Answer to Readers Question published in Irish Times 25th August 2016
There were problems with staining on the walls of our house, most likely caused by our neighbour’s chimney (chimney only served his fireplaces and flues). We were advised to employ a building surveyor to investigate. The fee was over €300 for visit, photographs and report and was paid. There was then a need to investigate next door’s internal walls, flues, etc and also some clarification mails, liaison with a solicitor, etc.
There was no mention of fees except for the initial report. Now there is a bill for a report on next door’s property (visit/ photos, etc) and the mails, etc of €455. There was never any mention of fees, terms of business and charges, etc.
Is this how surveyors work and is it buyer beware or is there any code of conduct/ regulation/ trade association to protect the consumer in this case?
The correct identification of any building defect can be difficult without investigation. In some rare cases, the extent of exploration can become protracted. This can lead to a need to access parts of the building outside of the original area under investigation. In this case, the investigation has extended into your neighbour’s home. I hope that in this instance the investigation has proved successful and that the issue has been fully identified by your surveyor and appropriate repairs specified.
Fees associated with this type of instruction are hard to gauge initially. A surveyor will usually estimate the amount of time needed on site to allow careful examination and consideration of the issue at hand. They must include travel to and from the site and the time to write the report with photographs included as you have noted. Typically, a surveyor will also allow for a short follow-up telephone call with you to put matters into context. If access is needed to out-of-reach areas or attendance is needed by a builder to open up, these additional costs would be made known to you before any inspection takes place.
I note from your correspondence that initial fees were agreed in advance. I can only assume that a misunderstanding has arisen with regard to an additional instruction to undertake further investigations and to report on the property next door. This can sometimes happen if the surveyor deals with another party, such as a solicitor as you intimate, and takes additional instructions directly from them.
This is an unfortunate situation, as clearly if the surveyor has carried out additional work, he is entitled to payment. The fact that you were unaware that additional fees would be charged may sound naïve, but you too were entitled to be informed of these fees. It is for this reason that it is generally expected that a surveyor will not only agree their fees in advance, but will also agree the extent or scope of their service to you. It should be made clear that if the surveyors’ scope or service is to be extended, then their fees will also increase. One could argue that as the initial fees were agreed, it should then have been clear that additional inspections would incur additional charges. However good practice would dictate that the surveyor should keep his client well informed.
All building surveyors must act within a code of professional conduct as written by the Registration Body for Building Surveyors, or the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland. The code sets out minimum standards of professional conduct and practice to be expected of a building surveyor. This code is binding on all building surveyors.
If you have any concern with regard to services provided to you by a building surveyor, these can be brought to the attention of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland. For more information on this matter, check out the website of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland at www.scsi.ie
Noel Larkin is a Chartered Building Surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie