Filling out lengthy questionnaires is boring for sellers, there's an inclination to respond with "don't know' or "not as far as I'm aware" to the more complicated queries and statements that could be confirmed by independent verification should not be relied upon.
For the still surprisingly small percentage of buyers that commission a detailed survey report the surveyor is your solicitor's man (or woman) in the field. These are some of the areas where your survey report could prove invaluable to the conveyancing process:
A key area is any ambiguity in respect of the physical boundaries, such as fences built inside fences (more common than you’d think!) or any sub-division of the rear garden.
Off Street Parking
Many buyers have been caught out thinking that they had off-street parking when all they actually had was a paved over front garden; years of illegal use can force the kerbstones down and make it look as though it has been deliberately dropped. Some local authorities are more pro-active than others with enforcing breaches such as this.
Extensions can be a bit of a minefield, particularly if they have been built prior to the vendor’s period if ownership. In the first instance, you need to be made aware of their existence (not always obvious with more modern properties) but the approximate age and construction might also be important when assembling documentation. Describing the construction of an extension in detail would be beyond the scope of most pre-purchase surveys but that may be necessary (as far as can be seen without opening up) to confirm that it complies with Building Regulations in the absence of a certificate.
Extensions to adjoining properties that are in the process of being constructed are also a consideration - they will more often than not have been notifiable to the vendor under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 and will not show up on a planning search if they fall within the neighbour’s Permitted Development rights. Although not specifically stated in the Act, it is generally accepted that an incoming adjoining owner is bound by the decisions made by their predecessor; be that a consent or the appointment of a surveyor. It is important that all the relevant documents are obtained in case of later disputes over damage caused by the works.
Illegal extensions to adjoining properties are another area of concern. It’s not a question that I see on most seller’s questionnaires but if that extension has been built with windows overlooking your garden and is more than 20 years old a right to light may have been established which could prevent you from building your own extension.
Sometimes what the surveyor can’t see is as important as what they can. If a pitched roof is in poor condition it can be covered in the report and you can obtain estimates prior to exchange of contracts but if a flat roof, even a relatively small one such as over a dormer, cannot be seen enquiries need to be made as to when the covering was last renewed and whether it is the subject of a guarantee. Unless the surveyor flags this in their report it might go unnoticed until it starts leaking 6 months later. Similar issues arise with flats albeit is the cost of future contributions that is at stake.
Finally, a few other issues where the surveyor should be able to help give your solicitor a steer:
- Was the property tenanted at the time of inspection? This may have implications for vacant possession but would confirm that a Gas Safety Certificate should be available.
- Is the property of non-standard construction – may have a bearing on how mortgageable it is.
- How old are the windows, roof coverings etc.? – this will help in establishing whether they are likely to be under guarantee (and the availability of FENSA certificates).
- Have there been internal alterations, such as the removal of a structural wall or chimney breast, which would require Building Regulation approval?
- Have there been recent changes to the electrical installation which would require approval under part P of the Building Regulations?
- Is there evidence that the property has been underpinned or that a damp-proof course has been injected? - again, this will assist in gather together all the relevant documentation.
There is a section towards the end of the RICS Homebuyer Report & Valuation called ‘Issues for your legal advisors’ where, in an ideal world, all of the points above would be summarised.