In Hart & Hart v Large  EWHC 985 (TCC), the High Court has handed down importance guidance on the scope of a property surveyor’s duty when advising a prospective buyer. The surveyor was not negligent for advising the prospective purchasers to obtain a RICS Homebuyer inspection and report instead of a full Building Survey (for a property which later transpired to have serious issues with water ingress and damp, that ultimately required extensive remedial works).
However, the Court awarded damages of circa £400,000 for the difference in value of the property given that the surveyor failed to highlight the limitations of his inspection and failed to recommend that the prospective purchasers obtain a Professional Consultant’s Certificate.
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The claimants claimed damages from the defendant surveyor arising out of alleged negligence in surveying and valuing a residential property situated in a hill-top location in Devon. The surveyor was instructed to examine the property before the claimants purchased it. The surveyor Mr Large suggested that he produce a Home Buyer’s Report, which suggestion was accepted by the prospective purchasers.
A Home Buyer’s Report is based on a thorough visual inspection of the property. Tests for damp are also likely to be carried out. If the visual inspection reveals matters that require further specialist investigation then this will be drawn to a buyer’s attention.
On the 2nd November 2011, Mr. Large attended at the property. There was only one condition rating 3/red light item, which was in respect of drainage. There was only one condition rating 2/amber light item, which was in respect of the rainwater pipes and gutters. After receiving Mr Large’s report, the Claimants purchased the house for £1.2m.
Following the purchase, it became very evident that there were many issues with water ingress and damp, that ultimately required fairly extensive remedial works. The surveyor made no reference to these issues in his report.
It was the claimants’ case that Mr Large was negligent at the outset in failing to advise that the Harts should commission a “building survey” rather than a HomeBuyer Report. The Court agreed the surveyor should have advised that a Building Survey should be carried out. However, his Lordship found that different surveyors’ opinions could differ and, applying the Bolam test, this particular allegation of negligence failed on the evidence.
However, the surveyor was found to be negligent for failing to highlight the damp and water ingress and other poor workmanship issues at the property:
Further in my view, given the difficulties which faced Mr Large in reporting upon a newly redeveloped house, he should have been alert to some of the signs of sloppy workmanship which were there to be seen and to which he should have drawn attention, or given greater emphasis:
(1) In the latter category, giving greater emphasis, it seems to me that he dealt somewhat lightly with the fact that the front door of this newly redeveloped property was binding.
(2) In the first category were the defects relating to the falls on the window cills, the two roofing defects and in addition obviously poor workmanship in the laying of a terrace.
All of these should have merited some mention or more emphatic mention in his report.Hart & Hart v Large  EWHC 985 (TCC)
Download the High Court Judgment
Complaint about a RICS surveyor or valuer?
Property experts such as surveyors are highly trained and regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). The RICS holds itself out as promoting and enforcing the highest international standards across the built and natural environment.
Conveyancers, if they are legally trained, will be regulated by the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA).
In order to bring a complaint against a property expert, then you must prove that the professional fell below the standard of care.
How much compensation can I get if my RICS surveyor has been negligent?
If it can be proved that the surveyor owed a duty of care, the surveyor by act or omission breached this duty, and the breach caused loss to you, then you have a claim for damages. The courts usually measure damages in a surveyor’s negligence case as the difference between the price paid by the buyer of the property and what the market value of the property actually was.
Examples of Surveyor Negligence
The following are examples of cases where a surveyor has fallen below the standard of care:
- Failure to inspect a property accurately: for example a surveyor may fail to discover latent defects such as dry rot, woodworm, a leak or defects in the underlying structure of the property.
- Failure to identify a subsidence issue: if a survey report is requested then the identification of subsidence is a key aspect of the report. If it can be shown that a surveyor exercising the due care and skill expected in the profession would have discovered the issue and the property would not have been purchased if the subsidence was known about in the pre-contractual searches stage, then you may be able to claim compensation.
- Over-valuation of a property: if a valuation report transpires to be over-valued and you have purchased the property at above the market rate, then you may have a claim for damages against the surveyor.
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