Surveyors were asked how they felt about resuming physical valuations during the pandemic, in response to a suggestion that physical inspections should not be stopped completely but rather assessed on a case by case basis, especially where properties were new build or unoccupied.
With speculation that changes to the lockdown may be announced by Boris Johnson on Sunday, Richard Sexton, director at E.surv said the firm had ruled out physical inspections for now, but added it was in conversation with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to discuss what would be needed to reinstate them should the lockdown be lifted or eased.
He said: “The safety of our surveyors and customers remains our top priority, so before we resume physical valuations of any kind we will ensure our surveyors are fully prepared, have access to appropriate levels of personal protective equipment (PPE) and that each surveyor carries out a dynamic risk assessment ahead of an inspection.”
The idea of giving surveyors protective equipment was echoed by Sara Duncan, head of valuations and advisory services at Colliers International.
She said in the event inspections are allowed on new build and unoccupied properties again, “as long as we have the correct protective equipment and procedures, and the individual surveyor, client and any third parties were comfortable, we would do it.”
However, she said aside from the government saying surveyors dealing with home moves and mortgage transactions could still inspect subject to certain protocols, clearer guidance was needed across the rest of the sector.
Using digital information
Surveyors said greater use of smartphones to take photographs and videos of properties would aid in bringing valuations back as the shift to remote alternatives drew attention to the shortfalls of such methods.
“I think desktop valuations are here to stay but this is highlighting the importance of physical valuations and the flaws in automated valuation models (AVMs),” Joe Arnold, founder of Arnold and Baldwin said.
Arnold went on to say introducing more evidence into the valuation cycle could help remove the risks faced when it came to high loan to value (LTV) lending and larger loans, thus reopening these criteria in the mortgage market.
Duncan added to this, saying Colliers was still valuing properties subject to a deferred physical inspection but much information was needed to allow this to be done such as photographs, videos, floorplans and condition surveys.
She said it was also important for the information to be verified as accurate at the date of valuation and for the client to agree that the information could be relied on.
These points align with the launch of products, like that from SimplyBiz today, which aim to allow RICS-qualified surveyors to carry out valuations while respecting social distancing rules.
These solutions include the use of smartphones or laptops to capture property photographs and videos, the use of video conferencing technology to carry out virtual valuations and local surveyors conducting external inspections.
SimplyBiz has made the platform free to use for surveying firms to support the recovery of the housing market, it said.
Its subsidiary business Gateway has enlisted Mansfield Building Society to use the service and is working with Nottingham Building Society to explore its use.
Matt Timmins, joint CEO of SimplyBiz, said of the launch: “New ways of thinking and harnessing technology are essential to revive activity and relieve the concerns of thousands of buyers and sellers who have seen property sales grind to a halt.”
Unlock the monopoly
Arnold suggested there was a monopolisation problem in the surveying sector as instructions to carry out inspections were not being filtered through to SME firms, including those that were still carrying out physical valuations.
He noted that his firm was one of those still doing physical valuations which are deemed to be urgent or critical, in line with government guidance around essential works in homes.
To keep safe, the firm sends a pack out to owners instructing them to take measures such as leaving doors open or using the inspection time to take their daily walk.
“[Lenders are] at the mercy at the panel managers and are not able to go off panel to other firms that are innovative because it’s not within their contract. Then you’re left with a monopoly situation,” Arnold said.
He also noted that as social distancing would still be a factor even without a lockdown, attitudes to surveying needed to change.
Arnold said: “[Lenders] can distribute instructions to the right people and those with the right skills and geography.”
E.surv said it was already working with lenders on a case-by-case basis to provide remote valuations which suited their risk, and added it was investing into remote valuations so they could be used on more properties and for high LTV cases.
“Our first and foremost concern continues to be the safety of our employees and customers, and this will remain the case for any strategies we implement for practice post-lockdown,” Sexton said.