Why they cost what they do, and what to consider when you are comparing quotes
At Harrison Clarke, we specialise in providing high quality and thorough surveys, giving our clients clear and comprehensive reports. The question we are asked every day is, “Do I need a Level 2 or a Level 3 survey?” We understand. You don’t want to pay more than you need to if a Level 2 will be perfectly sufficient for your property but, equally, you do not want to end up in a false economy scenario where not investing in the more detailed report that a Level 3 survey provides could cost you dearly with essential repairs in the future.
Here, our expert team delves into every area, comparing the two types of survey to help you make an informed decision. And, if you are still unsure, we are more than happy to help guide you, based on our extensive experience. Our contact details are at the end of this article.
Your survey options
Before you purchase a property – by far the biggest financial commitment you ever make – we would always recommend that you invest in a proper survey carried out by a qualified and experienced chartered building surveyor. They are specialists in surveying properties and, because of this, are likely to provide a more detailed level of inspection than, say, a builder who you have invited to look at the property with a view to making alterations. Your proposed property may be surveyed by your mortgage lender but, again, this will be with the value of the property in mind, and will not be as thorough as our Level 2 or Level 3 survey.
There are two types of survey that you can commission on the property you’re looking to buy. One is the HomeBuyer Report (Level 2 Survey) – this used to be called the RICS HomeBuyer report, and the other is the Level 3 Building Survey. We’ll refer to them here as the ‘Level 2’ and the ‘Level 3’.
Both surveys give you a non-intrusive visual inspection of the property.
The Level 2 provides you with information on the condition of the property and what the building’s elements are made of. It flags any defects and potential future pitfalls the surveyor finds, as well as some ideas on how to remedy those defects. It also inspects the services from a building surveyor’s perspective and includes some commentary around that. The Level 2 also provides you with advice regarding ongoing maintenance and provides guidance to your legal advisers.
The Level 3 provides you with everything that the Level 2 does and more. It is a really versatile product, providing a more comprehensive report that’s recommended for larger, older or complicated properties, those in poor condition, or where you are planning extensive works or alterations. It can also be the right choice for a newer, more straightforward property if you want the extra reassurance of a ‘next level’ overview.
The differences in reporting between a Level 2 and Level 3 Survey
Let’s look at how our surveyors approach inspections differently, depending on the type of survey chosen.
When our surveyors inspect for any type of survey we will always enter any accessible roof voids. However, sometimes roof spaces are really tricky to access which makes them time-consuming to physically get into. In these cases, a Level 2 survey will often only report on what can be seen from the easily accessible roof area. As the fee, and therefore the time allowed on site, is greater on a Level 3 survey, our surveyors can take more time to access difficult to reach areas, particularly if they are following a trail of suspicion – when trying to diagnose the exact route of water ingress, for example.
In all cases, our surveyors will only access areas when it is safe to do so.
Windows and doors
With a Level 2 survey, if windows are visually in a similar condition to one another, and especially at larger properties, our surveyor might only open a sample of windows, particularly if access is made difficult by furniture, blinds or shutters. This allows the surveyor to provide an overview of the condition of windows and give a high level summary of any works required.
For a Level 3 survey, our surveyor will seek to operate all openable windows. This allows them to provide a more detailed description of the condition of all individual windows, and give a more defined summary of any works required.
In the same way, all internal doors will normally be tested. However, if there are obstructions, the surveyor will have more time to clear these when they are carrying out a Level 3 survey. If they are doing a Level 2 inspection, the surveyor will treat unobstructed doors as a representative sample.
For both windows and doors, our surveyor can be more specific with defect descriptions in the Level 3 survey, due to the additional time allowed on site.
Building surveyors do not safety test the electrical installation in either a Level 2 or a Level 3 survey as this is outside their sphere of expertise. However, our surveyors do still provide helpful information on the electrical installation. Typically, we will consider the age of the system and type of components used. A Level 3 survey might go further and record quantities of power outlets in each area, if appropriate.
As standard, a Level 3 survey will provide specific advice on the energy efficiency of the building but, in most cases, a Level 2 report will also provide guidance if appropriate to do so.
Our surveyors dictate their site notes, so they will often go into more detail on the Services section of a Level 3 report than a Level 2 report, as the additional time on site allows for this. This can help give you a really detailed understanding of a building, whereas a Level 2 report is only designed to offer a high level summary.
Other differences between a Level 2 and Level 3 survey
The previous examples are representative of some of the ways that the inspections differ but there is another key theme that differentiates the Level 2 and Level 3 report and that is time. More time equals more detail.
The additional cost of a Level 3 survey pays for our surveyor to spend more time on site, enabling them to take really detailed notes which they may not have time for on the Level 2 survey. They might also take floor plans and other notes on a Level 3 survey which might not be appropriate on a Level 2 survey.
All these notes feed into the high quality reports we prepare after our inspection of the property.
One of the other differences between the Level 2 and Level 3 reports is that we provide cost estimates for remedial work within Level 3 surveys. In order to be able to do this, our surveyors need to record quantities of required remedial work during a Level 3 inspection so that they can calculate cost estimates back in the office.
Comparing the written report content of a Level 2 and a Level 3 survey
Schedule of Accommodation
This is a fairly minor difference in the way that the reports are written. A Level 3 report will detail the accommodation provided, such as bedrooms, bathrooms and living rooms. We find that estate agents can sometimes be over-confident with what they would describe as a bedroom, for example, and our surveyor’s opinion can help to settle any differences of opinion.
In this example, while we do not currently provide market valuation advice, we do know that an additional bedroom can add significant value to a property and, if a room does not meet bedroom standards, this can have a real impact on the value and saleability of a property.
If you notice anything unexpected in this part of the report, your surveyor will be pleased to discuss the reasons behind this content with you.
The schedule of accommodation is excluded from a Level 2 report.
Both Level 2 and Level 3 surveys will set out recommended remedial work, but the Level 3 survey will also provide cost estimates for recommended work as far as is practicable. The benefit of having cost estimates within the report is that, if unexpected defects are found, you might be able to negotiate a price reduction with the vendor to reflect these defects without having to arrange for trades provide their own estimates, which can delay a usually time-sensitive house buying process.
Sometimes only a very ballpark order of cost can be provided, particularly if further intrusive investigation is required, for example to address dampness.
Regarding cost estimates, it is important to note that construction prices have been fluctuating dramatically. The costs we suggest in our reports are not market tested, so if it is critical that exact costs are known you must ask building contractors for estimates or quotations.
As well as being detailed in the body of the report, we also summarise all costs at the front end of the report for your easy reference.
Cost estimates are not provided with a Level 2 Homebuyer report
Level of detail
A Level 2 homebuyer report is designed to give a high level understanding of a property, whereas a Level 3 Building Survey aims to provide the reader with a more detailed understanding of a property.
The RICS home survey standards set out a minimum requirement for each level of survey. This leads to some chartered surveying firms, particularly those completing Level 2 surveys as part of a valuation (whether instructed directly or through a mortgage lender), doing the bare minimum and scraping a pass on Level 2 survey requirements, often with just one line of text against each element.
In all cases, our Level 2 surveys exceed the home survey standards by offering a level of detail in straightforward language that helps you to understand any issues afflicting your new home and sets out next steps to address them.
Whether Level 2 or Level 3, our surveys are written bespoke to your property, without relying on cutting and pasting standard phrases that are forced to fit your property. This means that our surveys flow well and are much clearer and easier to understand than if we just used standard phrases throughout.
While we provide a good level of detail in Level 2 surveys, Level 3 surveys dig even deeper and really try to explain why what is happening is happening. In a Level 3 survey, we can also provide a more detailed explanation of the exact nature of work required.
In the past, energy efficiency has sometimes felt like paying lip service to the green agenda. However, with energy costs rising so sharply, energy efficiency is now at the forefront of many clients’ minds, and it has never been more important to consider the energy efficiency of your home.
Our Level 3 surveys provide advice on the energy efficiency of your property, taking into consideration the level of insulation, efficiency of the heating and lighting and the suitability of ventilation.
