The imperative for speed must not be allowed to erode trust and professionalism

The only constant is change. It’s an old saw, but it has never been more relevant, and how professionals and professional services firms adapt to change is the deciding factor in their success or failure.

The willingness to embrace change is one of the reasons DM Hall has just made a major move to prestigious new offices in the heart of Glasgow’s business district. We are modernising the business, making it fit for the current environment and locking in the quality of service for our clients.

However, while we accept that change will always be with us, it would be nice if some things changed for the better. And, at the moment, there are circumstances affecting surveyors which should be ringing alarm bells across the profession.

I am talking about the current propensity among third parties to try to manage risk to the nth degree. It is certainly prudent to manage risk, but not at the cost of trust in business practice, which is what is happening.

Everyone now has to demonstrate that they are managing their risk properly. Surveyors are no different. But what property professionals are being asked to do is provide an opinion – an informed opinion based on sales-comparable evidence and deep market knowledge.

However, even though surveyors deliver their opinion and demonstrate its validity through deliberation processes and market analysis, they are now being questioned by third parties within lenders who want to go over all the ground again to decide whether they think the processes are appropriate.

I am sure the parties involved believe they are adding to the process – but what they are actually adding is delay, inefficiency at the service side and a duplication of effort which makes the whole transaction unwieldy.

Banks, of course, want to do things quickly. The faster they can get loan security to clients, they greater their market share is likely to be. But I would question why that has to be the case. The entirety of the transaction does not take place in a few days. It takes months.

So what we are seeing is an imperative for speed as an indicator of efficiency. But unnecessary speed can also create great inefficiencies. It actually introduces risk for the lender, who is demanding a decision in far too short a time scale. There is no value in a timeous answer if it is wrong.

Surveyors are under enormous pressure from their client base and it is becoming increasingly counter-productive. Things simply need to slow down so that professional people are given the opportunity to do their job properly.

The profession is also experiencing a price war. This is understandable in the context of people seeking value for money. But when you reach a certain level of fee, professional firms cannot provide the quality of advice that is expected.

That is why our firm has taken a policy decision not to accept work under a certain level of remuneration. We know, to a penny, the resources we have to put in to provide our service and we have drawn a line in the sand. The one thing we will never sacrifice for price is professionalism.

Whether compromises are being made in other firms is not something on which I can speculate. But I remain astonished at some of the figures we are being quoted.

The situation is exacerbated by the rise of net-based estate agencies, whose whole business model is based on cost. They create an expectation that everything will be cheaper, and that includes professional fees.

This is something the profession should resist. The cost of a survey and a physical examination does not change because the agency has no bricks and mortar presence on the High Street.

Surveyors perhaps need to demonstrate more clearly the added value of their service – and sometimes that involves telling people what they don’t want to hear, as well as managing expectations.

I have had to say to clients in the past: “I didn’t bring the dry rot in with me – it was here.” Surveyors simply alert people to the circumstances.

Perhaps it is time we did just that with the third parties which are putting such intense and unnecessary pressure on an already hard-pressed profession.

Eric Curran is managing partner of DM Hall Chartered Surveyors, based in the firm’s Glasgow North office.

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