When your surveyor misses a defect

Sometimes, we sadly receive calls from people who have moved into their new home and later found defects that their surveyor had failed to uncover before they completed their purchase. 

In some cases, these defects can amount to negligence on the behalf of the surveyor, but on other occasions this situation can arise due to misunderstandings in the buying process. 

Misconceptions about the lender’s survey

Some purchasers mistakenly think that the lender’s surveyor is acting for them, especially if they have paid a valuation fee on top of their mortgage. 

Unfortunately, in these circumstances, the valuer will have been acting for the lender, not for you, and you will therefore have no recourse against them. 

The lender’s survey is purely to reassure the lender that the property value will support the mortgage being taken out on it. While the lender’s survey considers the condition of the property, only really serious defects will be looked for.

Some lenders don’t even require their valuer to look in the roof space, meaning that expensive roof related issues can be missed. 


Level 2 or Level 3 survey?

Other buyers will have commissioned their own survey, but have opted for the HomeBuyer Report (Level 2 Survey), when a Level 3 Building Survey would have been more appropriate due to the age or complexity of the property. 

A Level 2 Survey will typically provide a higher level of analysis of a property, meaning that not all defects will be described but may, instead, only be included as a top level description.


Commissioned a Level 3 Building Survey and a big issue was missed?

This unfortunate scenario is thankfully very rare, but we are all only human and the odd error may occur. 

Or, the surveyor may have been acting beyond the realms of their professional knowledge. 

RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) rules of conduct mean that the latter should not happen, but there may be a situation where a surveyor doesn’t realise that they are not following these rules of conduct. 

Typically, this could be a less experienced, junior surveyor, or a surveyor acting outside of their usual remit, on an unusually constructed property for example. 

The risk of a surveyor missing a defect can also be higher where surveyors are required to fit too many surveys into their day, and the time pressures they are under could mean that they are not carrying out the surveys as thoroughly as they should be. 

We have recently heard of firms having their RICS registration suspended, because of having junior surveyors take on too many surveys, when they’re often not fully qualified, with more experienced surveyors then signing off their reports when they have not even been to the property.

It is common for these kind of firms to offer rock bottom fees, relying on quantity rather than quality to keep them in business. 

If you are unlucky enough to find a defect that your surveyor didn’t pick up, the first step is to ask the surveyor you commissioned to provide you with their complaints handling procedure.

All firms regulated by RICS are required to have insurance for instances where issues like this arise, meaning that the advice given by RICS registered surveyors is insurance backed. 

If the defect is sufficiently serious, this might give rise to a claim against the surveyor or their insurer. 

Harrison Clarke can advise on the likelihood of the success of such a claim and, if necessary, we can act as an expert witness to support the claim. 

Our RICS-registered expert witness has extensive experience in acting in such circumstances, normally doing so alongside a specialist professional negligence solicitor. We can advise on the appointment of a solicitor if you would like us to. 


I don’t want to make a claim, I just want the building fixed

We can also help in this scenario. We appreciate that building work can be expensive and, particularly when it is unexpected and not budgeted for, can be very stressful. 

Our team of surveyors can work with you to find the most cost-effective method of addressing building issues. 

Often, there are several ways of addressing building defects. While we would always prefer to see best practice being followed, sometimes we need to propose more cost-effective repairs, pushing back a full package of repair until this is more affordable. 

Sometimes our advice will be different than that given by builders, which can be for a number of different reasons. 

Don’t forget that, in these circumstances, building surveyors specialise in building pathology and will normally have better knowledge than an average builder would, regarding different repair methodologies. 

We can assist you in preparing a repair specification and can help you to choose a suitable building contractor if that would be helpful. 


How do I avoid using a surveyor who will miss things?

As with anything, often this comes down to the old adage “you get what you pay for”. 

This advice certainly applies to pre-purchase surveys, including HomeBuyer Report (Level 2 Surveys) and Level 3 Building Surveys on residential properties. 

It might be tempting to save money by going with the surveyor who gives you the lowest quote. But it’s worth taking a minute to think about how the surveyor can provide your report that cheaply. 

Is the company using less qualified or less experienced surveyors to deliver your survey? Are they using software that allows them to complete surveys more quickly, producing reports that are filled with generic information that might not even be applicable to your property? 

At Harrison Clarke, we only use fully qualified, highly experienced Chartered Building Surveyors to deliver residential reports.

We also limit the number of appointments we take on, to ensuring that our surveyors have a suitable amount of time to inspect each property and write up a thorough and accurate report. 

This might mean your report costs a little more than it may have done if you had used a cheaper surveyor, but you can be sure that that you are receiving the best quality advice and that your report will be fully tailored to your property and your needs. 


Word of warning

Sometimes, when a client flags that their surveyor has missed something, it actually relates to a defect which could not possibly have been seen by the surveyor and has only been unearthed when the building was opened up, for example to complete an extension or alteration works. 

Unfortunately, it is impossible on a non-intrusive survey to pick up on some defects. 

Other complaints, that arise months or years after purchase, could relate to defects which most likely developed long after the surveyor carried out their survey. 

In other circumstances, issues arise where a purchaser does not properly read their survey report and fails to act on its advice. If this is the case, it is unlikely that you will have recourse against your surveyor.

To help to prevent this happening, Harrison Clarke offers, as part of our service at no extra charge, the opportunity to talk through your report with you, making sure you have the chance to ask any questions about the content and that you understand everything in it.


How Harrison Clarke can help

If your surveyor has missed a defect, and you need expert advice, our expert team of surveyors is here to help. 

Or, if you are looking to appoint a surveyor to carry out a building survey before you commit to buying a property, choose us and be assured that you are getting the best representation available, protecting the substantial investment you are making in your property.

Discover something you would like to know more about?

Tim Clarke, Director at Harrison Clarke chartered surveyors.

About the author

Tim Clarke,


Tim set up Harrison Clarke Chartered Surveyors in July 2017 following a series of public and private sector surveying roles, having previously worked for the University of Cambridge, Rund Partnership, Goadsby, and CBRE. 

Tim has degrees in building surveying, construction project management, and business administration.