Where appropriate, we include recommendations to upgrade installations. Our surveyor will use their discretion as to how far to go in this regard. For example, if a heating system is on its last legs, it would be fair to assume that modern heating controls will be installed as standard by a heating engineer when it is replaced. But, if localised heating controls are not fitted in an otherwise well-functioning setup, we might just recommend additional heating controls.
Level 2 surveys will sometimes include a comment on energy matters but they do not have their own section in the report.
The cost difference between a Level 2 and a Level 3 survey
Costs of the Level 2 and Level 3 reports vary greatly, depending on a number of factors including the size and complexity of the property, the type of construction and its geographical location. As you would expect from the descriptions of both, the Level 3 survey is more expensive than the Level 2.
Please get in touch with us at Harrison Clarke, to find out more about specific survey costs for the property you would like to have surveyed.
Tip: If you are comparing Level 3 quotes from more than one surveyor, make sure that the quotes are ‘like for like’ and cost estimates for any remedial work are supplied as standard, at no extra charge, just as they are with Harrison Clarke’s Level 3 report.
So, which should you pick – Level 2 or Level 3?
Typically, we would recommend the high level summary approach of a Level 2 survey on a fairly straightforward property which has not been significantly altered and, taking it at face value, appears to be in good condition. By straightforward, we mean that the property is built of simple construction like bricks and mortar and constructed around 1900 or later. On a more complicated property, such as one using innovative construction techniques or one which is in poor condition, we would only recommend a Level 3 service as a Level 2 survey would not be adequate for this kind of property.
From a client’s perspective, we find that a lot of our clients like the belt and braces certainty that a Level 3 Report provides, even if a Level 2 survey could have been ‘enough’. The extra detail of a level 3 survey can help them to plan their future works more carefully and to really understand their building in depth. Some clients also use our cost estimates to ‘price chip’ against the agreed price of the property when unexpected defects are found. Having these cost estimates in your survey report can speed up the buying process, as Level 3 clients do not need to wait for trades to provide estimates.
Similarly, a Level 3 survey might be a sensible choice if you are stretching yourself and your deposit to afford a property right at the top of your budget. Whilst some purchasers might have a bit of money tucked away for repairs, many will not and this type of buyer would normally benefit from the best quality advice to de-risk their purchase.
The survey process
Whether you choose a Level 2 or a Level 3 survey, you need to arrange to get it done as soon as possible after you have had your offer on the property accepted. The earlier you get a survey done, the quicker you’ll be able to consider any potential defects that are uncovered by the surveyor’s report. Having been given the opportunity to think very carefully about whether you still want to proceed, if you do choose to withdraw from the purchase it makes sense to do so as soon as possible – minimising the professional fees you’ll be incurring across the rest of the house buying process.
To arrange to have a property inspected, contact us at Harrison Clarke. We will do a little research on your property, to make sure we have as much as detail as possible when we talk through the property’s details with you, and help you decide whether the Level 2 or Level 3 survey would be most appropriate.
After that, if you choose to give us the go-ahead, we will take care of everything for you, starting with contacting your estate agent to arrange the inspection at a convenient date.
Different building surveyors will have different service levels. If you use Harrison Clarke, you can expect us to provide you with your completed survey only two to three working days after our site inspection. We deliberately turn this around as quickly and efficiently as possible, appreciating that the information that the report contains can affect your decision-making process and any another professional costs you’re committing to.
Buying a house can be a long and convoluted process. We are mindful that the whole process can be fraught so we do everything we can to minimise any stress points for you, making sure that your building survey process runs smoothly.
It is rewarding when clients tell us how surprised they were at how easy the survey was to get done, compared to the rest of the house buying process!
How you can arrange a survey
Call our friendly, expert and highly qualified surveyors on 023 9322 3558 or 023 8155 0051, or email us at email@example.com. We would be delighted to help you, answering any questions you may have and arranging to survey any property you are looking at as soon as we can.
At the time of writing, we have a total of 61 reviews across Trustpilot and Google. We are proud to say that they are all 5 star ratings across the board.
Note: The information in this article only applies to Harrison Clarke’s team of expert surveyors and is not an explanation of the RICS home survey standards. The reason for this is that we tend to exceed these requirements, particularly with our Level 2 surveys.
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