What do party wall surveyors actually do and what are the skills required?
With the continued growth of urban developments, exposure to the Party Wall Act is becoming ever more relevant to homeowners and construction professionals alike. Our senior party wall surveyor, Michael White, explores the skills required of the party wall surveyor and what it takes to be successful in the role…
For many years, the role of party wall surveyor has been filled by a wide range of professionals, with varying degrees of success. It is reasonably common to see an architect or structural engineer switch hats from designer to party wall surveyor when needed, which begs the question: Who is best placed to fill the role? Can a homeowner act for themselves? Is there any benefit in using a specialist party wall surveyor?
The following paragraphs discuss the skills required and the expertise needed to be successful in the role.
The definition of a Party Wall Surveyor
It seems sensible to begin with a look at what a party wall surveyor actually does. Who are they? What do they do? What skills do they have? The Act itself provides a suitably broad definition, Section 20 helpfully describes the surveyor as:
“… any person not being a party to the matter appointed or selected under section 10 to determine disputes in accordance with the procedures set out in this Act.”
It is generally accepted that “any person not being a party to the matter” includes anyone and everyone that is not the Building Owner, the Adjoining Owner, or a person with an interest in either property. So, it could be argued that anyone, other than the owner, can be the party wall surveyor…… the contractor, the architect, the engineer, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker….
So if anyone could do it, why don’t they?
Because it takes no small amount of skill, knowledge, competence and expertise to be effective. The successful party wall surveyor will be able to:
- Have a detailed understanding of the proposed works
- Call upon a construction knowledge to understand the implications of the work on both Building Owner and Adjoining Owner
- Understand the works which are notifiable under the Act
- Have a knowledge of the requirements of the Act in the serving of valid notices
- Show an understanding of the spirit of the Act
- Effectively resolve disputes within the requirements of section 10 of the Act
The skills required
There is clearly a baseline level of construction knowledge required as a starting point. The next step is to then understand the process and mechanisms contained within the Act before, finally, having the ability to apply the construction knowledge to successfully implement the requirements of the Act.
The required skills are best assessed by considering the specific tasks carried out in preparing and serving a typical award. When acting on behalf of the Building Owner an appointed surveyor will need to:
- Review drawings and understand works proposed
- Construction knowledge
- Ability to interpret the impact of works on adjoining properties
- Prepare and serve notice(s)
- Understanding of sections 1, 2, 3 and 6 and of the Act
- Knowledge of which areas of the work are notifiable
- Knowledge of which notices are required
- Knowledge of what is required of a valid notice
- Knowledge of how to retrieve Adjoining Owner details and the difference between an Adjoining Owner and an Adjoining Occupier
- Secure appointment from Building Owner(s)
- Commercial skills to agree level of fee (fixed fee? hourly rate?)
- Understanding a valid letter of appointment
- Prepare Schedule of Existing Condition
- Ability to carry out detailed inspection of adjoining property
- Understanding of construction types
- Ability to describe and record existing defects
- Ability to prepare formal document to be appended to the award
- Prepare draft Award
- Knowledge of what is required from an award
- Ability to prepare a legally binding document, valid under the Act
- Agree terms of final award
- Understanding of sections 7, 10, 11 and 12 of the Act
- Negotiation and communication skills
- Ability to resolve disputes within the meaning of the Act
- Prepare and serve final award documents
- Attention to detail in co-ordinating all details into final bound document
- Administrative skills to record and store information
- Post award inspections, resolving issues
- Understanding of sections 8, 10, 11 and 12 of the Act
- Ability to resolve disputes within the meaning of the Act
- Understanding of the legal process and ability to deal with an appeal process
It should be noted that each Award comes with a unique set of circumstances and, consequently, there is a need for an adaptable and flexible approach. The skills detailed above are generic in nature and relate to a standard award (of which there is, of course, no such thing). To be effective in the role the party wall surveyor will need to display abilities in: dispute resolution, communication, administration, knowledge of legislation and knowledge of construction.
About the author:
Michael White has been working in the construction industry for 18 years and is a Chartered Building Engineer (C.Build.E) and a fellow of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (FCABE). He is also a member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (MFPWS) and an associate member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (AssocRICS).
Michael has a first class honours degree in Building Surveying from the University of Reading and now practices as a Party Wall Surveyor and Building Engineer in the high end residential sector. He is one of two directors at White & Lloyd Ltd, a chartered construction consultancy based in Weybridge, Surrey.
The practice is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and offers advice on party wall matters in Fulham, Wandsworth, Battersea, Wimbledon, Surbiton, Weybridge and throughout Surrey and South West London.
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