011 Special: Inspecting Residential Properties During Covid-19

Marion Ellis gathered four surveying experts on a panel to discuss inspecting residential properties during Covid-19, and how to approach it from a SME’s point of view.

About Participants

Phil Parnham is a Chartered Building Surveyor with an expertise in the diagnosis of defects and dampness in residential properties. He has many years of experience in the social housing, higher education and residential sectors, and is one of the founders of BlueBox Partners.

Chris Hutchings is a specialist residential valuer and Chartered Surveyor undertaking a wide range of inspections and reports for corporates and private companies. He currently owns a member practice under the Allied Surveyors umbrella, and more recently he has taken up training with BlueBox Partners.

Alan Appleby has over 40 years of experience in the sector, working in a wide range of organisations. He leads a small family practice in Staffordshire focusing on residential survey and valuations. He delivers presentations and training through BlueBox for individual firms as well as RICS and Sava.

Geoff Hunt is a sole practitioner based in Somerset, and a specialist in pre-war and listed building pre-acquisition surveys and defects. He is the author of The Defects Timeline and Residential Building Defects.

How to Approach Risk Assessments on Residential Properties

Phil Parnham questions whether physical inspections have to be done in the same way as they were done before Covid-19, and how to minimise risk in the first place. “Are there alternatives to physical inspection, where we can get the same sort of information that is important to lenders and purchasers?” he asks. “We’ve seen some firms talk about virtual inspections, desktop valuations, however, valuation inspection is different than most surveying inspections.”

“Are purchasers or lenders going to be happy that I’ve not seen inside a property?” Alan Appleby adds to it. “Are they going to want a consequent discount, because I’ve not seen inside the property, even though I’m probably taking a greater risk, and giving them a judgment based on an external only inspection? That’s a really difficult square to close. I believe that we are looking at creating the safest possible environment for us and property owners, that still allows us to physically look at the interior of the building.”

The Implementation of PPE Measures In Practice

“If we’re going into someone’s house,” Geoff Hunt continues the discussion, “we are going into their environment. It’s not just a case of putting PPE to stop whatever is in their house getting into you. If you are that hazard, how are you going to prevent yourself from being the hazard to them? The first and the obvious thing to do is to stay away from people. That is the key, but it’s actually quite difficult. Think about picking up keys from the real estate agents, having a chat with the vendor at the doorstep. Think about whether they have children and how you are going to manage those people. Everybody has to be able to work it out. Don’t just rely on your employer to tell you it’s safe. You have to take care of yourself, for example wearing gloves and taking them off properly, washing hands with your own soap and towel, and then putting it all in a sealed bag and into the car. The key thing in health and safety is that you’ve got to be able to come back tomorrow.”

“I think we are all risk assessors,” Christ Hutchings adds. “This is something that we do naturally. It’s just that now, while we are used to formalising it and doing a risk assessment on every job we do, perhaps we need to construct a process for ourselves that we feel comfortable with. The bottom line is if you don’t feel comfortable carrying out an inspection, don’t do it. Don’t feel pressured by peers or clients. Simple as that.”

Implementing PPE measures is going to have an impact on how surveyors run their day and how many jobs they can do.

“Yes, that capacity must fall because the time on each job goes up,” Alan confirms. “And it’s not just in terms of preparation for the process, and during the cleanup afterwards. It’s also the additional terms and conditions, the agreement on how I’m going to collect the key safely etc. All of that adds time, but on a positive note, I think that we as SMEs are closer to the risk assessment decision making process, and can be more flexible and quicker to respond to a positive and negative input, such that if we aren’t happy, we can do exactly what Geoff says – walk away.”

Revising Surveying Fees

All panelists agree that the extra time needed to do the job under current circumstances should be reflected in the fee.

Chris thinks the fees could easily go 20-30% up, and in Geoff’s view of pricing, “you should never compete on a price, because you deliver value and that is what people will pay for.”

Alan agrees that “the quality is what we sell. We’re probably not the cheapest, but the nice thing is that if you get recommendations, you can convert them and as long as you’re not greedy that’s fine. I like Geoff’s idea about adding a 10% surcharge because of the extra time in processing. We could call it a super safe tax and maybe people will go with that.”

The Pressures of Head Vs. Heart Vs. Roof Over Your Head

Phil points out that the pressure is not only about fees, but that many surveyors are really worried and anxious about losing their business, as some of them haven’t turned anything since March.

“There is also the loss of confidence for some of the older surveyors who are more vulnerable to the virus. It’s going to be a two-speed profession, that there’s going to be quite a significant chunk of us that are unable to go out anytime we want. And I’m really worried about the mental health issues that are happening and will continue to have an effect.”

Luckily, surveyors who are struggling can reach out to Lionheart, who offer fantastic support to chartered surveyors, as well as financial assistance.

Marion Ellis concludes the discussion by stressing that “although there are some ‘heart-versus-head-versus-roof-over-your-head’ moments for a lot of people, we’ve got to think about what we can do. We can line up work in the pipeline ready for when things are better. Some SME’s are interested in working on their social media presence, so this is actually a good time to work on your business and why we laughed our SME Business Mastermind. There are many opportunities but you need to look at it the right way.”

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