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The continuing value of physical surveys – Cumber

by: Matthew Cumber, managing director of Countrywide Surveying Services
  • 01/03/2024
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The continuing value of physical surveys – Cumber
It’s now been around four years since surveyors were unable to visit properties to carry out physical survey and valuation appointments, due to social distancing rules that were introduced in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Thinking back to this time, in some ways it feels like yesterday, whilst at other times it feels like a lifetime ago. 

The various stages of the pandemic really did highlight just how important physical property inspections are to the overall success and health of the housing and mortgage markets. 

This was also a time that severely tested the relationship between lenders and their surveying partners. It shone a real spotlight on automated valuation models (AVMs) and desktop valuations, with lenders relying on these more than ever before for both purchases and remortgages.

Like any sector, it is vital to evolve. Technology and greater usage of data will inevitably play an increasingly prominent role in property transactions, particularly in terms of speeding up our sometimes archaic homebuying process.


Still room for physical valuations 

When I bought my first home, it took circa three months between my offer being accepted to moving in, although admittedly this was a few years ago. However, it’s not uncommon that it can now take over five months, so change is definitely needed, and not least because buying a home is often cited as one of the most stressful events in life. 

As an industry, we need to do more, and we cannot rely wholly on changes by the government to improve matters. We should recognise the efforts of both the Home Buying and Selling Group (HB&SG), run by one of our recent webinar panellists, Kate Faulkner OBE, and also the Open Property Data Association (OPDA), run by Maria Harris, in seeking to instigate change.

However, their efforts alone are unlikely to be enough. 

With regards to the role of surveys and valuations in the process, while AVMs, desktop valuations and other tech-based solutions have their place and their usage inevitably continues to grow, they have not diminished the value attached to physical inspections, particularly in more complex and higher-risk cases. 

Whilst physical inspections protect the interests of lenders, from a borrower’s perspective, getting the right kind of private survey also ensures there are no nasty surprises when they move into their dream home, thus supporting good customer outcomes – the essence of Consumer Duty. 


Reinforcing the importance of a survey

In this regard, it’s not only important to continue to raise awareness in consumer circles, but also within the lending and intermediary markets to ensure that borrowers are fully educated on what remains an often misunderstood part of the purchase process.

One of the most important factors being the difference between a mortgage valuation and a survey. 

Due to a lack of awareness around its importance, a survey can also be viewed simply as an additional cost rather than an integral one that could save a homebuyer a lot of time, money and heartache. After all, the cost of a survey can often be a fraction of potential unexpected repair costs that were not identified before moving in. 

In short, whilst our industry will inevitably continue to evolve and change, there will always be a place for physical surveys and valuations. 


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