By Legal Futures’ Associates tmgroup
As part of a tm:tv series on climate change, in partnership with Terrafirma, the ‘Mining our way to a greener future’ episode brought together an expert panel to discuss how the property industry need to start making changes today, to prepare for the sustainability challenges of tomorrow.
Hosted by Martin Manning, Head of Account Management at tmgroup, the panel included:
- Kate Charrington, Chartered Residential Surveyor & Valuer
- Megan Jenkins, Professional Support Lawyer – Real Estate, Shakespeare Martineau
- Tom Backhouse, Geologist and CEO of Terrafirma
Whilst it was immediately clear this is a complex issue, with no magic wand, there are many changes the industry can collectively make to move things in the right direction.
Here are just some of the suggestions…
#1: More lender guidance and data to help make informed decisions
The property industry is currently lacking the clear guidance it needs for professionals to advise consistently on sustainability matters, as Martin Manning commented: “Right now, so much comes down to the best judgement of the surveyor and solicitor involved in the transaction. We simply don’t have the steer from the likes of RICS, The Bank of England, The Law Society, and so on, of what exactly needs to be looked at across the breadth of the transaction.”
This current lack of direction creates challenges, as Kate Charrington commented: “To complete a survey or valuation, surveyors look at lots of different things, including capital value and who the average market participant is, but they won’t look at sustainability issues, as there’s simply not enough data or lender guidance out there to help them make informed decisions. Moving forward, we need to be integrating more systems to see what the flood, green, and radon risks are (and more!). As it currently stands, the industry doesn’t have enough insight to make valuations based on sustainability matters, and therefore homeowners don’t see the value either.”
Solicitors are in the same boat, as Megan Jenkins commented: “Like surveyors, solicitors also rely on guidance from lenders and governing bodies to manage the risk of the transaction, and so if the lender hasn’t yet taken onboard the impact of sustainability on property value, this isn’t going to be feeding into conveyancing practices. Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) are a great example of this, as we’ve had them available on every property since 2008, but not needed to report on them. However, there’s now a call for lenders to report on EPCs, and while it’s only in the consultation period, it’s clear to see how factoring poor EPC ratings into lending risk assessments could help to reshape the conversation on sustainability and give solicitors and surveyors some much-needed guidance.”
#2: Homebuyers need to be investing in sustainability measures in the same way as they currently think about adding an extension or downstairs toilet
All homeowners know that if they want to increase the value of their property, they can look at making home improvements such as adding an extension, new driveway or downstairs toilet, but this narrative needs to change, as Martin Manning said: “I think we need to see more drive both from lenders and the media to make it clear to homeowners that they should expect a return on investment with sustainability measures too. We also need to start talking about how properties will be LESS valuable in the future without a ground source heat pump (for example), as changing the language we use can be very powerful.”
Such messages could be reinforced by the introduction of new incentive schemes or taxation measures, pushing the general public to make greener choices (similar to what we’ve seen more recently with car taxation). However, more needs to be done to make sure such schemes actually make a difference, as Kate Charrington added: “We regularly see new incentives pop up in the market, but they often don’t have the desired impact – especially in cases where the maths just doesn’t add up. When you only have a £5k grant for a £15k ground heating pump, it’s not surprising many homeowners choose to spend their money elsewhere.”
Such negative experiences create additional barriers in moving towards a more sustainable future as well, as people are less likely to take up new initiatives if they’ve been “burnt” before – particularly when you think of the less scrupulous businesses that benefitted from the rollout of solar panels in recent years.
#3: Everyone needs to better understand the implications of increased mining activity in the UK
The mining of additional minerals in the UK is really important for the long term sustainability of our shores, but more education is needed to help homeowners and property professionals alike better understand this, as Tom Backhouse commented: “The challenge we have with mining is that living memory is all coal-related mining, as it was a massive industry and supported livelihoods across the UK. But this conversation needs to change. As we move towards a future of electric vehicles, more copper and critical minerals need to be extracted from the earth than have ever been mined in human history. Whilst a lot of this activity is taking place offshore, there’s a renewed interest in mining across the UK (for example, looking at mining parts of Cornwall for tin and lithium) in order to make us more resilient in mining commodities and meet the needs we will have in developing electric vehicles and solar farms, etc… We’re at a point where we should be reconsidering our day-to-day work processes within the scope of the property transaction to help the country prepare for a greener future, as well as better understand the impact increased mining activity will have on the value of nearby properties.”
…And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Watch the full ‘Mining our way to a greener future’ tm:tv session for more on how the property industry can become sustainable.