Collapse in surveyor numbers may derail house sales

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The number of surveyors trading in the UK collapsed during the financial crisis. Thousands have been lost to the profession, and there has been a critical slowdown in homebuyer's surveys.

Some buyers are having to wait up to three weeks, and as the market picks up there's a real risk this could derail house sales.
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Collapse in numbers

The number of surveyors fell during the downturn. In many cases companies went out of business - especially where they focused on the sub-prime end of the market. Even among the companies that survived, as demand for mortgages fell, so valuers laid employees off.

At the same time, lenders squeezed the fees they paid to valuers, which left little room to invest in new staff and training. The experts disagree on how far the number of surveyors has fallen - with some claiming the level is around a quarter of what it was in 2007, while others claim around a half. E.Surv Chartered Surveyors told Money Marketing magazine that as many as 5,000 surveyors may have left the profession in that time.

Delays

As a result, there is already a significant increase in the length of time required to book homebuyer surveys. A year ago it was possible to book a survey just three days ahead. Now, according to London based mortgage broker, Springtide Capital, it takes an average of a week - and in some cases individuals have had to wait three weeks.

Mortgage Strategy magazine did a mystery shop of surveyors earlier this month and found a number of major practices in London had temporarily stopped taking business in some postcodes, while others were suggesting appointments more than a month away.

Increased demand

The collapse in the number of surveyors wasn't noticeable while mortgage approvals were at a record low. However, figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders show that the number of approvals for purchases has picked up, which is exposing the problem.

Henry Knight, Managing Director of Springtide Capital says: "As a broker, it is frustrating when approvals are delayed as a result of the length of time it is now taking to organise surveys... greater effort needs to be made on behalf of the whole industry to ensure that transaction times are shortened and the process is as efficient and stress free as possible."

Derailing sales

Coreco director Andrew Montlake told Mortgage Strategy this was undoubtedly derailing sales already. He says: "I have a client who needs to complete by the end of the month. It was instructed last week [week commencing 3 June] and it cannot go in until 3 July. You can't have that in London because people will lose properties."

Some surveyors are working longer hours to try to squeeze the work in. Recruiter Randstad has claimed that people working in property are fitting an average of 7.5 working days worth of work into every week.

There's a real risk that with this sort of work-rate, mistakes could be made, which could also derail the process. If, for example, a surveyor doesn't take the time to get a valuation right, they may value a property at less than the mortgage requires, and the mortgage will be refused.

Getting worse

And these problems are only going to get worse as the market recovers. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has reported that house sales rose to their highest level for more than three years in May, and 35% of surveyors said they expected to see more sales over the following three months. Peter Bolton King, global residential director at Rics, said: "There is still a very long way to go until we see a full scale recovery, but green shoots are beginning to sprout."

And when those shoots finally bear fruit we will see exactly what a bottleneck the valuation has become in the home buying process.

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