Watson Woods SURVEYORS
Sometimes there is a possible trade off:
A surveyor who just wants to inflate fees will often co-operate if you pay what is demanded – Sometimes resistance may reduce the fee claimed but incur a similar fee in defending the claim. Unscrupulous surveyors rely on the arithmetic adding up to your paying them rather than incurring fees equivalent to any saving or delaying your works. From our point of view it sticks in our throat to allow unreasonable fees and we will spend a lot of our own time assisting you to fight if you are minded to.
Unlike many Party Wall Surveyors we offer fixed fees for ‘standard’ types of domestic work when we are appointed as Building Owner’s Surveyor. We do this so people can have more cost certainly (so that you don’t have to worry that fees will spiral out of control).
It’s like when you take your car for an MOT – The garage gives you a fixed fee – The examiner knows how long it takes and he has the tools so it’s not really a gamble. The same garage wouldn’t give you a fixed fee to repair a fault until the fault had been diagnosed – That would be crazy.
We base our fixed fees on our normal expected input for a particular type of job. Clearly we allow some tolerance as even ‘standard’ projects are not identical. The idea is of course that we should end up making a reasonable profit for the work we do. Normally this works very well but in a small number of cases it doesn’t work.
Examples of where this does not work are:
1. Where required information from the designers or engineers is either not available or if it is poorly coordinated or subject to frequent changes made during the process. (we obviously allow for design development and we don’t expect everything to be perfect ). This can have a significant effect on the time we have to expend but not as significant as the next example below.
Fees are payable in full upon delivery of the signed Party Wall Awards or Agreements (*even if a subsequent final inspection is included).
As we do not ask for payment in advance and do not invoice until applicable work is complete we appreciate it if payment is made promptly (and certainly within 14 days except by prior agreement)
We would only revert to you on fees if the scope of work that we encounter is significantly in excess of that which could reasonably have been anticipated when our fixed fee quotation was given .
Whilst most Party Wall Surveyors are reasonable a minority are self-serving and greedy and are focused on looking for irrelevant issue that they can use to obstruct works and ultimately exploit to enhance their fees. These surveyors are empowered because the Party Wall Act has no truly independent complaints or referral process. As a practice we use all the powers of the Party Wall Act to prevent unscrupulous surveyors from acting improperly and to try and ensure that the fees they charge are reasonable.
‘Rogue’ jobs with difficult neighbours and/or surveyors (a bad combination) can require such a disproportionate input as to negate not just the profits from the subject projects but to cause us significant loss. This is not fair on us and it would also not be fair for us to increase our fixed fees ‘across the board’ so the profit from jobs which go smoothly subsidise these rare, very difficult jobs. If you have the ‘neighbours from hell’ or if your neighbours appoint a very difficult surveyor it is reasonable that you should shoulder most if not all of the additional costs that result from this.
We undertake not to hold Adjoining Owners liable for our fees EXCEPT :-
(a) Where notice is served for maintenance works to a Party Wall or shared structure and in that case we will advise you of any liability in advance and obtain your written agreement before proceeding.
(b) If a Building Owner refuses to pay the fees that are due and the Adjoining Owner does not assign the right of claim against the Building Owner to us. (This may be necessary for us to pursue the debt in the Courts).
(c) If an Adjoining Owner first dissents and appoints us then consents to proposed works before an Award has been served if we have expended time in respect of the appointment.
(d) If an Adjoining Owner demands an inspection when we do not consider an inspection is necessary (or find it to have not been necessary), or fails to provide access for a pre-arranged necessary inspection.
Additional work undertaken at hourly rates are payable at our stated rate at the time - plus VAT and disbursements. Current Surveyors Rates are:
R Watson - £195/Hr
P Smith & L Smith - £175/Hr
H Springer - £150/hr
These rates reflect experience - Hourly rated work could involve the input of other surveyors in the firm who's rate may be higher than the appointed surveyor.
The same goes for unreasonable neighbours - some will just want to stop your works but others will have an objective and if you are willing to concede this and appease them this can sometimes avoid the problem.
As a practice we do not tolerate or give in to greedy Party Wall Surveyors who abuse powers given to them under the Act. Nor do we agree with pandering to hostile neighbours but it’s your project and you who may have to live next door to them so you will have the final say.
