House-buyers `get a raw deal over defective surveys'

House-buyers are getting a raw deal from surveyors, it is claimed today. Too many defects are missed in surveys, avenues of redress are "totally inadequate" and the courts are adopting a blinkered and illogical interpretation of the law "which denies proper compensation to innocent consumers''. Keith Richards, a senior lawyer at the Consumers' Association, says the financial consequences for householders are enormous. The two main professional bodies regulate admission and advertise the merits of using qualified surveyors "but effectively turn their back on consumers who have lost out at the hands of an incompetent professional".

Writing in Consumer Policy Review, published by the association, Mr Richards says the profession, which is regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Incorporated Society of Valuers and Auctioneers, has lagged behind others in adopting schemes for dealing with grievances.

Consumers with allegations of negligence soon hit a "complaints brick wall". In other businesses, these walls have crumbled. "The surveying industry is one of the few areas left unchanged by the move towards more positive and fairer complaints handling systems."

The type and extent of defects which go unnoticed by surveyors is "astonishing" - dry rot, substantial damp and woodworm, subsidence and many other structural faults, according to Mr Richards.

Standard surveyors' reports are also "models of litigation avoidance, peppered with attempts to take away the customers' right to claim if they happen to miss anything during their inspection". These include terms such as "couldn't inspect", "can't comment on", and "recommend you get a specialist report on". Such phrases "infest the forms like an attack of dry rot in an old house. Fortunately many terms are thrown out by the courts as unreasonable".

However, the Court of Appeal and "commercially minded" judges are interpreting the law on negligence claims in a way that benefits surveyors and "adds insult to the injury" already suffered by consumers.

The proper way to treat cases where negligence against a surveyor has been proved would be to award the householder the cost of the repairs needed to bring a house to the condition claimed for it in the initial report.

Instead, the Court of Appeal has awarded complainants the difference between the amount the buyers paid for the house and what the market value would have been if the defects had been correctly diagnosed - usually a much smaller sum.

In one landmark decision a couple paid £177,500 for a house which the surveyor's report said was sound, stable, and in good condition. When they asked for a quotation from a builder for minor defects mentioned in the report, more serious faults were discovered: the roof had to be renewed, chimneys and main walls repointed and areas extensively treated for woodworm.

The repairs cost £33,691, but the court reduced this to £15,000. The complainants' costs were also reduced from £8,000 to £1,500.

A spokesman for the RICS said the vast majority of people who commissioned surveys were "highly satisfied".

He denied that reports were designed to avoid litigation, adding: "Surveyors cannot see behind walls and without the current owner's permission they cannot lift fitted carpets or shift wardrobes. The wording is designed to make clear what has been lookedat."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)