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Opinion: The Role of Surveyors in the Home Buying Process

industry opinion
Picture of a women outsider an estate agents

The Home Buying and Selling Group (HBSG) was created in 2018 following the Government’s call for evidence to improve the buying and selling process. Over the years, several initiatives have been launched, and many surveyors may remember the Home Information Packs. There are many reasons why change hasn’t happened to one of the most cumbersome, expensive and frustrating processes for all involved. What makes the potential for change today is the advantage of technology, the importance of building safety and a will for an industry to do better by its customers.

You can listen to a podcast with Kate Faulkner, OBE, discussing what surveyors need to know about home buying and selling here.

The group has made much progress, from industry and technology collaborations to test and learn, creating useful guides on how to buy and sell a property so everyone has the same information and Buying and Selling Property Information (BASPI), a dataset designed to be the ‘one source of truth’ when it comes to upfront information about a property. Completed at the point of marketing a property, it can be pre-populated by Authority data, and the data can be made accessible to all stakeholders, cutting down on the need for duplication of tasks and information collation within the process.

But where are surveyors in all of this?


The Property Surveyors Sub Group (PSSG)

Surveyors have always been part of HBSG; we have consulted and shared our thoughts. However, there has never been a dedicated working group for surveyors, although the RPSA and the RICS have represented their members accordingly.

Increasingly, there has been much discussion about upfront information and property log books, which have significant implications for all those who conduct property inspections. As such, Alan Milstein and Marion Ellis formed a sub-working group, the Property Surveyors Sub Group (PSSG), to ensure surveyors' views and technical skills contribute to the discussions and specifically help bridge the gap between ordinary surveyors on the ground doing their job and a wider discussion on policy and requirements within the industry.

The PSSG aims are:

  • To ensure diverse stakeholders of all backgrounds and affiliations can contribute. 
  • To explore, discuss and deliver solutions that improve moving home for consumers and professionals alike.
  • To strive to maintain and develop a surveying sector that attracts new, diverse and engaged practitioners to a thriving, dynamic profession.  

We believe working together to benefit consumers, surveyors, and the home moving industry is not just possible but essential. The sector must evolve, and we must all be aware of the risks and opportunities.


The Legacy of Home Information Packs (HIPs)

Before forming a Government in 1997, the Labour Party expressed an interest in reforming the home-buying process. Their research identified the main problem: important information needed to inform buyers’ decisions only became available after terms had been negotiated and agreed. This caused delays and abortive costs and led to gazumping and gazundering.

In the 2002 Queen’s Speech, the then Government announced that a draft Housing Bill would be published to introduce “sellers packs” to the home-buying and selling process so that the information needed by a potential purchaser was available when the property was marketed. HIPs were to consist of a pack of documents including standard searches, evidence of title, a Home Condition Report (HCR), an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) and a copy of the lease (where the sale involved a leasehold property). The documents in the HIP would have mostly been produced at some point in the conveyancing process, so the change involved bringing forward the point at which they were produced and placing the onus for production on the seller.

Importantly, the requirement to include a Home Condition Report (HCR) was dropped in July 2006. It was decided that HCRs would be phased in on a market-led basis “to ensure a smooth implementation with clear benefits for consumers”. Essentially, it was in the too-hard and too-complicated-to-do pile. How long would the report be valid for? How would surveyors get paid?  What would it mean for the surveyor's liability? The drop in HCRs as a mandatory part of the packs resulted in some consumer organisations withdrawing their support for HIPs.

In mid-May 2007, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) commenced Judicial Review proceedings against CLG for “failure to carry out proper consultation before implementing new legislation to bring in Home Information Packs.” RICS also claimed there were not enough trained inspectors to provide the required EPCs to make the 1 June start date viable. 

HIPs were widely criticised due to upfront costs and the quality of the information. Many surveyors will remember the tough economic climate between 2005 and 2009, which led to redundancies, repossessions, and claims falling through our letter boxes like confetti. 

The way property is bought af sold in Scotland has always been different. By early 2010, the Government was referring to survey evidence showing an average reduction of 6 days in transaction time when a HIP was used. Research from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) rejected the option that the Scottish system should be adopted, concluding that:

  • The Scottish system works well in Scotland, where the volume of transactions is lower than in England and Wales.
  • It doubted its effectiveness if applied to more active housing markets in England and Wales, where there would be a much higher incidence of failed bids and abortive costs. 
  • It acknowledged a tradition in Scotland for sellers to move into temporary accommodation to take out bridging loans so that sales are not held up. Adopting this tradition in England and Wales, where it currently does not exist, would be difficult and probably unpopular.

