valuation. It does it by breaking the property down into its elemental parts (chimneys, roof, floors joinery etc) and giving clear and succinct comments about each part. It’s great for most types of property, particularly standard types of construction.


When you commission a Building Survey, you are buying more time – usually more time from the surveyor on site and certainly more time in the preparation of the report. So, you get more analysis of the property; why it is the way it is; and more detail about what needs to be done and how you should go about it. This report is what you need for properties that have more unusual construction; are very large or old; or where you are aware that there are some issues and want the surveyor to spend longer looking into them for you.


Ring or email Spencer Bray to talk through the best report for you and we can send you a FREE GUIDE that will help you choose.





Q         Do I need a survey if the bank have carried out a valuation?


        The valuation that the bank asks for is to help them decide whether there’s enough security in the property to cover the loan you are looking for. The report is pretty brief and certainly isn’t designed for the benefit of the buyer. It doesn’t pretend to be a survey and most reports come with a warning that says just that.


So, if you’re looking for an idea of what condition the property is in and what you might have to spend on it, then always get your own survey.


Q         Aren’t surveys very expensive?


A         To be honest, they’re not. You’re getting an experienced professional providing many hours of focused work, both at the property and putting the report together. If you break it down, the hourly rate is usually very good. Also, the benefit you get from the advice is well worth the money – you’re dealing with a very high value item in property and defects can be expensive. So, good advice that helps you budget properly and pay the right price is great value.


Q         What different types of survey can I have?


A         There are two main types of survey, though a good surveyor will always provide bespoke advice for you if you have particular concerns.

1.The Homebuyers Report – a general view of the property, with advice broken down into elemental parts (roof, floors, walls etc) and succinct, but clear condition comments on each.

2.The Building Survey – a more detailed report with deeper analysis. The surveyor spends longer at the property and longer on the report, so you have more information on why the condition is how it is and more recommendations about what you need to do.

For a thorough guide, check out our ‘Buyer’s Guide to Surveys’


 Q         How long does it take to get reports back?


A         We’ll arrange the appointment just as soon as our diaries and the seller will allow and then the report should be back within a week.


Q         What extra do I get for the added cost of a Building Survey compared to a Homebuyers?


A         You get a lot more background and explanation of the building and what needs to be done to it. You also have the report’s content illustrated by a full set of photographs. The Homebuyers report is great for telling you clearly and concisely about a property’s condition and actions you’ll need to take. The Building Survey explains why things are that way – that’s why it’s often the best option for buildings where construction is more complex (eg older timber-framed houses) or where there are known issues that you want to understand fully. A Building Survey may also be needed for very large properties where descriptions won’t easily fit the succinct format of a Homebuyers Report. If you’re not sure, call us and we can help you decide.


Q         Do you look in the loft space?


A         Yes, as long as access is possible, in both a Homebuyers and Building Survey, the surveyor will enter into the loft space to check its condition. A Building Survey will offer more background and analysis of the structure and any defects found.
which survey type tests for damp?


In both types of survey, internal wall surfaces are checked using a moisture measuring instrument and levels of any dampness are recorded. The patterns (‘profiles’) of dampness are then interpreted in the report and appropriate advice given. Wall surfaces are tested every meter or so, where they can be reached.


Q        Do you test the boiler, electrics etc?


A         Both are given a visual check in our surveys. We’re not qualified contractors so can’t carry out tests. If there are visual defects that raise concerns, however, we will report them and recommend that an appropriate contractor carry out further tests. It’s always important to check the most recent test certificates and service history.


Q       I’m not sure what type of survey I need – can you help?


A         Of course! In most cases, we’d like to take a look online at the property you’re buying so that we can advise which type of survey will be best. We regularly give quotations for both types of inspection and will happily carry out the type of survey you prefer. If the property warrants it, however, we might recommend that a Building Survey is definitely needed.



There is nothing that paints a picture of traditional British country life more than thatched properties adorning a High street. But in recent years, Thatch has tended to take its place amongst the likes of Manchester United, opera and modern art – you either love it or you hate it.


If you’re in the latter category, it may be that your concerns are based on some common misconceptions. With a sensible approach to purchase and maintenance, though, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy living under a thatch roof.


Peter Bray, Spencer Bray’s Managing Director, has owned a thatch property for the last twenty years and offers this quick five point guide to being happy with thatch.


First, find a good thatcher. They will probably be designated ‘Master Thatcher’ via one of the different associations which exist today but there’s nothing to beat local reputation. So, check out some work that your thatcher has carried out (you can tell more from older work rather than roofs that are just completed, which usually look fine).


Second, have a realistic view of life expectancy. Most new thatch roofs will last 15 – 35 years but many factors affect timescales. Before you need to re-thatch the covering in total, you will certainly need to carry out routine repairs and re-place the ridge (typically, these last anything from 5 to 12 years). Before you buy, these costs can be pretty accurately set out for you by your thatcher, so that you can budget properly.


