Do you know what to expect when you receive a report and estimate from a specialist building preservation contractor? This article outlines what you should see in a report and will be of great assistance in your decision process.
A very important requirement before having any timber or damp treatment undertaken in your property is that you must be in possession of a written survey report that contains a diagnosis, specification and estimate from the contractor that you intend to instruct. Without these documents the potential for a dispute is more likely and any guarantee provided by the contractor would be useless as a guarantee requires each of these documents to be produced in the event of a claim situation arising. If a contractor has not provided you with a written report, diagnosis, specification and estimate that you understand before work commences – DO NOT INSTRUCT THEM.
A contractor’s survey report is his shop window. It should entice potential clients to use his services and instil confidence that any suggested work for which an estimate has been provided will be carried out diligently. A survey report also has other important functions.
Basic survey report requirements
The basic content of a survey report issued by a building preservation specialist should, amongst other things, be a clear concise summary of what was found and where during the survey, when relevant an explanation of why what they found is there together with a detailed explanation of what they are going to do about it in the form of a clear understandable specification.
Each property is unique but as a general rule a survey report produced following the inspection of a property should contain the following:
1. Company name, address and landline telephone number
2. Date the report was typed
3. Report reference number
4. Instructing client(s) details
5. Address of property surveyed
6. Property type (optional)
7. Surveyors name and qualifications
8. Date survey was undertaken
9. Meaningful point of reference (For left, right, front and rear references)
10. Weather conditions (optional)
11. Clear concise summary of the client’s survey instructions
12. Limitations of survey
13. Restrictions present
14. Logical room/area titles
15. External observations
16. Internal observations
17. Treatment recommendations/specification (timber inspection)
18. Treatment recommendations/specification (rising damp report)
19. Client’s responsibilities before and after work is completed
20. General recommendations
21. Drawing/Sketch plan to illustrate areas of work
22. Specimen guarantee (if one is being offered)
23. Health and Safety information
24. Estimate or Quotation.
25. Data sheets (if relevant)
26. Notice of Acceptance (optional)
27. Terms and Conditions
28. A summary of all enclosed documents that will form part of the contract
Whilst excellent reports are produced by some sadly the general standard tends to be less than satisfactory.
The importance of the survey report
A survey report produced by a building preservation specialist is a very important document that has to fulfil many roles:
• It forms the basis of the contract that will be entered into between the client and the contractor.
• Should a dispute arise, be it about what the survey did or did not find, or what the contractor has or has not allowed for, it is the survey report and its accompanying documents that will be relied upon in these circumstances.
• A report is a permanent record of the work undertaken and it is therefore directly related to any guarantee that may be provided upon completion of the work. A guarantee on its own, without a survey report to which it relates is meaningless and is merely a statement that work has taken place. It is the report that explains what work was undertaken where in the property.
• A report may contain instructions for the client or their builder about other work directly or indirectly related to the preservation work being undertaken. It should also explain the consequences of what might happen if these instructions are not carried out or are carried out incorrectly.
Understand the report
It is very important that you know and understand what has been found, where it is, why it has occurred and exactly what is necessary to deal with it. The report should make all of this clear. You need to know who will be responsible for what. You need to know the work specifications that will be employed for which you will be paying.
For example do not accept ‘Hack off damp affected plaster and replace’ or ‘Spray flooring timbers’. For replastering you need to know the areas of wall involved and the precise re-plastering specification that will be used i.e. the sand: cement ratios as this is very important. You need to know if floor boards will be lifted to spray the underside and sub-floor timbers and boards nailed back afterwards. After all ‘Spray flooring timbers’ could mean just spraying the top surface of the floor boards which is no good at all.
Once you have received the competing reports and estimates/quotations read each one very carefully and make notes of what is and is not included in each. Sometimes creating a table with columns for you to tick is useful for this purpose. You might prefer one particular company but they have not included for certain items that others have such as skirting board replacement or sink removal and replacement. Ask the preferred contractor at this stage to provide a price for the work not allowed for – more often than not they will go out of their way to help if they are about to be instructed to do the whole job.
It is also very important that that you understand what you have to do before, during and after treatment, what type of guarantee you are getting, payment arrangements, health and safety implications etc. etc. If you do not understand a report or it makes no sense ask for an explanation and get it in writing if necessary. If you still do not understand it is probably better to get someone else or seek professional help. Do not proceed with any contractor who does not produce a meaningful and comprehensive report.
Estimate or Quotation
Some contractors submit 'estimates' whilst others submit 'quotations'. An estimate is an ‘approximate judgement’ – in other words the price may go up or it may, but rarely does, go down. A quotation on the other hand is regarded as a fixed price and should not change. The reality in most domestic contracts, provided a detailed report is attached, is that both amount to the same thing. Even in such circumstances when a ‘quotation’ is submitted additional work may be found and the price varied. Many contractors are not aware of the difference.
A word of caution however. Some companies advertise in the national press and send around a 'sales person' who will provide a written quote on the spot and expect commitment from you there and then. AVOID THIS AT ALL COSTS. We are aware of a company that operates this way and are taken to court on a regular basis as their product does not perform as their clients expect. They use the fact that they only provided a quotation (no report, no diagnosis, no reason to justify the work they propose) as a defence - with some success we are sorry to say. They have also been know to argue that if they pointed out all of the possible causes of the damp they would never sell any of their 'systems'!!! Tread very carefully with companies who advertise in the national press and send a sales person around who will give you a quote but not a report - in fact we would go as far as to say do not use them.
Check that the price stated by the contractor includes VAT - it can come as a shock if the price you have been given is suddenly upped by the prevailing VAT rate. If the price stated makes no reference to VAT then you are entitled to assume that the figure includes VAT. Anyone charging VAT must quote their VAT number on their invoice. If you are suspicious check that the company is VAT registered with HM Revenue and Customs.
For information about Peter’s independent survey service click here.