If badly handled, party wall procedures can add many thousands of pounds to the costs of your building project but there are plenty of things you (and your surveyor) can do to keep costs to a minimum.
Speak to your neighbours before serving notice
This isn’t always possible, if the property is let or the adjoining freeholder is a company, but where the owners live next door an initial informal approach will pay dividends. “They didn’t even discuss it with us” is a familiar refrain from adjoining owners who call us having received a notice.
Hand deliver a copy of the plans, talk them through the works, reassure them about the quality of your contractor and listen to their concerns. All of this will improve the chances that they will consent.
Explain that a consent does not erode any rights
In my experience, many owners think that if they consent to a party wall notice the building owner is not responsible for making good damage caused by the works – obviously that is not the case but it’s worth explaining during that informal visit I mention above.
Furthermore, it was confirmed in the case of Onigbanjo v Pearson  that owners who consent to a party wall notice do not lose the right to appoint a surveyor later if there is a specific dispute e.g. over the cause or cost of making good damage. There are many party wall surveyors who are not clear on that point.
Choose your own surveyor wisely
Most surveyors will be happy to quote a fixed fee to act for you should an adjoining owner dissent to a notice whereas surveyors acting for adjoining owners will not – they submit a time sheet to your surveyor for agreement when all other matters have been resolved. It will be part of your surveyor’s role to ensure that fees are reasonable.
You need a surveyor acting for you that has the knowledge and tenacity to challenge unreasonable fees or prepare a compelling submission to the Third Surveyor in the unlikely event that it goes that far. They’ll find it hard to make that case if their own incompetence has caused the other surveyor to spend additional time on the matter. It’s worth paying a bit more for experience – it will reduce your overall costs.
Ask your surveyor for a discount
As someone that regularly prepares party wall fee proposals I can tell you it’s a very difficult task – you generally have no idea how the adjoining owners will respond to the notices. For this reason we tend to quote on a ‘per award’ basis. However, with some forward planning, it may be possible to save time by combining appointments and or/duplicating paperwork. There’s no reason why you should not negotiate a discount should that turn out to be the case.
If you do think you know how the neighbours will respond you should ask for an overall fixed fee.
Offer a schedule of condition
Many adjoining owners are reluctant to consent as it means the condition of their property will not be recorded prior to the works commencing but that needn’t be the case. There’s no reason why they could not consent subject to you paying for a surveyor to prepare such a schedule. This option needs to be made clear.
The cost of recording a schedule of condition is likely to be approximately a quarter of the cost of 2 appointed surveyors’ fees.
Get a surveyor to serve your notices
It’s no exaggeration to say that in excess of 75% of notices I’ve seen which have been prepared by owners are invalid – serving a valid notice takes a unique combination of technical and legal knowledge that most owners do not have.
While serving your own notices might seems like an obvious way of cutting costs the opposite is true – if the notices look like something that you’ve downloaded from the internet alarm bells will ring for the adjoining owners and they will be more likely to contact a surveyor for advice and subsequently appoint them. Conversely, owners receiving a set of professionally drafted notices from a Chartered Surveyor will be more likely to consent or concur in the appointment of that surveyor (which still means you pay one fee rather than two).
Phase the service of notices
Where the work affects a combination of leasehold and freehold adjoining owners it is important that the process is carefully managed to keep the number of surveyors involved (and the resultant fees) to a minimum.
If there is time, I would recommend serving notice on just the adjoining Freeholders initially and waiting for a response. If a freehold owner appoints their own surveyor (which is quite likely if they are a professional landlord) your surveyor can reassure the leaseholders that the freeholder’s award will include a schedule of condition covering their property. They will often then be more likely to consent or failing that appoint the same surveyor as their freeholder; either of which will be cheaper than them appointing their own surveyor.
Design with Act in mind
I have known owners try to design a project to avoid serving party wall notices altogether but it tends to make the work so awkward to execute that it’s a false economy. I would however advocate dealing with issues at the design stage to avoid the surveyors spending time on them later as that adds to costs and causes a delay. These are 3 of the most obvious:
Start the process early
Many of the suggestions for keeping costs down, such as phasing the service of notices, depend upon getting party wall notices served nice and early.
Having some additional times should also allow your surveyor to combine property visits and pass the savings on to you – we’re often liaising with 3 or 4 adjoining owners’ surveyors who are liaising with their owners who may in turn be liaising with their tenants – that all takes time.
Where an adjoining owner fails to respond to a notice within 14 days they will be deemed to have dissented and if they do not appoint a surveyor within 10 further days you must do that for them so that the works can progress.
Your appointed surveyor will be the best person to assist you with finding a good local surveyor to cut down on travel time. Many surveyors taking on such an appointment will agree to defer the cost of undertaking a final inspection on the basis that they may not get the opportunity to make it.
Share advising engineers
Where the proposals include underpinning and/or basement excavation works it is likely that the adjoining owner’s surveyor(s) will want to use the services of an advising engineer. If such a request was deemed to be reasonable you would also be responsible for their reasonable fee.
While it’s not possible to avoid paying advising engineers’ fees where their input is justified, you do not want to pay for several of them – although every adjoining owner’s surveyor has the right to elect their own engineer your surveyor should be liaising with them to ensure they can all agree on the same one.
If you would like to discuss how some of these cost savings can be applied to your property, please do not hesitate to contact us on 020 7183 2578 or via email.