• Ben Mackie

Keeping party wall costs down

This article gives ten suggestions which can help you to save money when dealing with party wall matters. If just one of these suggestions works, you can save hundreds if not thousands of pounds.



1. Early engagement with neighbours

Get in there nice and early, and speak with your neighbours about your proposals. If you are submitting a planning application, be aware that ambulance chasing surveyors will write to your neighbours, often before you have had the chance to speak with them. There can be a party wall dispute instigated before you have even had a chance to speak with your neighbours. Professional bodies tend to accept this behaviour, perhaps because it generates party wall fees and makes the industry more profitable. Don’t pour money needlessly into the pockets of unethical surveyors, instead, liaise with your neighbours at the earliest opportunity so that if there is a dispute, you can be satisfied that it is at least genuine.

2. Inform neighbours of fees

Let your neighbour know that if they dissent, it will cost you at least £1,000 to get an award in place for a loft or extension build – double that if they don’t agree to share a surveyor. Notices and ambulance chasing letters don’t provide information relating to costs, and neighbours may be less inclined to dissent if they are aware of the cost implications. Some neighbours dissent believing that the process and the costs are incidental when unfortunately, they often take centre stage.

3. Agreed surveyor appointments

The agreed surveyor route is simply not promoted enough. Again, the industry is not proactive on this matter, as it would stand to lose significant sums of money should the agreed surveyor appointment become more popular. Why pay two surveyor’s fees when you can pay one? This option should at least be explored – it isn’t always appropriate, but often there should be no reason as to why you can’t save some money by sharing a surveyor to produce an award.

4. Explain the concept of consenting

Some people are scared to consent as they believe that if there are issues, they will be completely screwed. That isn’t true. Consenting to a notice simply allows the work to start. If damage occurs and a dispute materialises, a surveyor can be appointed to settle the dispute by way of an award. Consenting to a notice does not mean you are consenting to unnecessary inconvenience or damage.

5. Offer a schedule of condition

One of the biggest reasons why people dissent to a notice is because they are worried about damage. They want an inspection of their property prior to work commencing, but they can only get this if they dissent to the work and appoint a surveyor. Some surveying practices helpfully offer an alternative, which is to ‘consent subject to a schedule of condition’. This allows for a schedule, without the fuss and costs associated with an award. It doesn’t have to be outright consent vs dissent. By offering the middle ground, some surveyors have found a sensible solution which allays a neighbour’s fears of damage in a cost-effective pragmatic way.

6. Get notices served by a professional - for free

Forget the templates and downloading forms that are littered with mistakes. Forget trying to do it yourself, instead, simply contact a surveyor who can serve notices for free for you, as an agent, with no obligation to use his services beyond the serving of a notice. Valid notices are vital, as they are used to invoke the Act. Leave it to the professionals to ensure compliance.

7. Fee reduction

Check-in with your surveyor to ensure the fee is relevant and satisfactory. When dealing with multiple awards, are you going to receive multiple identical documents? If so, what are you paying for? The process can be largely repetitive and ‘cut and paste’ so a fee reduction may be appropriate.

8. Question further inspections

Awards often allow for unnecessary further inspections. Worse still they require you to pay upfront for an inspection that may never take place. Complacency within the industry has kicked-in, and surveyors are happy to collect the money without reviewing the necessity and appropriateness of their actions. Hundreds of pounds can be saved if these unnecessary inspections are avoided. They are of course often necessary, but necessity should be questioned and any inspections must be justifiable.

9. Surveyor’s fees

Be careful when choosing a surveyor – it isn’t all about cheapest fees. Some surveyors quote cheap, do a poor job and then rely on the neighbour’s surveyor to do all the work. The neighbour’s surveyor invariably charges more money, so that initial saving you thought you were making is anything but. Don’t take comfort from high fees either, as there is no correlation with high fees and quality of service. Instead, research your surveyor applying some due diligence. The internet and word of mouth can help you make your decision. A good ethical surveyor will save you time and money.

10. Design the Act out (or even in)

Making some simple adjustments to a scheme can ensure that the party wall act does not apply. Sometimes there is no getting around it, but there are plenty of ways in which the act can be ‘designed out’. However, be aware that the act confers benefits as well as obligations, so you need to think carefully about what you are trying to achieve. Pulling a wall back form the boundary by 1 centimetre might seem like a smart way of avoiding a section 1 notice, but do you need access to build the flank wall? If you do, then use the Act to your advantage and avoid an access licence.

Summary:

Do not despair with the party wall process. It can be daunting and costly, but there are so many things you can do to get on top things. Keep your surveyor honest and communicate with your neighbours as early as possible - it is a neighbourly matter after all.

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