A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Hooptedoodle #165 - Donkey Award - Property Surveyors

Strictly speaking, this is not really a Donkey Award post – the donkeys in this tale are probably any unfortunate members of the UK public who wish to buy a house. In the world of house buying, which is a Very Serious Business Indeed, involving the commitment of more funds than we normally dare think about, there are a number of sacred professions upon which we are required to call.

The legal chaps and the estate agents have infuriated me for years, but – alas – the game is rigged so that we cannot do without them. Today I am reminded that I am also annoyed by the closed-shop requirement for property surveyors. What on earth is that all about?

We are currently involved in helping an elderly relative to purchase a house in a small town in a rural part of Scotland. The person selling the house has already wheeled in a local estate agent, who informed them that their house should fetch between £180,000 and £200,000.

Different house, different town, same sort of idea

This seemed a tad on the high side, given the local conditions, and we put in our own surveyor – as one does – who feels that £170,000 is nearer the mark. I have the surveyor’s report here – we will be billed some £400 or so for it. Hmmm.

For a start, it is merely the product of a template form on the surveyor’s laptop, and – though the surveyor obviously did have a look at the premises – it is so lightweight, so full of hedges and caveats and useless recommendations to get further specialist opinion that it is almost valueless. The electrical, water and gas services, the timber work, the fire-regulation-compliance of the windows – everything you can think of is accompanied by some form of disclaimer and a recommendation that expert opinion be sought. In other words, there is no come-back on the surveyor if the house is a crock – you should have got a timber specialist (or whatever) in. If something goes wrong, don’t try to pin it on the surveyor – there is no liability there at all. The report even includes much spurious advice about the desirability of regular clearing of gutters, renovation of mastic around bathroom fittings etc – apart from serving to fill up blank space, what is the point of this in a property report?

We reckon the surveyor took less than an hour to drive from his office to the property (assuming he had no other calls in the same area) and spent less than half an hour on site. The only interesting bit of his report is his opinion on the value – the lack of mention of serious problems is also quite useful, though blatantly not in a courtroom context. £400 well spent?

Consider, also, the situation in such a small town, in an area of low population density. How many surveyors are based locally? In the likely event of more than one potential purchaser requiring the services of a surveyor for a single property, what are the chances that more than one of them will approach the same surveyor? Clearly this must happen quite a lot, and it is obvious that the surveyor will not visit the same property twice. I have never heard of a surveyor telling his client, “By the way, I’ve already done a survey at that property, last week, so you can just have a copy of my report for £20.”

Not bloody likely – you each pay your £400 for your copy. The property market is still quiet up here in the wilds, but when things were booming it must have been a bonanza. £400 a pop for a report which has no legal significance and admits no professional liability – to be photocopied at the full price as necessary. I’ve definitely spent my life in the wrong profession.

Right. Property surveyors – they’re on the list.


  1. Buying/selling houses in UK. Horrible. Avoid if possible. Sometimes I think I'd like to move to a bigger shack, with more than just one room downstairs, but then I think of the process involved... But I have rather a soft spot for donkeys, great stoics.

  2. Hear! Hear! Similar situation in the States.

  3. You are so right! My wife commissioned a survey on an empty property and the report stated that the surveyor was unable to comment on the state of the floor in the front room as it was covered with junk mail! It was apparently not within his remit to deign to bend down and move it, or even kick it aside... I would not have had the barefaced cheek to make such a statement and then charge £100s for my services. Professional ethics?
    It is us who are the donkeys for putting up with such sharp practice!

  4. I remember back in the early 90s when we bought our first house that the cheapest survey you could get to satisfy the lender was basically a 'drive by'. I guess the surveyor would just report back to the bank that the property really existed!

    I would agree with your award except that I like donkeys too...