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Understanding the Significance of a Level 3 Building Survey: A Case Study by a RICS Surveyor

In the realm of property transactions, the significance of thorough building surveys cannot be overstated. In this blog post, we delve into a comprehensive case study conducted by one of our RICS-accredited surveyors, shedding light on the intricacies of Level 3 Building Surveys. Through this exploration, we aim to understand the importance of such assessments for both property owners and prospective homebuyers.

A Case Study by a RICS Surveyor

Defining Level 3 Building Surveys

The RICS Level 3 Home Survey, previously known as a Building or Structural Survey is the most detailed report available and is recommended if the home is particularly large, unique, listed, or in a poor state of repair. This survey report describes the construction and materials used for different parts of the building. It explains their condition and provides an assessment of the relative importance of any defects/problems found. Additionally, it will: describe the identifiable risk of potential or hidden defects in areas of the building not inspected; propose the most probable cause(s) of the defects; outline the likely scope of any appropriate remedial work and explain the likely consequences of non-repair; make general recommendations in respect of the priority and likely timescale for necessary work to the building.

The focus of the RICS Level 3 Home Survey report is on reading the building in greater detail than other survey reports, and providing homebuyers with a RICS accredited survey report explaining the condition of the home and of defects found. The Level 3 survey also advises on remedial works to the building and allows the surveyor to propose the probable causes of defects and identify potential hidden risks.

The RICS Level 3 survey is the highest level of survey and includes an extensive visual inspection of the exterior and interior of the home and its services and grounds. Concealed areas are also inspected during a Level 3/building survey if it is safe to do so (e.g. lofts/cellars). Although all homes and buildings are unique and different, a Level 3 survey report prepared by one of our RICS accredited surveyors is there to provide peace of mind about the condition of properties that fall somewhat outside the scope of a ‘normal’ home.

Choose the RICS Home Survey (Level 3)/Building Survey report if you want the highest level of detail and defect diagnosis with your survey. If you are considering buying a ‘fixer-upper’ or project home we would definitely recommend the RICS Home Survey (Level 3)/Building Survey. Our surveyors are always available to discuss the Level 3 survey will happily talk through their findings with you.

Case Study Background

The case study is a Level 3 survey plus Red Book RICS Valuation for a property in North Norfolk. The property was to be sold at auction and our client instructed us to provide the report and valuation ahead of the auction date. The property was constructed using traditional methods and first appeared on the1880 Ordnance Survey map, originally as three cottages, and since knocked through to create one dwelling. The property is located in an area inconvenient for amenities, however, the surrounding properties are not of similar style or age, which would pose a challenge during the valuation portion of the instruction.

Conducting the Level 3 Building Survey

On receipt of instruction and once all signed terms had been returned, our surveyor conducted desktop research of the property and the surrounding area. All data collected was filed in our digital client file and was referred to when compiling the report. We then arranged access with the estate agent and asked if the property was occupied. Our surveyor was informed the property would be unoccupied and that the keys would be ready for collection at an agreed time.

During their desktop research, the surveyor noted the property was not within a flood risk area and there was no historic landfill nearby. The property was located on a country lane with parking to the side. He used Google maps to view the property from the front, which highlighted some apparent disrepair and the surrounding grounds appeared heavily overgrown; he noted the image captured by Google was taken one year ago. HM Land Registry searches revealed the property had last been sold in 2005 as a freehold, and the surveyor also contacted the auctioneer to ascertain the guide price.

On the day of inspection, the surveyor collected the keys from the agent and asked relevant questions regarding the background of the sale such as levels of interest, number of enquiries, and any offers prior. He was informed that the keys were for the rear door only and that there was a large hole in the floor of the studio/garage located to the rear boundary. On arrival at the property the surveyor undertook a risk assessment as the approach to the rear door was heavily overgrown and the property appeared to have been left uninhabited for some time. He observed the large hole in the garage floor, assessed the area, and concluded that it would be unsafe to inspect the interior elements due to the hole, which was approximately 1.5m x 3m and an unknown depth. The surveyor recorded the area as Not Inspected but noted that the hole and the structure of the outbuilding required further investigation by a structural engineer. Bearing in mind the RICS ‘Surveying Safely’ Guidance Note, he used a telescopic ladder to view the asphalt covering of the flat roof above the garden room and kitchen extensions, and to view the corrugated roof covering to east flank storage room, which he noted was likely to contain asbestos cement.

The surveyor captured key information such as the weather conditions and marked the North point on the floorplan, then walked the perimeter of the property to ascertain its features. The roof was pitched with a ridge running east to west and clad in clay pantile. The walls were of solid brick laid in Flemish bond, predominantly covered by a painted concrete render, and the lack of sub floor vents suggested the ground floor was of solid construction. Starting at the chimney stacks, the surveyor made his way through the RICS Home Survey (Level 3) site notes template, recording all visible defects and capturing them with photographs. The surveyor repeated the task from the sides and the rear of the property where he found the conditions challenging due the density of plantings and lack of walkable areas. As the surveyor inspected the exterior of the property, he noted a number of serious defects including severe splay to the roof covering, slipped and cracked roof tiles, and large vertical cracks and bowing to the gable end wall.

On entering any property, our surveyors always make their presence known by calling out; in this case, the property was unoccupied during the time of inspection, but it did appear to be lived in. This particular surveyor always walks the interior to locate services before starting in the loft space and working his way down through the property. He discovered that the property had likely originally been built as three cottages and the ground floor party walls had been knocked through. The openings were supported by timber lintels, but it was unlikely that the adaptation had been carried out in line with building regulations. Our surveyor noted in the report that the client’s legal representative should obtain all certification relating to the works prior to the exchange of contracts. The three original staircases, first floor layouts, and loft spaces appeared relatively unaltered.

