The RICS Home survey standard (HSS) was published in November 2019 but, because of the pandemic, did not take effect until 1 March 2021.
I started working in the RICS property standards team two months later, and fielded numerous queries on the HSS requirements. So I arranged to meet the expert working group that produced it to gauge market reaction to the document.
To get some feedback, we surveyed members working in this area in early 2022 asking questions about their awareness and understanding of the HSS, the relevant products – namely, report templates – and some of the new requirements arising from these.
We received 102 responses in total – an encouraging number for this type of research. Asked whether they had implemented the HSS requirements, we found that 98% had.
We then asked a series of questions on the use of HSS-compliant report templates: 75% of respondents said they were using the RICS ProForms, or other RICS HSS-compliant reports. Of the remaining 25%, some commented that they are using bespoke reports for certain levels of survey, while others use such reports at all levels; however, the latter seems to be a minority approach.
We then sought feedback on the ProForms templates themselves, which 24% of survey respondents stated they use for their survey reports. We received a lot of responses about blank pages and other formatting-related issues, and all of these have been shared with the products team, with many of the issues now resolved.
Issues were also reported about the reliability of the ProForms system, which suffered outages in the early days. This was the result of a bigger than expected take-up of the system and has also since been rectified.
We also sought feedback on the inclusion of the R rating in the ProForms templates, introduced as a way for members to flag documents that clients should request before they sign contracts on their home purchase; for instance, FENSA certificates for replacement window installations.
Historically, members would state this in the relevant section of their reports, but the R rating gives them a dedicated way of doing so. When asked whether they endorse the inclusion of the R rating section, 54% of respondents were supportive to varying degrees, 28% not at all, and the remaining 18% didn't know.
More than 83% of respondents said they include photos in their reports, though.
RICS has produced a number of documents that give members the practical guidance needed to deliver the RICS home survey reports, including:
The responses so far have been unsurprising and, in most cases, reassuring. After all, the HSS is a framework that provides flexibility for members producing pre-purchase surveys, so it was inevitable that not all respondents would agree. Indeed, the ability to produce bespoke, client-specific reports is one of the HSS's major strengths.
The survey included a number of questions on energy efficiency requirements and, in particular, the section of the HSS on energy matters. This enhances the requirements of previous residential survey standards and products, with members now required to identify and advise on defects and deficiencies caused by inappropriate energy efficiency measures at the subject property.
They need to do so at all levels of service, while there are also further level-specific requirements. These increase with the level of survey as you would expect, and relate to the property's energy performance certificate (EPC).
Five of the 24 survey questions focused on energy efficiency and the role of the surveyor in advising their clients, and I was particularly surprised to see some of the responses to these.
When asked how they felt about the enhanced energy matters requirements, 33% were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, 28% satisfied or somewhat satisfied, and 27% dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied (see Figure 1).
Similarly, responses to the question on how satisfied respondents' clients were with the enhanced energy matters requirements were largely ambivalent: more than 75% said they were neither satisfied or dissatisfied (see Figure 2).
Many respondents said that they don't know how their clients felt or have not received any feedback. Given that members are obliged to offer discussion of the report's findings with clients, I suspect such conversations will be much more frequent in future with the growing importance of EPC ratings to home purchasers – particularly if lower EPC ratings affect property values.
We also asked whether there is a demand for additional services from surveyors in relation to energy efficiency matters. Encouragingly, one respondent stated that they 'think this will be a growing area, but more education for surveyors is needed regarding … specialist items such as ground-source heat pumps'.
Only 28 respondents agreed that there was demand for additional services, though one commented, 'perhaps [it's] not a demand, but … surveyors must be at the vanguard of impartial energy advice. There are lots of commercial pressures, and surveyors can be the impartial professional'.
Asked whether they were considering providing further consultancy services on domestic energy efficiency for consumers, only 21 respondents said yes. However, a number stated that they were considering undertaking, or were already undertaking training on energy efficiency-related competencies.
The slightly better news from our sample of 102 members is that 43 said they think they will have an important role to play in advising homeowners on decarbonising their homes. Several respondents stated that training is required to upskill RICS members in this field.
Since our research, we have seen escalating energy costs and found that RICS members generally believe they are perfectly placed to provide energy efficiency advice to consumers. Furthermore, a number of firms are developing energy efficiency training for their surveyors and services for their clients focused on advising homeowners on energy efficiency improvements and carbon reduction.
More home purchasers are alert to the fact that EPCs – rightly or wrongly – are the current method of measuring domestic energy efficiency, and there is thus a drive to improve ratings. On the one hand this is fuelled by increased lending on the most efficient properties, with lenders developing specific green finance products, and on the other by government incentives for homeowners and landlords.
RICS and the HSS working group have taken on board the survey responses and discussed opportunities for HSS resources in this light. The common theme from members is that additional CPD on energy efficiency would be welcome. Although a variety of CPD products are available, surveyor-focused options are limited.
As a starting point, therefore, we ran an HSS energy matters webinar on 17 April. This was a free event and can be accessed on demand via the RICS Online Academy. We always welcome member feedback on specific requirements to help develop additional home survey-focused training products.
Work is now underway to produce the RICS retrofit professional standard focused on domestic dwellings – the aim being to create a framework for RICS members providing independent, high-quality advice to owner–occupiers and private landlords on improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon. It will be a standalone professional standard which can be applied independently or alongside existing products such as the HSS.
Given the challenge of improving the efficiency of around 27m residential properties in the UK, RICS members are very well placed to help. Further RICS standards on retrofitting and energy efficiency will be developed with time.
The HSS itself will certainly evolve, and we are planning a second edition to publish in 2025 – work will commence in 2024 and include a public consultation.
Alexandra Anderson, construction partner at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLC, recently joined Antony Parkinson MRICS on the RICS Podcast to share how surveyors can best prepare themselves in the event that they need to reinforce the competencies that they employ for clients.
Click the play icon below to listen.
Chris Jofeh 02 June 2023
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