One good reason why sensible homebuyers engage the services of a surveyor prior to purchase is that, if things go wrong, they at least have someone to sue. In a case on point, a couple who paid £1.2 million for a seaside home which turned out to be riddled with defects won six-figure compensation from a negligent surveyor.
The property had been largely rebuilt in the months before the couple bought it. They instructed a surveyor to conduct a non-structural inspection. He reported potential problems with drainage, rainwater pipes and gutters. In light of his report, the purchase price was reduced from £1.24 million prior to completion.
After the couple moved in, it swiftly became apparent that the property was riddled to a remarkable extent with defects of varying severity, many if not all of which would not have been observable by a surveyor performing a non-structural survey. By far the most serious problem, however, was damp ingress.
After the couple launched professional negligence proceedings against the surveyor, the High Court noted that its task was to decide whether he fell below his normally high standards in reporting on the property’s condition. He had carried out numerous damp readings during the inspection, none of which revealed any problem.
He had, however, breached the duty he owed the couple in failing to report that he could not see visible damp proofing and that further investigations were required. He was also negligent in failing to advise the couple that they should obtain a professional consultant’s certificate in order to establish that the rebuilding works had been carried out to a satisfactory standard.
The Court found that had the surveyor’s report contained the advice that it should have done, the couple would never have bought the property. Their damages thus stood to be calculated on an assessment of the difference in value between the property with the defects as reported by the surveyor and its value with all the defects which in fact existed.
Calculating the diminution in the property’s value by reference to the cost of demolishing and rebuilding it, the Court found that the couple were entitled to £750,000. Giving credit for sums that they had already received from third parties, the Court awarded them a total of £389,000. That included £15,000 to reflect the distress and inconvenience that they suffered.
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