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Human Side of Surveys by Gareth Brookes

I think as a Residential Surveyor that we are in a very privileged position and as such it should not be taken for granted or taken advantage of. We are trusted not only by our clients but also by the vendors to carry out a survey and provide a report that gives a fair reflection of the properties condition at the time of the inspection. The vendors in particular welcome us in, to start poking about and I often wonder do they realise that it is my sole intention to find faults with their pride and joy.

I am not there to comment on how nice the kitchen looks or what a good investment the loft conversion is, instead I am there to check that there is no plumbing leak beneath the kitchen sink and that the loft conversion meets building regulation standards. This is not always possible to tell from a visual inspection, however there are signs that give it away, such as no escape route from the loft bedroom. This is a sure indicator that ‘Bob’ the builder carried out the works with no involvement with the local Building Control Inspector who would have pointed out ‘the error of their ways’.

Some Vendors are happy to give a full history on their property even pointing out some defects that they have known about for a long time but done nothing about. Others will tell you very little probably thinking the best policy is to remain silent and let the ‘beggar’ find out for themselves which is what I would do.

However, it is the questions at the end of the survey that make me smile as it is always the same ones. ‘So what did you find then?’ or ‘Is it falling down?’ ‘You didn’t find anything too serious I hope’ I always try and dodge these questions as it can go one of two ways. The vendor that welcomes you at the beginning with a cup of tea (pre Covid) can soon turn on you when you mention that the flat roof could do with recovering. ‘I can tell you now, we have been here 30 years and that flat roof has never leaked and if they think we are going to reduce the price they can think again’.

The other way, is the vendor can almost go into panic mode and want to fix everything and want our advice on the best way of doing it. My stock answer now is to always say ‘I am not allowed to comment’ which normally works.

I think as a Surveyor we must always remember that while we have duty to inform our client of any potential faults we must always keep these in context and not paint a picture that makes them look a lot worse than they really are. The ‘sale’ of the property can very often depend on the results of our survey and while we do not want the client to invest in a property that could become very costly to repair we should always make it clear how serious any issues are so they can then make an informed decision on how to proceed.

We all live in these rectangular boxes but it is the people inside that makes them into homes. As a Surveyor we come across all sorts and all types of people and going into their homes can give an insight on how they live their lives. Some live in complete chaos but are clearly happy and others live with everything in its place, immaculately clean and we have to take our shoes off when we enter the front door. However, it is the empty properties where the owner has ‘passed away’ that can make you feel sad or where the owner has lost a partner. The ‘Order of Service’ leaflet that has been left on the kitchen worktop is normally a sign that they are no longer with us. The house is normally quite dated and there are a few personal belongings left lying about and it often makes me think ‘Is this how it ends?’. I met one elderly gentleman who sat in his chair in total silence staring out of the window (pre-Covid) while I conducted the survey. It turned out he had recently lost his wife. They had been together over 60 years and he could no longer bare to live in the house as it had got to many fond memories. He was still visibly upset whenever he mentioned her name and I just wanted to give him some comfort but what could I say. He was going to move into ‘Sheltered’ accommodation and I often wonder if he was able to move on with his life. It is days like that, that you don’t want to be a Surveyor and find fault with his home when he had spent so many happy years there, but then you have to refocus and remember who you’re doing the survey for.

As well as the sad stories there are also the humorous ones and one that has stuck in my mind is the couple that moved into a property and came across an unexpected find.

‘You will never guess what we found behind the bath panel when we first moved in ? ‘

My response. ‘ I have no idea? What did you find?’

‘£500 in bank notes stuffed in a bag in the corner but it didn’t end there’ she was taking great delight in telling me all this.

‘No, when my husband dug up the patio a few years later he came across a tin casket with a black bag inside’, now I am thinking she was going to tell me there were some bones inside from a long since dead pet but I was wrong.

‘Yes and inside that casket was £4500 in bank notes’ Now it was my turn to be surprised. ‘Cor blimey that was some find, what did you do with it?’

‘Well at first we thought we should contact the previous owner but then we thought it might not have been theirs it could have been the owners before them, so we took the attitude of ‘finders, keepers’ and went on holiday to America’. Fair play I thought.

When I got home that night, I checked behind our bath panel and all I found was a mouldy old flannel and an empty tube of toothpaste. Some people get all the luck. Mind you, I have not dug the patio up yet so you never know.

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