I’ve had a few customers ask for my views on what to do now that party wall work has dried up. As a matter of fact it’s most of the work surveyors do face to face that has dried up, not just party walls.
Because party wall professionals are my customers it is my duty to put ideas out there to help you cope with these difficult times. I am not covering how many people have been infected or how many weeks behind Italy we are or how the US are dealing with COVID-19, we have plenty of that already. I want to focus on little things that you can do from home to prepare for when this is all over and activity picks up, because it will.
The reason I believe it will pick up is a simple realisation that I am having by staying at home all day with my wife and two kids. All of a sudden you see your home in a different light and you can’t help but focus on how better your life would be with an extra room, a bigger kitchen or a man cave… If this is happening to me it must be happening to a lot more people.
These quiet times are perfect for reflection and forward planning. Of course, you need to work on urgent firefighting measures but also try to plan for the recovery ahead. Ask yourself what you can do at this stage to be on top of people’s mind when they decide to go ahead with works a few months from now. Ask yourself what measures you can put in place in order to streamline your business to survive the upcoming adverse economic consequences of the pandemic. Finally ask yourself what you can do to be the first person home owners contact when they come out of confinement. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Show you care about their health
Chances are isolation and social distancing will stay with us for a few more weeks if not months. The aftermath will most likely be new social norms that will probably take years to dissipate. Face masks will be as common in London as in Tokyo and gloves will probably be worn throughout the year.
The owners that will start their loft conversion or extension projects as soon as the restrictions lift will be concerned about having strangers enter their property or their neighbours’ property for that matter. The forthcoming global mysophobia will need to be addressed in the way surveyors, especially those focusing on residential work, deliver their face to face services.
Whether you do a schedule of condition in adjoining properties, a dilapidations report or a residential survey, property owners will be more comfortable dealing with someone wearing protective gear, or at least have the option to have a say in the matter. This does’t mean you need to show up at a property wearing NHS standard PPE but showing that you care about their health will make a difference.
Have a new internal policy in place that deals with how your surveyors will interact with clients and what they should wear on site visits and make sure this is reflected in your marketing material and website. This will give your clients the confidence that you are taking their health seriously and make it easier for them to instruct you.
2. Organise virtual project assessment sessions
To make sure that work starts flowing in the minute the restrictions are eased you will need to make sure your clients’ building projects are as close to shovel-ready as possible.
As a surveyor, talk to the architects, project managers and builders you work with and partner up to deliver a virtual one-stop shop where owners can start to visualise what their project will look like. Help them prepare their architectural designs and planning application to make sure things are moving forward even if that start date remains uncertain.
Using Zoom, Skype or FaceTime you can do screen-sharing meetings, go over drawings, plans and ideas and build a relationship of trust. For party wall surveyors, do your bit to explain what the process is and what will need to be done. Of course, the party wall process will need to have the neighbours involved and if they are not ready to come out of confinement use Party Wall PRO‘s online acknowledgement form functionality to help speed things up.
By organising these virtual planning sessions you will manage to stay on top of peoples’ minds and when restrictions eventually lift, they will decide to call you instead of a competitor.
3. Work smarter
A side effect of social isolation on the party wall process will certainly be the time it takes adjoining owners to respond to a party wall notice.
If it was already difficult to get people to respond before the coronavirus it will certainly be more lengthy after this crisis. Adjoining owners will certainly be unwilling to leave their homes to go to the post office or even their nearest post box to send an acknowledgement form.
Therefore consider using Party Wall PRO‘s online acknowledgement form. This functionality enables the building owner to offer their adjoining owners the option to respond to their notices online. This fully automated system immediately updates the BO’s surveyor as well as the AO’s surveyor of their choice. The online acknowledgement form has seen a 200% increase in March 2020 (when people were starting to self isolate) and will certainly be used a lot more when restrictions ease.
Another important step is to look at how technology will help you adapt to new work ethics. Working from home may become the new norm for support staff who will already be set up but surveyors will still need to be out on site.
People will become more reluctant to travel across London for a schedule of condition and outsourcing these to trusted peers may be more prudent in the short term. Using technology to make sure reports are consistent amongst all your employees and consultants will therefore be paramount. Schedule of condition tools like SurveyKit will help do this as a firm of surveyors will generate the same quality reports from their employees or consultants’ personal phones.
A tool like SurveyKit will also help firms save thousands of pounds on transcriptions and hours spent on reconciling pictures with condition descriptions, helping you budget more prudently for the immediate future.
We are currently opening up SurveyKit for free trials to help party wall surveyors keep their scheduling skills current whilst trying to keep their sanity in check.
So if you would like to try out our scheduling software (which will soon be used for other reports like home surveys, dilapidations and snagging reports) please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set you up.
4. Use this time to educate and improve yourself
If you are running your own practice, you are going to need a solid foundation of business skills (marketing / advertising, sales, negotiation and communication skills in general). Platforms like Udemy, Coursera and Lynda have a vast selection of online courses on a variety of topics, some of their courses are even available for free or for a very modest price. For example you could learn how to run your own Google Ads campaigns or improve your website ranking with some basic SEO so it’s easier for customers to find you.
On the topic of marketing, THE book that is often recommended by experts and considered the marketing Bible is “This is marketing” by Seth Godin. Another one that has tons of 5 star reviews on Amazon is “The marketing book” by Jason McDonald which I just grabbed myself for only £2.41 on Kindle.
If instead you are looking to brush up on your “hard skills” in the party wall arena, Peter Worman (the principal of the Party Wall Academy) has a great new online course for party wall surveyors. It also happens to be on sale at the time of this writing. You can check it out here: https://www.partywallcourses.co.uk/courses/party-wall-surveyor-training
Hope this was useful.
Thank you and stay safe.
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