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Wednesday, 25 October, 2000, 00:31 GMT 01:31 UK
Surveying the Surveyors: transcript
Frontline graphic
This is the full transcript of the Surveying the Surveyors programme, broadcast on 24 October.


REPORTER, EUAN MCILWRAITH: Buying a house. For most of us the biggest purchase of our lives, and it's a purchase you can't make without first getting a survey. It's crucial.

Now they cost several hundreds of pounds, and you may have to shell out quite a few times before finally getting a property, so are we getting value for money or is there a better way?

Tonight, Frontline Scotland surveys the surveyors.

There are two types of survey, which are popular in Scotland. Because most people end up shelling out for more than one survey many Scots opt for a Scheme 1, essentially a valuation.

It's the cheapest and gives little or no information about the property. The other option is a Scheme 2 or a Homebuyers. More expensive, but more of a test of a surveyor's skill.

When Damien Robson decided to buy a flat near Edinburgh he followed the advice of his father, and commissioned a survey.

What they wanted was a report that would identify potential problems, so they opted for a Homebuyers' survey, but when they moved in they found some surprises.

DAMIEN ROBSON (Son): Starting from the front door you've got ... there was a sag, and giveness of spring in what we thought were the floorboards.

When we took up the carpeting that covered that we discovered a real nightmare.

MR ROBSON (Father): A mixtor, maxtor of patching of the different timbers and planks, and even a motorway sign.

DAMIEN ROBSON (Son): That's right. As you go into the bedroom there was a significant crack through the ...

MR ROBSON (Father): Windowsill.

DAMIEN ROBSON (Son): Windowsill. There was a crack above the window itself. All the mullions had significant gaps in them.

MR. ROBSON (Father): And it went through the full thickness of the mullion. That was the disturbing thing. This held up the, the lintels above the window, and if this ha, ha, had given way, the whole thing would have fallen down.

DAMIEN ROBSON (Son): I, I, I, I, feel absolutely gutted the fact that my surveyor hasn't picked up on these points, particularly since all the work we've had to do to rectify the problems, and basically make the place safe.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: So they complained to the surveyors. The surveyors claimed the missed defects required only minor localised repair, and rejected the views of the Robsons.

So they then contacted The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in London to claim about their surveyors.

They rejected their claims saying: 'We are unconvinced there's a conduct issue to pursue.'

MR ROBSON (Father): We're really horrified by, by, by their response. Thought it was less than adequate, you know, for someone with a Royal Charter to, to, to, to be so unconcerned about professional standards and ethics.

Thought it, it was absolutely wicked.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Their only option was the courts, and in court they would have to prove that no ordinary competent surveyor, acting with reasonable care, would have acted as their surveyor did, so just because your surveyor doesn't pick up a defect doesn't mean he's negligent.

Under a new system arbitration could have provided a solution, but requires 235 to be put up front, and requires the agreement of both parties.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Do you think you're being unreasonable?

DAMIEN ROBSON (Son): Not at all. You pay a considerable amount of money for what you are led to believe is a professional service. When you find that they've let you down significantly you, you, you feel that you should have some recourse, in fact, you're led to believe you have a recourse because of the standard of survey that you took out, and when you find out that you're left to do all the chasing they just dismiss all your complaints initially in a very, very offhand manner particularly for what is the largest financial commitment you're gonna make in your life. It's a sort of considerable stress.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: The RICS now admits they could, and should have dealt with the complaint in a more consumer friendly and informative manner.

So how good are the surveyors? Frontline decided to carry out our own survey. We found a family who let us use their house, and we've commissioned an expert to help us devise a test.

Steve Edenburgh is a Chartered Surveyor with many years experience. He's worked in the industry and now lectures in surveying at the University of Paisley. He's going to carry out the equivalent of a Homebuyers' survey.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: So this is pretty typical. Would you expect to see this most days of the week?

STEVE EDENBURGH: Yeah this is a fairly standard family home.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: You would expect to find some problems.

STEVE EDENBURGH: Yes there ought to be problems in a property of this age.

STEVE EDENBURGH: Fully furnished typical family room. Surveyor should be looking to find areas of access to take moisture meter readings for potential dampness.

