5 MAY 1967, Page 10

The surveyor surveyed



I suppose that the great difficulty for the layman in choosing a professional to advise him is that, by and large, the professions dis- courage, and some go as far as directly to prevent, their members from advertising their wares, from saying what they do, or how; the limit for most of them being the discreet little announcement of name, function and address. This is as true, if not truer, of surveyors as of any other members of the professions.

Basically the surveyor is concerned with land, its delineation, and all that happens on it (whether it be the growing of wheat or the building of Warehouses) or indeed under it (mining): he is concerned so that the cost to be incurred and the values arising may be assessed and the owners, administrators, legislators, tenants, lenders and borrowers, and the like may thus know what to expect.

Plainly, the whole field of the surveyor is both vast and complex. And if anyone guesses that there is therefore unlikely Co be any single surveyor who covers the lot, he will be right. Indeed, if you ever come across a chap who even looks like claiming such a comprehension, this would be the very man you should not consult. The profession falls into six main groups: land surveyors, who map the surface of the earth; mining surveyors, upon whose precision the success and safety of underground operations depend; agricultural and forestry sur- veyors; building surveyors, whose task relates to the maintenance, preservation and improve- ment of the fabrics of building; quantity sur-

veyors, described in the Barwell Report as the economists of the building industry, and whose function is to advise on and control all aspects of constructional methods, materials etc throughout building operations so that at all times he who pays shall know; and, finally, the general practice or valuation surveyor. The role of this last is so catholic as almost to defy summary; briefly, however, he is concerned with estate management, valuation for all pur- poses, the transfer of interests of land (estate agency), the economic aspects of town plan- ning, as well as being the principal adviser in the investment of funds in land whether it be for a man buying a house or a pension fund investing millions.

But it is, of course, largely the smaller urban transactions that really concern the layman.

To start with, anyone can call himself a surveyor, whatever his qualifications (or lack of them). There is also more than one reputable society whose members practise in one or other of the sections of the surveying field. Only one, and in fact the oldest, society, the Royal In- stitution of Chartered Surveyors, covers all six techniques that I have described. Its members alone may describe themselves as chartered surveyors, but there are two other chartered societies of the land, the Chartered Land Agents' Society (the management of landed estates) and the Chartered Auctioneers' and Estate Agents' Institute (estate agency). So one signpost, and a good one, is the qualification of a chartered society.

For many a would-be client, however, one suspects that by itself this is not enough. It is necessary to know into which of the numerous . divisions his problem falls and how to identify the man who can help him. For example, if he wishes to be advised on the cost of erecting a building, he needs a quantity surveyor; if on the valuation of an existing building, a valua- tion surveyor; if on the condition of that same building, a building surveyor, all of which can hardly illuminate him if he needs advice on all three at once—as when an existing build- ing is to be bought, enlarged and renovated.

How to choose? Well, he probably won't go far wrong to consult in the first instance a general practice and valuation firm. Most of the difficulty lies in that field and most of such practices have building surveyors on their staff as well as valuers, all of whom will be able to diagnose the client's need and put him on the path to the right man if he is not to be found in their own office. Provided you have made sure of the professional qualifications, indicated earlier, of the surveyors you want to choose, there should be little difficulty in pick- ing the. right man: simply go in and see them and take the one you like. If the advice you get is to consult another who specialises in your kind of worry, take it. Lined up for the use of anyone who cares to telephone is the service of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, who will, on request, recommend the appro- priate person for anyone to consult within the entire field. Anyone who does not know will be well advised to use this source and to ask.

There is, however, the case of what.has come to be known as the 'structural survey.' A house is being bought and the would-be buyer wants to know 'is it sound, has it dry rot, is there any damp penetration?' One must be frank and admit that the vast extension of liability which recent court decisions have placed on the sur- veyor who undertakes such cases has had two disadvantageous results. The first is to make such surveys vastly More expensive, the second is to limit the frankness of the comment in the report and so its usefulness to the buyer.

The question may well be asked whether such a survey is really necessary, the answer being 'that in a very large number of cases it is not. No house, any more than any other man-made article, is perfect, but, by and large, houses in the United Kingdom are pretty well built whatever may be said to the contrary; they also last a good long time. The ordinary buyer will be unlucky if the house he buys is worse than average, though it is unlikely to be better. This is perhaps the most frequent problem for the layman and not the easiest to solve; if he decides to have it done, it is the work of a building surveyor. It is for the buyer to decide whether to take the risk, but it must be said that, expensive as such a survey is, done properly it is likely to stop anyone buying a house without knowledge of major defects. At the same time, however, it cannot and should not be regarded as the guarantee against them —any more than being passed as a first-class life for insurance is a guarantee of longevity.