In my previous article one issue I did not cover were the challenges that valuers face with report writing and completing reports within pre-agreed timescales.
Writing the report requires preparation, a site visit, due diligence, proper thought and research. Only then can it be given to the client by the date specified at the beginning of the instruction.
When it comes to loan security valuations, the valuation itself may seem a small part of the whole lending process but it is ultimately one of the most critical factors. Any delays can affect the overall time it takes for the customer to get their money. Valuers operate under continuous pressure, dealing with several requests at any given time; but the stakes for all parties are high.
There are four key issues that I believe contribute to the difficulty of completing a valuation report on time, namely technology, due diligence, producing the report itself, and wider social and economic challenges.
By using software such as Quest, and more recently Etech, the residential valuation market has access to a large array of databases that provide evidence of comparables and additional information from application programming interfaces (APIs). An API is a set of definitions and protocols that allows two applications to talk to each other, so in this instance can be used to retrieve information such as Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), flooding reports and previous sales histories from the Land Registry and other required agencies.
The residential market has moved with the times, and such software is of significant help to valuers in the sector. Commercial valuations are a different story, however, due to the range and complexity of the market. Residential valuations are often undertaken using sales data relating to capital transactions, often in the public domain – whereas commercial valuation often looks at rental and other income data that may not be in the public domain and is generally more difficult to obtain. As such, valuers are largely writing their reports through good old Microsoft Word, on set templates designed in house.
Some of the larger practices have designed and spent considerable money on automation, using tablets and API integration to help gather due diligence information. However, there is no off-the-shelf product for writing reports, so companies are left to create their own systems. This leaves it as a largely manual process that is arguably the most time-consuming part of the whole valuation.
We are seeing some companies develop shortened Red Book compliant reports, which helps inform clients' lending decisions. This is a good move, especially for less complex properties, and helps the valuer save time as these properties generally do not require large amounts of explanation.
However, my experience suggests that the commercial valuation profession lags behind others in adopting workable technology and creating simpler processes. This would also help start addressing the current recruitment crisis by reducing demand on existing valuers, but that's a separate issue.
Valuers need to search planning portals, Valuation Office Agency, EPC databases and flood data, as well as reviewing leases and title documentation among other resources to collate all the information needed for a valuation.
Comparable evidence is manually sought through licensed products such as Radius, CoStar, Edozo, Rightmove Plus, Property Data and EIG, the latter dealing with auction sales. Of course, there are other information sources on the market, and larger firms may use extensive internal databases as well.
The valuer also has to visit each subject property in person, and gather and consider information to determine a valuation and write their report. Again, the larger firms are trying to automate this process. But there is no single system for valuers that brings all these elements together to increase efficiencies.
This is again a time-consuming process, and some stages can take even longer if you need to rely on third parties who are inundated with requests for information and understaffed and so may not always return calls in a timely manner.
It still surprises me that some practices do not have the software to make PDFs. Instead, they print their word-processed reports and appendices, collate the pages then scan them to create a PDF.
This is not only wasteful and inefficient; it does not give a good impression and means clients cannot search for specific words or terms. It's also a painful exercise for the valuer if they need to make further amendments.
Commercial valuers are limited in terms of the software they have to improve efficiency. Yet they are under intense pressure to get the reports returned within agreed timescales.
There are few new surveyors coming through the system who are experienced in commercial valuations, and as such valuers' wages have risen due to lack of supply. Along with rising professional indemnity insurance costs, this is putting increased financial pressure on valuation firms. If that isn't enough, clients tend to select the cheapest quote from among similar companies competing to win work.
I am constantly asked about the future of valuations, and what I think will change.
I firmly believe that physical inspections are never – even in the medium to long term – going to be replaced by automation. I cannot see a lender accepting an automated valuation of a commercial property, especially in the secondary or tertiary sectors, as their data-led approach cannot cover the structural issues, condition, local context and so on that a valuer is able to capture with an inspection. There will continue to be a need for valuers and their experience so a lender can get the correct security decision.
However, the sector must embrace technology. Too many processes that were put in place 20 or more years ago are still being used, with only small advances here and there. These are largely company-specific as well, rather than industry-wide.
So more needs to be done to support the sector in adopting technology and understanding the challenges that it faces. Data we have collected at valuation management business VAS Panel shows that around 70% of all reports we receive late are returned to the valuer because of mistakes, whereas this is considerably lower for reports that are submitted on or before the due date because the valuer is more likely to have given themselves enough time to create an accurate and sufficiently detailed report.
In a world where most industries are looking to technology to improve efficiency, the commercial valuation market is getting left behind.