A Buyer's Guide to Conducting a House Survey

You should request the opportunity for a house survey prior to finalizing a real estate contract. A house survey is essentially the same thing as a home inspection. The surveyor will check certain areas of the home to assure it has been properly built and maintained. After the survey is complete, the house will receive a grade that indicates how many repairs need to be done and how much these repairs will cost. If you would like to conduct the survey yourself, you will save between $300 and $400 in closing costs. This can be risky if you are not familiar with the survey process.

What to Survey

You should survey the major areas of a home's structure. These areas include roofing, flooring, doors and windows, utilities, gutters and drainage and brick or facade work. Minor problems, such as a small whole in the wall or a leaky faucet, are not as much of a concern as these major issues. For example, a home needs a new roof every 10 to 15 years depending on the type of roofing used. You will need to survey the roof to check its general state of repair, look for missing shingles or leaks, and find any weak areas. If the roof needs to be repaired or replaced, you will need to pay a few thousand dollars to fix the problem. It is better to know this need up front than to be stuck with it after buying the property.

How to Detect a Problem

Detect problems by testing each of the main elements of the home. For example, turn on and off the heat and air conditioning. Flush all toilets and run all sinks. Check for hot water. You can find out a lot about a home's potential problems by asking the seller to supply information on maintenance. The most responsible sellers will keep track of exactly when main items were installed, repaired and replaced.

How to Resolve a Problem

You can ask a seller to repair problems prior to finalizing the contract. Some sellers would rather discount the price of the home and allow you to repair the problems yourself. Since a survey is typically completed after an initial offer is made, it can be hard to engage in negotiation after a survey is complete. You may walk away from the sale, but you will lose a few thousand dollars by leaving the contract. Conducting an initial survey yourself prior to making an offer is a great way to be alarmed of large issues with the property.

When to Use an Expert

If you do not have an expert's opinion, you may miss key problems that cost thousands of dollars. It is usually best to pay the few hundred dollars for an expert opinion. This is especially true in older homes. They are more likely to have deferred maintenance, sub-par building standards and other issues. Conducting your own survey on newly built homes is less risky. You will still want to assure the builder followed all safety regulations in constructing the property.

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