Grant Shapps (then Conservative Shadow Minister for Housing) motioned to abolish HIPs on 10 October 2007, and they were eventually suspended in 2010.

You can read the Government research paper on Improving the Home Buying and Selling Process in England from May 2020 here.


Case Studies: Learning from Scotland and Norway

Examples of home buying and selling in Scotland and Norway have been regularly cited as potential models to adopt in the rest of the UK. 

It is also important to remember that property in Scotland and Norway is lower in number—around 5 million each. Construction is different in Norway, and neither has as wide a variety of historic property as England and Wales.


To sell a home in Scotland a Home Report is required and this includes an EPC, a single survey, which is a light touch condition survey which does not include any advice, a valuation and a property questionnaire. Costs typically range between £400 - £800 mark, which is paid upfront by the seller.

In Scotland, to do a single survey, the surveyor must be on the panel, provide a transcription if the buyer or lender changes and cannot provide condition advice to a buyer and a single survey to the seller. Many surveyors are also valuers, significantly restricting how a surveyor works and the availability of experts to act for consumers. It is rare to find a building surveyor offering advice to a buyer in Scotland as consumers rely on a single survey, seek out unqualified trades or do not seek advice until they discover a problem. 

The Home Report was introduced in 2008, and the government conducted a five-year review in 2013. The review highlighted various issues, such as buyers wanting to understand the repairs required, surveyors dumbing down their findings for fear of increasing liability, and concern over pressure from sellers on surveyors for more favourable reports. The process was still largely manual back then, and although time wasn’t considered saved, better information allowed for better efficiency overall. Although an EPC was included, there was little information relating to the impact of climate change on properties.

The report, published in 2015, recommended that the Scottish Government reconvene the 'Home Report Implementation Group', inviting representatives from all relevant professions and stakeholders to attend. We understand this work is only due to start in 2024. Therefore, it is important to consider that the success and learning of the Scottish model have not been adequately researched, reviewed, or published. 


In Norway, it is possible to move home within six days. A detailed and comprehensive condition survey is provided upfront as part of the selling process—akin to a 50-plus page building survey in the UK. While there has been discussion about including a simple condition survey as part of the sale information in the UK, Norway discovered consumers wanted much more comprehensive information. 

Norway introduced their version of an Estate Agency Act to ensure that property transactions handled via estate agents take place in a secure, orderly, and efficient manner. The Act requires estate agents to provide professional and impartial assistance, ensure the transaction is secure for both the seller and buyer, and arrange an efficient process. 

As such, not only do surveyors, conveyancers, and agents work together as a team, but the agent has ultimate responsibility and must be qualified to the equivalent of a degree level and a licence is required to operate as an estate agent. The Financial Supervisory Authority of Norway regulates all estate agency activities, and there are reports of at least one in four transactions resulting in a complaint about the agent's process or behaviour.

Agency businesses in Norway are more likely to be owned by or franchised to banks, which affects how consumers access mortgage finance.

You can listen to a podcast with Hannah Cook from the Norwegian Mapping Authority here.


Addressing Modern Challenges

Understanding the context and impact of HIPs, albeit some time ago, is an important part of understanding the landscape of the surveying profession today. Technology and access to better data have transformed the sector, which opens up the possibility of revisiting some of the ideas of the past in new and innovative ways. What has not changed is the view that more and better information upfront helps consumers to make better decisions. The sector is not aligned in its processes and standards, and the time taken to buy and sell a property has never been longer despite better use of technology.

From an individual surveyor perspective, many were left bruised, disillusioned, and financially out of pocket, paying for extensive training and setting up businesses to accommodate the demand for HIPs and HCRs. Not all surveyors are RICS members and many who trained extensively as Home Inspectors were refused membership based on their interpretation of their qualifications.  An additional challenge for the surveying sector is to mend relationships and encourage positive thinking to take advantage of the opportunity ahead and bring about change as a force for good for all.