They should be testing the floor, issues such as the fireplace here should be highlighted.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: You'd have a good look at it would you?

STEVE EDENBURGH: Yep down on your hands and knees. Torch looking for any defects either to the flue or potentially to the fire, and there's a, a fireplace, which appears to be removed.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: This - doesn't look like a fireplace.

STEVE EDENBURGH: Well it's, it's obviously been bricked up for some time and redecorated, concealed. They should, however, take moisture metre readings above and around the chimneybreast.

We're looking for any indication externally that might give rise to problems internally so really we're trying to get an overview of the whole house from here.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: So you wouldn't really rush on this, just take your time?

STEVE EDENBURGH: Yep. It's all about observation. There's signs here of ... hich has obviously gone through the roughcast. There's been some movement in the boundary wall where the railing has between the bricks. In this particular area there's obviously signs of wet rot, and this required area would need to be replaced.

This is an extension. It's flat roofed and flat roofs of that age give rise to water defects, and we can see that clearly where the, the down pipes are coming through. There's also water penetration in the gas flue and this whole place could be considered suspect.

Now this section of flooring has a definite forward move. You can feel yourself being thrown forward slightly towards the, the wall.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Slopes off to the left.

STEVE EDENBURGH: What we've got now is an access hatch covered by a table, but the surveyor should draw that out and make a specific point of getting into the space.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: So you would have a look at that?

STEVE EDENBUGH: Yep. You've got a junction between the new roof and the old roof.

STEVE EDENBUGH: There's obvious signs of prolonged rainwater penetration next to the wall and above the window, and that could give rise to serious rot.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: So you think you've given it a good going over.

STEVE EDENBURGH: Yeah. We've spent a fair amount of time here.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: In this quite typical, the surveyor would normally do this in his working day.

Well that's it. A typical Glasgow family home. The next stage is to install some secret cameras to find out how long the surveyors take and to discover what they're actually gonna pick up. Now there's no tricks. It's just a house that does have some problems. Now while the cameras are being installed I'm off to find four surveyors, at random, from the yellow pages.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: (Euan on telephone phoning surveyors). We asked four surveyors to do the same type of survey as our expert has just carried out. A Homebuyers' Survey which costs up to 400 for a property of this size.

A Homebuyers' Survey is designed to pick up major defects, which may need further investigation.

According to Steve Edenburgh the recommended time to spend on a Homebuyers' Survey on a house of this size is two and half-hours. Surveyor No. 1 is from Harvey, Donaldson & Gibson.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: So will he notice that big crack in the wall, or have a look at the boundary wall, which is cracked? Meanwhile in the lounge he could look up the chimney there, watch out for the fireguard though and over to the left is that blocked in chimney, which he may, or he may not pick up.

Upstairs, time is money, you've got to move on when you're doing a Homebuyers' Survey, and he's got to get up into the loft. Now remember up in the loft there's that leak which has got a basin underneath it, but will he spot it?

He's certainly straight in there, no hesitation, right into the loft space. Down in the video room now, and our man takes his life in his hands with a pretty shoogly chair, but he's doing exactly what you would expect him to do. There's a big damp patch right in the corner, and he's up there with the damp meter to get a reading.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Surveyor No. 2 is from J & E Shepherd, but will he notice the sloping floor? He's noticed something, but is it the slope underneath his right foot? Meanwhile up in the loft, remember there's that basin of water through that hatch behind him, but will he go in? He's thinking about it, will he go, no he won't.

Now the next test, there's the chimney. Will he look up it to see what the state of it is? That flat roof, remember there's a leak in the laundry from which he's just coming out. That's generally needing attention.

He's certainly given it a good going over, but will he pick up the faults. Nice day though.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Surveyor No.3 is from D.M.Hall. Yeah that seems to be a wall. Wonder how long this is? As long as that. Now down in the lounge there's that chimney behind him, and remember there's a blocked chimney off to the right.

Meanwhile up in the lobby there's that sloping floor, and down in the video room, no damp in there. Well it's damp up here though. Meanwhile up in the loft space, will he find that basin of water behind the desk? Well top marks, straight in there, no messing about.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Surveyor No. 4 is from Countrywide Surveyors. He's also measured the wall and found it fascinating, and he's moved into the video room.

