Comment: Surveyors need a change of direction

The reversals in regional property sales mean there is latent surveying capacity in the South but too little in the North

The UK housing market is going through an unprecedented period of change as the number of transactions in London and the South weakens but the North sees continuing demand. It is a turnaround that has taken place in just a few years.

The number of properties being bought in London is down by a quarter year-on-year, and by nearly a fifth in both the South-east and South-west of England.

Further north, although the number of house sales is falling, it is by much less. In Yorkshire and the Humber and the North-east, transactions are down by just 9 per cent and 8 per cent respectively, while in Wales they have fallen by 5 per cent. In Scotland, however, the number of homes being sold has increased by 3 per cent.

The reasons for the slowdown in the South are well documented. Increased stamp duty for both residential and buy-to-let purchases, particularly at the top end of the market, has lowered demand, while high prices have put off first-time buyers.

But such dramatic fluctuations can be a challenge for surveying firms. The current situation means there is latent surveying capacity in the South and too little in the North.

It is also a structural problem: people are staying put for longer. Land Registry data shows that, compared to just before the financial crisis in 2007, the number of homes transacted this year is down by between 26 per cent and 51 per cent across the UK.

The result? Where surveyors are needed in the North, surveying companies find it hard to move staff around the country.

The answer lies in combining data, technology and the technical expertise of the surveyor. And there are other ways of looking at property risk that do not require a physical surveyor visit.

Paul Wareham is managing director, surveying and conveyancing services, at Countrywide