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The Long Read: Working With Surveyors

Darren Becks is a board member of The Society of Licensed Conveyancers as well as the Managing Partner of Angela Viney Conveyancing Services. This month he discusses his recent presentation on behalf of The SLC and their work with the Residential Property Surveyors Association to improve upon client services. "I've been carrying out some interesting work lately on behalf of The Society of Licensed Conveyancers (The SLC) and alongside Jerry Quinell, a council member of the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA). We've been exploring how conveyancers and surveyors can work collectively with the aim of improving upon communication and efficiency for the benefit of the home buyer, in order to help them make better-informed purchase decisions. And I had the honour of presenting these ideas at their annual conference earlier this year, at the BRE Innovation Park in Hertfordshire. Here's what was discussed at the event. First to mention, is that I think it is imperative that as conveyancers we play our part in getting the message out about the importance of instructing a survey.

And as more lenders are moving towards 'AMVs' (Automated Model Valuations), we also need to educate our clients about the limitations of a mortgage lenders valuation and its distinguishment from other surveys. The RPSA is a representative body for independent specialist residential surveyors who are the industry's leading experts in reporting on the condition of residential properties on behalf of home buyers. The organisation is dedicated to helping its members deliver a range of high-quality survey products to consumers in England and Wales, during a time when they are making one of the biggest investments of their lives. In a survey of its members, Which? established that whilst 80% of buyers said they wanted a survey on the home they are considering purchasing, less than 20% actually obtain one! Whilst some people baulk at the expense, the reason the majority do not get a survey is that they mistakenly believe that the lenders valuation is a survey - but it is not. Which? found that for those people that did not get a survey, on average one in four had to spend over £2,500 to put serious defects right which would have been uncovered in a condition report. And for one in ten people, the cost would be £10,000. By contrast, those that did get a proper survey were able to negotiate a reduction in the asking price of the property that averaged £2,000. With this in mind, it is worth noting that the RPSA is working to help home-buyers by offering the following three survey products. Home Condition Survey The Home Condition Survey (HCS) is a survey that is suitable for all the property types as it includes a full inspection and a comprehensive report. Building Survey The Building Survey (often referred to as a Full or Structural Survey) is the highest-level, non-invasive survey that can be carried out during the home-buying process. It is suitable for all properties but is often most applicable for older or more unusual properties, or properties where problems are suspected. RPSA Mi Buy to Let Survey The unique RPSA Mi Buy to Let Survey has been designed to enable landlords to protect their investment as well as deliver decent homes for their tenants. The Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Act 2018 came into force on 20 March 2019, requiring landlords to ensure their properties are fit for habitation at both the beginning and throughout the tenancy. Fines for infringement of regulations can exceed £30,000, so it is essential for landlords to ensure let property is well-maintained, and certainly safe. No other survey considers how the construction and condition of the home affects the way tenants would live within it. The two are inextricably linked, and only by considering them together can you ensure the ongoing comfort and safety of tenants. The RPSA Mi Buy to Let Survey includes all the features of the Home Condition Survey, plus: • a review of the 29 potential hazard profiles listed under the Housing Health & Safety Rating System (used by local authorities to prosecute landlords in the Private Rented Sector); • a Decent And Safe Homes (DASH) report that highlights health and safety deficiencies, allowing you to put them right before you get a complaint; • cross-referencing of health and safety issues with relevant descriptions of property condition; • and all compiled by a specialist, residential surveyor who has undergone specific training to deliver this unique product. The Aims The aims of the Society of Licensed Conveyancers collaboration with the RPSA are to: • improve communication (both ways) between surveyors and conveyancers; • agree upon standard wording of many common issues in the reporting by the surveyors, to avoid conveyancers having to raise further questions; • agree upon some common values so that surveyors and conveyancers can work together and help one another in support of the common interest of the home buyer. Surveyors really are our eyes and ears on the ground. They want to know what we want from them detailed in their reports and this is a unique opportunity to work with them to help shape the format of their reports.

