Using the Rightmove SCT and Good Valuation Practice.
Rightmove’s Surveyor Comparable Tool (the SCT) is used by surveyors over 200,000 times each month. It is an instant-access, 24/7 tool that supports residential valuations by checking against comparable property data from the Rightmove database. Users can create and share reports to support your expert valuations and as such, it has become an essential tool for residential valuations and is the primary tool in the valuation industry for the sourcing of comparable evidence and the recording of the valuer’s process in arriving at his/her valuation figure.
In this article, we will look at the Rightmove SCT and explore best practice in its use.
The Rightmove website and SCT are operated by Rightmove plc, a UK-based company listed on the London Stock Exchange, and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. The company was created in 2000 as a joint venture between four of the UK’s then-largest property agents: Halifax, Countrywide plc, Royal & Sun Alliance, and Connells. At that time, it was called Rightmove.co.uk Limited. It was listed on the London Stock Exchange on 15 March 2006, at which time it became Rightmove plc.
Of course, for the public, it is known as the UK’s largest online real estate portal and property website. According to the Homeowners Alliance, in 2021, Rightmove had 208 million visits per month across its platforms compared to Zoopla who had over 120 million visits per month.
But, there is more to Rightmove than just a portal. For 20 years, it has been collating property data and is now a very large data repository. It is this data that is used to populate the SCT.
The SCT has been around a while now, having been introduced by Rightmove in the first decade of the twenty-first century.
SCT was introduced to provide:
- A durable electronic record of a valuer’s evidence, thought processes, and justification for a valuation
- A consistent methodology and verifiable approach to valuation in line with professional expectations
- Immediate access to case notes allowing early resolution of Post Valuation Queries (PVQ’s), valuation appeals and audit queries
- A ‘defence’ in the case of query, appeal, complaint or claim. (It must be correctly completed for this. Conversely, an incorrectly completed SCT will make defending such situations difficult or impossible, affecting the reputation of the valuer and their company.)
SCT is now the prime risk management tool for residential valuations using the comparable method to protect the valuer and the firm. It holds data on the physical attributes of a property, transaction data from HMLR, and surveyor valuation data.
The actual valuation process can be summarised as follows (this assumes that the property inspection and pertinent investigations have been completed):
- Researching comparables
- Analysing comparables (identifying those that actually are comparable and those that can be discounted)
- Producing the valuation report
Before Rightmove, this was a manual process depending on local contacts, paper files and local knowledge. Rightmove has given the industry the tools to make the whole process more robust.
The SCT sits alongside two other Rightmove data products, the ‘Automated Valuation Model’ and the ‘Property Risks Alert.’ Built-in Rightcheck automatically checks a valuation against the Automated Valuation Model to help the valuer identify any potential price discrepancies. It can be paired with the Property Risk Tool to further increase efficiency and decision making by identifying potential risks early.
The SCT must contain sufficient information for a layman to understand the comparable evidence and valuer’s thought patterns and, based upon the information provided, to enable the layman to reach similar conclusions to the valuer.
A lawyer practicing in the field of negligence summarises the purpose of the SCT:
‘The concluding notes at the end of the report are crucially important in recording the rationale for the valuer’s conclusion on the valuation. When defending a valuation in Court, we have to show not only that the surveyor chose appropriate comparables, but also that the surveyor analysed them appropriately and reached a reasonable conclusion.’
The SCT and RICS Valuation Standards
The following statements are contained within RICS Valuation – Professional Standards (July 2017):
- VPS2, 3.2; The notes… should include a record of the key inputs and all calculations, investigations and analyses considered when arriving at the valuation
- UK Appendix 10; the file notes must contain meaningful comments comparing one property with another and a rigorous note of how the analysed information on file has been quantified and factored into the valuation.
(Note the word ‘must’. This is an instruction from RICS which will be considered in the event of an RICS complaint or audit.)
A good SCT report should therefore show the selection of good comparable evidence, proper analysis and the link between that evidence and the valuation given.
