Building Surveyor in suit presenting as an Expert Witness in legal case

Property valuation is not always easy or straightforward. There are many aspects of the property that need to be taken into account. Sometimes, properties end up being valued incorrectly, significant defects are missed or essential information is not disclosed. This can lead to disputes between the parties involved in the purchase, sale or leasing of property. As we discussed in a previous blog, when a dispute arises that cannot be settled, an Expert Witness is sometimes needed.

As part of our Expert Witnesses work, we provide expert valuation and building defects  reports for all natures of holdings; from various types & ages of residential properties, including for development & brownfield sites, to a variety of commercial assets – shops & shopping centres, pubs & off licences, hotels & restaurants, night clubs & working men’s clubs, nursing/care & retirement homes, sporting & leisure facilities, religious & educational uses, as well as industrial units and office buildings – not to mention land with potential or detriment.

With over 30 Professional Staff (Chartered Surveyors), there isn’t much in the property industry that we do not have experience with. (There are six Experts at AWH who specialise in different aspects of the Property Industry). As an Expert Witness, Hari Hirani FRICS, IRRV, MPVAI – who is an AWH Director of Valuations, Surveys & Professional Services – has over 45 years’ experience carrying out Expert Valuations and giving evidence in various High Courts, Tribunals, Public Enquiries and Select Committees.

When is a Valuation Expert needed?

There are many instances when an Expert Witness might be called to help on valuation matters. Despite the huge range of cases, the most common can often be summarised into two categories – Solicitors negligence and Surveyors negligence.

Solicitors Negligence

Most cases of solicitor negligence where an Expert Valuation Witness is involved,  relate to failure in:

  • Not making proper or full enquiries (e.g. Rights of Way, Wayleaves & Easements)
  • Not obtaining further or more detailed information on past or continuing detrimental factors (e.g. underpinning or prescriptive rights)
  • Not disclosing information fully (e.g. reported encroachment or dispute)
  • Verifying information incorrectly (e.g. compulsory purchase effects)
  • Not Serving appropriate Notices in specified time periods (e.g. under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954).
  • Registering wrong or unidentifiable parcels of fringe land (e.g. at Riverbank).

Sample Unusual Expert Valuation Cases

While each case an Expert Witness is called to assist with is unique and interesting in itself, some stand out more than others but in most instances, they can be referred to as “Before and After” cases. Hari explains,

The question being asked is what the value would have been before any event had occurred and what the value is once the event has already taken place.

Hari recalls some of his more memorable “gems”:

Missing drainage search spells trouble for solicitor

A solicitor was being accused of negligence, but for a different reason than any described above. The case revolved around a gate house of an old manor house which had been sold as a separate property to the rest of the estate. Some 3 years later, the gate house was put on the market again and the solicitor acting for the new buyer picked up that the drainage details for the gate house were missing. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the drainage was actually still linked to the manor house, but the Manor owner threatened to cut off outlets and refused to have any involvement, on the grounds that they had sold the property and therefore believe it to be the responsibility of the owner of the gate house to resolve the issue. The owner of the gate house therefore raised a claim against their original solicitor for not picking this up during the initial purchase.

When valuing the property, Hari had to determine the before and after value for the gate house; meaning what the value of the property was without drainage as well as what the value would be if drainage had been available. This additionally meant determining what alternative manners of drainage could be installed, for example a cesspit and drainage pump.

In an added twist, the Environmental Agency determined – and the local Council enforced – that a cesspit could not be added due to a potential environmental impact.

Hari reflects:

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as just determining what the cost would be to repair the issue or put it right. In the valuation assessment you can reflect on what the cost would have been, but various Court Cases have established the principle that the correct level of measuring damages is the difference in value between the assumed good condition and the condition reported (i.e. cost is not the compensation between the before and after ).

Our Expert Report formed the unchallenged base for determining the correct amount of ”valuation damages” and was accepted by all the involved parties.

When it rains it pours

In another case, drainage was also an issue but in an even less pleasant way.

The owners of a pretty 16th century, Grade 2 listed cottage sold their property, and the new owners happily settled into their new home. Not long afterwards, rain arrived and the cottage – the ground floor of which was about 9 inches below the  external ground level – began to flood. And not just with rainwater!

Unfortunately, the local sewage system did not handle the increase in water levels, causing a manhole outside the property to overflow. As the cottage was situated at the lowest point, the sewage leaking out of the manhole settled towards and within the property, resulting an extremely smelly and unpleasant situation.

In this instance, a claim resulted against two parties. Firstly, the solicitors who could have got fuller information from Thames Water, once the Environmental Report highlighted the problem. Instead they just sent the document to the Buyer without comment. Secondly, the previous owner was also sued for not declaring in the Pre-Contract Enquiries that the property was prone to periodic flooding.

While acting as the Expert Witness, Hari was tasked with

determining what the value of the property would be if flooding were not an issue, as well as what the value of the cottage was, knowing that flooding can occur. Again, in making an assessment, one had to take heed of the Court Cases that have established the principle that the cost is not the compensation between the before and after.

When a Lease is not a Lease

A landlord of a commercial property served a Section 25 notice, under The Landlord & Tenant Act 1954 to determine the tenancy of two very large warehouses. The tenant’s solicitors neglected to serve the Section 26 notice within the given time period and the tenant lost all rights to the security of tenure protection that would otherwise be afforded by the Act.

