Magazine article The Spectator

Rising Doubts

Magazine article The Spectator

Rising Doubts

Article excerpt

IF THERE is one group of people who should be bursting with enthusiasm to reelect the government, it is the chartered surveyors. Never exactly the most popular group in society, they are being wooed with a job-creation scheme of massive proportions. If they are not already performing cartwheels in their offices, it is probable that they cannot quite believe they are going to get away with it.

Among the pearls of the current legislative programme, no doubt to be hurried through in the last few hours of the Parliament while MPs' minds are on other things, is the Homes Bill, the aim of which is to speed up the home-buying process and reduce gazumping. Before placing their homes on the market, homeowners will in future will obliged to compile a 'seller's pack'.

Some of the contents of this pack are reasonable enough: few would argue with the requirement that vendors, as they tend to be called in the business, should be able to provide their title deeds, proving that they actually own the property they are trying to sell. The sting in the tail, however, is the obligation on every vendor to pay for a structural survey of their home before placing it on the market, the cost of which will make up the bulk of the estimated 700 cost of assembling a seller's pack. The assumption behind the legislation is that a full structural survey is just that: an accurate, brick-by-brick assessment of a building's structure. No more shall buyers be befuddled by sellers hiding damp patches behind the furniture or papering over the cracks.

The reality is quite different. If you want to know whether your house is going to fall down, you might as well consult the runes as commission a full structural survey. Two years ago when I moved house I did have one of these structural surveys done: a 50page, 900 document which was full of idiots' advice but proved to provide information so far removed from the actual condition of the house as to make it laughable.

That our surveyor was not an intrepid sort was evident from some of the statements with which he qualified his thumbnail sketch. `You will appreciate that it is difficult to accurately gauge the condition of the external joinery beneath both paintwork and guttering from a distance,' he began. Indeed it is; it is just that in return for 900 one might have expected him to bother to venture up close. Then there was this excuse for not bothering with the floors: `The vendors confirm that fitted floor coverings are included in the proposed purchase price. We, therefore, were careful not to damage any carpets and were unsuccessful in being able to lift any corners of the fitted carpet at ground-floor level.' Aside from my objection to the use of the royal 'we' - perhaps designed to give the impression that a small army of inspectors were crawling over the place, when in fact only one man in a suit was involved - I couldn't quite see how this qualified as a 'structural' survey when anything hidden from immediate view was dismissed as being beyond the scope of the inspection.

Small wonder, then, that the surveyor failed to notice that the roof tiles, which should have been laid down with a threeinch overlap, in places had virtually no overlap at all, causing years' worth of rainwater to tumble through the roofspace, out through a rotten soffit and then into and down the walls - 600-worth of damage which he dismissed, from his distant vantage point, with the words, `We noted one possible slight leak at a junction on the rear north-facing elevation. …

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