The conveyancing process will usually involve the input of a chartered surveyor, often carrying out a simple mortgage valuation or a more detailed report.
Here are a few facts that will help the conveyancer guide their client.
A Valuation is not a Survey!
A residential valuation is far less technical than a building survey. Estate agents often joke with the valuer… ‘did you get out of the car?’. In low risk cases, they might not. Valuers can carry out drive-by and desktop valuations using digital information. A mortgage valuation is for the bank to access the suitability of the property as security yet many in the industry still call it a survey, so it is not surprising the public are often confused.
A recently qualified lawyer may have limited understanding technical terminology. Here are a few entries in the world of surveyor speak:
An acronym for structurally insulated formed in a factory and slotted together like a flat pack.
Construction Designated defective under the Housing Acts
During the rush to build housing in the 60s, there was plenty of poor construction. Subsequent defects arose, usually corrosion of the steel frames or reinforcement. The problem was so widespread that certain specific systems were designated defective and are unmortgageable; something that both surveyors and lawyers need to look out for. The last thing you want is a purchaser unknowingly buying such a home, only to find they cannot sell it.
MMC – modern methods of construction
Following the experience of the 1960’s, some banks and building societies shy away from other forms of construction. Innovative systems, often called Modern Methods of Construction, are not always accepted.
Breathability and Lime
Building surveyors get excited about lime due to its ‘breathable’ qualities. Instead of being watertight, lime plasters and mortars facilitate evaporation creating a healthy environment in the home.
Mortgage valuations and Recommendations for further reports.
Mortgage valuations are not surveys, but often are relied upon by purchasers on a tight budget. Unsurprisingly, caveats are extensive, and recommendations for further specialist inspections, usually of damp and wood beetle, is commonplace.
A purchaser is on a tight budget often opts for a free ‘survey’ and sold unnecessary and potentially damaging treatments.
If moisture content in timber falls below around 11%, wood beetle dies out; another reason we surveyors recommend breathable materials and good ventilation. This holistic approach will control infestation, avoiding the need for potentially unhealthy chemical treatment.
Condensation and penetrating moisture is often misdiagnosed as rising damp. Usually there is a good reason for a damp problem; banked soil, poor ventilation etc. Rising damp is rare and usually can be controlled by consistent evaporation. So called specialist damp treatment often traps the damp, creating a more significant problem, and a cycle of repeat inappropriate treatment.
Sometimes a valuer will spot a potentially serious structural defect and a recommend inspection by the structural engineer or chartered building surveyor. Unfortunately, some simply state structural engineer even though the latter might be more appropriate if the defect is one of several that require assessment. In those instances, the applicant should be recommended to contact the lender and ask if a chartered building surveyors report would be accepted.
Often, building regulation certification is requested for past alterations but records are not available. Conveyancers sometimes recommend indemnity insurance but I have yet to find an incidence where the insurance has been called upon successfully, either because it was not necessary or the small print renders the insurance of little value. Indeed, building control cannot enforce structural improvements unless there is a clear danger, or the changes were made within the last 12 months.
The difference between a homebuyer’s report and a building survey
What is the difference? When it comes to a modern three bed semi, frankly very little and invariably the homebuyer report should suffice.
On the other hand, if your client is buying a period house, you would be ill-advised to recommend anything other than a full building survey which will entail detailed analysis, an assessment of how the building has been constructed and altered over the years, whether repairs have been appropriate, etc. The surveyor will consider the wider picture such as the potential influence of trees, establish soil types from online geological maps, flood maps, and often use additional equipment to inspect areas not easily visible. Drones are increasingly popular, but licensing can create restrictions.
Surveys of Listed buildings require in depth knowledge. The surveyor is the eyes and ears of the solicitor and can pinpoint potential non-conformant alterations. If the lawyer has any specific concerns it is helpful to inform the surveyor in advance.
Last, but probably most important. Often corporate practices hinder vital communication channels, causing unnecessary delays. For example, the lawyer might not be aware that the property has a roof terrace without consent, potentially reducing the value if it must be removed. If the surveyor does not communicate with the lawyer, and the buyer does not pass on the report, there is potential trouble ahead for all concerned.
Communication between the surveyor and the lawyer is essential.