Why You Have Never Seen Any
Building Surveys or Structural Surveys Like Ours
If you need help and advice with regard to structural surveys, building surveys, engineers reports, defects reports, including things such as cracks, dampness, condensation, foundation problems, etc, home buyers reports. Please free to phone 0800 298 5424 for a friendly chat.
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Traditional Structural / Building Surveys and Our Structural Surveys / Building Surveys
When we started out, like all building surveying practices, we carried out the traditional structural surveys and building surveys on residential and commercial properties, together with engineers reports and we carried them out in a standard(ish) format like all surveyors and engineers used for years, but we always had a nagging feeling that sometimes this, although near, was not exactly what the customer wanted when they rang for a structural survey/building survey.
Structural Surveys Defined
At this point we feel that we should explain the difference between structural surveys and building surveys and what they are. This is exactly what we do in our report on any complex or difficult issues in a plain English manner. In this case the difference between structural surveys and building surveys is nothing at all. The new term that is generally used is building survey, but for people to ask for a full structural survey is very common. In answer to the question what is a full structural survey or building survey, it is when a surveyor uses his skills to analyse the problems in a property and prioritise them, explaining the cause of the problem, the effect, the action required to resolve it, its priority and its cost.
In this article we use both the terms structural survey and building survey.
Building surveys based upon consumer/client research
We decided to commission a survey (not the structural or building survey types, but the other type) and marketing report on our structural surveys. This involved obtaining feedback from many of our customers as to what we did well, what we did okay and what we did badly and what improvements they would like to see. For many months the marketing people duly rang up all our customers to get the consumer feedback. We also managed to talk a few other surveying companies into allowing us to carry out a survey of their clients, to see how our responses compared with theirs.
We were pleased to find that we were no worse than anyone else, but not so pleased to find out that we were not better. The feedback given by the clients was very similar to all the surveying practices.
The Decision To Change Our Surveys Is Easier Said Than Done
We decided that we wanted to change our surveys so they got far better responses and feedback from our clients using information that the marketing people had gathered. This broke down broadly into two areas:-
1. A more readable format for the building surveys.
2. Providing additional surveying information, some of which we had never thought about providing before and some of which were very sceptical that the customer really wanted it! Nevertheless, a decision to change was made and a surveyor assigned to manage the process. A surveyor was chosen that did not deal directly with structural surveys, building surveys or engineers reports but was from a project management background.
Project Manager Defined
This is usually a surveyor that manages a large construction project, they can either be client based or building company based and they manage the whole process, ensuring that key requirements are met.
Key requirements are that the building is built to a quality standard, a timeframe and a cost limit.
Resistance to changing the building surveys
It is very fair to say that there was a lot of resistance to the proposed changes in the building survey, even before the surveyors knew what they were!
Stage one: changing the structural surveys
The first part of the project was to re-arrange the information that we did provide already into the format suggested and recommended by the survey customers. The key requirement was an executive summary that identified the level of concern the surveyor had, together with the action required and the approximate cost. After much discussion (and we mean a lot of discussion) we decided to have an executive summary that divided the report into the good, the bad and the ugly. This is a priority system so that the customer understands how important the work is.
Good things in a building survey!
To explain further: 'the good' identified things that are good with the property and there is always something, even a dilapidated property has the potential to develop in the form of refurbishment. This was brought about by several customers commenting that it was very depressing reading a survey and surely we could find something good to say about the property; we agreed. Most surveyors' backgrounds were that they compiled a list of what was wrong rather than the features and attributes of the property. We decided to change this.
Bad problems in a structural survey
Next is the bad section. This related to items that are below average on the property, considering the age, type and style of it. It is very important to emphasise that it relates to the age type and style, for example a problem with a modern property such as a vertical crack would be identified and explained and the source of the problem found, together with the action required and the approximate cost. Whereas a crack within an older Tudor property, for example, would be identified, explained and discussed in a different way (in case you want to know the former is a very rigid construction and therefore cannot cope with cracking that well and the latter, the Tudor property, is a more flexible construction and can cope with the cracking much better).
Ugly problems in a structural survey
Finally, we have the ugly section. This is really a section where you need to re-think if you really did want to purchase the property. Just count the cost of the repairs and consider if you should be negotiating a discount on the property price.
Property knowledge of the client graded from one to four
All of these sections; the good, the bad and the ugly, were questioned by the surveyors as being very subjective, i.e. what is high-risk for one is not for another. It took us awhile but eventually we decided we would have a ratings system from 1 to 4 to identify the property knowledge of the person that we were working for, 1 having a very good knowledge, almost a building professional, and 4 knowing nothing. This then changed the way that we wrote the report, as it was written it their property knowledge level.
