This week we’re bringing another expert to our Surveyors Business Stories to share his journey into this thriving industry.
Stephen Boniface is a chartered building surveyor at Whitworth Co-Partnership LLC. He specializes in historic building conservation, party walls and expert witness work.
Here is what we learned in this episode:
Surveyors, Architects and Building Conservation
Like most surveyors, Stephen “fell” into this career after giving up his dream to become a pilot. He got his qualification in 1984 and started working as a valuer, but soon got into building conservation and continued on that career path for 30 years. During the 1990s Steven set up his own practice, and in 2000 he joined Whitworth as a partner, which at the time was an unusual step for a surveyor in architectural practice.
“We mix and match,” says Steven. “I might go out and do a survey on a historic building, people buy it, and then they want to repair or alter it. So then it gets passed on to the architects. It’s quite a nice blend. Architects also have projects where they need my advice on party wall matters for example.”
Stephen has worked on a range of very interesting projects in building conservation – from the traditional Georgian townhouse that we see throughout the country, to timber frame buildings, cottages, churches, or thatched buildings. He even surveyed Grime’s Graves, a neolithic flint mine located north-west from Thetford.
Surveyors’ Work In The Lockdown
As the current situation massively affects the surveyors whose work is essentially on-site, Steven has started to consider employing technology in order to carry out his work to some extent and maintain his income.
“The lockdown has got me thinking about how we operate as surveyors, and most of our work is simply looking at something. So I’ve thought of a possibility of getting someone initially to film a property, and I’d see if I can give some advice. But then, they’re only going to show me what they want to show me. However, if I had a way of actually speaking to them, giving directions where to look and what to zoom in on, that could potentially work. So as of last week, we officially launched our remote consultancy service. We don’t know yet how successful it’s going to be, it may be a total flop, but we’ve got to try these things.”
How to Communicate With A Client
Virtual service is not, however, the same as virtual surveying. It could be the first step, but surveyors have to rely heavily on their experience, on “the sixth sense” when it comes to detecting a potential problem, and often on the in-person communication with the client in order to perform their best work.
Stephen differentiates himself from other surveyors by inviting clients to meet him on site towards the end of the inspection if the vendor doesn’t mind.
“What I’ve always said to surveyors that I’ve trained is you’re going into someone else’s house, and you’ve got no right to be there at all. And if you get it wrong, you could be thrown out and you won’t be able to do your job. So the important thing is to keep them sweet and be nice, and in fact, you’ll get information out of them.”
Surveying Apps and Self-Surveying
Marion and Stephen discussed the pro’s and con’s of technology and the possibility of self-surveys “I came across a number of different mobile phone apps that are effectively promoting self surveys,” said Marion. “They have been created by surveyors with the idea that a potential purchaser or vendor would go around the house and take photos, and people can look at them on the App. I thought that was a really interesting concept of empowering customers to understand what’s involved in surveying a property, almost to meet the surveyor part-way and improve customer engagement.”
“The idea of self-surveys is not new, and in this climate, it is taking off again” continues Stephen There are two schools of thoughts on the issue of homeowners and their knowledge. One is that surveyors should keep them in the dark and just keep everything within the profession. The other school of thought is to give the homeowners a bit of knowledge about certain things that, with a bit of common sense, they can assess for themselves. They might then realise their limitations, and come back to surveyors to ask for further advice.
Advice To Surveyors Just Starting Out and Facing a Recession
Steven’s advice to young surveyors is to be inquisitive, to keep asking questions and not make assumptions.
“We all have to learn. There’s no way I could have gotten involved in conservation from a standing start. I had to gradually build that knowledge up over the years. The way I did it was through private study, spending evenings just reading books, and finding people from whom I could learn more.
Everyone in society is suffering in different ways, but life has to go on. People have still got homes over their heads. When it rains, some of them are going to leak. If we have a very dry summer, some of them are going to have cracks. And if we all sat at home, they’re going to say ‘No one’s going to come to me to look at this damp patch because surveyors aren’t allowed out.’ No, we’re not, but we might be able to give you some advice remotely. It doesn’t stop us from working if we are wise and sensible about it,” Steven concludes.