When you buy a house, the onus is on you, as the buyer to make sure you know about all the risks associated with the property. Lawyers call this principle ‘buyer beware’ or to use its original Latin phrase, ‘caveat emptor’.

That’s why buyers are encouraged to get a survey of the property before they commit to buying it. The survey identifies any issues with the property that may cause pause-for-thought for the buyer, and sufficiently serious issues may cause the buyer to walk away completely.

It’s up to you, as the buyer, whether you get a Level 1, 2 or 3 survey. Level 1 is the most basic and Level 3 goes into significant detail. Level 3 is recommended for homes that are more than 50 years old, or homes that are in a poor condition. Most people opt for Level 2.

When you receive the results of your survey, you’ll see a handy traffic light system. If an issue is categorised as ‘amber’ then it’s a defect that needs repair, but not urgently. The ‘red’ defects however, are serious and require urgent attention.

Looking through a survey, especially for the first time, can feel overwhelming and surveyors will likely give you the worst case scenario to minimise the risk that they didn’t flag important issues.

So which issues are really a cause for concern?

Structural issues and subsidence

Look out for large cracks in walls. Not all cracks are red flags, but cracks over doorways, windows or where walls meet ceilings could be problematic. It may be an indication that the building’s foundations are damaged.

While it’s possible to rectify the foundations, it’s an expensive job and you may struggle to get insurance for a house with foundational issues.

So if your survey flags a ‘red’ defect to do with the structure of the building, it’s worth investigating further. Usually that means getting the opinion of a structural engineer. It will be another cost, but it’s better to find out the extent of the damage now, than before you’ve paid thousands for your dream home.

Major defects in the roof

You may find minor issues in the roof, like cracked tiles, which are straightforward and relatively cheap to fix. They’re not a problem.

But if your survey identifies a major defect in the roof, that could be a deal breaker. One of the most common problems is a leaking roof.

You should also take note if your survey highlights a lack of insulation or poor ventilation. Without proper insulation, you could be haemorrhaging heat from your home and quickly racking up the energy bills and poor ventilation can cause condensation and rot in the roof beams.

Dry rot

Speaking of rot, dry rot is the news that sends fear into most homebuyers. The fungus will weaken the timbers and it tends to spread rapidly. The structure of the house could be seriously compromised if dry rot is left untreated and allowed to spread.

Energy Efficiency rating

Nowadays, the energy efficiency rating of a home is rising up buyers’ priority lists and for good reason. Inefficient homes will cost far more to heat during the winter, and poorly insulated homes can be difficult to cool during increasingly hot summers.

If you intend to rent out your home, then your property will have to meet a minimum energy standard of C, which currently applies to only around 41% of homes in the UK, according to research from the Open Property Group.

Unapproved extensions

Here’s a little known fact – as soon as you buy the property, you become responsible for any unapproved extensions that the previous owner carried out. It’s the responsibility of the ‘homeowner’ to make sure any extensions had proper planning approval and complied with Building Regulations so if the previous owner failed to do that, you could end up liable for a fine.

If your survey flags an unapproved extension, you can either ask the seller to indemnify you against the risk of a fine, or ask them to seek the correct approvals retrospectively before you buy.

What can you do about it?

If your survey comes back with any red flags, or anything that you’re worried about, discuss it with your conveyancing solicitor. We see these surveys all the time and we can help you decide what to do next.

Some people choose to get quotes for the remedial work, and then negotiate a reduction on the price, so that the seller essentially pays for or shares the cost of the work.

Or you have the option to walk away from the home. Remember, the deal isn’t legally binding until you exchange contracts. If the red flags are too expensive or onerous to rectify, you may choose to find a property that will be less problematic.