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Buying a House and Home? A RICS Survey isn't Enough, Here Are My Tips From Experience

Here I am 18 months after we bought what we thought was our dream home.  We sold our smaller house as we outgrew it with growing kids and to be honest we always intuitively felt that the house layout was not the right overall for our family.  So we made the decision not to go through extensive building works which would lead to spiralling costs and upgrade to a larger house, where the work has already been undertaken even though we may pay a little more for that finish.

We found the house we thought ticked all our boxes.  The layout was perfect, the location great and the price worked.  We put in an offer that was kept on hold until our house was sold.  The following week our house was on the market with Purple Bricks (be wary of the conveyancing charge if you opt to pay after the sale) and a week later we had an offer, so we were off!

Armed with a mortgage offer (which is a mission in itself to secure) we thought all was good, despite the slighly odd arrangement with the tennant who we were told was obstructive with viewings, we were able to move foward and found a RICS surveyor and decided to opt for a Homebuyers Report after reflecting on the various aspects of the house.

We went through Your Survey and were allocated Albert D Wellington, he missed the first date and marked himself in our follow-up telephone conversation by saying 'don't worry, Albert is on the case'.  Sadly he wasn't but I arranged a new date and also thought we'd coincide the survey with meeting him at the house, so we could have a quick viewing.  He was late but we got a survey in the end and from the report the house and it looked like the house was worth the investment, scoring mainly Level 1 on the survey and nothing major to note.
We pushed ahead only to find within days of owning our new home and decorating it that there were serious problems. Most the windows were old and needed replacing, the whole house needed a rewire, it was infested and we had to move out, gas pipes needed replacing as did the boiler which was over 15 years old and not stated, the house had serious plumping issues and water penetration visible on nearly every ceiling, in fact within 3 months a ceiling had collapsed and the whole roof needed retiling.

We had to move out while some of the work was done and it has taken 18 months to get the starting line with work which has already cost us now £30k and will likely cost nearly £75k overall, in order to get the quality of house suggested in our Survey.
Shocked we looked at legal action to find most lawyers advised against this, so we opted for the Ombudsman route, without any doubt that the condition would speak for itself.  The process took a year and in the end we received £500 from the Ombudsman plus were offered £50 for our inconvenience, these didn't even include a refund from the Surveyor so basically acted as this.  It was an insult.

On 14th May 2019 Rip Off Britain aired our case and it has to be said that their reporters and team took more care and time to talk to us and investiage this than any other service, including the Ombudsman Property did in a year.

Our energy is now shifting to create the home we wanted, moving our attention into the future in our home for our family but here are the key lessons I learnt and would urge any buyer to do whether you are buying your first or fifth home (this was my third purchase and I felt I was very thorough in my process obviously without the great knowledge of hindsight):

Know that the RICS Survey offers NO Financial Protection


I know it's sold as potentially saving you over £5,000 but know that a Homebuyers Survey actually carries no protection with it.  If your new home costs you much after a Survey,  RICS offer no mediation or solution and the only power they hold over surveyors is disciplinary.

Have Legal Protection


This is something we thought we had covered with our home insurance but on switching to a new policy alongside our move, we weren't aware that the legal protection that accompanied it had a 6 months clause.  How they are able to sell a years policy when it doesn't cover the first six months seems baffling but check the details of any policy you have and possibly transfer rather than start a new policy.  To have taken the lawyers route we were advised we may need up to £25k and that there was no certainity of winning as neglience isn't black and white so without legal protection you are left to cover these costs.

Get a Second Survey


In the heat of the chaos we didn't get another survey and I now wish we had.  It felt so clear that our surveyor had been neglient that we couldn't see the logic in paying again for another report but in disputes the main evidence is the report, without anything to compare the quality of Albert D Wellington's work, it was our word against his and the Ombudsman seemed very much on the surveyors side.  I say this genuinely as a barrister friend advised that the main evidence is the report, so anything not in that report should highlight Albert D Wellington's porfessional short comings, however we found the Investigator at the Ombudsman Service (not property specialists I should add) citing 7 year old pictures from Zoopla as back up evidence to the Surveyor's private comments  outside of the Homebuyers Report.  I should add we were never privy to his comments or additional evidence so have no idea if it was accurate, it felt like a very bizarre system to be trying to navigate.