Equally there was a comment that if it was bad news it needed to be said without any property language, what was termed a reality check and a no sitting on the fence way of reporting.
So now we developed the good, the bad and the ugly format for the executive summary. There are two other elements that were commonly mentioned.
Photographs in the structural surveys
Time and time again it was mentioned why were there so few photos, particularly of the problems and time and time again it was mentioned why are the photos at the back of the report. We decided therefore that within the executive summary there should be photos of all the problems and throughout the report the photos should be next to any issues, which were identified or any features the property had and the photos certainly should not be at the back of the report; so we included digital photos like the one seen below. Here is the explanation that we have at the start of our report:
This then produced another problem as at the time digital photography was not really in existence at all and was certainly not common place. We initially used old style photos, this progressed onto having them colour photocopied. Digital cameras, when they eventually arrived, were welcomed by all. We spent some time selecting the camera we were to use and ended up with a high quality digital camera that has a x16 optical zoom (as opposed to a digital zoom which can come out of focus) and so the surveyor doesn't damage the camera every time he uses it, bearing in mind that the average surveyor takes more photos than David Bailey! However, also bearing in mind that the surveyor is usually moving around a building, the delicate optical zoom is hidden inside the camera to ensure it doesn't get damaged.
Building surveys written in plain English
Many clients commented that the reports were not written in plain English and that this was the problem that they found with survey reports in general and, whilst we agree, this did also cause the problem that sometimes a technical term is the only specific way of describing a problem. What we decided we would do is use the property knowledge rating of 1 to 4 to decide how we wrote the surveys and how technical the term we used were, but also to have the ability to provide an example definition for any problem. This forms part of our proof reading process where extra definitions are added in, depending upon the property knowledge of the person that the report is being written for these reports really are tailor made for our clients.
The Crystal Mark
The crystal mark is given where a document is written to a plain English standard. We looked at obtaining this but found that we would literally have to have it approved for every single one of our surveys, which is not practical, so we used many of the standards that are required to get the mark of approval. We write all our surveys as if we were trying to get the crystal mark for them.
Okay We Know What The Building Problem Looks Like, But How Do We Fix It?
This is what we call our action required section. This is clearly headed throughout the reports and gives detailed instructions about what to do, however our main criteria here is not to make a mountain out of a mole hill, plus at the same time making the client fully aware of the risk they are taking on. Here is an example of the action required definition:
ACTION REQUIRED AND RECOMMENDATIONS
We have used the term ACTION REQUIRED where we believe that there are items that you should carry out action upon or negotiate upon prior to purchasing the property.
Where a problem is identified, we will do our best to offer a solution. However, with most building issues, there are usually many ways to resolve them dependent upon cost, time available and the length of time you wish the repair/replacement to last.
Costs can be all important to making a decision, so after the action required section we always, where applicable, have an anticipated cost. We say where applicable because sometimes the cost is for specialist work, such as asbestos removal, which we can give guidance on but where you really do need to get quotations to ensure you have the right price.
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
- Or In This Case A Picture and A Sketch
As already mentioned, we utilise cameras with x16 optical zooms to show what the problems look like. We have an action required to show how to solve the problems and an anticipated cost to give a good estimate or indication as to how much the work will cost. In addition to this we usually will have a sketch showing what the work will look like when complete or equally where the problem cannot be seen and photographed we add a sketch.
We then trialled this format to see what reaction we got and after various amendments came back with a format that was getting nearly 100% better feedback by consumers that the original format. It did, however, need some further adjustments. Some/many surveyors were not able to adjust to the new format. Mentally this led to a new improved format no longer being used. It was only used by a few surveyors and was only some years later, as technology caught up with the ideas in this survey, that it was possible to utilise some of the ideas fully. In the intervening years as the surveyors had refined the report format other useful sections have been added, for example the review upon reflection, which is a second stand back overview of the survey, which should be carried out but having a specific section for it really focuses the surveyors mind.
Neighbours From Hell
With the rise in neighbourhood disputes it was also decided that we would comment on the neighbours. This was carried out by a combination of the surveyor keeping his eyes and ears open and also in knocking on the neighbouring doors to see if anyone is in to have a chat. Of course this is not full proof and we would agree that it is very difficult to assess what the neighbours are like from a general chat, but we do feel that it is worthwhile having these comments because in the past we have spotted that a neighbour has what can only be described as a scrap metal dealership in his back garden (very interestingly the owner of the house we were looking at kept the curtains shut in this room), so we do feel that any guidance whatsoever that can be given on this is helpful. Please refer to our article written specifically on this subject.
