We prepare several fee proposals for party wall services every week. Building owners preparing to undertake works like the assurance of a fixed fee and as specialist party wall surveyors we’re confident to provide such. The more difficult question to answer is what the adjoining owner’s surveyor is likely to charge?
The surveyor acting for the adjoining owner(s) is not expected to quote a fee in advance as the time it takes to agree and serve a party wall award varies considerably. Even if full details of the proposed works are known, the time taken is highly dependent on the quality of the information provided. The adjoining owner’s surveyor will therefore only confirm their proposed fee when all other matters have been agreed and it is essentially the time incurred multiplied by their hourly rate.
There are mechanisms within the Act which endeavour to keep such fees reasonable, and I outline a couple of them below, but the best way to do that, is for your surveyor to use their skill and experience to anticipate issues, address them in advance and limit the time input of their counterpart.
The process starts with the service of notices and how well those notices are drafted will have a significant bearing on the time incurred by the adjoining owners’ surveyor. Have all works falling within the scope of the Act been included? Have all affected adjoining owners been identified (and their names and contact addresses cross referenced with Land Registry records)? Is all the information required to ensure notices are valid included? If not, the adjoining owner’s surveyor will highlight the errors, request new notices(s) and update their timesheet accordingly.
Getting the notices right is really part of the basics. An experienced surveyor should also be looking to anticipate queries relating to the details of the proposed works. If access is required, is there a right under the Act (or can the drawings be updated to ensure that there is)? Have unnecessary projections been removed? Have elements requiring express consent been designed out? If not, they will have to be discussed later and that adds to the costs.
Then there’s the draft documents. Has the latest RICS template been used, has it been updated where necessary to fit the details of the proposed work (clauses that don’t apply removed and additional clauses included)? I can tell you, as someone that regularly reviews awards prepared by other surveyors, that the quality of draft documents varies considerably.
You can probably see a pattern here, the more work that your can do in advance, the less scope there will be for their counterpart’s fee to escalate. It’s therefore essential that you appoints a surveyor who has the skill and experience to do these things and they will not generally be the cheapest. It’s a zero sum game.
Finally, a couple of tips for building owners (and their surveyors) if the fee proposed by the adjoining owner’s surveyor comes in much higher than expected.
Fees have no bearing on the works and should not therefore delay an award being served. If all material matters have been agreed, the award should be served with an ‘on account’ fee included. The adjoining owner’s surveyor’s fee should still be agreed promptly but getting the award served removes the risk of delays being used as leverage (which is unacceptable). If the adjoining owner’s surveyor refuses to serve an award in this scenario, your surveyor should approach the Third Surveyor to enjoin with them (awards need only be signed by two of the three surveyors).
If the two appointed surveyors cannot agree on the quantum of the adjoining owner’s surveyor’s fee, the matter should be referred to the Third Surveyor for determination. If you find yourself in this position, I’d recommend that you ask your surveyor to request a copy of the supporting timesheet. If it includes entries for time spent correcting your surveyor’s work you should try to reach a compromise as the Third Surveyor will consider these entries to be reasonable and will charge you to explain this in their determination.