The SCT report is time and date stamped when it is completed (or ‘submitted’ – in essence the valuer saying that it is complete) therefore the completion/submission of the SCT must occur before signing off of the actual valuation report.
In recent years, audit/quality assurance procedures have been implemented by lenders, panel managers and the RICS Valuer Registration Scheme (VRS). Many firms also have their own internal Quality Management Framework. With the advent of electronic site notes, quality assurance is increasingly focusing on the accuracy of the SCT. A poorly completed SCT is a risk to both a firm and the individual valuer. Both firms and individual valuers can be suspended from lender operated panels, and some lenders are or will be controlling workflow based upon the results of audits.
The completion of SCT is integral to the valuation process. It is not acceptable to provide a partially completed SCT and/or to say, “I know the area, so I don’t need to justify my valuation’ or ‘the comparables speak for themselves’”. To do so will guarantee audit failure.
Property valuation is becoming increasingly complex and specialised, and therefore, a standardised approach to properly recording process is essential.
It is best practice to partially prepare the SCT ahead of visiting the property. This allows a valuer to assess, in advance, the difficulty or potential risks involved in valuing the property in question. It highlights past property information on the ‘log button’ which might prove useful on-site (e.g. floorplans) and reduces the possibility of surprises and identifies potential comparables which can be verified on inspection.
Don’t make assumptions
While the SCT dataset is huge, do not assume the contents of SCT records are accurate. It is not at all unusual for ‘under offer’ figures and/or floor areas or other data to be incorrect. A valuer must use their professional experience and judgement and verify data where necessary and record the source.
Do not use incorrect data
It is unacceptable to add comparable information to SCT which is incorrect. Not only is the valuation compromised, so are the valuations of other valuers who may subsequently rely on the data that has been have added – you are potentially skewing the data.
Particularly with converted flats, it is sometimes the case that incomplete address matching leads to HMLR data being attributed to the wrong flat within a building. Best practice is to sense check the information using the property log button and cross reference with Rightmove/best price guide/HMLR – and verify with local agents.
Beware of floor areas
The floor areas provided in the property details for comparables cannot be relied upon and may not be consistent – they might be gross internal area or gross external area. Using the agents floor plan can be helpful where available, but even measurements there might not be completely accurate. If there are no floor areas then the EPC Register can be used. If you do use the EPC floor area, you should note that this is the source of your floor area as EPC floor areas are not derived in the same way as an estate agent would.
Check the HMLR date
Ensure that particular attention is paid to the HMLR date. Older HMLR figures may appear as a comparable, and the system will generate it as such if it ‘believes’ it to be a good match based on the location and property attributes. As wonderful as the database and the algorithm that generates the comparables is, it still needs a valuer’s skill to sense check what it generates.
Utilise the Search Criteria facility
Utilise the Search Criteria facility, especially where the property is unusual, and a wider database needs to be interrogated. This is also useful when SCT returns a high number of “on market” comparables rather than completed HMLR sales. Searching on different bedroom count can often find additional relevant evidence as can changing the search radius.
Add notes for late information
Where information is received following the final submission of the report, a valuer should use the add note and save facility. They cannot change the contents of the original report. The add note feature must be used to comment on and justify any alteration to a valuation following appeal/PVQ.
Double-check address where postcode only
When a property is address-matched only by postcode, the house number and address must be confirmed with the agent (or searched online) and confirmed in the ‘Build Report Stage’. Confirming the address and house number allows the record to attach to any recent marketing and/or HMLR data overnight, which can be used next time.
Record conversations with agents
SCT is a very useful tool on comparable gathering, however, it is not a replacement for local knowledge and valuers must consult with agents to determine sales/letting figures, but also to discuss market direction and demand. Recording the results of these discussions is important including the name of the person with whom the discussion has taken place with.
Select the best comparables for the property, not the expected value. Do not be led by the purchase price or estimated value.
