By Eric Curran, managing partner of DM Hall Chartered Surveyors
IT is quite remarkable that it is now 10 years since Home Reports, the initiative which radically altered the Scottish housing market, were introduced – amid, it has to be remembered, a welter of criticism and doubt.
These criticisms have now been stilled and the doubts have been alleviated as the intervening years have made it crystal clear that the reports, carried out by highly qualified and impartial chartered surveyors, have been an overall force for good.
Home Reports replaced a system in which every buyer who was seriously interested in a single property had to commission a survey, which was money wasted in the event of an unsuccessful offer. These multiple surveys could run into thousands of pounds in a competitive market. By contrast, the seller now pays for the Home Report, which is made freely available to all interested parties. The seller can factor the cost of the report into the asking price of the property.
Home Reports have been an invaluable tool for taking the heat and the hype out of potentially over-excited markets, because they deal in hard, objective facts. The report’s very objectivity has been a vital factor in crystallising views on value.
However, despite the fact that Home Reports have ushered in a decade of stability, it does not mean that they should remain set in stone and it is incumbent on professionals not to be complacent about their current form. It is the mark of the professional across all disciplines, not just in property, to recognise that they have a duty to remain on the alert for a better way of doing things and not to fall into the trap of 10 years ago, which was resistance to change. For instance, there is some agreement across the board that Home Reports could be seen as unnecessarily long and perhaps too complex for the lay reader.
Surveyors go out of their way, as they are trained to do, to present their reports in clear, concise and comprehensible language, but sometimes there are no alternatives to the terminologies necessary for the avoidance of doubt. Could the form of the Reports be shortened? This is debatable, since everything in them is either dictated by statute or is explanatory of the process. That does not mean, though, that consideration should not be given to ways of making the document more accessible.
There is perhaps also room for leeway in the categories into which surveyors are bound to place different aspects of the investigation. Because some part of the property does not meet the highest rating does not necessarily make it unacceptable to a buyer. It may just be an older house, or needing some attention.
But while we look for ways to improve, it may also be worthwhile to dismiss some of the more fanciful proposals about the Reports. Suggestions that there should be discussion between valuer, buyer and seller before a valuation figure is reached miss an important point. The valuation figure in a report can, and should, be accepted by all parties for the unshakeable reason that the surveyor’s impartiality is not in question. In fact, it is this vital role as an independent arbiter which has made the reports so universally accepted.
Concerns about the cost of reports are also something of a red herring. Surveyors exist in a competitive market and it is in their interests to keep pricing at as reasonable a level as is consistent with remaining in business. Cheaper alternatives may seem superficially attractive but the old saying that you get what you pay for has never been more relevant than in this situation. For most people, buying or selling a home is a momentous transaction and it is vital to be informed by the best possible professional advice. Those commissioning a report must also bear in mind that low-cost suppliers may not, for instance, be on lenders’ panels. A bargain is only a bargain if what you are getting is of use to you and fit for purpose.
We should welcome the beneficial effect that Home Reports have had on the market over the last 10 years and be prepared to amend where improved efficiency or usability dictates. But there is no value in change for change’s sake.