You have bought your house, moved in, put up the curtains – and noticed a huge crack in the wall. A friendly builder comes round and says it is subsidence but nothing was mentioned in the document your surveyor gave you, so can you sue the surveyor for negligence?

When a professional negligence lawyer looks at a potential negligence claim against a surveyor the first thing that needs to be established is the type of survey that was carried out. There are three types:

  • Valuation
  • Homebuyers report
  • Structural survey

A valuation is usually required if you are buying a property with the aid of a mortgage. It is really for the mortgagee’s benefit – to make sure there is sufficient security in your property in case you default and they need to sell the house. It is purely an exercise to assess whether the property is worth the money you are paying, but will not necessarily highlight any structural problems with the property itself.

A Homebuyers Report is the next option and is suitable for properties that are in good condition. The Surveyor will assess the property identifying any major faults in accessible parts of the building (they won’t pull back the carpets or lift the furniture), he will check for damp, identify any urgent and obvious problems that need attention and usually give you a valuation of the property for mortgage and insurance purposes.

A Full Structural Survey is more expensive than the Homebuyers Report but goes into greater detail, reviewing all major and minor structural problems with the property. They still won’t pull back the carpets or lift the furniture unless it is obvious that there is a problem in which case, the report will detail it, detail the extent of their inspection and give recommendations for future work.

So back to the original question: can you sue, or more precisely, if you sue will you be likely to win? Negligence claims involving valuation reports are the most difficult professional negligence cases to prove. As long as the valuation is within the correct ‘ballpark’ then the surveyor is probably safe, though we have known of instances where incorrect information has been given that would give rise to liability. In a case of suspected subsidence it is very unlikely that liability would arise on a mortgage valuation alone. There are of course exceptions. The situation might be different for instance if the property you have bought is in a known area of subsidence.

If you had a Full Structural Survey you will be on much firmer ground, even if your property isn't! In all likelihood, the answer will be “yes”- unless the subsidence occurred after the survey was carried out or was beyond detection. As for the Homebuyers Report, it depends. Was the subsidence obvious and would a reasonably competent surveyor have noticed it?

Whatever type of survey you had, surveyors negligence cases are rarely straightforward. It’s therefore important that you choose a solicitor who is a specialist in the field and experienced in dealing with professional negligence claims.

If you have been let down by a surveyor or had a bad survey then contact Emma Slade for a free initial assessment of your case at


We had a homebuyers report completed on a property we moved into in April. It identified a broken garden fence post and possible wood worm in the garage. When we moved in we found that the conservatory wall was faulty and that water was coming in through the wall. The conservatory was built in 1999. It has a full glass roof and part glass, part plastic walls. We have a 'filled in' plastic panelled wall in the conservatory that has been covered with plaster board on the inside and painted so that it appears to be a 'normal' wall rather than a white plastic conservatory wall. On moving in we noticed that there was a small dirty mark on the wall. It was dry that weekend. A week or so later, following a night of rain, we woke to find a puddle on the floor and the wall soft and pliable to the touch. We have since noticed that when it rains, you can here water running down between the conservatory wall and the plaster board wall. We only know that there is a plastic conservatory wall behind the plaster board because we took the damaged wet board away (black and mouldy on the back!) and replaced it. We have had someone out to see it they can see any damage to the roof but there is nothing visible. I believe there is damage to the conservatory panelling behind the wall that is not accessible due to the conservatory being built up against the neighbours garage.

I do believe that the surveyor on his visit should have noticed that the wall was warped, damp and a different colour (off white not mouldy because it is leaking water in an open room rather than rising damp or poorly ventilated) to the rest of the room. On first inspection when we moved in, it was obvious to us that there was an issue. We were not present when the valuation took place.

We have made initial attempts at a repair with a roof inspection by a conservatory specialist and replaced the plaster board but now feel that the whole wall may need to come down in order to be rebuilt using brick/blockwork. I do not know what impact this may have on the need to re-do the roof? Do we have a case to claim the cost of this against our surveys as they are contractually bound to assess for damp? Colleys were used.

Dear Gemma

Problems with conservatories are common and surveyors do need to be particularly vigilant.

As with most surveyors claims, the particular facts of the case are likely to be relevant. Was the defect identifiable in the context of a Homebuyers survey? You mention that the wall was visibly warped and this may hold a clue as to whether the problem should have been spotted.

If you have any photos you are welcome to send them to me and I will take a look.

Ultimately it may be necessary for a report to be obtained from another surveyor in the capacity of an expert, commenting upon whether it is a defect that should have been highlighted.

You also need to think about loss. What are the financial consequences of the surveyor missing this? Is it possible that if the defect been identified you could have renegotiated the purchase price? If so, how much would the property have been reduced by?

Don't forget that the small claims court limit is now £10,000. Whilst its not usually cost effective for a solicitor to deal with a small claim the process is quite easy for people without legal qualifications to use.

I hope this helps.

Kind regards
Lee Dawkins


I'm looking for a solicitor that could potentially help us with a problem.

- We found a house and made an offer which was accepted by the vendor. We informed The Nationwide who arranged our mortgage and assigned us a Surveyor.

- We informed The Nationwide that we wanted a full Structural survey and paid the additional cost.

- We received the survey from that stated the property was sructurally sound. They highlighted 2 cracks but deemed them 'not structually significant'.

- We went ahead with the purchase based on this report.

- We completed on Thurs 18th July.

- On Sunday 21st July, we had some visitors that work in the building trade. They felt the cracks were a little more severe than our report indicated and recommended we got a 2nd opinion.

- The senior surveyor re-assessed the property on Thurs 8th August and told us we would hear back within 28 days.

- They have now arranged for a structural engineer to visit us this week to assess the cause of the movement.

I'd like to know where I stand if the surveyor comes back and now says there is an issue with the building.

What can I do if it turns out the previous owner knew about them and chose to cover them up and not disclose the information? There are pins in one of the walls which someone has told us, are used to monitor movement and would have certainly been installed by an insurance company.

If we do have a problem with the house we purchased our survey, not only have we paid out for a survey that was not worth the paper it was written on, we have bought a house that faces £1000’s in repair bills, which could potentially affect the future value of the property, which in turn could cause significant increases in future insurance premiums.

Looking forward to hearing from you.


Thank you for your enquiry.

Firstly, I would suggest that rather than waiting on the report from the original survey company, you go ahead and get a new survey yourself. It is only natural for a potential defendant to downplay the gravity of any problem. Find another local surveyor and get his opinion on the cracks. Hopefully he will say that they are nothing to worry about but if he says that it needs further investigation, ask him whether a reasonably competent surveyor should have noticed this problem in the first place and suggested you undertake further investigation. If the answer is ‘yes’, then sounds like you have a claim for professional negligence.

At that stage, it is worthwhile contacting us and we can chat through the issues with you, how the claim will proceed, how it can be funded etc. One of the questions you have raised here is whether or not you should be going after the vendor. The answer to that is ‘yes, but….’. To bring a claim against the vendor, you will need to show that he breached his contract with you or actively misrepresented the position to you. That is going to be difficult to establish especially as you had your own surveyor’s report. Secondly, you have to consider whether it is financially viable to go after the vendor. Does the vendor have the money to settle a judgment? The answer is most undoubtedly ‘no’. Although you are supposed to try and mitigate your losses by bringing proceedings against a closer tortfeasor, the Courts also recognise that sometimes it is not cost effective so you can sue the professional instead.

As for the likely damages you will receive, this will depend on the cost of repairs –v- the diminution in value of the property, whichever is the lower amount.


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