Now this is remember, the big damp patch in the corner. Will he spot it? He's spotted the videotapes though. Huh, I've got that one, but what about the damp - it's behind you, it's right behind you. No. It's tiring work though being a surveyor.

Meanwhile up in the loft space it's time to go through that hatch to find the leak in the roof, but will he do it? He won't. Down in the lounge, and remember Steve's advice to take the fireguard out and have a good look up the chimney, down on your hands and knees, hands and knees.

So how did they do? Our expert has pored over the reports and closely examined the footage through the secret cameras.

First Surveyor from Harvey, Donaldson & Gibson, he took just 35 minutes for his survey.

STEVE EDENBURGH: In the back garden area he's much too quick looking in the laundry and storage area. Doesn't pick up on some key points there and he fails to progress round the outside to the crack on the gable wall.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: In the reply to this criticism Harvey, Donaldson & Gibson say their objective was to focus only on urgent and significant matters.

STEVE EDENBURGH: Up in the loft he's looking through the inspection hatch; he's doing exactly what I would hope he would do within that area.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Surveyor No. 2 is from J & E. Shepherd. He took one hour to do his survey. According to our expert the leak in the flat roof wasn't identified, and the surveyor didn't comment on its general condition.

J & E. Shepherd said they were satisfied with the condition of the flat roof, but said the report could have been worded a little more succinctly.

STEVE EDENBURGH: On the hallway and landing on the upper floor you can see that he's moving backwards and forwards, but he's never actually picking up the slope on the floor outside the bathroom door. It, it, it's not just using your eyes, it, it's using all your senses. Sense of smell, in this particular case your sense of balance. This, this floor is noticeably off level.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: J & E Shepherd said they noticed no deflection in any of the floors to an extent, in their opinion, would have affected the value of the property. Our expert pointed out he failed to go through the hatch and identify the lelaking roof.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Surveyor 3 from D.M.Hall. He spent one hour and ten minutes in the house, and our expert said this was one of the better surveys.

STEVE EDENBURGH: Looking at Surveyor 3 upstairs he's missed the slope to the floor in the hall. He's pulling down the, the loft ladder, and that is perceptively off level.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: D.M.Hall say that this deflection is minor, and has no affect on the structure of the property, or its valuation. D.M.Hall also questioned the credentials of our expert saying that as an academic he's not doing surveys on a daily basis.

Surveyor No. 4 is from Countrywide. He spent one hour doing his Homebuyers' Survey.

STEVE EDENBURGH: Surveyor 4 seems to spend more time looking at the tapes and other paraphernalia in this room, and completely misses the damp patch which is just to the left of the window at the far end of the room even to the extent he sits down with his back to the defect.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Countrywide say, regarding the damp patch, that their surveyor doesn't recall seeing the penetration at this window, but they're happy to have another look.

STEVE EDENBURGH: He moves backwards and forwards, but doesn't take the time or the effort to move the bit of furniture, and look through the inspection hatch.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: He also missed the sloping floor, which Countrywide say was within acceptable tolerances. So four surveys four very different reports. And some of these missed defects would have cost thousands to put right.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Does it worry you that four randomly picked surveyors could miss such obvious defects?

EILEEN MASTERMAN, RCIS: Did you say they all missed?

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Sorry.

EILEEN MASTERMAN: Did you say they all missed the, the defect?

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Some of them missed each defect. They didn't all miss every defect.

EILEEN MASTERMAN: And what, what did the report say, did it say there's a crack in the wall, and this should be pursued further, or did it not mention the crack?

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Some, some mentioned the crack and suggested further studies. Others missed it completely.

EILEEN MASTERMAN: Yeah. Well, as I said, I can't protect people who are missing fairly glaringly obvious problems.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: So four surveys all in the same house, and all very different when reporting faults. Remember the Homebuyers' Survey carries no guarantee and comes with lots of small print.

So you can't be sure they'll pick up everything, but there's yet another gripe for consumers. Lots of surveys for just one property because any perspective buyer has to lay out hundreds of pounds on a survey just to enter the bidding war. You need a survey for valuation before you can put in an offer, and that can mean spending a small fortune on surveys, especially in places like Edinburgh or here in the West End of Glasgow.

