A Neighbourly Dispute
When surveying properties, it’s important to expect the unexpected, but sometimes you can’t avoid surprises. I carried out a Building Survey a couple of months ago on a 3-bedroom end terrace property that was on auction. Upon my arrival at the property, I was happily welcomed by the client who mentioned that she had already bought the property and wanted to know the general condition and maintenance required. My initial thoughts were that nothing was out of the ordinary as the property did seem reasonable when viewed on Rightmove. However, the client showed me around the property and pointed out significant cracking and distortion throughout showing stress towards the left side of the property.
I followed the trail and walked around the rear grounds and attempted to access the side passage leading to the garden. However, before I found the source, I was stopped by an unhappy neighbour who said “don’t touch my fence! It is my garden now”. Focusing on my inspection routine and trying to de-escalate the situation, the client went out and argued that it is her land now as she has now bought the property. He said “my kids play in the garden. My relatives and I have lived in the neighbourhood for a long time… If you’re going to send someone, send someone big”. The client replied, “I’m from London, I’m not backing down”.
I didn’t know what to do at that moment. I was standing with my device and a damp meter in my hand and I didn’t think either would be much help if something happened. But , I thought to myself, I’m a surveyor, not a bodyguard. Hearing the arguments, especially from the neighbour, he seemed to be looking for a compromise. In the end, I think the solution would likely be further advice from the council or taking them to court. The issue was a civil case and outside the scope of my instruction.
Looking with a surveyor’s eye
Another property I surveyed locally in Derby is a three-storey mid-terraced property. The survey was odd from the beginning as viewings were taking place during my inspection, which meant the building survey took me a full day to finish. Towards the end of the inspection, I was approached by a potential purchaser who asked if the property is a good investment. I wasn’t willing to breach confidentiality for the client, so I simply hinted that the property does need some repairs and maintenance. We, of course, have very different perspectives on the property. He viewed the property through an optimistic lens while I obviously brought a surveyor’s perspective.
Long story short, the property was tilting towards the right when viewed from the garden which will likely require underpinning. The tilt was so severe that the left-hand gutters were likely overflowing, causing dampness in the second-floor bedroom wall. There was also no appropriate drainage system for the rainwater fittings and blocked foul water drainage. After the survey, I carried out a courtesy call to the client to inform him of my findings. He said he hasn’t really viewed the property and was shocked about the verbal report and mentioned that he will likely not proceed with the sale due to significant costs for the repairs. The RICS guidance states that ‘After sufficient reflection, the surveyor should apply a condition rating to all the elements and sub elements.’ In my phone call with a client, I only highlighted the main Red Flags, then after a full reflection of my findings, the full comprehensive report was sent to the client.
Going back to the end terrace property, after the situation with the neighbour calmed down. I walked around the left and front of the property and found even more cracking patterns. The path on the left-hand side has also sunk which corresponds to my suspicion of a collapsed drain. It is always assumed that the local water company is responsible for the drainage repairs. However, in my report, I recommended having the maintenance and repair responsibilities confirmed by the solicitors due to the private road for access and other potential agreements expressed on the deed. After the survey, I discussed a brief summary of the survey with the client and at the end of our discussion, she said that she probably has no choice other than to sell the house.
If there’s one lesson to be learned from these two surveys, it’s the importance of viewing the property and local area prior to committing to a purchase. A property might look perfect on paper but could well pose a huge financial risk. That’s why we recommend having a pre-purchased survey done especially in properties on unfamiliar grounds. That way, you really can expect the unexpected.