(e)Design Changes, Revisions & Site Visits
If design information changes during the Party Wall process or if we are required to study new or revised drawings after serving notice to verify if there are relevant changes or if we are requested or compelled to make additional site inspections we reserve the right to charge an additional fee to cover time expended. If this situation arises we will warn you in advance.
(f) Damage Caused or Breaches of the Terms of an Award
If damage caused or breaches of the terms of an Award cannot be resolved by the two owners the Surveyor(s) must determine the matter.
2. Where a neighbour or their appointed surveyors are unreasonable or obstructive. Whilst the Party Wall Act has processes to deal with unreasonable or obstructive adjoining Owners or ineffective/obstructive surveyors, these processes are clumsy and time-consuming to use. A surprisingly large minority of neighbours are difficult and a small number are seriously crazy or nasty. Dealing with crazy or nasty neighbours or obstructive surveyors can very significantly increase the time we have to expend.
(a) Calculation of Section 11(11) payment
The Party Wall Act provides that if a Building Owner uses a Party Wall or structure previously constructed by an Adjoining Owner then the Building Owner must pay the Adjoining Owner a sum equivalent to 50% of the cost of the section of wall or structure used. If this sum cannot be agreed and we are required to calculate and Award a payment due we would charge an additional fee (Fixed fee for domestic enclosure calculation is £95 + VAT per instance of enclosure)
(b) Referral to Third Surveyor
The Third Surveyor is selected by two appointed surveyors and can make an Award to determine matters if the two appointed surveyors cannot agree. Either surveyor or either party to the dispute can refer to the Third Surveyor to determine any matter to which the notices relate.
We would not normally make a referral to the Third Surveyor without discussing and agreeing this with our appointing owner. In this case we would agree to charge additional fees at our current hourly rates for the time involved. (These fees and other costs may be recoverable if the Third Surveyor determines that another person is liable for them).
(c) Section 12 Security for Expenses
The Party Wall Act provides that an Adjoining Owner may serve a notice requiring the Building Owner to place a sum of money in an Escrow account to cover costs or loss arising from the work. If an Adjoining Owner serves a notice and the sum cannot be agreed between the owners and we we are required to calculate a sum for inclusion in an Award we would charge an additional fee to cover the additional time and any professional advice we may require to determine the sum. (Negotiation charged at hourly rate of £150+VAT - Fixed fee for managing deposit and release £95 + VAT)
d) Inadequate or defective design information
This can cause us additional work. We would advise you at the time if this issue arises.
We will tell you at the starting gate if we know the surveyor appointed by your neighbours is ‘difficult’ (we know many of the worst culprits)... or otherwise as soon as we are aware of circumstances which exceed the limits of what was reasonably anticipated to an extent that we cannot absorb the cost of the additional input
Our Notices are prepared based upon the drawings and information provided to us by the Building Owner or their consultant(s). We do not automatically make a prior inspection to verify the drawings and we will make enquiries and reasonable assumptions to obtain any information which is not provided but we cannot be responsible for any losses that may arise from any defects with the notices arising from errors or omissions in the information provided. If requested to do so we will make a prior inspection but this would incur an additional fee.
If structural engineering drawings are not available, to assist and for no additional fee, we will annotate designers drawings to show information relating to excavation depths necessary to validate a Notice of Adjacent Excavation. We will do this based on our judgement but we will not accept responsibility for any losses arising from this, therefore, if this risk is to be avoided notices should not be served until adequate engineering information is available.
The Party Wall Act requires that notice be served on any person who has a tenancy agreement of more than 1 year and such tenants would not be listed on the Land Registry. We would serve notice on owners who are listed on the Land Registry and any other persons or entities that you advise us are owners. We would also make enquiries with freeholders when and if they respond to our notices but we would not accept responsibility for failing to serve notice on adjoining owners that, following the above process, we are not aware of.
Often we loose any profit (or worse make a loss) because of the time we expend doing this. From our point of view it would be easier to just agree a neighbour’s surveyor’s unreasonable fee (after all we’re not paying) than to subtract from our own profit by arguing.
The profits we aim to make on a job are roughly 1/3 of what we charge. We charge less than most surveyors because we are efficient so , for a loft extension where our fixed fee is £975 + VAT our target profit would be about £325. At our basis hourly rate it takes just a couple of hours of unforeseen work to reduce that to nothing.