MARION MACPHEE: I've been looking for a flat for 13 months. I've spent in excess of a thousand pounds to do it. I've had 11 surveys, two of which were for the same property. The winners in this system are the surveyors and estate agents. The losers are the buyers.

This was flat No. 1. On the market for eighty-two and a half thousand. I offered one hundred and six thousand. I was a little bit nave at this stage. It went for one hundred and twenty five thousand.

Offers over eighty nine thousand, I offered one hundred and twenty thousand, and I lost it by six thousand.

Offers over eighty-two and a half thousand. I offered one hundred and twelve thousand, and it went for one hundred and sixteen thousand.

Another property. This one had problems, and I couldn't even get a valuation.

Offers over eighty nine thousand. I offered one hundred and twenty five thousand, and I still lost it.

Another flat that I couldn't get a valuation on.

I offered one hundred and ten thousand; it went for one hundred and twenty.

This flat was offers over ninety five thousand. I offered one hundred and twenty five thousand, and it went for a hundred and forty three thousand.

I didn't offer on this property. My survey said dry rot problems.

Eleven surveys later it's mine. This is the one.

EILEEN MASTERMAN: I think that's highly unusual, highly unusual, and they're not, that's not my feeling, that's been borne out by the Consumer Council.

They can have eight surveys done. I think it, it's a rare occurrence, but they should be seeking to have the fee abated, and that wouldn't be a problem.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: So when a property has been surveyed before, according to the RICS you're entitled to a fee abatement. If there's an existing survey on a property you can ask for a discount, as the work required by the surveyor only involves the running off of another copy.

In an attempt to resolve the problem of more than one survey being done per property, one company came up with what appeared to be the ideal solution. A guaranteed survey which would be available to all perspective buyers with only the final successful bidder paying for the survey. A scheme, which would have done away with multiple surveys at a stroke.

BILL CULLEN, CHAIR, CLYDE PROPERTY: We proposed very very simply to put a quality survey on the table to make sure that that survey came with a guarantee which implied that if, if there were latent defects in the property, they would be covered by the surveyor who carried out the, the survey in the first instance. The survey would be offered to every interested party free, and would only be paid for by the successful purchaser. The reception from the public was overwhelmingly positive. They came in their droves. Instead of having perhaps three or four people bidding for one property we had in some instances up to 15 people which was great news for the vendors as well.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: The scheme was tested all over the West of Scotland, not just in the hot spots of Glasgow including places where multiple surveys are not a problem.

One of the pilot areas for the Clyde scheme was Hamilton. This couple used it and they were delighted.

WILLIAM HISLOP: Frae a buyer's point of view it was superb. We got the survey, we didnae need to pay anything out to start with, and if we weren't interested in the property we could move on and go on to another property, and look at somewhere else rather than paying out for surveys all the time which we done for a couple of other houses we were looking at, so in that aspect that was great, and plus you're guaranteed for a year so if anything did go wrong, and it wasnae picked up in the survey, you had a comeback on it.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: The guaranteed survey ran for six weeks until it was finally withdrawn after objections from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The surveyors' professional body.

BILL CULLEN: Privately I, I spoke to, obviously spoke to quite a few surveyors, and initially many of them were worried that a scheme like this, if it took off throughout the country, and I hope it does, Initially they were worried that they'd be out of a job, but I think we were able to overcome those fears when we pointed out to them that in, in actual fact if everybody adopted this scheme we'd need more surveyors.

At the moment a surveyor will take on average, say an hour, to do the survey, but a great deal longer than that if he's providing a quality product with a guarantee, and he, and he's able to charge a bit more for it obviously.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: At present most surveys in Scotland are Scheme 1, essentially a valuation for mortgage purchases, and not the Homebuyers, which is more extensive.

BILL CULLEN: If an office-bearer in the Institute of Chartered Surveyors was the beneficiary of a great deal of Scheme 1 business he'd be very, very nervous.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Why?

BILL CULLEN: Bec, because he stands to lose a lot of money. If he's not geared up for doing quality surveys, if he's geared up for doing Scheme 1 surveys, valuations in effect then he obviously stands to lose if the market swings towards a more, a better quality product.

