Property Buyers Beware! Get a Full Structural Survey

In a reminder to property buyers that a full structural survey can often be well worth the money, a woman who had to have major work done to prop up her home has suffered a costly defeat in her fight for compensation from her mortgage lender.

The detached home was built on the site of a long-closed quarry and had to be underpinned due to cracking in its walls. The woman sued Bank of Scotland plc for substantial damages, claiming that a valuation survey carried out before she bought the property should have flagged up the potential risk of subsidence.

The woman had paid £715 for the survey report, which had pinpointed two cracks in a rear wall but concluded that there had been no recent movement and that there was no ongoing subsidence. The property was valued at £690,000 and the bank, which had nominated the surveyor, agreed to extend finance on the basis of the report.

However, soon after moving in, the woman noticed that the cracks were growing wider and commissioned a structural expert to inspect the property. He concluded that it was affected by 'progressive movement' and recommended the underpinning work which was subsequently carried out.
The woman sought damages on the basis that the surveyor was negligent in failing to state that there was a risk of future subsidence. She also argued that she should have been told to take further advice. However, her claim failed at the High Court and her challenge to that decision was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

The Court noted that the survey was not designed to produce an in-depth structural report and was primarily for the bank's benefit in confirming the value of the property as security for the loan. The advice attached to the report had expressly stated that the surveyor would not look beneath the surface and could not 'see through walls'.

The Court concluded, "A valuation surveyor's duty does not require him to recommend a full structural report. The judge was entitled to hold, on the material before him, that the survey was not negligent."

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