Caveat emptor – buyer beware – is a well-known legal principle when it comes to buying a house. It means that it is ultimately down to you, as the buyer, to make sure the house you are purchasing is worth the price and doesn’t come with any nasty surprises.

And this means a surveyor’s opinion can be crucial.

Instructing a surveyor to make a detailed professional assessment of the property (usually in the form of a Homebuyer’s Report) can make a huge difference. Their report should highlight any defects the surveyor finds, classify how serious those defects are, and provide a valuation of the property as seen. As such, a surveyor’s report is one of the main ways you can ‘beware’ as a buyer.

But what happens if the surveyor lets you down and performs their job negligently?

Different levels of survey

Before getting into surveyor negligence itself, you should keep in mind that a Homebuyer’s Report isn’t the only level of survey which can be commissioned. The different levels of survey are:

  1. A valuation of the property – this is the least detailed and will involve the surveyor simply assessing the current market value of the property.
  2. A Homebuyer’s Report – this covers a valuation and a visual inspection of the property for defects. However, this means that any structural defects which cannot be seen will not be covered.
  3. A Building Survey or Structural Survey – the most in-depth level of survey. These can take several days, and are more expensive than commissioning a Homebuyer’s Report, but can reveal defects which are not immediately apparent.

What does surveyor negligence look like?

Some of the most common examples of surveyor negligence are:

  • Missing a defect which would affect the value of the property
  • Misclassifying defects in the report – making them out to be less severe than they are in reality
  • Over-valuing the property so that the buyer pays significantly more than the property’s current market value
  • Failing to recommend further investigation or action in relation to the property when they have reasonable grounds to do so

The legal standard required of surveyors when they carry out their duties is that of the ‘reasonably competent surveyor’ – and they must exercise reasonable care and skill when conducting a survey. If something they have done falls below that standard, they will be negligent if that behaviour has caused you a loss.

For example, if your surveyor rushes through a survey and classifies a major defect as something minor, you could end up paying more for the house than it’s worth – taking into account the costs of fixing the defect.

In situations like these, you would have legal grounds to make a professional negligence claim against the surveyor, seeking compensation for the losses they have caused you.


In one of our success stories, Truth Legal recovered compensation for a house buyer when his surveyor failed to report that none of the windows in the property (except one) would open. Naturally, this significantly affected the value of the property. You can read the whole story here.


Failing to recommend further investigation or action

This form of surveyor negligence requires a bit more explanation.

Professional guidance for surveyors (when carrying out a survey for a Homebuyer’s Report) states that where there is a ‘trail of suspicion’ the surveyor must take ‘reasonable steps’ to follow it. If the surveyor can reasonably investigate further, they should. If it is beyond the scope or capabilities of their current survey, they should draw attention to this fact and recommend further action.

And as professional guidance like this points to what a ‘reasonably competent surveyor’ should do, it can indicate when a surveyor has fallen short of the required standards of conducting their duties.

A fairly recent case provides a useful example:

The case of Hart v Large (2020)

This case involved a claim of professional negligence against a surveyor, made by the purchasers of a property. One of the issues was whether the surveyor had been negligent in failing to recommend a Building Survey over a Homebuyer’s Report.

The property being purchased had been recently rebuilt. After the purchase had gone through, it emerged that, among other issues, a lack of damp-proofing in the walls had allowed moisture to get in and cause damage.

The walls should have been fitted with damp-proofing membranes. When the surveyor had produced his Homebuyer’s Report, he noted that no damp-proofing was visible (which was to be expected) but he assumed that the membranes were present simply because they should have been.

A Building Survey would have detected the absence of the damp-proofing membranes, and so one of the buyers’ arguments was that the surveyor was negligent for not recommending a Building Survey be conducted.

In deciding the case, the judge stated that the surveyor’s initial conduct of not recommending a Building Survey had not been negligent in itself. However, it was held that the surveyor should have kept the choice of the appropriate level of survey in mind throughout his work – so that if he encountered problems which could only be properly investigated through a Building Survey, turning a blind eye to those problems (and maintaining that a Homebuyer’s Survey was sufficient) would fall below the standard of care required.

There had been signs of shoddy workmanship in the rebuild in several places, and the judge considered that these should have alerted the surveyor to the possibility of hidden issues within the building.

In addition, it was held that the surveyor should have recommended a Professional Consultant’s Certificate to protect the buyers. This is a certificate signed by a suitably qualified surveyor or architect to confirm any rebuilding work has been completed in a compliant and satisfactory way.

The judge found that the claimant buyers would not have gone ahead with the purchase if the survey had been carried out properly. Either they would have pulled out at the suggestion of issues (revealed by a properly conducted survey) or they would have investigated further and then pulled out when the full extent of defects with the property became apparent. Therefore, the surveyor’s negligence was held to be responsible for the losses they incurred in the purchase.

What can you do about surveyor negligence?

If you think that your surveyor may have been professionally negligent in inspecting your property, you should seek legal advice to find out where you stand.

Professional negligence claims can be tricky, and may involve complicated legal issues. It’s important to consult solicitors with skill and experience in these claims. Truth Legal can give you the specialist help you need

Get in touch if you would like to discuss your situation.

Share this article...

Truth Legal team photo

Make An Enquiry

Contact the Truth Legal team today.

"*" indicates required fields

Catherine Reynolds
Never miss a post again

Sign up to our mailing list today and we’ll deliver our latest posts straight to your inbox.

Paper Plane

Unsubscribe at any time. Read our privacy policy.

Further Reading

From one of the UK’s most read legal blogs.