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Making buildings better: An insider's view into how surveying evolves in a challenging market

 Hilary Grayson is a Director at Sava focusing much of her time on the development of new qualifications to enhance skills in the housing sector.  She joined Sava in 2003. 

This year Sava is celebrating 40 years of supporting the residential property sector through education, technology and professional services. Back then, the average house in 1983 cost just over £25,000* - a lot has changed in four decades.   

Evolution of Sava 


Sava is now recognised as a driving force in the residential property sector, known for its industry-recognised training programmes and expertise in calculation, analysis and improvement planning for reducing energy and carbon in housing. The organisation has seen many milestones over the years including instigating the rise of energy ratings for residential properties in the 1980s and developing the UK’s first computer programmes to model energy running costs. In 2014, we launched our flagship surveying diploma, the Diploma in Residential Surveying and Valuation. 

Residential surveying is facing a skills shortage – the profession needs more surveyors to help look after and advise on the UK’s 29 million properties.

Opportunities within downturns 

I joined Sava in 2003 but qualified as a surveyor in the early 1980s so I’ve seen the market rise, fall and flatline. I watched as the hair-raising double digit rate increases swept across Britain in the early 90s and halted a prolonged upswing in prices. But I’ve also seen opportunities arise from the downturns, particularly among tenacious estate agents who looked to diversify their skills as their sales transactions slowed. By using knowledge gained through qualifications - which can be achieved part-time - agents integrate revenue-generating services into their offering to create condition or valuation reports. Agents need an edge to win in a challenging market and a more comprehensive skillset may tick the box. For Sava’s Diploma in Residential Surveying & Valuation, around one quarter to a third of our students have an estate agency background.  

Women in surveying  

When I qualified, I was just one of three women among 40 students on my university course. I’d love to report there’s been a seismic shift but a study in February 2022 showed women accounted for just 17% of RICS members across the UK**. While we want to see more parity, these figures demonstrate the breadth of opportunity for women to join the profession. We know they are just as excellent at doing the job as their male colleagues and there is plenty of opportunity. To be a great surveyor, people need an eye for detail, a methodological mind and a passion for property - gender is irrelevant. I’m particularly proud that among the technical team at Sava, all four of us are women. 

Focus on sustainability 

Over the last few years, sustainability has become much more prominent. In the residential space, lenders are becoming more attuned to the roles they may have around the issue in its wider sense. According to the Green Alliance in 2019, at least 15 million homes would need to be retrofitted by 2030 and, to meet 2050 carbon targets, the same homes would need to have further measures installed again after 2030***. The impact on climate change, the affordability of keeping warm, providing a safe and hazard free environment, and adaption to increased summertime overheating are just some of the issues we need to tackle. That’s a useful big picture but at a granular level, the landscape is more nuanced. Most of us live in housing we can’t afford to substantially change so we have some huge challenges around the structural framework under which we occupy homes. For example, those living in a terrace house may have an electric car but safely charging it without wires crossing the pavement is a challenge. We need to tackle these issues head-on to create a seismic structural shift around sustainability and its link to infrastructure. Sava is helping to improve buildings, principally through increasing skills and knowledge, and providing technology to analyse their performance and make recommendations to facilitate change.


One area of big change over the last 20 years is the increased accessibility into the surveying profession. The accredited degree used to be the only route but I’m pleased Sava has disrupted this. We focus on the skills required to do the job along with competency. This year’s cohort are aged from 18 to 68 and we’re seeing many different people with diverse professional backgrounds decide to enrol. We’ve seen hairdressers, teachers, police officers and army soldiers all switch careers for surveying and some don’t have a degree - it’s not a pre-requisite and I like to think we’ve democratised the profession by opening doors to some exceptional students who wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity. 

Over the last 40 years, Sava has adapted and evolved to meet the changing needs of the property industry, yet we’ve never lost sight of our overall vision as a training provider: to make buildings better.


**RICS report July 2023 page 3

***Green Alliance 2019


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