Third, don’t underestimate the benefits of thatch.
•The aesthetic appeal of thatch and its soft exterior makes for a home that will attract many admirers (and future buyers).
•Apart from their charm, thatch roofs are great insulators. This means that you can enjoy cool living in summer and warmth in winter.
•Insurance is readily available and may not be as expensive as you think. Check out specialist as well as mainstream insurers.


 Fourth, where appropriate, make sure that netting is securely in place over thatch. It protects against animals entering your roofspace, which can result in damage to wiring as well as to the thatch covering.


Fifth, risk of fire is an obvious concern but one which is minimised by some sensible precautions. Wood and multi-fuel burners burn with hotter gases than original open fires and make it all the more important to ensure that your thatch is well protected. This will include safeguards such as –
•Chimneys should ideally be lined and must be swept regularly.
•Thermometers are available to monitor flue and surrounding thatch temperatures. Some sound alarms allowing you to ‘turn down’ the heat of burners or fires. (You may find that fitting approved devices helps reduce insurance premiums).
•There is considerable debate about use of ‘spark arresters’ on chimneys. If you do have them, they must be clean or can pose risk. Better to ensure that chimneys are sufficiently high above the roof surface to allow sparks to cool before settling on the thatch.
•Have all the recommended extinguishing equipment installed and take care when making any fire in the garden.


So, if in the past you’ve crossed thatched properties off your wish list, you may want to use this guide to put any concerns you have in perspective. You may find that your view changes when you take a second look! 

Listed Buildings


If you own a property that is a listed building, you have something special. By definition. A listed property is one that has been selected to be placed on The Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. Every owner of a Listed building will tell you what it means in practice, but for people looking to buy a listed building for the first time, it’s difficult to know what’s involved.




Here are a few common questions answered about Listed Buildings –




Q: Who selects a property to be listed?




A: The process is managed by throughout the UK by various bodies –  English Heritage in England; Cadw in Wales; Historic Scotland covers Scotland and Ulster Architectural Society in Northern Ireland. They look for buildings that are of special architectural or historical interest. Listing gives them special protection. In the UK, there’s estimated to be around 500,000 buildings listed at present.




Q: Is a property chosen because of its age?




A: No, though the older a property is, the more likely it is to be listed. For example, all buildings built before 1700 which remain in something near their original form will be listed. Most, but not all, properties between 1700 and 1840 will be included. After that, it’s more a matter of selection. Only those properties which have very special interest (and possibly are under threat) are listed.  The listing covers the whole building and sometimes can incorporate a number of buildings that together are of special interest.




Q: I’ve seen different grades of listing. What do these mean?




A: There’s 3 grades of listed property. In England/Wales, these are Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II. Grade I tends to apply to properties of national importance, II* buildings of very special importance and Grade II is the most common grade of listing. In Scotland, the grades are A,B,C and are used to designate national, regional or local importance. Northern Ireland use the designations of A, B* and B.




Q: Does owning a Listed building mean you can’t make changes?




A: The whole purpose of listing is protection. This doesn’t mean that changes can’t be made (indeed, English Heritage say that extensions, alterations and improvements may all be possible) but the changes mustn’t detract from what makes that property special. Before making changes, you will need to get permission. This is via an application for Listed Building Consent. Do note that this is not the same as planning permission and may cover items for which normal planning would not be necessary. Repointing, painting over brickwork or even changes in the gardens that impact upon the property may all need consent – it is vital to check with your local planning authority. And it may be worthwhile, as often grants are available.




Q: What are my responsibilities if I own a Listed building?




A: As owner, you cannot allow your property to fall into disrepair worse than when you bought it and you must carry out all necessary works in accordance with consents. You may inherit works that have been carried out by previous owners without consent or inappropriately and you may be responsible for completing these, so pre-purchase advice from a good lawyer and surveyor is very important. 




Q: What happens if I don’t comply?




A: Protection of our heritage is a serious business and failure to carry out necessary works or could ultimately result in enforcement notices and court action. So, it’s always best to ensure that you are doing the right things. Early conversations with the Listed Buildings/Conservation Officer are strongly recommended.






Owning a listed building is something to be proud of. Caring for it is a responsibility. For those taking on a listed building for the first time, it’s important to make sure that you know how to approach maintenance and improvement of your property. When you do, you can enjoy looking after your home, knowing that it’s something that’s special to the nation as well as to you.




Good professional advice is essential.


Conservation Areas


Approximately 8,000 areas of England are designated ‘Conservation Areas’.




These are areas that are recognised for their special architectural and historic interest. Local authorities monitor their development to help protect those features that are of most importance and regularly complete appraisals of these areas. These review ‘the special interest, character and appearance of all conservation areas’. Authorities will consider any additions or changes to their boundaries, and present proposals for their enhancement and management.




In other words, change in Conservation Areas isn’t avoided, but carefully managed.




In London, you may find that the area has been designated by English Heritage, in conjunction with the local Borough, though usually the local Council will apply the designation.




In practical terms, you may find that in a Conservation Area, you have additional restictions on alterations that you can carry out on your property – particularly to the outer appearance that will have an impact opn the immediate environment.  Consequently, if you are planning changes, or have them in mind for a property that you are purchasing, it is best to liaise with the Council before making a commitment.




