A litigation time bomb could be on the horizon, as surveyors’ reports increasingly include property photographs distributed to third parties without the owner’s permission.
The warning comes from Garrett O’Hanlon, director of MAP Chartered Surveyors – part of The Acorn Group.
He points out that the reports are sent to one or more potential buyers who, in many cases, do not proceed with the purchase.
He said: “My 30-plus years of experience of asking people if we can take photographs is that most don’t mind you retaining these for your records, but certainly do not agree to them being issued in reports.
“In rare cases, some vendors do not even want pictures of their properties taken, either because of a family situation or because the property has valuables in it.”
O’Hanlon says that he first became aware of the potential for litigation by owners some time ago.
He said: “This worrying naivety is something I raised with the RICS several years ago, and they agreed with me.
“Yet no guidance was ever issued, and it is still happening on a daily basis.”
He says that because surveyors act for potential purchasers, they have no contractual relationship with the householder.
If the surveyors intend using the pictures in reports distributed to third parties, they should therefore always get the owner’s written permission for photographs to be taken. He says this simply doesn’t happen.
He said: “In my own practice, we have been taking digital pictures for many years.
“However, we have always been at pains to say to the vendor that they will not be released to anyone, and are purely for our own records.
“My concern is that some surveyors do insert some or all of their pictures in reports, while never having obtained the vendor’s permission.
“Is this a time bomb waiting for one wise vendor to set off a litigation cascade that estate agents and mortgage brokers, who recommend the surveyor, could easily get dragged into?”
O’Hanlon said that because so many lenders no longer instruct surveyors to visit properties, relying instead on desktop valuations, more buyers are getting their own surveys done.
He said that one major bank does not instruct a survey in 50% of all remortgage cases, and in 35-40% of purchase cases.
“As a result, 22% of buyers are now getting their own surveys done, up from 10% a few years ago,” said O’Hanlon.
He is also concerned that a number of new products now emphasise that they are “picture based”.
O’Hanlon said that while estate agents – who do have a contractual relationship with the property owners – take a dozen or so pictures, surveyors can take dozens, or even hundreds.
“My personal record was 767 photographs, although it was a big house,” he said. “Typically, we will take 100-150, because we are looking for a complete record of the property – corners, lofts, pipework, etc.”
He warned: “With fewer mortgage valuations and more estate agents and brokers involved in advising people to get a survey, the last thing they would want is to be drawn into litigation through illegal insertion of photos in reports by the companies they have recommended.
“Surely any agent or broker recommending a surveying company should protect their position and make certain that any surveying company will not issue photographs in reports without written permission from the seller.”