As a Licensed Conveyancer, I note some strong comparisons between our historic place in the market with longer-standing SRA-regulated firms and RPSA Surveyors position in the market against RICS Surveyors. And whilst younger professionals seize the opportunities that come from being adaptive or innovative, Licensed Conveyancers and RPSA Surveyors retain their strong and established positions in the face of the competition. Why work together now? As conveyancers, why should we work closely with surveyors at all? Historically we had little to do with one another, and there was a clear boundary line between our roles. Surveyors advised clients on the physical condition of the property, and conveyancers concentrated solely on title. I recall as a young trainee, showing my boss at the time a list of Planning Permissions and Building Regulations entries on a local search result and asking what they meant. His reply was, "No need for you to worry about those. Just ignore them. They're all more than a few years old so they don't matter. It's not our job!" I dread to think what his reply would have been if someone had asked him to check when he boiler was last serviced or if the alarm worked. Of course, the case of Cottingham and Cottingham v Attey Bower & Jones [2000] changed all of that, and as conveyancers, we now spend as much time (if not more!) considering the physical aspect of the property as we do investigating and reporting on title matters. Which begs the question, Are we now too involved? I seem to have become more and more involved in arranging a great number of gas safety checks and boiler services for my clients. Don't get me wrong, my local plumber's a great guy, but I never imagined I'd become his booking agent on the many long nights I spent studying Land and Contract Law manuals! What happened to Caveat Emptor? As long as the buyer is making a well-informed choice, there's no reason why they can't buy a rundown house if they wish. I quite regularly find myself on both sides of this metaphorical fence. For example, on the one hand, I'm often talking to a seller about the pre-contract enquiries that have arrived from the buyers conveyancer, requesting the likes of gas/electric reports/alarm service records etc. But the seller informs us that the house is a "complete wreck" and the buyer intends to completely renovate it. Of course, this all means the house would be priced appropriately. The flip side to this is when acting for a buyer who is paying top money for a shiny, newly-renovated house with all-new installations, an extension, a loft conversion and a conservatory. Yet we find ourselves having to drag the appropriate certification from the reluctant seller. Note too, we are talking about surveys here. I'm not even going to discuss covenant consent for the extension which is altogether something else ...! So, what's the solution? The holy grail for us as conveyancers, of course, would be if physical condition wasn't our concern at all and if all sellers were well organised, i.e. had their paperwork with all their certificates ready for the surveyor's visit. The surveyor could then prepare a report advising the buyer fully on the condition of the property, its compliance with all planning/building regulations, and the availability and transferability of any guarantees (or not as the case may be). The buyer could then make an informed decision, framing their price negotiations accordingly and long before we're even involved! Of course, this 'ideal' isn't feasibly achievable. And even if it were, there are still other matters that we would need to know about for the surveyors visit such as shared accesses or irregular boundaries, etc. All of the conveyancers we have spoken to agree wholeheartedly on one point: a Conveyancers Summary is a must. During the conveyancing process, we simply do not have the time to trawl through the entire report looking for key sentences buried deep within the document that may be relevant to us. The Conveyancers Summary takes care of this for us, referencing clearly the relevant sections and/or photographs. During my discussions with Jerry Quinnell, a few of his proposals I regarded as particularly useful for conveyancers. They are: 1. Include more photographs - with digital photography, images are easily shared, and they illustrate much better wording that describes a right of way or a set of steps (particularly in the Pennines where I practice!). 2. For surveyors to set-up a Land Registry account and take advantage of the free 'Map Enquiry' facility, pointing out any obvious discrepancies in the plot to the conveyancers. Surveyors may have some concerns about being considered liable for advising on the exact location of boundaries (as we all do), but I'm of the opinion this can be worked out with the assistance of the Society of Licensed Conveyancers' Client Guide on Boundaries. 3. Supply date information in reference to any alterations. This will help us take a practical approach when considering the implications of absent paperwork. Your views We have covered some good ground so far, but this work is ongoing and we would welcome your input on any matters that you would like surveyors to report on in the 'Conveyancers Summary'. The current travelling draft includes: • extensions and alterations • access and right of ways • easements and way leaves • occupiers • protected trees and invasive plants • party wall awards • drainage (and private systems) • irregular boundaries • common and shared areas and services (including apartments) • flying freeholds • listed buildings and conservation areas. We welcome your responses." DARREN BECKS Managing Partner Angela Viney Conveyancing Services

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