These are a tricky one. I understand why surveyors use them – they speed up dictation and it stops them having to hear themselves repeat the same advice over and over again. But do they offer the client a detailed, relevant survey?

I have clients that use them on varying scales ranging from one surveyor who literally dictates a list of numbers that have to be copied and pasted from a 60 or so page list, to a more normal level of just using one or two for things like asbestos advice or Japanese knotweed.

My personal opinion is that they should be used as little as possible. This could just be because as a typist it makes my life a little bit more difficult when it comes to charging for copying and pasting paragraphs from one document to the other, and typists enjoy typing, not using their mouse. The simplest way to charge for audio dictation is of course by the audio minute, but any other work that takes up the typist’s time has to be charged as well but at an hourly rate. I believe that charging per audio minute incentivises a typist to be quick and accurate and increase their own productivity. Doing work on an hourly rate isn’t as black and white – and it might take one typist half an hour to do something that takes another an hour because they are more practised or just had more sleep the night before!

However the important thing for surveyors is saving time dictating and not having to type things up themselves. I know that it is a competitive market out there and most purchasers will shop around and get quotes for their survey in the same way people do with all other large purchases. Being able to offer the cheapest rate survey will not always guarantee you the job as clients are also looking for value, so will go on word of mouth recommendations as well. When buying my own house, on reading the survey through and it was so obvious which paragraphs had just been stuck in as standard and which paragraphs were actually detailing issues with my actual property.

From experience – surveyors get better value for money from the typing service if they dictate the whole report including the standard paragraphs. I have noted this with two clients who started out dictating the whole thing. For example – they could dictate a building survey in full in 40 minutes of audio. This would cost them £34 to have typed up. They then tried dictating the survey using a mix of dictation and standard paragraphs. The file length was cut down yes.. So the audio dictation was costing them closer to £20, but then there are the additional 2 hours it takes the typist to go through a long word document to find the numbered paragraph, copy it – and then flick back to the dictation – paste it in and re-format it to match the survey template. This brought the cost up to £50. So for an additional £16 the surveyor has saved themselves 20 minutes of dictation time. Is that worth it? I depends what you are charging for the survey I guess.

There are a few ways of automating the standard paragraphs. Word has a function called Auto Text – where you can select a template before you start typing which has all the paragraphs saved in the background. Then when typing the report you would type the actual paragraph number, e.g. 056, hit F3, and it will automatically paste the paragraph in. The problem with this method is spending the time setting up the auto text template.

For homebuyers that are done online in the ISURV software you can use the standard RICS phrases that are already loaded or you can insert your own “Company” phrases. These are inserted into the relevant section of the report so say you are typing into Section E1, Chimney Stacks – the typist will only be able to see the paragraphs relevant to Chimneys and can drag them across into the text.

These are two ways of reducing time spent copying and pasting, but involve initial time spent on set up and remembering to update them.

In my opinion the best way to offer someone buying a house and relying on advice value for money is to charge them a little bit extra, and spend the extra time dictating the whole report adapting each paragraph as you go to explicitly refer to the property in question. I think this will save time in the long run!