Surveying for a modern age

On my first day of working as a Surveyor, some 15 years ago, I sat down with my new manager, a gentleman by the name of Bob. He was a wispy haired cheery guy who I learned a lot from, before his own career sailed into the sunset as he retired.

On that very first day and for much of the following week or two, all I did was read through these huge paper files. About a hundred pages or so on each, mostly comprising repeated and pointless e-mails. I had a few shelves showing my case load, each one the size of the sapling that could have been cut down to create it.

As the years progressed and I changed employer, not a great deal had changed. Debates on how valuations would be prepared or how information would be recorded or illustrated to clients would often result in a quip back of “that’s how we’ve always done it.”

I’ll be frank, that frustrated the hell out of me. Much (thankfully not all) of the Surveying profession has seen many of its practices change very little over the years. The typing pools may have gone but many other industries have progressed far quicker.

The same could be said with a number of law firms as well, where for example, fax machines are still regularly used.

Faxes – remember them?

Short term thinking beset the industry with few firms willing to invest into the sort of technology that would create efficiencies. Proptech for example, whilst now becoming trendy, appears far more limited than it perhaps should be. With many Surveyors having enough grey hairs to show experience, unfortunately some appear to resist change with that same quip “that’s how we’ve always done it.”

Times are changing though and those companies who do not change with them, may be left behind. In the residential valuation and survey market, the baby boomers of the 1950s and 1960s are less likely to be clients than they were some 10-20 years ago. They’re now being replaced with the Facebook generation, born in the 1970s and 1980s.

The way society digests information is now very different than how it was. The days of using the local firm of Surveyors because of their high street presence are edging out. The days of being impressed by Surveyors who can write chapter and verse on technical matters are starting to fall behind us.

We live in an Internet generation where potential clients want information at the click of a mouse. Location is less important when a firm in Stratford upon Avon can be found in the same number of clicks as one in Statford upon Thames.

We digest information differently. For example, almost 5 Billion Youtube videos are watched every day.

If someone wants expert advice on a property matter, going to their local Chartered Surveyor isn’t the only option now. Many will look on internet message boards or websites such as the Home Owners Alliance or Martin Lewis’ Money Saving Expert.

TV shows like Location Location Location have created a society of potential clients who believe they are experts. Often much in the same way that some people diagnose themselves with incurable diseases because they’ve read their symptoms on a message board, written by someone who doesn’t have a Scooby do.

Videos and other digital media are overtaking manuals and experience. Instruction manuals almost become obsolete as there’s normally a how to video on youtube.

In time, it may be tik-tok and instagram. Not many of that generation are the typical clients just yet but their time will come.

Years ago, payments would be made by going to the bank for a transfer, then came sending a cheque in, eventually came mobile banking. Even that is starting to become a bit outdated now.

A couple of months ago, I said to a colleague, we’ve just been instructed on job X. He asked me how I knew. I explained that a docusign app on my phone had told my watch which had vibrated. The client had signed and paid us within a couple of minutes of terms being e-mailed to him, all with a few clicks of a mouse. He did so after being e-mailed our quote with a digital brochure attached to it.

Within a couple of months, we’ll hopefully have videos for each service as well as we tap into the different ways our client base likes to digest information.

As an industry, we need to consider where our future lies. Those who don’t progress with the times will get left behind. There will be plenty who decide they don’t like what the new world looks like.

There are a lot of fantastic Surveyors in the industry. I truly hope their expertise doesn’t end up being lost to anachronism. The bright, shiny new world is pushing down the price point of services. As choices increase, prices come down.

Those who embrace technology and understand how society now wants to digest information will create efficiencies that allow reasonable price points to still maintain attractive profit margins. Those who don’t may in time just have to move over.

Dan Knowles MRICS

Director & RICS Registered Valuer

November 2020