Residential property: guidance note

Setting new standards

24 January 2014

As part of RICS' ongoing commitment to support members specialising in surveying residential property, the Building surveys of residential property guidance note has been rewritten and updated to be more generic and useful


The establishment of RICS Home Surveys has breathed life into this previously moribund sector, providing new opportunities for members to undertake clearly defined standard services that are understood by professionals and consumers alike. This means there is also a clear need to ensure consistency among those surveyors choosing to offer their own format surveys.

Last year, this was identified by the hugely influential consumer organisation, Which?. It reported that much of the disappointment with surveys stems from the fact that consumers have inaccurate expectations of them and suggested the process should be as transparent and as easy to understand as possible.

The 3 standard RICS Home Surveys services now provide the means to do this by benchmarking surveys across the board. At the same time, the brand benefits all RICS members undertaking surveys on all types of homes. In particular, it will enable some substance to be given to defining each level of survey, especially underpinning the building survey, often cited as the flagship service.

Background

In 2009, RICS introduced the Home Surveys suite of products, which included the RICS Condition Report, RICS HomeBuyer Survey and RICS Building Survey. Mandatory practice notes govern these products and RICS members have to be licensed to use them. These new formats are proving popular, because they allow members to take full advantage of all the facilities offered by the online software and the clear RICS branding. However, they do not suit everyone, especially practitioners who have built their client base using their own products customised to suit local market needs.

This freedom for chartered surveyors to offer flexible, bespoke and responsive services is important, but it does present increasing challenges for RICS. For example, as highlighted by Which?, a cursory review of the services offered by residential practitioners in any region of the country (especially England and Wales) reveals a wide range of products in terms of names, scope and contractual obligations. This is confusing for the public: when commissioning a survey outside the RICS brand, a homebuyer can face a baffling range of poorly defined choices.

The new guidance note provides a clear but flexible framework within which practitioners can develop their own services that the public can recognise and trust. It has 2 principal aims:

  • to support those members who want to continue to deliver their own product at all levels
  • to establish a clear framework that will protect and maintain standards.

The new guidance note replaces Building surveys of residential property, 2nd edition. It sets down the standards for other levels of residential condition surveys that roughly equate to the RICS Condition Report and HomeBuyer Report respectively.

The scope

This guidance note covers condition-based residential surveys at all levels. It does not include any aspect of valuation or property marketing issues: its primary purpose is to consider the property as a physical asset. It aims to describe:

  • the different levels of service to which this document applies
  • the nature of the pre-inspection preparation, activities and research required
  • the inspection process associated with each level of service
  • report writing methodology
  • post-report client liaison
  • project closure activities.

There is sufficient information to establish the nature and extent of each level of service and avoid unnecessary detail. It is less prescriptive than an equivalent practice note, in common with all RICS guidance notes.

To avoid confusion in the marketplace, it is important that the public and their advisers understand the difference between the levels of service offered by chartered surveyors. The RICS Home Surveys are clearly differentiated and the products have established a benchmark against which the guidance note can be set. There are 3 levels of service:

  • Level 1 (equivalent to the RICS Condition Survey)
  • Level 2 (equivalent to the RICS HomeBuyer Survey)
  • Level 3 (equivalent to the RICS Building Survey).

Attributing different survey types to 'levels' has been used frequently. Although it is not a universal definition, many commentators describe a mortgage valuation as a 'level 1', the old HomeBuyer Survey and Valuation as 'level 2' and the Building Survey as 'level 3'. For reasons of clarity, it is important to remove all consideration of valuation and the guidance note considers only condition-related matters.

Accordingly, the RICS Condition Report sets the benchmark for level 1. Where members want to include a valuation, it must be added as an 'extra service' that will be controlled by other professional standards such as the Red Book.

Establishing the name was important when creating the Home Surveys brand, so that RICS could be confident of establishing a national standard in terms of both format and content. The guidance note aims to provide a more flexible framework allowing members to name their own services, provide clarity for the public and help maintain standards.

Authored by Phil Parnham, the leading exponent in this field, backed by a diverse and experienced working group, this is an authoritative piece of work to further enhance the role of the RICS surveyor specialising in residential property.

Phil Parnham is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the management team at BlueBox Partners. He has written a number of books on building surveying and is a regular contributor to the isurv building surveying channel