Q. What's the difference between a valuation, a HomeBuyer's Report , a Home Condition Report and a full structural survey?

A. First, let’s deal with the Home Condition Report, or HCR, which is fundamentally different from the others in as much as it is commissioned and paid for by the seller. The HCR was originally intended to be one of the cornerstones of the new Home Information Pack, but was eventually dropped – or made optional, which amounts to the same thing. In practice, you are highly unlikely to encounter one. The Government still says that it may reintroduce a compulsory HCR if circumstances favour it, but no-one is holding their breath.

As for the other three…all lenders require a basic valuation to help them determine whether a property is actually worth the money you have agreed to fork out for it. They commission it, but you pay for it – unless they offer to waive the fee as part of their mortgage offer.

The Homebuyer’s Report is an intermediate-level survey. Concise and easy to read, it is designed to highlight any urgent repairs that may be required, and any other areas of immediate concern.

Top of the range is the Full Structural Survey – otherwise known as the Building Survey. This combines a comprehensive technical assessment of the property’s current condition with detailed guidance on any repairs required and future maintenance.

Costs vary, but the basic building society valuation is naturally the cheapest. Not surprisingly, therefore - even though it is done for the lender’s benefit, and its prime purpose is merely to establish that the property in question represents sufficient collateral for the loan - the majority of buyers tend to rely on this.

But is this really advisable? After all, buying a home represents the single biggest investment most of us ever make. I firmly believe it is common sense to spend a bit more in order to be better informed before we commit ourselves to such a momentous decision. In all but the most exceptional cases, a Homebuyer’s Report should be perfectly adequate. 'This can often be done by the lender’s surveyor at the same time as he or she performs the valuation, so it needn’t involve any more hassle for you - although of course, you can always commission a survey independently.