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Cowboy Surveyors - what are our rights?

(5 Posts)
motherpeculiar Wed 26-Jan-05 15:45:45

We had a full building survey done on the house we now own before we bought it. It's a 4 bed 100 yr old Victorian house so we thought we'd spend the money on the real deal. It cost about £800. The surveyor's were on the banks list of recomendations and are members of RICS. The house was completely empty when the survey was done (as it had just been done up by developers) so they could see everything easily.

The survey was duly done and came back saying there was a tiny amount of work to be done to the front of the house but otherwise it was perfect. Plasterwork - perfect, flooring - perfect, everything - perfect. We were thrilled and didn't negotiate further on the price. Moved in a couple of months later and slowly but surely realised the survey hadn't mentioned lots of stuff - huge cracks in lots of the walls; really shoddy plasterwork all over the place(some of which has deteriorated since); a wall taken out which wasn't mentioned in the survey so we don't know if it was done properly; a window left open behind the build in kitchen cabinets - easy access for rodents but serves no purpose as it is behind the built ins so you can't even see it from inside; unsealed pipes leading from the plumbing outside; evidence of a fire in the loft which wasn't commented on, brickwork missing in the cellar etc etc etc. It all sounds fairly minor but the fact that none of it was mentioned makes us concerned as to what else they've missed. (Also, time we should have been spending making the place look nice since we moved in has been spent trying to fix up all these shoddy jobs which weren't remarked upon )

We complained to the head of the surveyor firm and he came out and had a look around. He agreed the survey wasn't up to scratch, said the surveyor in question no longer worked for them and that they'd had other problems with his work. In the end they offered to refund us the money we spent on the survey and do a new report for free. This sounds ok, my concern is whether they would then be off the hook in terms of compensation if something major came to light in the future, because they had refunded the initial cost? Also, of course, we have no guarantee that they'll do a proper job this time round, as it is hardly in their interest to show up something major that one of their employees missed a year ago. (of course I am also peed off as had we known all these problems we could have negotiated the purchase price down, but that's water under the bridge now).

If anyone has made it this far - thank you. Any advice welcome.

BTW I have been in touch with RICS for advice but they (helpfully - NOT) won't comment.

Do I need to cough up and go get legal advice on this or does nayone in MNworld know the score?

polkadot Wed 26-Jan-05 20:40:17

I've raised your post with a relative who is a Chartered Surveyor, who does residential work, and he suggests the following:

1. If the original survey was defective i.e items which would have SIGNIFICANT impact on either the structure or value of the property AND were visible at the time of inspection AND you relied on the survey in proceeding with the purchase, then you have cause to pursue a claim against the firm in question. However, before proceeding read the terms of appointment carefully.

2. There is little point in accepting any offer by the original firm to undertake another survey as you have already purchased the house.

3. Any offer to refund the survey fee is likely to be accompanied with a FULL and FINAL settlement clause which will make any future claim against the company very difficult to pursue if any existing defect should worsen or a new defect should come to light.

4. Under RICS guidelines, all firms of surveyors should have a formal written complaints procedure which you are entitled to request / see and detailing how the complaint will be handled and by whom as well as appeal procedures.

5. You should therefore write to the original firm requesting a copy of the complaints procedure and detailing the defects in the survey.

6. It is worth being as polite and as realistic as possible - Surveyors don't have x-ray vision and can't comment on concealed defects BUT they do have responsibilities to follow the chain of evidence if it suggests a concealed defect. Similarly, be dispassionate. Did the surveyor really say it was perfect? Also try to limit matters of complaint to serious defects in the report - the odd cracked tile / area of defective plaster etc is not going to have had a SIGFNIFCANT impact on the structure or value of the property and lets face it you probably would not have tried to renegotiate anyway.

7. In the event the firm are not forthcoming in producing the complaints procedure or don't follow it, you can refer the matter to the RICS Complaints Committee.

motherpeculiar Wed 26-Jan-05 20:52:52

Polkadot - thanks so much for your very detailed reply - and for taking the time to check this with your relative.

We have seen the complaints procedure held by the surveyor - basically that the senior partner will take things forward and timescales for various things to happen - which has all been adhered to and their suggestion for resolution is as I have described.

I think we have been fairly realistic about the faults we've found. None of them seem really major BUT the worry is that if the surveyor missed a myriad of minor things we wonder what major things he might also have overlooked iyswim.

I think you are right - we need to re-read the documentation we've received from them since with great care and ensure there is no "full and final settlement" clause in there, then respond in writing saying that we'll accept the offer without prejudice and without limiting their future liability wrt the first report in any way (this was suggested to me on my other thread)

I'm feeling much happier now, thanks again

jampots Wed 26-Jan-05 21:00:12

motherpeculiar - when we bought our house 10 years ago we too had a full survey done which stated briefly that the house was ok but could do with a little updating but everything was serviceable, no woodworm, etc, electrics ok. So we completed and decided to strip the house and redecorate whilst it was still empty. We then found:

Woodworm was in an awful lot of rooms and timbers
The original loadbearing wall (lounge extended) had no RSJ supporting upstairs (& roof) - it just had a piece of timber.
The mains cable coming out of hte fuseboard was charred as it was so overloaded
Damp in the kitchen
plus other sundry items.

I wrote a letter of complaint to the firm of surveyors who said they would send someone out to look, which they did. They came forward with an offer of about £1k as an ex gratia payment which I accepted. Then before they sent the cheque they tried to get me to sign a "full and final settlement" agreement which I refused to do. As I was working for a large firm of lawyers at the time my boss had a very nice conversation with them and they paid up. so it is worth pursuing even though if your read through the RICS Conditions of Engagement they have get out clauses covering every possible situation.

motherpeculiar Wed 26-Jan-05 21:05:33

VERY interesting Jampots - will definitely keep my beadies trained for wording suggesting "full and final" anything...


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