Death of the Surveyor

Posted: 12th December 2017

I am sure I wasn't the only one to note with a slight nervousness the recent prognosis at MIPIM UK; that the role of the Agent in our market place was considered under threat.

To my mind, there is a fast moving technological ‘wind’ sweeping through the industry and changing the fundamentals of what our role entails and the everyday tasks we carry out, which raises a question mark on the future role of the surveyor.

We will all have noted the changes in the acquisition leasing market, with ever more flexible and transient template leases being offered on office accommodation, how much longer before off prime retail pitches have the same flexibility and lease templates, trying to hook a dwindling retail occupier for end of high street locations.

I am not sure how many of you have tried to negotiate lease terms with players such as Work Space or WeWork but when they say non-negotiable it does generally mean don’t bother putting your surveyor hat on and tweaking break conditionality, because it won’t work.

Of course if the Surveyor is not needed for professional lease negotiations, then there is always the rent review and lease renewal negotiations to fall back on, isn’t there?

Well, given the vast improvements with software and a diminishing imperfect knowledge of market transactions I am not so sure, as surely an algorithm would better consider the nuances and pitch changes within a high street than us emotional human beings, and who better to give an impartial Expert Witness report!

As with all these things, we tend to follow the US lead and according to an article on 19 March 2017 in the New York Times, “the law firm partner of the future will be the leader of a team and more than one of the players will be a machine”. The article in question mentions the experience of a Legal firm in Miami who began using AI (artificial intelligence) software. The system worked by allowing the user to type in a legal question and the program replies with a few paragraphs summarising the answer and a two page explanatory memo. The results are said to be indistinguishable from a memo written by a lawyer.

Artificial Intelligence software is getting refined and improved continuously as an Accentura survey titled “Benefits of Robotics in Financial Services” indicates that in some areas in the banking industry, time to perform tasks was reduced by up to 90% by using AI.

With the addition of Chatbots and Virtual Assistants that can understand human emotions and act proactively, more and more jobs will be performed by machines by the end of 2018.

Say what you like about are legal colleagues but if the above is happening in the legal and financial professions, where does that leave us ‘brainiac’ Surveyors and the continuing use of our services for providing our bosses, Boards and/or clients with property information, advice and data. As surely the software of tomorrow will be a cheaper alternative to the HR cost of us.

So with our ‘reports and advice’ being done through AI, with drones marching up the high street doing our surveys and an improved ‘Google earth’ removing the need for a surveyor to actually leave their desk  (there goes the company car!) one is inclined to ask whether it is too late to re-train as a software consultant?

Interesting times indeed for us Surveyors but if anyone can blag their way upwards and onwards in an uncertain world – it’s us lot!

Ashley Miller – Director