Pros and Cons of Building Surveys
I cannot stress too much the importance of having at least some kind of survey on the property you are buying. If you are buying with a mortgage then it is a certainty that they will instruct their own surveyor to undertake a valuation. You will pay for this but it is likely that it will just be a valuation: i.e. just checking that the house is worth what you are paying for it. In some cases all the surveyor will do is physically drive past the property!
I Paid for it, so Why isn't it More Comprehensive?
At the end of the day all the mortgage lender cares about is that the house is worth more than the amount they are lending you. If you get repossessed at any time they will need to re-sell it and they want to make sure that they will get their money back.
Most mortgage companies will give you the option of having a 'full structural survey' - at a premium. However, even if you do opt for this the surveyor is working for the mortgage company - not you. You may have paid for it, but the surveyor's duty of care is to the mortgage company. What this means for you is that if anything was missed, or the surveyor is negligent; you may not be able to sue them.
I am Buying a New House, do I Need a Full Survey?
If you are buying a newbuild property then it should have the benefit of NHBC cover or something similar. This basically means that it should be free of any structural problems and even if there are difficulties within the first ten years then the builder is required to rectify them. (This is subject to the terms of the guarantee)
So, unless you are really fond of spending money then I wouldn't bother - however this is just a personal opinion and if you have any doubt get a survey. Peace of mind is absolutely priceless.
I'm not Sure What to do.
When you are moving house there will be endless questions and decisions to make. Make your mind up now that you will have a full independent survey done and you could save yourself thousands in the long-run. If you have an independent survey then you can ask the surveyor to check out any specific concerns; you will have the option of suing him/her later if a mistake has been made and you will have the reassurance of knowing that the surveyor is working for you - and only you.
A full independent survey can be expensive, there is no point pretending otherwise, but it could tell you if there are things that need further investigation and/or work before you buy the house. This will give you the chance to either pull out or re-negotiate with the seller. At best the survey will show that the house is absolutely fine and will show that no remedial works are needed. At worst it could tell you that the house is falling down and is therefore to be avoided at all costs.
The Usual Provisos
No matter how much you spend on a full survey there will be a list of 'get-out' clauses that the surveyor will automatically put in. In today's litigious society it is hardly surprising. No surveyor is omniscient and they will recommend that you have someone else go in to check at least the heating and electrical systems. They won't move furniture, nor will they lift up carpets or dig-up foundations; they use their experience and skills to look for certain indicators for potentially bigger problems and then leave it to you to investigate further.
No-one can tell you how to buy a house, the decisions you make are completely your own but if you want to take advice then when it comes to surveys - if in doubt, do it.