The Landlords offered a shorter & poorer Lease (with break clauses) and demanded a substantially higher rent than previously proposed. The Tenant had been in occupation for over 20 years but were left without a choice if they wished to remain in the premises and continue trading. They sued their previous solicitors.

Hari was appointed as an Expert to determine what

“the correct level of rent would have been and what loss was suffered due to the now “watered down” Lease. Further, he also had to assess what damage had resulted to the Operating Business due to the now expensive rent outlay and the loss of statutory protection”.

Surveyors Negligence

Surveyors negligence where an Expert Valuation Witness is involved, can relate to many issues, including :

  • When a property has either been over, and in exceptional cases, undervalued.
  • Incorrect assessment of value by not reflecting the condition and location of neighbouring amenities
  • Inexperience in valuing a particular type of property in an unfamiliar location

Here are some cases, Hari has been involved in, to highlight some of the “difficulties”:

  • A property located on a busy road in London was situated next to a petrol station and opposite a pub and local shopping parade. Following a valuation, the property was mortgaged. Some four years later it was repossessed. The Lenders found it very hard to sell the dwelling due to the proximity of these detrimental amenities. Hari was asked to determine the correct original price and current price.
  • A property was located opposite a council block and backed onto an industrial estate. The service road leading to the industrial estate was situated virtually adjoining the property. The property was repossessed in due course and proved difficult to resell. Hari was asked to determine the correct original and current reasonable valuation.
  • A property backed onto a telecommunications data centre. The surveyor carrying out the valuation did not pick up on it and the new owner raised a claim based on the radiation levels that were present. While the levels of radiation levels were low, they did present a potential health risk, especially to the young, old or vulnerable. Hari was asked to determine the “before & after value.
  • An example of inexperience and unfamiliarity was noted when a surveyor gave the Lender a completely wrong Valuation of Grade 2 listed oast house (or hop kiln; a building which is designed for kilning hops as part of the process of brewing beer). The original redundant (part timber, brick & flint constructed) building had been converted into a spacious residential dwelling, having a good plot of land and a stream directly to the rear of the property. Unfortunately, the couple that bought the property ended up getting divorced and the property was ultimately repossessed and sold at a significant loss. Hari reflects:

The difficulty here was that there were so many unusual features that needed to be taken into account, which even an experienced valuer would have found a stretch – the construction, cracking due to shallow foundations and seasonal structural movement difference as a result of the stream, the basic quality of conversion and the limitations to any new improvements being hindered by the Grade 2 listing consent requirement and most importantly, the knowledge of the market for this specialist type of property”.

  • Occasionally a case arises from an undervaluation. A 2-acre plot of land, which was used by a fencing contractor, was valued as part of the division of assets when two partners fell out. Based on the valuation, a settlement was reached with the departing partner. Sometime later, successful residential planning was applied for on part of the land; which increased its value substantially. The aggrieved partner sued the surveyor, for not reflecting “hope value” in his original valuation.

The surveyor should have checked the area plan and the land register, where he would have seen that small developments had been allowed on other plots within the area in the past, so there was definitely a development potential to reflect”

More often than not, many “negligent” issues do not come to light until some years after a new owner takes possession of the property. As such, our Expert Witnesses are often asked to value the property retrospectively – to determine what the correct value would have been at the time of its original valuation. This might mean that our team needs to research and take into account the market conditions and demand, comparable sales of similar property and the original state of the asset.

In doing this, we have worked on many fascinating properties. Some of the more unusual or abnormal ones we have valued include:

  • Religious buildings – churches of all denominations, temples, gurudwaras, mosques and synagogues
  • Basement car park with leaching high alumina cement
  • Redundant hospital & mental institution
  • A working water wheel operated grain mill
  • Communication masts
  • Doctor and dental surgeries
  • Schools and nurseries
  • Sports grounds
  • A ready mixed concrete yard
  • And operating refuse recycling station
  • An operating Jewish bathing house
  • An operating Slimming clinic
  • A fully operating Brewery
  • A public house with its own spring water supply & resident ghost!
  • A fine period building, but dimly lit and of ill repute in Soho, London
  • A repossessed Leisure centre of extensive facilities
  • An original Manor House with a motor car racing test track
  • A disused Quarry
  • A disused Army base
  • A disused petrol station which still had intact tanks and car spray asbestos sheeting built garage above it, which utilised gas blowers!
  • A disused Listed Welsh Palace of substantial size and grand design
  • A disused London Embassy
  • Valuations of restrictive covenant breach
  • Valuations of ransom strip
  • Valuations of “overage” on planning gain

And the list could go on.

Speak to the experts

Not every surveyor has the knowledge and experience of providing valuations for unusual properties of the kind described. Our chartered surveyors have developed their expertise over the course of many years, providing valuations on properties of all shapes and sizes. We take pride in offering a service underpinned by the experience of Surveyors who can provide “reliable, researched, reasoned & responsible advice“. Hari says,

“It doesn’t matter what type of property it is – if it is standing we will put a value for it; if it has been demolished we will provide the land value”.

If you need a valuation or think your property has been valued incorrectly, call our experts on 0800 071 5517. Alternatively, email and one of the team will get back to you right away.