Trees in Conservation Areas often have Tree Preservation Orders (TPO’s) on them which will mean that you need permission to prune. Let alone remove them.




You are likely to need permission also to demolish a property.




You may think that the restrictions placed on people in these areas would reduce interest, but research suggests that people like the environments that are protected in this way and that house prices are enhanced, rather than reduced by the designation.


Schedules of Dilapidations

Schedules of dilapidation are intended to ensure that commercial properties are left at the end of a lease in the condition they should be had the tenant fulfilled all his obligations under the lease. The landlord will serve a schedule of dilapidation which will itemise all areas of disrepair where it is claimed that the tenant hasn’t carried out his obligations.


Interim schedules can be issued at any time throughout the lease. Usually, these do not include individual costings as the aim is to encourage the tenant to complete the required works.


Terminal schedules are usually issued within the last 18 months of the lease. Typically, items are costed,though not always. Final scehedules of dilapidation are served at the end of the lease. Usually, these are issued with a view to recovering costs of work that needs to be carried out and items are listed and costed for that purpose.


The extent of works required to the property (eg either to ‘keep in repair’ or ‘put into good repair’) will greatly affect the work that is needed. This will be defined by the terms of the lease.


A tool used to regulate the extent of claims possible at the end of the lease is for a Schedule of Condition to be draw up at the outset. This will describe the condition of the property at the outset. It may be agreed that the tenant will be required to maintain the property only to the condition recorded in the Schedule of Condition, ie not to improve it. The schedule will be agreed by Landlord and Tenant and will relate to the terms of the lease specifically.


There are surveyors who specialize in these areas and it is vital that you engage only a surveyor who is experienced in preparing and negotiating schedules.


Specialist Reports


Many people have asked us over the years why surveyors recommend further reports – some see it as a negative thing. In general, however, People do not seem to be challenging the legitimacy of referring to a specialist, but expressing frustration if surveyors leave them high and dry with no guidance as to where to the extra advice they need. A few points:



  • Rest assured that we will only recommend another professional’s view is needed if we believe it’s essential. Our style isn’t defensive and our surveyors are very experienced, so you get a definite and informed view on things to begin with.


  • Surveyors, however, are a little like GP’s – sometimes it’s essential to refer to a specialist to ensure that your client has all the help they need.


  • We always will be happy to make a recommendation, if possible. We want to help and see it as part of our service.


  • Our reports all contain a referral page informing you of Specialist Xpress. They are a firm who have been providing specialist reports for 20 years and are now recommended by many of the UK’s mainstream  banks and surveyor groups. Their reports cover all the inspections you’re likely to need (electrical reports through to engineer) and they tend to be clear with definite conclusions. Our experience is that they can get good quality reports back in hand in quick time. Contact Specialist Xpress via or 01367 240077   

Legal Issues


We’re not lawyers and not trying to tell you what they should do.




Survey reports, though, can, and should, contain guidance as to concerns that might affect a property specifically.




For example, when a property has been extended, it is important that you have confirmation not only that correct consents (planning permission and building regulation approval) were obtained, but it’s also useful for you to know that there was a completion certificate issued. This document would be given by the Building Control inspector to confirm that the works were carried out in accordance with the submitted plans – a real piece of reassurance.




When the property is leasehold, there’s a number of issues that your conveyancer will need to look at on your behalf:


•Terms of the lease are critical – unexpired years etc
•Service charges
•A track record of charges over, say the last 5 years, is a very useful exercise
•Detailed breakdown of your responsibilities as tenant




So, look carefully at your survey advice for information that your conveyancer might use. It’s often helpful to send them through a copy of the report.




Having adequate insurance cover is one of those things that becomes of vital importance at very specific moments of time – ie when you make a claim! If your property is under-insured, whether commercial or residential, you may find that you don’t have the cover that you need.




Obtaining good advice on recommended figures for reinstatement insurance is straightforward from chartered surveyors who offer this service and comes at a reasonable price. The RICS give clear guidelines to surveyors as to what is needed and it is vital that this advice is taken and updated appropriately.


How Much Should I Pay?

Professional advice is never cheap and there is some truth to the old adage that ‘you get what you pay for’. That said, there are some tips to ensuring that you get a good service and feel that you’ve had good value for money when commissioning a report or other service –


  • check that your surveyor is a member of the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors), CABE (Chartered Association of Building Engineers) , IOB (Institute of Builders) or other recognized professional body.


  • make sure that they are experienced in the area of service that you need.


  • talk to the surveyor who will be carrying out the work. This is important. It will give you the best feel for whether the job will be done as you want and whether the surveyor is the person you want to work for you.


  • surveyors tend to work from pre-set price guides for survey work. Often, these feescales are linked to the purchase price of the property – you’d expect prices to start from £400 upwards for a Homebuyer reports and £500/600 upwards for a Building Survey.


  • Do speak to your surveyor, though. At Spencer Bray, we always like to discuss your property and your plans with you before quoting so that we can ensure the service we provide will be appropriate. It seems to work judging by the very positive feedback we receive.