It may come of little surprise to anyone that fees are of a constant concern both to those who are liable to pay them and to those putting forward what is reasonable. Another issue often raised is when the fees incurred should be paid. It is a well known fact that an award cannot be held to ransom over fees and as such, the correct answer to this is that fees should be paid duly after service of an award, if however the owner agrees to interim invoices or for fees to be paid on account this is fine but should be document fully and correctly, as agreed within the award.
The Party Wall Act 1996, in contradiction to the common misconception, does not actually state that all fees must be paid, it leave this element up to the two surveyors to decide if and what is appropriate. It is true that if the two surveyors (if indeed two are appointed) award a fee to be paid it is duty bound that the building owner pay the sum agreed, in some cases the surveyors may also agree that fees should be split between the adjoining owner/s.
If an award is not contested within 14 days of receipt by either affected party the fee must be paid and if it is not the surveyor whom has not received payment may present the Award in Court and an enforcement can be made of the Owner who, by refusing to pay the sum due, is in breach of the award.
If however, the award is contested in court, on the basis of the fees included therein being excessive, it would be for the judge to decide what is reasonable. My thought on the matter is that, as a practising party wall surveyor, one should know what is and is not reasonable. We can easily clarify how time has been spent on a job by asking for timesheets to be submitted by the surveyor concerned. My instinct usually serves me correctly when instead of offering a timesheet the surveyor automatically reduces there fee. Whilst this may be the result I had hoped for, so as to ensure that the matters is property handled I will still insist that a breakdown is supplied.
It is the duty of the surveyors appointed to ensure that fees are reasonable and if they are not this should be discussed from the outset and no award agreed until the matter has been satisfactory addressed.
That brings me onto hourly rates, whilst we can all determine what we feel is reasonable and negotiate the hours that have been duly or unduly spent it is more difficult to confront hourly rates. The more experienced the surveyor the higher the fee, the more efficiently they work? Not always and unfortunately this is an issue which does not have a black and white answer. More often that not, particularly with experienced surveyor, some elements of the works undertaken to reach an award are carried out by more junior members of staff. This allows the experienced (and more expensive) surveyor to concentrate on the specifics of the award itself whilst the junior staff member undertakes the schedule of condition and handles day to day enquiries. This has proved to be a successful way of maintaining consistency, ensuring the validity of awards and keeping costs relative and reasonable.
My Final thought on the matter is this…. Fees that are incurred must be relevant and ethical, soething we pride ourselves upon at Party Wall Services. I do not feel that the building owner should be penalised if an adjoining owner is particularly time consuming of misses appointments etc. If fact, I believe in cases where the adjoining owner appears to deliberately cause obstruction they themselves should be awarded to pay the relevant sum. That being said it is very rare that such issues arise and in most cases both the surveyor/s and owner/s are reasonable and happy to have any dispute brought to a close diligently.