Evidence, Evidence, Evidence


When we took our final decision to appeal, we were told we were not entitled to further costs returned due to lack of evidence.  Despite having sent in over 300 images, tens of pages of detailed reports, expert reports and all invoices and cost breakdowns that were requested as evidence.
We never got an answer as to what would have been sufficient evidence to back our claim or how they work out the portion they will award you even when they back your point about neglient work.  In fact on reflection (which is always easier than the midst of chaos) I would advise you do the following; take videos at every viewing and pictures of room layouts.  After exchange do the same again and on completion, storing these in a clearly dated file (our dated images were not considered sufficient).  Also pay for further reports etc, these can cost up to another £1000 including another homebuyers survey but are well worth the investment if things go wrong.

Get Legal Support


Even though we decided not to go down the solicitors route we did seek a variety of good legal advice before embarking on our course of action and this is certainly worth doing and even paying a solitor to draft a letter.  Most surveyors will have Indemnity Insurance (if they don't they really should!) so when you make a claim it's their insurers who pay.  Insurers are often willing to take things further depending on the overall cost of the claim but paying for a good few legal letters or time with a lawyer can really help you on your way.

Builders Know Their Stuff


My top tip would be to ask a trusted or known builder to accompany you around the house before exchanging contracts and ask them to write you a report and cost breakdown of work they can see.  This is often much less than paying for a surveyor and their observations often give you the 'insiders eye' and perhaps more work than is needed but if you love the house it's better to have the top end cost opinions as well before you make your decision.  Once you own the house, that's it, it's yours and any faults are likely to be picked up by future surveys so in many ways you're stuck with the house and if the condition is bad may be worth less than you paid for it.

A builders report alongside a survey should give you a good base to understand what you're getting and be able to make a decision as to whether you want to proceed.

It's Okay to Say No


I say this as a self-aware people-pleasing woman who doesn't like spending money.  As the sale progresses we can end up feeling like we have to push things through, that we've invested so much already we don't want to turn back.
Please know you can pull out at any time and losing £1000 is a lot of money BUT it's better than ending up in a house that will totally stretch you to your financial and emotional edge.

Go With Your Gut


The last point really leads onto this, if things aren't feeling right it may be because they are not and if somewhere along the process you feel you should do X, Y or Z then do.  The house we bought was being rented via housing benefit through a Croydon Landlord scheme to support social tenants.  In theory it should have been up to do with gas and electrical safety in reality it failed all the safety test. We were constantly waiting for certificates or being ushered out when we went to look around by the estate agents, it felt unusual but without any other signs I didn't trust my instincts that something was amiss.



Overall this may look like a horror story and it has genuinely been one of the most traumatic and draining parts of my life, putting pressure on my work, kids, family life, finances, marriage and overall wellbeing but I know that what happened to us was a collision of many factors; bad surveyor, neglient council, poor timing, morally corrupt seller and we found ourselves falling through the gaps of a broken system that I hope will be addressed to offer more protection in future to buyers.
What has always astounded me is that if this was a £50 or even £500 pair of shoes I had bought and on wearing them for the first time the heel had fallen off, I would have more legal rights as a consumer than I did and still do making the biggest purchase of my life.

I'm grateful that this story has been shared as I felt so isolated when this happened to us and I hope it doesn't happen to anyone again.  I actually don't regret buying this house now that we are starting to make it a home; the vision I always had for it and my family.
However,  I'll always be disappointed at what we had to endure and hope these tips can help future buyers avoid our experience and have a smoother transition during what is already considered one of the most stressful things you can do in life because so much is invested in what we call HOME.

Have you had a similar experience or do you have any further tips?  Pop them below and let's shed more light in this big grey area of home buying.







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