Today’s buildings must be considered in context as we navigate a cost-of-living crisis, climate change, and occupants' needs. We are living in a time of multiple deaths caused by a lack of regulation and accountability for the materials we use in construction. Children are dying because of poor living conditions caused by dampness and air pollution. Some improvements being made today, such as unregulated retrofit measures to address climate concerns, energy efficiency and decarbonisation, are the potential future defects in traditional homes. The risks and responsibilities for professionals have changed, and the focus must be on how we can do well and not only on protecting ourselves from liability.

There are varying levels of knowledge and skill across the sector, complicated by a lack of clarity, regulation and affordable training and mentoring. There is an increasing reliance on data which is more readily available, such as Land Registry plans overlaid onto hi-res maps and satellite imagery, corrected Google Street View images, planning history, EPC data, environmental and flooding information, year built, construction details, as well as agents listings and sales history. While better data can speed up a process, there are some concerns by many in the surveying sector:

  • Can the information source be trusted?
  • How can it be verified, and what are the firm's responsibilities in providing the information?
  • Is the same data shared with others, and is there adequate version control?
  • What is the purpose of the information? Is there a risk that different stakeholders and consumers will interpret the information differently?
  • And, is there a risk that a consumer could consider the information as advice?

For example, we know from mixed press reviews that information about a property’s construction on an EPC is highly likely incorrect, and many properties do not fit the standard format. As such, sentiment around their worth is mixed, yet consumers still rely on or ignore them. This may change if lenders restrict mortgage lending and the Government introduces minimum-level requirements. 

The answer may be through insurance, yet this will not address the consumer's need to buy and sell a property and get good advice on living well in their homes.


The Role of Surveyors in the Home Buying Process

In November 2023, National Trading Standards published Information Standards Parts B and C. Part B covers a property's physical aspects and construction. Yet, many surveyors will tell you that there are several considerations to consider when identifying the construction of a property.  50% of properties in the UK are over 50 years old, many more than 150 years old, and pre-date any standard or required regulation. They have been adapted, tweaked and altered to accommodate their occupants, and it’s why inspecting properties is skilled work done by trained and experienced professionals. A surveyor never assumes the information provided on an earlier survey is correct.

Surveyors need to consider how we can meet today's consumer needs, balance them with our professional obligations, and ensure they are meaningful and useful for now and in the future. If we know there is a high risk, consumers will rely on information to save money, or because the process has not clarified that information is not advice, we are failing in our duty of care and professional responsibilities. Case law such as Yianni vs Edwin Evans and Bush v Smith demonstrate the duty of care we have within our work. While times and processes have changed and innovative technology creates opportunity, our professional responsibilities haven’t. It is not okay for the surveying profession to claim that any upfront information is just information, not advice. We have a professional responsibility. Despite the lack of data, we know how consumers and the sector will utilise information as a convenient replacement for adequate professional advice. 

This means while the work of the PSSG is to support the work of the Home Buying and Selling Group, it cannot do so without a wider engagement and understanding of the landscape of the surveying profession today from skills and knowledge, climate, our legal responsibilities and how the condition might relate to the value of a property. This means we must consider how things could and should look for consumers and not ‘how we make this fit’.  We must harness the opportunity and reframe our attitudes to fear and being sued. For a notably risk-averse sector, that is no easy task.

The PSSG is actively engaging with key stakeholders, including National Trading Standards and RICS, to understand the nuances of material information requirements and to share insights. This collaborative approach is vital for developing solutions that address the real needs of consumers and professionals in the property sector. As the PSSG moves forward, there will be a focus on gathering data, understanding consumer and professional needs, and exploring innovative solutions. The group is committed to open dialogue, rigorous research, and collaborative problem-solving to overcome challenges and enhance the property transaction process.

The PSSG is at the forefront of a new era in property surveying, marked by innovation, inclusivity, and a deep commitment to consumer and professional welfare. As the group continues its work, it invites all industry stakeholders to help improve the future of home buying and selling.


Get Involved

The Levelling Up Committee has launched an inquiry on improving the home buying and selling process. It has requested written evidence and feedback on the questions it wishes to pose in the inquiry, with a wider evidence session anticipated in April. Through our network, we are able to obtain feedback from 68 surveyors, and you can read the summary here

Marion Ellis
Founder of Love Surveying, The Surveyor Hub and Women in Surveying
Coach, Mentor and Business Consultant for Surveyors


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