Written or Photographic Schedule of Condition?

Sunday, 21st March 2021 | by: Justin Burns

While the current social distance regulations remain in place, surveyors are under pressure to spend as little time inside occupied properties as possible. One way of doing that is to rely upon a photographic only schedule of condition instead of the traditional written record but can it ever be as useful?

Prior to the pandemic the primary document in a schedule of condition was the written description, prepared by the surveyor acting for the building owner, with photographs performing a supporting function. Some, usually less experienced surveyors, would suggest using photos only but that option would generally be frowned upon. In fact, if a building owner’s surveyor suggested using photos only, I would offer to prepare the written record for them myself.

There are a number of issues with photographic only schedule of conditions:

  • Most cameras find it difficult to pick up hairline cracks; especially on white walls. They are getting better, and some of the cameras on modern smart phones are excellent, but not all surveyors have access to the latest technology.
  • To get a clear view of a minor crack the photo must be taken at close range but that gives rise to another issue – if the schedule of condition consists of lots of close up photos of cracks with little context how useful is it as general record? Detailed labelling and indexing would go some way to overcome this but that’s very time consuming.
  • A thorough schedule of condition will include more than just a description of the cracks such as notes on how level the floors are and the operation of window openings. These things are not easy to show in photographs. I recently agreed a party wall award with a surveyor who had really given some thought to making a photographic only schedule work and had developed a range of hand signals to comment upon these issues so there are workarounds but they are not straightforward.
  • Most party wall awards include a provision for the adjoining owner’s surveyor to return at the end of the works and re-check the schedule of condition. That’s a relatively straightforward task when there is a written record that you can print off and take with you but becomes something of a technological challenge if it’s photographic only. Of course, you could download the photographs to a tablet but unless it has a large storage capacity you’re adding and removing them between almost every visit.

A trend that I’ve noticed recently, and which I hope doesn’t take off, is to write the schedule of condition retrospectively by reference to photographs taken on site. If the photographs are the sole point of reference when writing or a schedule of condition it would presumably be exactly the same if written up 12 months later and that rather defeats the purpose.

Photographs are a valuable part of a schedule of condition and I will always spend some time comparing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots if damage is picked up on a final inspection but we’re not yet at the point where they can replace the written record. Until the current restrictions are lifted, I’ll just have to continue to dictate my notes at speed which is bad news for our typists.

If we can be of assistance in a party wall matter or with any other residential surveying service you are welcome to contact us on 020 7183 2578 or by email.

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