• Ben Mackie

Great things party wall surveyors do, which often go unnoticed….

This article looks at the good things party wall surveyors can do, to reduce disputes, maintain neighbourly relations, and ensuring compliance with The Party Wall etc. Act 1996. It is written to provide some balance, and indeed to counter a recent article titled ‘the ways in which a party wall surveyor can screw you over…’

The profession doesn’t have the best reputation, and this is largely self-inflicted. In order to build trust with the general public, reflection is required, and the industry needs to challenge and call out poor behaviour. Perhaps more importantly, practitioners and professional bodies need to commend good practice and promote examples of excellence.


Here are just some of the things, surveyors are getting right:


1. Professional bodies

Some members (and ex-members) frown upon cliques and the idea that members can obtain letters after their name implying expertise. However, attempting to apply standards cannot be a bad thing. The Act itself does regulate surveyor behaviour, though to a limited extent. A professional body can have a code of conduct and this is an additional safety net, created by those within the industry, to bring about higher standards.


Professional bodies can encourage debate, with well-known solicitors (such as Nick Isaac QC, Stuart Frame etc.), judges and practitioners called upon to give talks. These talks allow the party wall community to learn and to improve, and it is commendable that many within the industry expend time both organising and attending such events.


2. Dispute avoidance

Many surveyors give good advice, negating the requirement for an award. Whether a third surveyor quietly having a word to two surveyors in disagreement, or a surveyor encouraging amicable settlement relating to alleged damage, surveyors commonly promote pragmatic views putting the public before profit. If engaged with early on, a surveyor can look at a scheme and point out potential pitfalls. Drawings are then amended and when notices are served to a neighbour, the neighbour may be more likely to consent, as the scheme has shown due consideration to the party wall act.


3. Working for free

That’s right, the same surveyors who are often labelled greedy due to excessive fees, often give free advice. This advice often relates to the workings of the Act, how to navigate certain issues, and how to avoid disputes. The work that surveyors put into avoiding disputes and providing free advice often goes unnoticed and passes with little thanks. Few industries have so many good people, doing so much, for so many, for no return. There is pride within the industry, and surveyors are often comfortable doing a good job with little fuss – this hits their pockets. Credit where credit is due.


4. Fee forfeiture

A building owner engages with a surveyor, and the adjoining owner appoints his own surveyor. The building owner’s surveyor suggests that the adjoining owner’s surveyor acts as the agreed surveyor. All parties agree and the building owner’s surveyor loses his fee. How nice is that? It works the other way too, where an adjoining owner’s surveyor is called for advice and encourages the adjoining owner to dissent and appoint the building owner’s surveyor to act as the agreed surveyor.


5. Camaraderie

This word had to be spelt-checked, but it was worth it, because there is a great sense of belonging in the party wall world. Yes, there are some rivalries, but there can be a general feeling of ‘working together’ to settle a dispute and serve an award. Surveyors debate, listen, disagree, and intellectually jostle, but in the end, they often find a way of settling a dispute fairly and effectively.


6. Self-reflection

Party wall surveyors are rightly proud of their work. They work hard, learn, and seek improvement. Some of this self-reflection and continuous improvement can be misinterpreted as a dislike of the Act, though that is misguided, as those practitioners who criticise the Act often do so because they care. It is vital that the surveying community continues to self-reflect, identifying areas for improvement whilst also celebrating its successes – of which there are many.


7. Duty of care

Surveyors often visit properties where vulnerable people reside. From doing welfare checks, looking after the vulnerable, reporting dangerous structures, or simply having a cup of tea with someone who looks like they need some company, many surveyors show a human touch not found in other industries. Awards can be served with security in mind to protect the elderly who can be particularly vulnerable to criminals posing as work men to access their property. Mechanisms can be put in place to protect people, from noise, dust, vibration and things that can actually cause fear and anxiety. Surveyors often show great empathy and meet the needs of our unique and amazing population.


When undertaking schedules, surveyors often identify and discuss defects clearly not related to party wall matters. Mould, rot, dampness and other issues that can be detrimental to health are often discussed by surveyors who are there for entirely different reasons.


Summary

The above should instil pride in the industry, and must be communicated more widely to the public.


If the public were more aware of the good things party wall surveyors do, trust may return. Bridges need to be built, not burnt. Walls need to be taken down, not put up. A lot of the public’s perception of party wall surveyors comes about because the industry hasn’t done enough to promote itself, positively and honestly. A party wall surveyor complimenting the Act and his fellow peers can carry little weight with the public, but if it happens in a balanced and honest way, it can become more believable. There is a disconnect between those who administer the Act, and those who use it - and this needs to be addressed.

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