Article 7 - Should I have an independent survey or a contractor survey?
This article discusses the merits of a timber and/or rising damp survey carried out by an specialist independent surveyor compared with one carried out by a commercially trading contractor.
What is the difference between a survey for rising damp and timber defects conducted by a commercially trading contractor and one conducted by an independent surveyor?
The contractor survey
A contractor’s primary source of income is nearly always derived from undertaking work that they have diagnosed to be necessary. In other words a contractor will carry out an inspection, make the diagnosis, write their own specification and then provide an estimate for them to carry out the work that they deem to be necessary. It therefore follows that some companies, but not all, when presented with the oppertunity to find work, will be tempted to 'enthusiastically' diagnose alleged problems and perhaps specify and carry out treatment that might not always necessary.
Most contractors still offer to undertake a ‘free survey’ and unfortunately most of the public still opt for this. It has been suggested by some that this option is rather like asking a barber if you need a hair cut! The invitation for a contractor to conduct a ‘free’ survey creates the opportunity to find a ‘need’ for work to be carried out however tenuous the justification. Some contractors charge for a survey which is usually only a token amount and does not cover the full cost of conducting a survey and submitting a report; the full cost is subsidised by the company’s main activity of carrying out work they diagnose to be necessary. As an inducement many offer to deduct their survey fee from the final account of any work they may carry out, however the fact that a token survey charge is made it does not exonerate a contractor from the desire to carry out work – after all this is their primary source of income.
Some companies apply pressure on their surveyors to bring in work orders by operating a commission or profit sharing scheme – in other words a surveyor’s income is directly related to the amount of work that he finds necessary in your property which he then hopes you will instruct his company to undertake. In addition a surveyor might also have to achieve sales targets before he even starts to earn commission further accentuating the pressure of ‘finding’ work.
But what about CSRT qualified surveyors you may ask - surely they will operate with integrity? The CSRT is a very commendable individual qualification but the majority of CSRT qualified surveyors are employed by remedial treatment contractors. They are therefore subject to the same commercial pressures applied by their employers or their own individual needs if they undertake remedial treatment.
One further point is that whilst commercially trading contractors may offer an opinion, this cannot be regarded as independent as their primary source of income is derived from treating what they find to be necessary. They therefore have a vested interest in the result of their survey and it is for this reason that their opinion is not classed as independent or impartial. This is irrespective of whether or not a fee is paid.
The Independent survey
An truely independent damp and timber surveyor should not have any commercial or rewarding relationship, either directly or indirectly, with an individual, organisation or company that carries out building preservation or treatment work found necessary as a result of their survey or opinion. An independent surveyor should ideally be CSRT qualified and possess adequate experience, skill and knowledge about that which they have been asked to comment.
An independent surveyor will charge a fee for his service since this is his only source of income but he should not be influenced by any other commercial pressures. It is important to remember that dampness is not always caused by a faulty damp proof course, woodworm infestation is not always active and fungal decay does not always require massive demolition and chemical treatment. An independent surveyor will only prescribe remedial treatment as a last resort once all other options have been thoroughly investigated, very often saving the client unnecessary expenditure.
In most cases an independent surveyor is a poacher turned game keeper. In other words he very probably at some time in his career worked as a surveyor for a remedial treatment company or actually owned a treatment company. This background gives him a good insight into the working of the building preservation industry which he may now use to the advantage of his clients. One word of caution is that some surveyors selling themselves as 'independent' actually carry out regular surveys on a freelance basis for contractors so tread carefully. Peter is truely independent.
How might an independent survey save me money?
Because independent surveyors have no commercial or financial interest in the outcome of their surveys there is no incentive or reason for an ‘over zealous’ diagnosis. An independent survey may cost you between £300 - £400 (subject to property type, size and travel) but based upon a recent survey of eight treatment companies their average man day rate was £435. A typical damp course treatment and re-plastering job perhaps with a little timber treatment would take 3-4 days; that is £1740 in labour plus materials so let us say £2000. If an independent surveyor considers half of that work to be essential then the treatment will cost say £1000 plus his survey fee of £400 thereby making a saving of £600 and perhaps a great deal less disruption. It is also possible that an independent surveyor may find more work necessary than a contractor as he has more time to undertake his inspection and as a result may discover more defects. However, only treatment that is absolutely necessary and justified will be suggested by an independent surveyor and in very many cases this approach saves unnecessary expenditure and disruption. Always remember an independent surveyor is working for you with your best interests in mind.
Call Peter Macdonald on 015242 71794 if you need to arrange an independent survey