Starting at the west, the surveyor opened the loft hatch and inspected the roof space, wearing a respirator mask and head torch. He found the roof was of purlin and rafter construction, typical for a house of this type and age. The loft space was in poor condition. Daylight was filtering through the lack of felt covering, and when the timbers were probed with a damp meter the readings tested high. The roof did not appear to have sufficient bracing and the rafters had spread and dropped in parts, which was causing the splay seen previously from the exterior. The surveyor noted that they would require further investigation by a reputable roofing contractor and that the tiles required stripping off and re-laying once all remedial works to the roof timbers and felt had been undertaken.

The gable end wall was also in poor condition and had multiple cracks and spalled mortar joints, and the surveyor noted that all remedial work highlighted should be conducted prior to any remedial approaches internally. On inspection of the first-floor bedroom the surveyor noted that the chimney breast was saturated with moisture and the outline of brickwork was visible through the wallpaper; corresponding damp meter readings tested high, which aligned with the visual observations he made to the failures to the brickwork and mortar flashing at chimney stack to the exterior. The surveyor noted repairs to the stack, chimney flaunching, and that the mortar flashing should be replaced with a lead alternative. As the inspection continued, the surveyor found multiple issues and linked this advice across multiple sections of his report.

Findings and Recommendations

Upon completion of the Level 3 Survey for the property, our surveyor identified numerous critical issues that require immediate attention. From structural concerns such as severe roof defects, compromised chimney stacks, and significant damp penetration to safety hazards like the large hole in the garage floor, the findings underscore the necessity for thorough assessments, especially for properties with complex histories or poor maintenance records.

In light of these findings, our recommendations are clear. We advise the property owner to engage qualified professionals promptly to address the identified defects. For instance, the structural integrity of the roof and walls must be restored, and appropriate remedial actions should be taken to mitigate damp ingress and prevent further deterioration. Moreover, safety hazards like the hole in the garage floor necessitate immediate attention to prevent accidents and potential liabilities. It's crucial for the property owner to prioritise these repairs to safeguard both the property's value and the well-being of future occupants. The surveyor recommended the client to get in touch with National Federation of Roofing Contractors and the Property Care Association to find reputable trades-people to produce quotes and carry out remedial works.

Impact on the Property Owner and Homebuyer

The findings of a Level 3 Building Survey carry significant implications for both the current property owner and prospective homebuyers. For the property owner, addressing the identified defects is not merely a matter of maintenance but a critical investment in preserving the property's value and ensuring its habitability. Failure to address these issues promptly could lead to escalating repair costs, diminished property value, and legal liabilities if safety hazards are left unattended.

Similarly, for potential homebuyers, the survey findings provide invaluable insights into the property's true condition and potential risks. Armed with this information, homebuyers can make informed decisions regarding their investment. While the survey may reveal substantial challenges, it also presents an opportunity for negotiation and risk mitigation during the purchase process. Ultimately, the survey serves as a safeguard, enabling both parties to proceed with clarity and transparency.

Lessons for Other Property Owners and Homebuyers

The case study serves as a poignant reminder of the critical importance of engaging RICS-accredited surveyors when conducting property assessments. The RICS accreditation holds significant weight in the realm of property surveys, signifying adherence to rigorous professional standards and ethical conduct. This accreditation ensures that surveyors possess the necessary expertise, experience, and competency to deliver thorough and reliable assessments.

One of the primary reasons why the surveyor being RICS-accredited is paramount lies in the comprehensive training and ongoing professional development required for accreditation. RICS-accredited surveyors undergo rigorous education and training programs, equipping them with a deep understanding of building construction, defects, regulations, and best practices. This extensive knowledge base enables them to conduct meticulous examinations and accurately identify potential issues that may elude unqualified inspectors.

Moreover, RICS-accredited surveyors adhere to a strict code of conduct and professional ethics, ensuring impartiality, integrity, and transparency throughout the survey process. This commitment to ethical standards instills confidence in clients, assuring them that survey findings are unbiased and objective, free from conflicts of interest or external influences.

Another crucial aspect of RICS accreditation is the access to cutting-edge tools, methodologies, and industry insights that it affords surveyors. Accredited professionals are often at the forefront of technological advancements in surveying techniques, utilising advanced equipment and software to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of their assessments. This technological prowess enables RICS-accredited surveyors to uncover hidden defects and evaluate building performance with unparalleled precision.

Furthermore, the credibility and reputation associated with RICS accreditation creates trust among stakeholders in the property market. Whether it’s property owners seeking to assess the condition of their assets or homebuyers navigating the complexities of real estate transactions, the RICS seal of approval gives credibility to survey reports and aids confidence in decision-making.

The case study underscores that engaging a RICS-accredited surveyor is not merely a matter of preference but a fundamental necessity in safeguarding property interests. The depth of knowledge, adherence to professional standards, and commitment to ethical conduct associated with RICS accreditation are indispensable qualities that ensure the reliability and credibility of survey findings.

Importantly, the case study confirms the significance of opting for a Level 3 Building Survey, particularly for properties with complex histories or evident signs of disrepair. While standard Level 2 surveys – aka ‘Homebuyers Reports’ – may suffice for conventional properties, the Level 3 Building Survey offers a comprehensive assessment of the property's condition, identifying potential defects, safety hazards, and maintenance requirements in greater detail. Investing in a Level 3 Building Survey provides property owners and homebuyers with invaluable insights into the property's true condition, enabling informed decision-making and proactive risk mitigation strategies.


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