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Henry & James: The Essential Guide to Surveys

There is a bewildering number of surveys to choose from when buying a new property. Should you pick something simple or opt for something more sophisticated? It is a familiar dilemma faced by many homeowners.

Malcolm Marsdin, a leading London residential surveyor, reveals his top tips in our essential guide to surveys.

  • Err on the side of caution. There are different levels of survey, from a “full structural survey” to the more rudimentary kind of survey which lenders require before making a mortgage offer. This is sometimes called a “homebuyer’s survey”.
  • “Condition surveys” are a halfway house, in terms of thoroughness, between a simple homebuyer’s survey and a full structural survey. They may be right for your new home, but are usually only recommended in the case of comparatively modern properties.
  • Set a clear deadline for the survey you require and satisfy yourself      that the surveyor will be able to meet that deadline.
  • Only use properly qualified surveyors accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (, who keep a database of surveyors in the UK.
  • Make sure that, if a survey identifies defects in a property, your surveyor also produces an estimate of the likely cost and time scale of repairs.
  • Pick a surveyor who knows the area and, even more importantly, the type of property you are buying. “Expecting a surveyor whose normal beat is Milton Keynes to survey a Regency terrace in Belgravia is asking for trouble,” adds Malcolm Marsdin.
  • Word-of-mouth recommendations from estate agents, friends and other property-owners are often invaluable.
  • Your surveyor should ideally have extensive experience of properties of the relevant period. If they seem vague or non-committal on this point, think about looking elsewhere.
  • Get quotations from more than one surveyor, but do not automatically plump for the lowest quotation. This can also be a good way of teasing how thorough a survey you can expect. If one surveyor gives a much lower quote than the others, alarm bells should start to ring.

Remember one thing. The bill for the survey may hurt when it lands on your doormat, but if you have chosen a good surveyor, you will be able to sleep easy at night for the next twenty years.

  • For more details on choosing the right survey, contact Malcolm Marsdin, residential surveyor via email on
  • Are you thinking of moving? For advice on letting, buying, selling, or moving, contact Henry & James at 1 Motcomb Street, London SW1X 8JX (020 7235 8861;