Guest Blog: Two Tips to Prevent Party Walls Ruining Your Build

Monday, June 13, 2016

Andrew McWhirter has over 30 years of experience as a Chartered Surveyor and works with the cream of the crop in private, commercial and state developments. He’s my trusted source for all matters involving party walls, so I was delighted when he offered to write some guest blogs for our readers. – John Dyer-Grimes

If your build involves a party wall, you won’t be able to start until you receive a Party Wall Award. While much of the process is out of your hands, there are two things you can do to help prevent it disrupting your build and maximise your chances of being awarded.

Allow three months to get your Party Wall Award 

In the absolute best case scenario, with the neighbour completely happy for you to proceed and everyone responding immediately to all communications, it’s possible to have a Party Wall Award signed off in two weeks.

But this almost never happens.

In most cases, your neighbours will be in no hurry to help you proceed, especially if you have a particularly complex build that will cause months of noise and significant works on the wall in question. Complex builds will also require more documentation to prove that safeguards are in place to protect the neighbouring property. For example, if you’re planning to add a basement floor, the surveyors will need robust reports that prove that the build will not undermine the structural integrity of the neighbouring property.

If there are multiple neighbours, you can further multiply the number of potential complications. In a current project neighbouring a block of flats, we’ve been negotiating for six months and still have two awards outstanding – and that’s with us doing everything in our power to move it along swiftly.

This is why you must never leave your Party Wall Award too late in the process. It’s not just another formality with a fairly predictable time scale that you need to tick off before you can start building; it’s an often complicated process involving factors beyond your control and parties that may deliberately impede your progress.

Appoint an experienced and dedicated Party Wall Surveyor

Unfortunately, many Party Wall Surveyors don’t take their role seriously or don’t give the job the attention it deserves. Building surveying is a multi-discipline profession, and party wall matters are often given less of a priority within firms, causing them to be pushed down the line in their schedules or handed off to less experienced surveyors.

A Party Wall Surveyor needs to be able to hold their own in lengthy and detailed discussions with other surveyors so that they can reach a fair decision. I can always tell when I’m dealing with a novice or someone who simply isn’t invested. If they’re not up to date with the latest changes in the law, fail to produce detailed reports and are slow to respond to emails, the entire process becomes far more time consuming and frustrating than it has to be.

An inept Party Wall Surveyor not only hurts your chances of receiving a Party Wall Award for your build, but they can also cause you problems after the fact.

Essential to the Party Wall Award is the “schedule of condition”, a detailed report on the condition of the neighbour’s property. If this report is not exhaustive, then your neighbour may make claims against you for damage caused to their property that was in fact pre-existing but not recorded in the Party Wall Award because it was missed by the surveyor or they forgot to include it.

Finally, their documentation should also be well presented, not a dog-eared, coffee-stained scrap of paper – which, unfortunately, I do still come across and is entirely unacceptable for a costly professional service.

If you have any questions about party walls and how my firm can help, feel free to get in touch at [email protected].

Thank you for reading,

Andrew McWhirter