Party Wall Act Explained and Costed
Party Wall Surveyor's fees are the forgotten cost of home improvements. If you are planning to undertake a building project such as a loft conversion, basement conversion or an extension and live in a built-up area the work is likely to fall within the scope of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996
Under the Act you are obliged to serve notice on any neighbours that are likely to be affected by the works giving them 14 days to consent. Should your neighbour decide not to consent then you are deemed to be ‘in dispute' and must each appoint a Party Wall Surveyor.
As the building owner you have complete freedom to choose which surveyor you want to appoint, there are no required qualifications although a technical qualification would be desirable. You are likely to be quoted either an hourly rate or, on straightforward projects, a fixed fee. It is not always the case that smaller firms charge less as a one man band will have to do all the work himself, including the administrative tasks, and all at surveyor's rates. You should also try and appoint a local surveyor to limit the travelling time charged as a minimum of two visits to site will be required
It will be up to the adjoining owner to choose whether to appoint their own surveyor or concur in your choice. The Act allows the respective owners to appoint the same surveyor as ‘Agreed' and this is the simplest way to keep the fees down; particularly on smaller projects. Although it would be a breach of the Act to put any pressure on an adjoining owner to agree in your choice of surveyor you can influence their decision by your actions and the most important thing that you can do is provide sufficient information.
The first your neighbours know about you planned work shouldn't be when the notice lands on their mat. Call to see them as soon as you know that the work will go ahead and tell them about your plans. Assure them that you will provide a copy of the drawings as soon as they are available. Deliver the party wall notice to them personally and in plenty of time and give them some information about your surveyor's qualifications and experience. If they feel that their interests are being considered they will be more likely to choose the ‘Agreed Surveyor' route.
Should your neighbour insist upon their own surveyor the fees move beyond your control. Your neighbour's surveyor will not be obliged to state a fee before they are appointed and you will have no veto over your neighbour's choice of surveyor. In fact, your neighbour's surveyor will probably not state a fee until the majority of the work is complete and the award is agreed. Although the process must work in this way, to prevent you from thwarting your neighbour's choice of surveyor, it is not surprising that the adjoining owner's fee is often significantly higher than that of your surveyor. The only guidance offered by the Act is to state that fees should be ‘reasonable'.
Unreasonable fees can be challenged although time constraints usually mean that they are not. When two surveyors are appointed their first act should be to select a Third Surveyor to resolve any disputes. Your surveyor can refer an unreasonable fee to the Third Surveyor who will make a judgement. The trouble with this process is that it takes time, normally two weeks or more, and you may not be able to delay the start of the works while you wait for a judgement. The key here is to get the party wall procedures under way early so that if you need to challenge a fee there will be time to do it.
The surveyor's actual fee will be calculated at an hourly rate based on the time spend preparing the award with an allowance for at least one future visit. If you are quoted a fixed fee the time will have been estimated. For a fairly common job, such as a loft conversion, a surveyor is likely to claim between 4-6 hours. More complex jobs, such as basement conversions, can take twice as long. The average rate for London surveyors is currently £120 per hour plus VAT
Additional visits will be charged at the hourly rate so if you are unfortunate enough to have a neighbour that thinks their surveyor should be involved in running the job for you, the fees will start to rack up pretty quickly. Although surveyor's fees are generally paid by the party carrying out the works the Act states that it is for the surveyors to decide who pays. An adjoining owner should be given the bill for any unnecessary visits that they have requested.
Justin Burns BSc MRICS of Peter Barry Party Wall Surveyors
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"I couldn't have imagined such useless and one sided act. It is made by the surveyors for the surveyors with only one thing in mind. If you are the owner doing the building you are more likely to be in for a nightmare than not. I cannot see how the interest of your own surveyor, the interst of the adjoining owner's surveyor not to mention that of the third surveyor is not merged together at your expense. Remember the more problems, more queries by your neighbour who would have nothing to restraint him should he want to not like you!!! Is it any wonder there are ambulance chasing type party wall "surveyors" who scour council websites for applications and tout for business. I am aware there must be some heart brake stories on behalf of the adjoining owner with perfectly legitimate complaints but there are sufficient protection in law not to mention the owners home insurance for remedy. This act is not meant for the ones with good faith. There needs to be a better balance. The ones with good faith wouldn't need this in any case. If you can avoid it try and stay clear unless you are lucky with people you are dealing with, you may find yourself having to pay out hefty sums. I suggest browse through internet for as much for peoples' experiences in practice as you would for technical information of the professionals. I wish the writer here would mention the ambulance chasing party wall agreement surveyors who scour council websites and write to adjoining owners for business, in principle alone I would avoid them. People who need surveyors know where to find them."
"Is there a more cost effective option for serving Notices? Historically there have been two options open to a Building Owner faced with their legal obligations under the Act: hire an expensive surveyor to handle it all for them or brave the DIY route and fear the consequences of an invalid notice with all the grey areas of the Act to stumble into. Most building owners pay between £800 and £2,000 for their Party Wall Services (depending on where they live) for a typical major building project such as a loft conversion or single storey extension. Party Wall Direct is an online service better than either of these options - a more cost effective and more convenient way to serve Party Wall Notices yourself with professional support. You can serve a notice that is guaranteed valid, professionally reviewed and served the same working day for a single low fee of just £59."
"It seems to me that the government has introduced a law for good reasons but left the fee issue an open cheque policy for the surveyors etc.To serve the interest of everyone this should have been regulated by agreeing with the professional bodies a reasonable hourly rate with proper mechanisms for check and balances against greedy and unscrupulus 'profesionals'who take advantage of a process which has the purpose of protecting everyone and avoiding unecessary disputes."