Can you conduct your own property surveys?

Yes you can’ is the correct answer. And I will tell you why.

A very considerable number of home buyers have their future homes inspected by a professional chartered surveyor. This professional will tell you to an important extent whether the property you have chosen to buy is in a sound condition and simultaneously point out any defects and the approximate cost to get them right. This type of survey is optional unlike the mortgage bank or Building Society valuation survey which is much simpler and done on behalf of the lender even if you have to pay for it.

Structural surveys can be fairly expensive and not totally trustworthy. And the surveyor takes time to get them done. Furthermore, it is not unusual to be looking at several properties at a time with a view to buy only one but often we ask the surveyor to do all of them and gain a little time and perhaps make a few savings. The more surveys we do the better we get to know how it all works and it could be wise to do a survey on our own and in the future proceed accordingly.

A professional surveyor will normally use modern gadgets to test damp amongst other things. These gadgets may be expensive but are probably available from a specialist or tool hire firm. But common sense, as always, is by far your best piece of equipment. All you really need to start off is a first class modern led torch to look into all those areas which can be dark and have to be inspected carefully. In addition a large screwdriver to check rotten wood or very damp areas and possibly a pair of small binoculars to look at roofs and fire places. But most essential is a clipboard, pen and paper to note all you need and keep a good record of essential points to be repaired.

Roof inspection

In Gibraltar (as well as anywhere else) there are a good number of properties up for sale which are of considerable age, and while most will have tile roofs, some have older material in lieu of tiles – like slate for example – which last longer. You should look at rusted nails which lead to missing slates. Take a look through the attic and note that you should not be able to see the sky. The lead flashing should be very tight. On flat asphalt roofs you should look carefully for signs of age and cracks in particular. These roofs somehow have a shorter lifespan. Bear in mind that accumulated water results in a leak. Chippings on bitumen felt roofs often hide defects underneath so beware. Check rainwater pipes and that there are no leaks in their joints.

Internal inspection on the underside of roof is important to spot timber infestation. Fine dust is always a clear indicator of furniture beetles. In the case of a large infection a specialist company in pest control should be hired to sort out the problem. Bear in mind the possibility of the offending timbers having to be cut out. Interior of fireplaces must be inspected for any sulphate attack which can deteriorate brickwork and can damage mortar.

Staircases and floors

These often cause more defects than any other areas due to pipe intrusion and both dry and wet rot. To examine a floor in an occupied property is not easy because carpets cannot normally be removed to have access, but one can look into other areas like underneath lavatory basins and sinks and behind baths. Irregular floors are fairly common in old houses but never in a new property.

Dry rot is a result of bad ventilation of underfloor timbers and rising damp. Look for fungus or cracking.  Damp will produce white stains as a clear indicator. Check the stair balustrades as they are expensive to replace. A good staircase should not make noise or produce vibrations underfoot.


A rendered wall and standard brickwork will show faults if there are any at all. Cracked rendering can lead to serious underlying damp and shows settlement whilst mortar reduced to dust seriously weakens brickwork and must be replaced. Many old properties have no damp-proof course and, since most lenders insist upon one, a specialist damp installing company will have to be hired.

Interior finishes

You must check wall and ceilings for plaster cracks. Check wood paneling for rot infestation. Look well into door frames. Any dust will again indicate beetle infestation and they must be treated accordingly. Painting defects can mean poor workmanship or age.

Usual property services

Electricity supply, gas, heating and water. All these must be checked thoroughly and make sure it all works properly. A client used to tell me he always went into bathrooms and opened the tap to fill the bath a little. He then let the water out and was careful to check how long it took. This shows how drainage pipes are working. Wise system! Electricity is a tricky and dangerous are to cope with so hire an electrician to give you a hand.

All the above list of checkpoints are a small indicator of how to carry out your own amateur survey. It is important that you do all these yourself  and ultimately common sense will tell you how it all works. If after this examination you are still keen to go ahead with the purchase by all means do. You can then hire a professional who will very likely be happy to work along your list of defects and help you produce a well-planned list of expenses to be made to put the property back in order. This will result in a good and final report with which you can try and put the asking price down and save a few pounds which will probably pay you well for the survey.