Why it makes good sense to get an independent survey for your new-build home

Buying a home can be a difficult journey. Recent surveys put moving house as one of the most stressful things you can do, followed by having a child and going through a divorce or breakup. Perhaps that’s why so many people choose to buy a new-build property. What could be simpler – you get to move into a brand-new home where everything is pristine and works perfectly. At least, that’s the theory.

Sadly, in reality, there are things that can be wrong even with a recently finished residential development. According to the National New Home Customer Satisfaction Survey 2021, a joint publication by the NHBC, House Builders Federation, and Homes for Scotland, as much as a third of new homeowners reported problems. 41% had more than 10 issues to report to their builder, and many found significantly more defects.

Given the above, it would seem to be a sensible precaution to commission an independent pre-purchase home survey. Unfortunately, many buyers don’t think it’s worth spending money on, preferring to rely instead on the mortgage valuation to deliver peace of mind, or the developer’s snagging survey to sort things out. These can turn out to be expensive mistakes.

New-build houses might appear to be a maintenance-free choice – but not always.

What are the most common problems with new-builds?

While you wouldn’t expect to find any major faults with a newly constructed property, common niggles do come up time and again. Top of the list of complaints is unfinished fittings such as badly fitted ironmongery, loose power sockets, or even poorly fitted kitchen or bathroom fixtures.

These are closely followed by poor finishes such as uneven stairs and floors, bad paint jobs, cracked plaster, or poorly fitted windows and doors. Understandably, these issues can cause untold irritation to new-build homeowners who expect everything to be in perfect order when they move in without the need to chase the housebuilder.

Most alarmingly, it is not unusual to discover serious issues that could lead to problems with damp, ventilation, and insulation, such as damp courses being bridged, waste pipes and vents not connected, or roof flashings failing. The illustration below shows just how varied and plentiful the problems can be.

Image from This is Money.

What’s covered by the warranty?

Brand-new homes typically come with a 10-year new-build home warranty. This is a major selling point since it offers the peace of mind buyers need to feel safe in case of any building defects. Should there be any structural or major issues coming to light during the 10 years, you’re covered. But are you really?

Unfortunately, the small print is often confusing, with different aspects of the home covered at different times. The warranty is split into the defects insurance period or new-build snagging (covering the first two years) and the structural insurance period, which covers the remaining eight years. In Years 1 and 2, problems encountered with the property on account of poor craftsmanship, say the bath is leaking because of poor fitting, should be reported to the housebuilder who is obliged to come and fix them. But not all builders are as cooperative as they should be and delays and disputes are commonplace. It is not unheard of for the new homeowner to cover the cost of the repairs themselves and then chase for reimbursement.

A poorly fitted socket.

Once the structural period commences in Year 3, the builder is no longer responsible for non-structural issues such as problems with fixtures or fittings. Only major problems with the structure of the house – those affecting the foundations, the roof, and load-bearing parts of the floors – will then be covered.

Is an independent inspection the answer?

In short, yes. It makes complete sense to spend a few hundred pounds upfront to fully understand the condition of your new home, even if the building is brand new. Bear in mind that the mortgage valuation is not a survey. Rather, it’s a risk assessment exercise carried out on behalf, and for the sole benefit, of the lender to ensure the property is worth the loan you are applying for. You may not even get to see a copy of the report.

A surveyor carrying out a building inspection.

An independent Chartered Surveyor’s report, on the other hand, will give you the full facts you need to make an informed decision. Getting a professional and impartial look ‘under the hood’ of the property to identify problems large or small is surely the best way to protect your investment. Knowledge is power; being armed with a RICS home survey report will put you in the best position to decide on how to proceed – whether to go ahead, negotiate a discount or walk away.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) endorses three different levels of investigation: RICS Condition Report, RICS HomeBuyers Report, and RICS Building Survey. While the latter is designed for older buildings with complex surveying needs and therefore not suitable here, the other two may well be good choices:

  • The RICS Condition Report is a basic ‘traffic light’ survey carried out by a qualified Chartered Surveyor to describe the condition of a property that is already in a good state of repair. The findings will be compiled into a concise report that identifies any risks and potential legal issues and also highlights any urgent defects found. This type of survey is popular for new-build (and nearly new) homes to provide peace of mind that all is well. No detailed advice or valuation is given. Prices start around £300.
  • The RICS HomeBuyer Report is a mid-range survey of all accessible elements of the property. Its purpose is to find and document any problems that could cause damage and need future repairs, including damp and subsidence. The report uses an easy-to-understand traffic light rating system to indicate the urgency and severity of any defects found. Suitable for all modern homes in good condition, it can reveal issues that might impact the value of the property and need further investigation. A current market valuation will also usually be given. Prices start around £400.
  • Many surveyors will also offer Snagging Surveys, aimed specifically at buyers of new-build homes to ensure the finished property matches the plans and specifications the developer set down for it and is finished to a high standard. An impartial RICS surveyor will inspect the property and identify any faults, ranging from traditional building defects such as damp and subsidence to more subtle but irritating issues such as leaking showers, broken tiles, and generally poor finishing. The report will take the form of a snagging list that can be submitted to the developer for fixing, either before or after the sale has been completed. Prices start around £300.

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