"We shouldn’t be in a position where customers know more about the car they are going to buy than about the property they are purchasing": Helen Stead, Countrywide

We spoke to Helen Stead, head of Countrywide home surveys at Countrywide Surveying Services, about educating both consumers and those working in the sector about the difference between a valuation and a survey, and whether brokers have a duty of care to ensure borrowers understand the risks of not undertaking a survey.

Related topics:  In The Spotlight,  Legal,  Surveying
Rozi Jones | Editor, Barcadia Media Limited
28th March 2024
Helen Stead Countrywide
"Everyone who is a property professional should be encouraging and supporting customers to make decisions in their best interests."

FR: First of all, please can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Countrywide Surveying Services?

I have worked for the Countrywide Group for over 12 years, firstly in conveyancing, then group IT and now as part of Surveying Services. My role is to look after Countrywide Home Surveys, a part of the business offering direct customers survey and valuation products. The office is based in Manchester, but we speak with customers and introducing partners from across all of the UK.

We’re a passionate and vibrant bunch, the office always has a buzz about it which is something I love. I have to admit we’re definitely not quiet, which is probably why I was asked to manage the team!

Working across Countrywide Group has given me a unique insight into different areas of the business and a fantastic exposure to many parts of the property industry. It’s really important we remember that customers interact with multiple property professionals when they are buying and selling properties and so it’s up to all of us to make sure this is as straightforward as possible for them.

FR: Your MD, Matthew Cumber, has been very vocal in the press about the need to educate not only consumers but also those working in the sector about the difference between a valuation and a survey – what do your team normally hear from consumers on this and what are the common misconceptions?

I absolutely agree with this sentiment. From my experience there are three broad types of customers:

1. Those who are not sure or don’t think they need a survey because they are getting a mortgage and their lender is doing a valuation. This is really concerning because as we all know a valuation is only for the lender to rely on and is not a condition report. This leaves customers potentially exposed and means they haven’t made a decision based on understanding the facts and all their options.

2. Those who know they should get a survey, it seems to be ‘the thing you do’ but they don’t know why or understand the benefit of this.

3. Those who know they need and want a survey. In fact, our biggest supporters are customers who tell us they have been ‘burnt’ in the past by not getting a survey before they completed on a property purchase. Obviously not everyone who buys a property will face issues post completion. However, as it’s the largest purchase most people are likely to make, making sure they know all the details and enter the transaction with eyes wide open must be something everyone in the industry should strive for.

FR: As a business, you are encouraging more borrowers to take a survey. What are the risks for consumers in not doing so and do parties such as the lender, broker and surveyor have a duty of care to ensure the borrower understands the risks of not undertaking a survey for their own benefit?

As mentioned above, the risk of not obtaining a survey is that defects are not identified which could pose immediate or future risks, costs, disruption and upset. Being hit with a bill which you were not expecting does not allow you to budget or plan for any necessary repairs and doesn’t give you the opportunity to negotiate with the seller before you commit to the purchase.

Everyone who is a property professional should be encouraging and supporting customers to make decisions in their best interests. When purchasing, having a RICS surveyor provide a professional report detailing the condition of the property is, to me, quite clearly in the customers’ best interests. In fact, this forms part of Consumer Duty, to act to deliver good outcomes for retail customers supporting them through their journey to pursue their financial objectives. As I said earlier. buying a property is usually the biggest purchase of someone’s life. More often than not it is not only their most expensive purchase and it is a place that is going to become their home. We shouldn’t be in a position where customers know more about the car they are going to buy or the holiday destination they are visiting than about the property they are purchasing.

All that being said, the key here is awareness, empowering people to make their own decisions in full view of the facts. If customers know and understand the risk of buying a property without having a survey for their benefit and still choose not to do so, then we have fulfilled our duty of care to them to ensure they make an informed decision.

FR: You work not only with Countrywide mortgage consultants but, also you recently announced a partnership with Mortgage Intelligence offering their brokers a referral service for surveys. How has this partnership gone since launch, how does it work in practice and have you any success stories you can share?

We launched our partnership with Mortgage Intelligence at the end of last year and it is now really picking up momentum. The brokers complete a URL link for any customers who give their consent to be contacted by us. It’s quick and easy for the brokers to do this and then we do the rest, we contact the customer, understanding any concerns they have, look at the property with them and then providing them with information about which products would be available to them and the cost. Again, this is all about providing customers with options so they can make their own informed decisions. There is no ‘hard sell’ or pressure, that’s not what we are about. Our relationship with Mortgage Intelligence is going from strength to strength; we’re on the same page, we’re transparent and in terms of communication we are all people first. I think it shows, so far this year over 80% of their customers have gone on to purchase a survey from us. The Team, works! If anyone is interested in a Referral Partnership with us, we’d love to hear from you, just leave your details here and we’ll be in touch!

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