EILEEN MASTERMAN: The survey that they were promoting didn't meet our technical requirements, and as such the members, our members, couldn't continue with it. The surveyor in normal circumstances acts in the best interest of his or her client. The surveyor in, in that case is being put in a position where he's acting for both the buyer and the seller. With the seller's survey you're getting purely factual advice. With the Homebuyers' survey the relationship exists between you and the surv, surveyor where you can interrogate the surveyor, as it were, were you can ask questions you can, you have a relationship with them.

You can say, you know, you've indicated there may be a problem with wet rot, dry rot, tell me more about it. Is it an insurmountable problem, is it going to cost me a lot of money? Shall I, should I pull out of this sale? All that sort of question can't be asked with a seller's survey.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: The Clyde scheme also failed because one mortgage lender didn't like the valuation of a property, going directly to the buyer, and to the seller claiming a conflict of interest. They made it clear to the surveyors concerned that they would lose their business if they continued with the project.

Now new plans are afoot to introduce a scheme, which will be acceptable to the mortgage lenders and the RICS. Only the successful bidder will pay the full fee, so a single guaranteed survey could well be an option for buyers in the future.

One problem with any investigation and to the world of house buying is getting anyone to talk. It's a tightly knit community with close financial links between the different professions, but we found one man who will talk and he has concerns about how these links affect the consumer.

MIKE MORTIMER, CHARTERED SURVEYOR: There are more and more pressures now from the commercialism where there are problems where surveyors have got to work in a very, very commercial atmosphere but I think some of the time if consumers actually knew what went on behind the scenes, they might say hold on stop this is a silly process.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Many surveyors also work for estate agents, and it's the estate agents who influence many buyers on where to get a mortgage. If you want to get a mortgage on a property the lender or building society will insist that a survey is carried out, and they'll only accept a surveyor from their appointed panel.

MIKE MORTIMER: One of the criteria is, as an estate agency or surveying company, if you can give Lender X a certain amount of business and mortgage introductions, they may look more favourably on your panel appointment. You give us so many mortgages; we'll give you so many surveys in return.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Sounds like a very cosy club.

MIKE MORTIMER: I think it's like everything which can cause problems in the UK as opposed to other countries where the conflicts of interest, the cosy club, whatever you would want to call it, can occur.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: So basically you've got to jump through the building society hoop?

MIKE MORTIMER: That's certainly true.

KENNEDY FOSTER, CHAIR, Council for Mortgage Lenders, Scotland: There are working relationships between various people in the industry. We obviously have to speak to each other, but these arr, these arrangements are at arms length.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: So would it worry you if there was that type of relationship between, you know, you give us some mortgage work, and we'll give you the survey work?

KENNEDY FOSTER As long as conflicts of interest do, do not arise in that situation, no it doesn't worry me.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: Can you see a potential for conflict of interest there?

KENNEDY FOSTER I can in certain circumstances see potential for conflict of interest, but at the end of the day the valuer in carrying out the valuation does owe the lender a duty of care.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: But how far does that duty of care go? Mike Mortimer claims that when he was working for Countrywide Surveyors, he was put under pressure to alter his valuation.

MIKE MORTIMER: I was asked to value a property where a, a subsidiary Countyr, Countrywide Agency was selling. The purchase price was too much. I down valued it, and questions were asked.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: You're saying questions were asked, but you're basically saying this is the wrong value; this is what we want you to be.

MIKE MORTIMER: My valuation was questioned internally. It's fair enough if my quot, if my valuation is questioned perhaps by the client which would be the building society, or bank, or the prospective purchaser, but not actually to be questioned within the estate agency Group to the surveying group.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: So they wanted you to up, up your value?

MIKE MORTIMER: They questioned why I'd down valued it, yes, and to put it back onto a, a higher plain.

EUAN MCILWRAITH: We contacted Countrywide who deny Mr Mortimer's allegations. They went on to state it's a policy of Countrywide surveyors not to influence its valuers, and surveyors to change valuations.

So buying a house isn't as simple as you'd think. We offered the RICS the opportunity to check the results of our survey on this house. They declined saying they couldn't get involved.

We also asked how many surveyors have been struck off. The RICS admitted they don't keep records, but they thought it was quite a small figure So are consumers getting a good deal - you decide.

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