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To Lansbury and beyond

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Living with Formica

The English House Condition Survey (EHCS) 2001 is well under way - '200 specially briefed building professionals', as the blurb puts it, will be carrying out an average of 100 surveys each for about £60 a shot. For that kind of money, it is no wonder that the description says 'specially briefed' rather than 'suitably expert' building professionals.

Each home visited (and if there is no answer, the surveyor has to call back up to five times) requires a 22-page questionnaire to be filled out: assessing the hygiene rating of the kitchen, or whether there are rats or mice present, (see AJ 25.1.01, 'Residential Property Appraisal'), as well as the dimensions, heating systems, insulation standards, structural integrity, etc.

The DETR (now DTLR) guidance sets out the definitions of the properties to be classified and this makes for interesting reading. For example, 'disadvantaged households' are any 'ethnic minority household. . . where the head of the household is under 60 years of age and is self-assessed to belong to an ethnic group other than white'. With many people apparently electing to self-assess themselves as Jedi knights in the recent census, the numbers of disadvantaged households may be higher than expected.

'Vulnerable' households are defined as those households where 'one or more children are aged less than five years old'. Whether this redefinition of a huge section of the UK's housing occupants as disadvantaged or vulnerable will result in anything other than a rise in the therapy or counselling culture, remains to be seen.

The surveyor has to assess the quality of the internal fixtures and fittings to get a snapshot of what facilities people have. They are advised to record that the household has what is classified as a 'modern' bathroom and kitchen if their bathroom and kitchen facilities were 'installed after 1964'.

Finally, the specially briefed surveyor has to quantify whether the householders live in salubrious surroundings or not. To assist, poor living conditions are classified as comprising 'the presence of serious problems related to any of the following: vacant sites or derelict buildings; vacant or boarded-up buildings; litter, rubbish or dumping; vandalism; graffiti or scruffy buildings, gardens or landscaping; [or] neglected buildings'.

It would seem that house prices may be adversely affected when the results show that a tired and emotional surveyor has assessed that, under these criteria, we are all deemed to live in 'poor areas'.

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