We prepare several fee proposals for party wall services every week. Clients like the assurance of a fixed fee and as specialist party wall surveyors we’re confident to provide such. The more difficult question is what the adjoining owner’s surveyor is likely to charge?
It’s probably best to start by explaining why the adjoining owner’s surveyor can’t also quote a fixed fee before they are appointed. One of the key principles of the Party Wall Act is that an adjoining owner is free to appoint anyone they want (except for themselves). If we had a system whereby the adjoining owner’s proposed surveyor had to send a fee proposal to the building owner (as it is the building owner who pays) then you raise the possibility of that building owner vetoing a surveyor on the grounds of cost.
You might consider that to be unfair on the building owner but they should be reassured by section 10(13) of the Act which confirms that the owners are only responsible for the ‘reasonable’ costs involved in making an award.
The adjoining owner’s surveyor does not therefore quote a fixed fee but rather keeps an accurate time sheet which can be forwarded to the building owner’s surveyor with a proposed hourly rate when all other matters have been agreed. The other surveyor is the best person to review the time sheet as he or she knows exactly what has been done.
You’re probably thinking ‘just tell us what a reasonable fee should be’ but it’s not as easy as that. The time expended by the adjoining owner’s surveyor depends on several factors including:
Let’s look at the time sheet for an adjoining owner’s surveyor on a ‘typical’ party wall job (bearing in mind that in reality there is no such thing).
(The fee is actually agreed before the fair copies are prepared so the last 2 items are estimated).
If a ‘typical’ (there’s that word again!) hourly rate of £150 is applied it adds up to a fee of £975. Don’t forget that surveyors are invariably VAT registered so you’ll need to add that on.
In reality hourly rates vary from under £100 for a sole trader working from home to £300 for a very experienced Central London based practitioner.
My own hourly rate is £180 although as I would generally use an assistant on a much lower rate to check off the schedule which brings the average down considerably.
If the two appointed surveyors cannot agree on what the adjoining owner’s surveyor’s fee should be they can refer the matter to a previously selected third surveyor who has the final say. The third surveyor will charge a fee (paid by the owner that loses the argument) so that should only be done as a last resort. It’s not unusual for some negotiation to take place between the two surveyors in an effort to agree a reasonable sum.