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A brief look at surveys - common problems found in surveys

Everybody dreams of getting a fully clean survey but this very rarely happens. It’s the surveyor job to bring to your attention even the smallest detail. Here are some of the most common issues...

Common findings can include (in no particular order):

Timber Rot (Dry or Wet)  

Nearly every house has timber used in its construction. Timber is dead wood and like most organic species it will decay (rot) if not looked after. There are two types of rot – Dry and Wet, with Dry rot causing the most damage. 
Dry Rot is a fungus and likes damp unventilated conditions. It can occur in areas of property that are not often seen such as floor voids, behind panelling and under floor boards. The fungus causes the timber to crumble away.
Wet Rot is not as bad as Dry Rot but increases the wood to decay quicker often due to high moisture levels in the surrounding area. This rot normally occurs at the bottom of timber structures where damp has congregated.

Both rot types can be treated by replacing the damage structures and treating the route cause which is nearly always water related (leaking gutters / pipework etc.)


Woodworm is the wood-eating larvae of many species of beetle. Signs of woodworm usually consist of tiny holes in wooden structures. The adult beetles lay their eggs under the surface of a wooden item. The larvae then feed on the wood causing both structural and cosmetic damage. These larvae then pupate into adult beetles and the process starts again.  Most infestations occur in damp or unventilated areas.

Woodworm can be treating using a variety of methods but is generally controlled with chemical insecticides. You should also look to treat the damp or unventilated area’s to stop any re-infection at a later date.


Structural dampness is the presence of unwanted moisture in the structure of a building. This is often the result of water intrusion from outside or condensation from inside. A leading cause of this is rain penetration through roofs, split flashing and other structural issues. Damp can also be drawn into the property from below if the damp course membrane is damaged. Identifying and rectifying the root cause will alleviate most problems but you might need to consider using dehumidifiers to remove another ongoing moisture.

Condensation is usually caused by human occupation (cooking, showering, drying clothes etc.) and can be avoided by keeping the property well ventilated. This tends to occur in smaller properties such as flats.

Wiring / Electrical  

This mainly occurs in older houses where wiring has become out of date and is straining to meet the demands of modern electrical appliances. Sometimes this can be seem whilst viewing – extension cords running around rooms as limited power sockets available but is often hidden behind walls and under floor boards. If any issues are identified in the survey then arrange to have a full electrical review carried out on the property. Replacing wiring can lead to big upheavals with ceilings coming down, plaster being removed from walls and floor boards being taken up in the worst cases.

Structural movement  

This occurs when the supporting soil moves away from the foundations of a property, causing it to sink. It can also be caused by soil shrinking and expanding or from a water leak from a damaged drain. In many cases, it can be fixed. But it is harder to find insurance for a house that has suffered subsidence and it can be expensive. You’ll want to get a full structural survey. In some regions, where areas were extensively mined,  it would be worth have the structure properly reviewed. Mortgage companies are often more thorough when lending on properties in these areas.


Asbestos was a widely used building material and is a term used to cover six naturally occurring silicon minerals. These are all composed of long and thin fibrous crystals which can be released into the atmosphere by abrasion and other processes which could cause asbestosis. The health hazards were not identified until the 1970’s and most buildings build before then will contain asbestos in some form whether it be roofing or in the aertex within your rooms. A visual inspection of your home is usually not sufficient to determine if any products used in the build process contain asbestos.

If asbestos is identified during a survey then it’s recommended you get an evaluation done by a certified asbestos professional.


Drainage issues can normally be broken down into two types – External and Internal.

External – normally caused by rainwater could mean gutters and downpipes but could also be landscaping issues or run off from other properties.

Internal would be damaged or blocked pipes but could be caused by external drains / sewers being damaged or blocked.

Finding the root cause or causes is the most important step and its often difficult but identifying where the water is coming from and going to is the logical first step – water always runs downhill and will find the easiest way to get where it is going.


Insulation issues within a property could cover different areas of the building – cavity wall not insulated, cavity wall insulated when the wall is at risk of rain penetration, wall ties not fitted correctly or corroded, pipes and roofs not covered properly. Most modern houses have cavity walls insulated with either EPS beads or mineral fibres, but these can be used on older houses but come with risks.


Roofing can cover a multitude of issues but should be detailed on the survey. Common findings include, missing tiles, rotten or broken soffits, damp issues, ventilation concerns, warped beams, flat roof needs recovering. In some cases the surveyor is doing the survey from the ground so is always best to get a specialist roof contractor in to review and report.

Japanese Knotweed  

This invasive plant has long roots that can damage anything in its path. The invasive root system and strong growth can damage concrete foundations, buildings, flood defences, roads, paving, retaining walls and architectural sites. It can also reduce the capacity of channels in flood defences to carry water. You’ll want to know the existing homeowners have a treatment plan in place. There are likely to be implications for getting a mortgage and insurance.

What happens next?

Basically you have three options open to you:-
1)    Withdraw your offer and walk away
2)    Proceed at the agreed price and accept the problems
3)    Try and renegotiate your offer

Get quotes. Use independent firms who specialise in that type of work.

Look out for the next instalments: 
What is the impact for the seller?

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