When a homebuyer incurred losses due to a surveyor’s report, Truth Legal was able to help them recover compensation – to make good the harm caused by the surveyor’s professional negligence.
John* was looking to buy a house in which to live with his wife and young family. After finding a property that he wished to buy, he instructed a firm of estate agents (JM Ltd*) to inspect the property and prepare a RICS Homebuyer Report. This report was to contain a survey and valuation of the property to help him decide whether to proceed with the purchase. This is a common step taken by most prospective homebuyers as surveys are often critical in identifying issues with a property and establishing whether the purchase price is fair.
JM Ltd sent out Robin,* one of their surveyors, to conduct the survey. Ultimately, Robin’s report didn’t identify any major issues with the property so John proceeded with the purchase.
However, when he moved into the property, John was shocked to discover that all the windows in the house, except for one small window upstairs, didn’t open. Yet the report had failed to identity any issues with the windows and John, of course, had trusted Robin’s report as the professional opinions of an experienced surveyor, which he was entitled to do.
Truth Legal’s involvement
John approached Truth Legal and discussed his situation with Katherine Swinn, a specialist professional negligence solicitor. Following an initial assessment of the key documents and information and consideration of his legal position, Katherine was of the view that this was a clear case of surveyor professional negligence on Robin’s part, for which JM Ltd were responsible as his employers.
Truth Legal was able to take on John’s case through a Conditional Fee Agreement. This allowed John to minimise any financial risks of bringing case, as Truth Legal’s fees would not be payable if his claim was unsuccessful.
Professional negligence by the surveyor
John’s professional negligence claim was based upon several key points:
- That Robin owed a duty to exercise reasonable care and skill when conducting the survey and producing his report. This duty was owed under contract law (as John had a contract with JM Ltd – Robin’s employers – to provide this service) and tort law (on the basis that any wrongdoing by JM Ltd had the reasonably foreseeable potential to harm John financially).
- That JM Ltd breached this duty in that they provided a report which no reasonable surveyor would have done in relation to the property.
- That John’s reliance on the report caused him to incur financial loss.
In particular, it had been Robin’s failure to warn John of the condition of the windows which had been central to the professional negligence.
The report gave various ratings on the condition of different aspects of the house. Robin should have given a rating of 3, which is the worst rating, for the windows’ condition, as it was clear that these constituted “defects that are serious and/or need to be repaired, replaced or investigated urgently” (as per the report’s definition of rating 3). However, Robin had not done so, and awarded them a less-serious rating instead.
In addition, the RICS professional guidelines (which apply when conducting RICS Homebuyer Reports) state that where there is a “trail of suspicion”, the surveyor “must take reasonable steps to follow the trail”. There was clear evidence Robin had not met these standards. He had not followed a clear and obvious “trail of suspicion”; firstly due to numerous issues and defects with the windows, which were clearly visible and identifiable; and secondly because Katherine was able to discover in Robin’s notes, made during the survey, that he had tried to open one of the windows and been unable to do so. But Robin had not referred to this in his report – and there was no indication that he had tried to open any of the other windows. If he had done so then it would have been immediately apparent that none of the windows in the property would open except one.
Had Robin carried out his duties to the required professional standards, he would have identified the serious issues with the windows and highlighted this appropriately in his report. And consequently the valuation provided would have been reduced – to reflect the costs of fixing or replacing the windows – or at least deferred until the likely costs were properly ascertained.
This did not happen, however, and as a consequence John went ahead with buying the property at the full purchase price. His loss therefore stemmed from the fact that the defect was not reflected in the price he paid. And he would still have the prospective cost of fixing the defective windows as well.
A successful outcome
When Truth Legal was instructed, Katherine carried out a site visit to John’s property to check the windows. The issues and defects with the windows were clear. It also appeared that the previous owners, who sold the property to John, had tried to hide the issues and defects with the windows too, failing to mention anything about them to John either verbally or in any of the documents.
Having considered documents provided by JM Ltd, Katherine sent a Letter of Claim to them. Following negotiations and an exchange of offers, John was delighted to settle his claim at over £33,000.00.
Can Truth Legal help you?
If you think that you have fallen victim to professional negligence then please contact us to discuss your situation further. Even if you are uncertain about where you stand, we can help to explain your legal rights and set out your options.
*All names have been changed to maintain the confidentiality of our client.