Vendor Questionnaire (40 questions that need a written response)
It also became clear that many vendors were not responding truthfully to the questions asked by the surveyor, so we introduced a vendor questionnaire where 40 questions are asked and the vendor has to actually write answers or tick boxes and sign at the end to confirm if it is a true and accurate record. It also means that there is a level of consistency as everyone is asked the same questions. We would add it is amazing what this brings up as it very much focuses the vendor on the very serious question of selling his property and to make them realise that this isn't just about selling their house it is about someone buying a future home.
It is amazing when the surveyor has been carrying out these for awhile how the body language changes if the questions are skipped over. We found this a very useful tool in assessing the overall property condition, particularly with regard to neighbourhood disputes!
Speed is of the essence for a good quality building survey
It's all very well and good using a good quality report if the information is not timely. No matter how good the quality of the information is it will be of no use, so we introduced a three tier pricing system, where a premium can be paid for 24 hour structural surveys and building surveys and engineers report, with our typical service taking three days.
E-Mail to Your Doorstep
The surveys are e-mailed to you as soon as they are completed; this therefore cuts out the time of postage. Don't worry, they can't be seen by all as you are given a password that you then access our website with to download your structural survey/building survey in a pdf form.
But The Surveys Are Not A Rush Job!
However, we must emphasise that, whilst you get your report more quickly, the surveys are not rushed as it is simply the postal time that is reduced by having a pdf file sent to you. The pdf files are downloaded from the website after you receive an e-mail message, which gives you your own secret password access. This also means you can either pass the password onto your solicitor or forward on a pdf copy of the report to them at no extra cost to yourself. The surveyors can take as long as they like to carry out the survey.
Reports Double Checked
We also use a system of double-checking and what is known as devilling and this is where questions are asked in the report's first draft to check and confirm if something is accurate or has been correctly reviewed, or there could just be a plain mistake.
Devilling Explained Further
On a random basis the reports are devilled, this is after the survey has been sent to the customer. A selected number are re-checked with the deviller playing the role of devil's advocate and discussing the surveyors comments with him. It is also a good learning process for the surveyors.
Fast Is Good, Faster Would Be Better
We are always looking at ways of speeding up the survey. One of the obvious things that came to light early on was a need for a double checking system of the surveyors on site. We therefore developed ProSurveys.co.uk which is a computer programme that acts as an aide memoir for the surveyor, they enter in the year of construction, for example Victorian, and the type of construction, for example terrace, and the programme offers typical problems that will be found at the property. At the time of writing over five years has been spent developing this product.
Who knows what the future developments will be, but you will be able to see these at either our main website www.1stAssociated.co.uk for residential properties, www.FirstAssociated.co.uk for our commercial properties or for survey quotes www.SurveyQuotes.co.uk .
Getting To Know The Client
One thing we have done that has been very very successful is for the surveyor to meet the client at the property and to discuss the executive summary (if you recall, that's the good, the bad and the ugly of the property). This allows the client to ask as many questions as they want to get to know the surveyor and more importantly for us we get to know the client and their worries and concerns. A meeting also allows us to get a better understanding of their property knowledge so we can really tailor make the structural surveys and building surveys to their requirements. We would always recommend that if you are having a survey with us you meet the surveyor.
We get a lots of repeat customers. We will always endeavour to make sure the original surveyor works with the customer when they come back to us as this allows the understanding they have to continue
Phone Us As Many Times As You Like
Another service that has proved very popular is once you have met the surveyor at the property and had the survey carried out you can then phone them as many times as you like to make sure you are absolutely clear on any points or issues.
Lifelong Surveys and Lifetime Surveys
An idea that we have been able to utilise because of our pro-survey computer programmes is that of the lifelongsurvey.com or lifetimesurvey.com . This is a survey where once you have had a property survey the next purchasers can also utilise that survey with an update. We appreciate this may not be to everyone's liking. As independent surveyors we are very aware of our responsibility to report facts as they are. The great benefit of the lifelong or lifetime survey is that you can utilise the information stored within our pro-survey software and check not only the report that was previously made, but the thoughts behind the comments. We can do this quickly and with the same level of quality that we are known for and at a price far cheaper than a full structural survey from scratch, yet offering the same protection.
If you need help and advice regarding surveys please call 0800 298 5424 and a surveyor will call you back for a chat.
Please note we are independent surveyors.
We hope you found the article of use and if you have any experiences that you feel should be added to this article that would benefit others, or you feel that some of the information that we have included is wrong then please do not hesitate to contact us (we are only human).
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