A surveyor who failed to seek certification for a refurbished home has been stuck with massive rebuild costs

Bingham, Tony. Greyscaletony-bingham-with-path

It was house sale completion day, and Chris and Kerry Hart were excited. They were on the road to their £1.2m dream house on the clifftop in Devon, looking out to sea. Keys were ready in hand for their new front door. But their driveway was occupied by a builder’s van; occupied too by their front door! “What, please are you doing?” “Trying to fix the leaking door,” came the reply. Mrs Hart called up the architect at the instruction of the builder. The architect exclaimed loudly down the telephone. That was the start, a bad start. The Harts had known nothing of the leak. Nor other leaks.

They do now. It has taken seven years of litigation. The damages payable come to £750,000; enough to knock the Harts’ house down and start again. The architect has shelled out, so too the conveyancing solicitor and, not to forget, the chartered surveyor who carried out the homebuyer report. It didn’t mention the leaks. Nor was there much in the report to stop the house sale. Nor, for one moment, does the story suggest that the surveyor was anything but a highly experienced, highly respected local man with umpteen years under his belt of doing his stuff. He faces ruin.

The property was originally a bungalow built in the 1920s. A Mr and Mrs Fitzsimons bought the place in 2008. They engaged a highly respected architect, and placed a contract with a local established builder for £400,000 worth of substantial rebuilding and extension. They put the house on the market just after practical completion and it sold to Chris and Kerry Hart in 2011. Meanwhile the builder had been toing and froing doing snagging … fixing leaks here and there. It must have been a dry day that the homebuyer report was done. Our surveyor, Mr Large, had no clue. True, his nose picked up an item or two on the drains and rainwater pipes, but no real drama.

The front door was rehung. The Harts moved in. The troubles then began. In court Mrs Hart said: “It is not possible to describe in a few short paragraphs the devastating impact that the disastrous purchase of this house has had on our family. We have not just been living in a leaking, defective and dangerous house since we moved in eight years ago. We have also endured attempted remedial works to the property which have left large sections of our home unusable.

The surveyor said he had done all required by the £600 homebuyer survey. he argued correctly that he had properly spotted and reported defects but they were relatively trivial

“During such periods our home has had staircases boarded up, windows boarded up, scaffolding preventing doors and windows from being opened, for months at a time, in hot weather. Rooms out of use, for example the garden room had the ceiling taken down, and it stayed down for about 1.5 years.

“When the ceiling was finally replaced, we had the ceiling redecorated. The decorators were sympathetic to our situation and they worked overtime in their attempts to give us a usable room in time for Christmas. They had almost completed the job when, just a few days before Christmas, the leaks started to seep through the freshly decorated ceiling again.

“There was a Christmas when sections of our home had windows boarded up, scaffolding inside the sitting room, metal beams exposed and buckets collecting water ingress. We did our best to make our home more festive than a building site for our family and young children by decorating the scaffolding etc. It was of course not very effective.”

Eventually the architect and the Harts’ conveyancing solicitor held their hands up. They paid into court £376,000.00. But the chartered surveyor said he had done all required by the £600 homebuyer survey. He fought on in court. You might see why: he argued correctly that he had properly spotted and reported defects but they were relatively trivial. However, what he couldn’t see, for example, was evidence of damp-proofing measures. It was said he couldn’t see any damp-proof course at any relevant locations and that ought to have raised a suspicion, at least.

Now what? It is this circumstance that saw the surveyor in deep trouble. Simply because he couldn’t detect whether the work was good, he ought to have given an emphatic warning about the need for what used to be called an architect’s certificate and is now known as a professional consultancy certificate (PCC) from the architect for the works. If they had refused, the Harts, it was said, would have dropped out of the sale.

Take care. A refurbished house will not get an NHBC certificate but it stands a good chance of getting a professional consultancy certificate. It gives a warranty of sorts as to quality of build. No PCC? Don’t buy it. The surveyor was held liable for not pressing his client to obtain the certificate. He is liable, with the architect and the solicitor, for the total rebuild costs of £750,000 plus £15,000 distress and inconvenience to the Harts. Add to that £143,000 interest and another £150,000 in the Harts’ legal costs.

Then ask what insurance the surveyor had … it is £250,000 all‑in. Many a surveyor will say: “There but for the grace of God go I!”

Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator at 3 Paper Buildings, Temple