What are terms of engagement for?
Simply put, terms and conditions are there to show what you agree to provide as part of your service and also what you will not do. Good, clear terms help set the stage for the rest of the job. It makes it easy for a customer to know what they are getting. Complex, small font, long terms inevitably won’t be read. And if a customer just signs to get them out the way, they haven’t been set up to truly know what they’ve signed up for.
They’ll continue through to their report expecting one thing until the report delivered doesn’t meet what they assumed they were getting. Role on a frustrated customer and complaint. Yes, your terms cover you and outline you weren’t going to do something. Terms aren’t there for that. They’re there to set expectations up front so a customer is more likely to be really happy with that they’ve received at the end. That means positive reviews, not complaints.
Don’t look at terms as something there just to protect you and a tick box exercise for compliance. Instead, look at how you can make your terms simple, straightforward and easy to understand. Highlight the key points, make it engaging for a customer and they will serve you in achieving a good end result, every time.
What are the RICS requirements?
We see a lot of terms documents and processes. But are they all compliant? Not all of them are. There is a link below that outlines what RICS require from your terms. A personalised engagement letter outlining who the customer is and what has been agreed, plus a terms document which for some services can be standardised. For more complex services, these should be tailored to the job.
The RICS Guidance on the link below includes a section stating what “information must be included in firms’ client engagement letters or terms of engagement, in accordance with Appendix D of the current edition of the Home survey standard RICS professional statement. The format set out below is not a mandatory requirement, and firms should consider how the information is to be incorporated into their client documentation.”
Appendix D states:
Regardless of the level of service, the terms of engagement must address the following matters:
- the client’s name, address and appropriate contact details
- the RICS member’s name (where known at the time of instruction) and appropriate contact details
- the subject property’s address and postcode
- the nature and type of service required
- the nature and the intended future use of the property
- the details of any special instructions and/or additional services
- the likely inspection date (if known) and the anticipated date the report will be published
- the style and delivery format of the report
- the agreed fee and the fees for any additional work (including VAT)
- details of any referral fees, inducements and potential conflicts of interest
- the payment arrangements, payment period
- cancellation rights
- forewarning of any restrictions due to health and safety implications that may arise on the day of inspection
- evidence that the client has confirmed acceptance of the terms and conditions
- confirm that as an RICS regulated firm their files may be subject to monitoring and will need to be provided to RICS upon request
- confirm that any fees taken in advance are not client money and not subject to the RICS client money protection scheme and
- the RICS regulated firm operates a complaints-handling procedure, details of which are available upon request.
The content and nature of these matters will change over time and RICS members must ensure the terms of engagement match the current legal requirements in all respects.
Whilst many of these aspects are standardised, there are fields that must be tailored to each customer. Personalising documents takes time. Using integrated e-signatures with your CRM, you can save time and reduce data entry errors when producing terms by pre-filling data. This allows you to produce compliant terms in a click speeding up the process for you and your customers. It also means you can submit them whilst on the go rather than needing to be in an office to copy and paste data. There are extra benefits, such as being able to see how far a customer has got with signing, automatic reminders to sign can be sent and, once completed, the signed terms can be automatically uploaded to a job record to help build up your compliant record.
How can I clearly evidence what the customer agreed to?
The safest way to do this is e-signed terms. These are quick to produce when integrated with your other systems as manual data entry is heavily reduced. The final signed pdf clearly shows what terms were agreed to and the signing log shows who signed the terms.
A simple tick box on a website listing terms on a webpage is hard to evidence what has been agreed to. Why? Terms listed on a webpage could be edited multiple times over the 15-year period in which a customer could make a claim. This makes it very difficult to evidence exactly what the customer agreed to when they ticked that box to say they agreed. Unless you are able to evidence of which version of the webpage was available to the customer at the time. However, this doesn’t solve the issue that you need to provide a personalised engagement letter to remain compliant.
Terms shouldn’t just be seen as a compliance tick box or something to caveat your service to cover your back. Ultimately, they are there to help a customer clearly understand what is and is not included in your service. Make the layout easy to follow and don’t hide crucial parts in small font over tens of pages. This will make it easier for customers to read and engage with your terms and know exactly what they can expect from you and your report.
By using your terms to set the scene at the start of the job, you have a much higher chance of having a happy customer at the end of the job. Ensuring you get terms signed by customers and don’t just settle for a tickbox means you can evidence exactly what terms a customer agreed to at any time in the future should you need to respond to a complaint or defend a claim.