035 SME Business Stories with Philip Santo

Philip Santo is a chartered surveyor with over 35 years experience as a residential surveyor and valuer who has acted as a consultant for RICS. He contributed to the major reviews of the Red Book Mortgage Valuation Practice Standard in 2011 and the Guidance Note on the Valuation of New-build Residential Homes published in 2012. He led the cross-industry working group which produced the RICS Information Paper on Japanese Knotweed and Residential Property in 2012.

Philip regularly gives training presentations and is a visiting lecturer at Portsmouth University. He writes for a number of professional publications, including the Case Notes series in the RICS Residential Professional Journal and has written a second edition to the Melville and Gordon series Inspections and Reports on Dwellings.

His independent practice, Philip Santo & Co, Chartered Surveyors, provides a range of consultancy services including advice on automated valuation models (AVMs) and providing expert reports and training programmes.

‘Selling’ Surveying to Young People

As opposed to a great number of surveyors who landed into this profession by accident, it wasn’t the case for Philip Santo, who was deliberate about his career choice from an early age. That led him to becoming one of the most respected experts in the industry after decades spent in the nitty-gritty of residential surveying. Philip wishes for more visibility and promotion of this profession, as well as for more diversity.

“It’s disappointing that not more people are coming straight in,” he explains. “I think it’s remiss of the RICS not getting out and ‘selling’ surveying more actively to younger people. I’ve done the RICS publicity thing, this year I sent around with the subscriptions the Delivering Competence Society brochure, and they proudly say that they went along to 85 schools during the year. But there are over 4000 secondary schools in the country, and 85 aren’t very many. I know that they are trying hard, and they’ve spent time and effort on it clearly, but I think we need to be doing more. There are opportunities for practicing surveyors to get involved alongside RICS Ambassadors to go into schools, and I think it’s something that we ought to be doing. This is a fantastic profession.”

What Makes a Great Surveyor

Philip discusses the personal attributes someone needs to have in order to respond to the requirements of the surveyor’s profession.

“Curiosity is a key attribute that effective residential surveyors need to have,” he says. “It’s a rewarding and important career, but only for those whose personal attributes match the demanding requirements of it. Obviously, you need health, and the capacity to be physically active, get up and down stairs and into roof spaces. You need to know when you’re under power, if you’ve got the flu and you’re not operating in full strength, you need to recognise it because mistakes can occur. When you get into my age, you need to have a pair of glasses. There was a complaint case against a surveyor, because he couldn’t see the woodworm at the edge of the access hatch under his eyes. He had to wear his glasses to see it, and he refused to wear them. You’ve got to recognise those things, vanity must have come into it.”

“In terms of character,” Philip continues, “you need to be a detailed person to do this job. If you are not, you tend to skip over stuff. You’ve got to be inquisitive, to have a forensic capability, to examine a building on a frenzy level, to wonder why things are happening, and be tenacious enough to follow it through. When I was managing surveyors, some of them were brilliant, but some were worrying because they just scooted around. They were used to do mortgage valuations, and when they were required to do more detailed inspections, they just weren’t able to do it.”

The Future of Residential Surveying

The residential surveying profession has become largely standardised since the 2013 RICS Home Survey Standard document took effect. The updated Home Survey Standard is becoming effective in December 2020, and although standardisation is very welcome, Philip expresses some concerns about the future of the profession.

“It encourages me and worries me at the same time. When the 2013 document came out, with the article about three different levels of surveying, I thought great, for the first time we got consistency, and we can all step out towards the public, and everybody will begin to understand what the options are that we’re selling. But because of the way technology is going, and because of the way different corporate firms are looking at utilising this to produce their own products within this format, and because it’s written at such a high level, what’s going to happen is we’re gonna have three levels of surveying, but the actual options available to people are going to diversify out of all recognition. So you’ll be able to get a video survey from one company, a photographic survey from another one, an audio one from a third one, a live one from somebody else. And how is the customer going to choose? I know that the standard requires you to explain how you’re operating as a surveyor, and to talk to the customer and explain what the differences are. But how are they going to choose between the plethora of different things which are going to be available in four or five years time?” he wonders.

Books on Residential Surveying

Philip is the author of a number of publications, including the update of Gordon and Melville’s ‘Inspections and Reports on Dwellings’. We wanted to know what made him want to write books.

“I was sitting at RICS one day, and a call came in from a publisher who wanted a book updating. So they asked if I would be interested in doing that, and I said it sounded quite interesting. But when they gave me more information about the books, to my horror, they were written by Ian Melville and Ian Gordon! It was my Bible, they were my Gods of surveying, and I was being asked to update their work. I thought I was unworthy of it at first. But when I actually looked at the books, there was nothing on modern methods of construction, nothing about environment installation, so I did think they needed to be updated. I agreed to do it, I signed the contract, but what the publishers and I initially thought would be a couple of months worth of work, turned out to be five years! But again, I was able to introduce my own taste for photography for example, because I always carry a camera with me and have loads of photographs of buildings and defects. My vision for that book was to support New Age surveyors in the way that the original version of Melville and Gordon had supported me when I started. If I’ve written a book which people find readable, with a touch of humor and lots of photographs, I do commend them, particularly to newer surveyors,” Philip concludes.

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