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Expert Witness: Investigation and Report


Expert witness: Investigation and Report for Insurers on behalf of owners of a property. Carmel Road, North Darlington.

Client: DWF Limited, Solicitors.

We were instructed by DWF Limited, Solicitors acting for Insurers on behalf of the Owners of the property, to visit the property, inspect the conversion and extension of the existing loft and a number of additional works to the ground and first floors.  We were asked to prepare a Report upon the problems experienced by the owners; to express an Opinion on whether the services provided by the Architect fell below the reasonable standard to be expected of an architect; and, to confirm whether any further investigations were required.

Having visited the property and inspected the original Building Control Application at the offices of the Local Authority it became apparent that the Architect had drastically underestimated the time necessary to undertake the work, and had probably underestimated the cost too.  It also appeared the Architect had not appreciated the lack of headroom which would be provided by the proposals, largely because the bulk of the survey and “design” work appeared to have been undertaken by an unqualified and inexperienced assistant, who had failed to consider the design in section as well as in plan form.

As is often the case, our role was hampered by inadequate drawings and records kept by the architect, by the total absence of an accurate detailed design and, perhaps most of all, by the owners’ decision to “project manage” the Works themselves, and to keep few if any records.  Following receipt of tenders they dispensed with the services of the architect.  This might have relieved the architect of much liability.  However, for unknown reasons the architect then decided to prepare a JCT Contract, naming the architect as Contract Administrator.  The architect then failed properly, or at all, to administer the terms of the Contract, while leaving the owners to manage the day to day running of the project, including payments of cash to the Contractor! 

Unfortunately, their inexperience, and their choice of a Contractor who had clearly under-priced for the work, left the scheme incomplete and poorly executed.  In consequence, the Works to the rearward loft extension produced a space in which it was barely possible to stand upright.  Even beneath the ridge of the roof the clear height barely exceeded 1600 mm.  We were also asked to comment upon the likely reduction in the market value as a result of the largely un-useable section of the loft conversion.

The moral of the story?

1.         When appointing an architect ensure a current RIBA Form of Appointment is put in place by your architect;

2.         If accepting a heavily discounted fee, understand why it has been discounted, and ensure your architect will have sufficient funds to resource the project adequately;

3.         If you are tempted to engage a building contractor yourself, without the support of the architect who designed the project, ensure you understand how to manage the process of procurement and construction.

4.         Keep immaculate and comprehensive records of everything.  And, never, ever, pay cash in advance.

Extending a property is the second largest investment most people make in their homes.  Why cut corners?

Below: photgraphs of the finished extension: the low headroom is in the rear facing loft void.

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