A valuer is not auditing the purchase price/estimated value (PP/EV), rather, he/she is providing their own opinion of market value based upon the evidence available.
The selection of the most appropriate comparables is integral to creating an accurate valuation, and valuers are directed to RICS information Paper ‘Comparable evidence in real estate valuation’ 1st edition: October 2019. Comparable evidence should be:
- Comprehensive – a number of comparables rather than a single transaction
- Very similar – ideally identical to the property being valued
- The result of an arm’s length transaction in the open market
- Consistent with local market practice
The best comparable is the one that needs the least adjustment and comparables must, therefore, be relevant in terms of:
The SCT provides comparable evidence based upon its own assumptions and it may be that the most directly relevant comparables can be found further down the list supplied. If insufficient comparable results are supplied on the initial screen, please ensure you use the search facility.
It should be remembered that whilst the SCT does contain the majority of properties sold through estate agents, like every database, it is not perfect and therefore, if a valuer is aware of a relevant comparable not on the database they should incorporate that information within their SCT. Where a comparable is ‘imported’, the information required is the same as it would be for an SCT-supplied property.
There can be a wide variety of scenarios when valuing property, however, in most standard cases the following requirements apply.
- Each SCT report/valuation should comprise a minimum of three comparables and should include reference to date of sale, amount achieved and status (under offer, exchanged/completed). Ideally, two of the comparables must be sold/exchanged.
- In turbulent or rapidly rising/falling markets, any ‘under offer’ comparables must be verified with the agent and recorded, including the name of the person supplying the information and the current progress of the sale.
- The comparables should be in the same locale. For example, in urban areas the locale is different from rural areas. Comparables in an urban area should generally be from a smaller radius, depending on the nature of the local market. SCT is generally set up with a 500m radius, which in an urban area should provide a reasonable amount of evidence. If widening a search in an urban area, it is expected that a comment is added as to why evidence has been used from a wider radius.
- Comparables should be of similar style/type and age.
- Comparable data should include full address and postcode.
- The source of comparables should be noted i.e. name of Estate Agent and the person spoken to, if not already apparent on SCT data.
- Comparables should be within approximately six months of your valuation date.
- Comparables should be from more than one source i.e. not all from the same Agent.
- Comparables should be within 10% of your valuation.
- Where deviation is necessary, a full explanation must be given in the rationale and common sense applied.
Comparable Analysis and recording
Adjustment of comparable evidence is required, and the elements of comparison include;
- Location and amenities
- Size / bedroom count
- Transaction date
- Energy efficiency
- Size of plot, outbuildings, leisure facilities
Complete the drop-down boxes
Each comparable must have the drop-down boxes completed to the best of the surveyor’s knowledge and with the information available. Size, condition, and fittings can be subjective, but it is not expected to see a comparable that is 100sqm be classed the same size as a subject that is 130sqm. As detailed above, use best endeavours to discover size, condition etc. of comparable. Only where this is unavailable leave the drop down as N/A but provide suitable comment as to the reason in the ‘comp notes’ box.
Use the ‘comp notes’ function
Beneath each comparable is ‘comp notes’ space to add additional information. This should be utilised to record the factual features of the property and its positive and negative attributes against that of the property being valued. This space should not be left blank.
Record bid or other offer information
Ensure that conversations with the agent and any information regarding other bids/multiple offers are recorded within the ‘comp notes’ section.
Add psm/psf rate to comp notes, if applicable
Where a valuer chooses to adopt a rate psm/psf basis of valuation the rate for each comparable should be included within the ‘comp notes’ box.
Each comparable must be ranked in order of relevance with the best and most relevant comparable being number one. The relevance of the comparable is down to the valuer’s judgement i.e. they may choose to rank a HMLR comp as number 1 as this provides robust evidence or conversely, the surveyor may choose to rank a recent SSTC comparable as number 1 as this represents the best and most recent market evidence. It is possible to have ranking of 123 or 113 or 133 etc. depending on the weighting applicable.
