Surveyor Business Stories is our collection of discussions with SME surveyors and valuers where we talk about their business.
In Episode 5 of The Surveyor Hub Podcast, Marion Ellis spoke to Justin Mason, the founder of Justin Mason Valuation Consultancy. Justin specialises in the valuation of residential homes and investments in prime central London, worth between £3M and £40M for wealth planning, taxation or litigation.
He started working for himself over two years ago, after spending a decade at Knight Frank where he established himself as an expert witness. The next natural step for him was to start his own practice, motivated by the main purpose of helping his clients “be able to sleep at night.”
Here is what we learned in this episode:
Managing Your Client’s Expectations
‘One thing that surveyors and valuers need to be aware of,’ says Justin, ‘is managing your client’s expectations about what you can and what you can’t do in this kind of environment, as well as limiting your liability if you can’t go out to see the property. You need to think carefully about what you are offering, how much you’re charging for it, and what the assumptions behind the valuation are.’
Overcoming The Fear of Valuation
A lot of young, new surveyors shy away from valuation work, especially when it comes to high-value properties. Justin breaks down the art of valuation as a combination of different skill sets, that are applied to both high value and mainstream properties.
‘The main skill is that you’ve got to be a detective. You’re using your skills of detection and analysis, as well as your experience to know where to look for information or ‘symptoms,’ and then stand back and look for the underlying cause. For example, when you are trying to detect damp in a building, and you might have several different reasons which are causing it, you need to stand back and try to put them together in order to work out exactly what’s going on.
You also need to exercise empathy with somebody who has a totally different life experience from your own. And you need to have a good idea of what demand and supply are, because you’re valuing a snapshot in time. It all goes into the mix.’
How a Copywriter Can Make a Difference
When all information is gathered, the crucial thing and perhaps the most challenging for every valuer is to present a report in plain English to the client. ‘One of the tips I always give to people is to have a copywriter,’ says Justin.
A copywriter can help your report sound authentic. When reading a report, your average customer can tell the difference between you giving your advice and your thoughts, and some standard paragraph chucked into it. A fluent, authentic report gives confidence to the reader that they know what they’re going to get out of that report.
The Right Time To Work On Your Business
Although difficult, this time could be a real blessing for some surveyors and valuers to stop and think about the purpose of their work. Why am I a surveyor? Why am I a valuer? Why do I get out of bed to do what I do?
‘As a sole practitioner, it’s really important to work ON the business, not just IN the business at this moment in time. It’s going to be very easy to become invisible with all the noise out there. So, you’ve got to be really well targeted,’ continues Justin.
‘If you’re being authentic and putting out the right message, you’re getting the right clients who are loyal and who will be your brand ambassadors. The business model based on loyalty is, I think, pretty much the only one. But if we’re not clear on our purpose and why we do what we do, then it’s really hard to convey that to clients.’
Networking and Referrals
At this time people may have extra free time and a genuine need to connect, so it’s an excellent opportunity for networking and referrals.
‘The main thing that works for me is a referral. I owe everything in business to the people who decided to get behind me and go with my business, or they recommended me to somebody else. The second group of people I work closely with are the ones who’ve had the benefit from my reports but weren’t the persons who originally decided to run with me or recommend me. So, I really just focus on those people. I don’t work on social media so much. You still have to make sure that you are seen, but you have to be seen in the right way.’
When asked what he thinks about referral fees, Justin says ‘I have occasionally paid a referral fee, where somebody has come to me with a client who’s completely transactional. I haven’t had a problem with that, but it doesn’t form a big part of my business model, because I don’t want somebody between me and my market. That’s not healthy.
If you are in business on your own, build a reputation for yourself. Go out and get your own clients, do a great job and make sure that they will be referring to you and singing your praises.
Because there’s no better marketing collateral than the report itself.’