Free Damp and Timber surveys – I was wrong all along.

I’ve been a damp and timber specialist for 34 years – starting work with my Dad’s old firm in 1976. I actually started surveying houses for damp and timber infestation problems in 1980.  I don’t know how many surveys I’ve done since then, but I do know that it is considerably more than 10,000 and that most of these were done for free.

Don't I look a dick! Ready for action, about to crawl under a floor, torch and screwdriver in hand. The daft hat is to keep the cobwebs out of my grey hair – how vain!

When I say for free, I really mean that they were done without an up front charge, in the hope that I’d come across some damp or woodworm, or rot, which the client might want to pay us to put right.

Of course, not all surveys reveal problems; even though we are only asked to visit because a problem is suspected.  About 20% of surveys used to reveal no problem, which needed specialist help.  Nowadays that percentage is nearer 30%.

The reasons for this are complex, but include better training and experience for me (It takes a good ten years to really start getting to grips with damp, especially). So I tend not to quote for quite as much as I used to.

The main reason is the poorer quality of the referrals and the downgrading of damp and associated issues by lenders. Many surveys done these days are merely precautionary and are not engendered by any real worry that there is a problem, so obviously less work is found.  The fact that lenders tend to pay only lip service to these issues rubs off on the home buyers too, so when there are problems, they sometimes don’t bother checking or having the work done at all.

The end result of these changes is that the free survey can no longer be supported by the potential profit made in winning work; There’s less work to win and it is less likely to be done anyway.

So, all those years spent doing free surveys merely perpetuated an inadequate business model, though it did deepen my understanding of damp, timber and wall tie issues.

Charging a small fee to do these surveys works for both the client and us.  The client gets a fair and insured deal, and if work is to be done, the overheads of all those abortive free surveys done elsewhere is not added in to the quote.

The Protimeter Moisture Measurement system. My favourite toy - a clever, if expensive box of tricks, incorporating: a conductivity meter, radio frequency meter, temperature and thermo-hygrometer attachments. Internal software calculates the dew point of the measured environment and when used with a psychometric chart, vapour pressure can be calculated. Deep wall probes, hammer electrodes and data recording PC download functions, are used with this too.</p> <p>Fast and useful in the right hands, though not a tool for beginners; as with all electrical moisture meters, the results must be interpreted properly.<br />

We benefit, because we are finally free of the time wasting merry-go-round of ‘precautionary’ surveys and because we are paid, we can spend more time on site and can provide a better survey service. Client feedback has been great and we’re as busy as ever.

Some domestic customers go elsewhere – to free providers. In practice though, we find that the quality of our customers is higher and better informed, so the only customers we lose are either those who are just shopping around for a cheap quote without any other criteria (usually vendors who are selling anyway so don’t care about quality or anything). Or, they haven’t done any homework and just don’t realise that most free surveys are done by unqualified and uninsured guys, who are ‘specialists’ in name only.

So since May 2009 we’ve been charging and it seems that this time , after 30 years, – I’ve got it right.

Dry Rot.

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Copyright © 2010 Preservation Expert. Legal Stuff: All the advice and information in the posts on my blog is made in good faith and is based on my experience and knowledge at the time of writing. However, nobody is infallible and whilst I’m confident that most of what I write about preservation issues is accurate, there’s a good chance there’ll be an error or two somewhere. I do change my mind about stuff, as I gain more experience. In view of this you must make your own decisions on whether to follow any advice I write and think about this; I could be wrong. No responsibility will be accepted by the author for any losses anyone may suffer as a result of any mistake or for the consequence of any action you take as a result of reading this blog. If you do suffer a loss, resulting from anything I’ve written, a verbal heartfelt apology will be your only compensation.