Establish data for SSTC/under offer comps
If the comparable is SSTC/under offer and there is no completed HMLR data, the agent must be contacted, and the relevant details obtained and entered into the system. The information required includes:
- The agreed sale price
- The status of the sale i.e. under offer, completed, exchanged etc.
- The date of the sale, not the date the information was obtained
- Any other features i.e. rear conservatory
- Note the name of the person you spoke to
Check the HMLR data
It may be that the postcode can be checked with HMLR (Rightmove, Net Houseprices, and Zoopla) as it is sometimes the case that the sale has completed but not cross referenced with Rightmove data. There is a link to HMLR data within the SCT page.
Additional comps must be relevant
Where the valuation is being provided in volatile market conditions, is difficult to value, is being ‘down valued’, is of high value, or the comparables supplied vary significantly from the subject, the valuer must consider whether additional comparables should be supplied. Three comparables is a minimum, however, please ensure that where additional comparables are necessary all must be relevant.
For most cases the following phrases are appropriate:
‘The property comprises ( ). There is (reasonable/good/limited) demand for a property of this type. The property is generally surrounded by (provide general locality). The positive attributes of the property are (list features). The negative factors which affect value include (list features). (Some comparables are over 6 months old but still relevant because….) Taking these matters into account and based on the comparable data available provides a range of £x to £x. The PP/EV is £x and my valuation is £x which sits at ( ) point in the range due to…’
The phrase should be adapted as appropriate.
If the valuation is above or below the range, provide additional rationale. Furthermore, in a rapidly rising or indeed rapidly falling market, where under offer evidence has been used, a full reasoning must be entered describing local market conditions and explaining why HMLR completed figures are not necessarily reflective of current market value. Similarly, where competitive/sealed bidding has led to high prices being obtained, full details/explanation should be given.
- Where a rate PSM/PSF methodology has been used, this should be shown in the rationale and expressed within this range.
- It is permissible to round up by a small margin (say, up to 5%) to value at the purchase price on a sale (but not on a re-mortgage) if it is an arm’s length sale and the marketing history indicates that the price is a true market figure.
- The detail given in the rationale for BTL/rental assessments must be the same as for capital valuations.
- Don’t add informal, jokey or personal comments. The SCT may be shared with clients and the document must be professional.
- Do not add a statement which indicates that your valuation has been influenced by the estimated value in re-mortgage cases. This is not a market-tested figure.
- In changing market conditions, it is permissible to refer to indices, however, many of the indices are regionally based and/or based upon historic or limited data. It is not wise to make statements such as “prices increased by 10%” unless a reliable index can be cited. It’s better to keep it simple and say that the market is increasing/falling.
The valuation range
The rationale must indicate the range being used and where the valuation sits in relation to the range.
There are two approaches to adjusting comparable evidence to provide a range and valuation figure. Some valuers adopt the Adjusted Comparable Range (ACR), whereby adjustments are made relative to the subject property and the comparable evidence to arrive at a narrow range within which the valuation lies. Alternatively, other valuers use a wider range reflecting the comparables used and then explain where the valuation lies relative to that range.
Either approach is permissible, but it is important to note that it is not recommended to use adjustments in terms of percentages or actual figures which cannot be clearly explained or properly evidenced. Examples include ‘deduct 10% for condition’; ‘add, say, £10K for conservatory’. It is recommended to sum up the differences between the comparables and the subject property and record thought process with ‘more valuable’, ‘similar value’ or ‘less valuable’. Remember, putting precise figures on adjustments will be challenged if the valuation ever has to be defended in court, and a valuer will be asked to justify the source of those adjustments, whereas a statement such as ‘more valuable’ is an opinion.
Prior to sign off, complete the market direction radio button, including rental figure, where relevant.
On completion of the SCT, sense check/re-read the contents. Ensure all boxes are completed, any adjustments made between comparables are explained, the comparables are ranked and probably most importantly, the rationale links the comparables with the valuation, reflects the thought processes, and can be easily followed by an informed layperson.