Avoid litigation at all costs

Two things  involved in building or renovating a home are pretty certain:

  1. There will be cost overruns – the original budget is likely to be hopelessly inadequate
  2. There will be disputes/arguments between the client (dissatisfied with the cost/quality of the job) and the building contractor (who has either under-quoted and who has run out of money to do the job, or who simply lacks the skills and resources to do a good job).

As house inspectors, we at HouseCheck do a fair bit of inspecting and reporting on building work which has become the subject of a building dispute.  Very often we work for the home owner who is being taken for a ride by builders, but sometimes we are appointed by a reputable builders who are being “stiffed” by clients who either neurotic about “quality” or who simply want to “get something for nothing” – i.e. not pay a fair rate for the work which has been done.

Either way the role of the home inspector is to be the objective third party who documents factually the state of the building work and then uses his training and experience to evaluate the quality of the work.

Wherever possible HouseCheck inspectors attempts to resolve the dispute by way of mediation – i.e. sitting the client and the builder down around a table and then looking at the facts as revealed in the HouseCheck report.

This is far better than immediately rushing to involve lawyers and issuing legal summons.   In our experience going the legal route always hardens attitudes and mostly only makes the legal profession rich.

My advice as a property inspector to people doing building work is:

  • Expect disputes with the builder/client;
  • Reduce the potential for disputes by entering into a well-thought out written contract which clearly stipulates how and when payment is to be made;
  • In the event of a dispute use a professional inspector to document the evidence and then try and negotiate a resolution to the dispute;
  • Eeven better use a professional inspector to quality control each stage of the project so that mistakes can be rectified before the work has gone too far.
  • Only as a very last resort consider litigation.

I recently acted as an expert witness in a dispute which did go to court.  The  amount claimed by the aggrieved client was under R100 000, the builder defended the action claiming the actual damages were less than R10 000. Legal costs of the the, as yet unresolved matter, are probably running over R300 000 to date as the endless court hearing drags on.

As I said: Avoid litigation at all costs – it is very likely to end up costing you and just making the lawyers rich.

John Graham, Cape Town South Africa
email me 083 3109 766
Follow me on Twitter: housecheckjohn

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