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Simon Jackson: Surveying a different landscape

31.05.2020

Throughout this crisis, and certainly from a housing market perspective, it’s often felt that surveyors have been at the eye of the storm, quite simply because of the importance placed upon the home inspection in order to keep the house purchase/remortgage process moving.

While we were able to supply lender clients with thousands of desktop valuations throughout the lockdown period, it’s a simple fact of life that many cases required a physical valuation and the previous lockdown measures did not allow for surveyors to visit properties and carry out such work.

That of course, has now changed – at least in England – with the relaxation of the lockdown allowing us to be quick off the mark marrying up the safety of surveyors and consumers with the ability to begin working through the backlog of cases that need clearing.

We are now close to having had two weeks back out in the field and the challenges we knew we’d come up against have been self-evident. We were able to put considerable plans and processes in place prior to this, updating our booking process for jobs, outlining the steps that surveyors must take, drafting their responsibilities and that of homeowners, securing the necessary PPE, etc.

That planning and preparation have held us in very good stead, and since our surveyors went back out in the field, we have managed approximately 80% of our pipeline cases. Plus we’ve seen no increase in cases not progressing and only a minority of cases not able to progress due to the customers being vulnerable or shielding.

We think that advisers will be as keen as anyone to learn those statistics on how we are progressing our work because they may still have some cases currently sat in the pipeline unable to move forward without a physical valuation.

As mentioned, the good news is that backlog of cases is being cleared and having made considerable headway into that, we are now taking on new business. The big question now, of course, is what level of new business will be coming through – lenders we know have the capital and the appetite to lend, but the growth in transactions will depend on a far greater number of factors, not least consumer demand.

The recent figures from HMRC for April residential home transaction levels show the acute drop that has taken place. With just 38,060 transactions completed – less than half of April 2019 – I think we are all aware of the levels we are working from. However, our anticipation is that this number will now begin to build again, albeit against the backdrop of an economy which is still suffering and will take some time to recover.

Reading the Bank of England’s view of the short-term future for the UK economy is scary to say the least, with GDP expected to drop by 14% during this year and unemployment predicted to double.

However, there are other lights at the end of the tunnel, a notable one being the bounce back anticipated. The Bank expects the economy to grow by 15% next year, and for the housing market, I am pretty positive we’ll see a V-shaped return in terms of activity, rather than a more shallow improvement or indeed a W-shaped activity line.

Overall, therefore, we’re building our capacity for work up very quickly and advisers will be pleased to hear we were out conducting inspections on the ‘B’ of the ‘Bang’. With lenders upping their operational capacity and a ‘return to work’ protocol taking greater effect, we now have cases moving and are starting to process new business.

It isn’t a normal situation – what is in these post-COVID-19 times – but the plan is being rolled out and we are working together to bring everyone along with us. The road ahead remains challenging but, from our perspective, the destination is visible and we’re mightily pleased to have begun the journey.

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