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Independent Damp Surveyor vs Contractor Damp Surveyor

January 15th, 2021

All posts, Damp / Rising Damp / Damp Proofing /, Surveying

I write about the subject, not to discredit either surveyors but to promote debate on the topic and to express my own thoughts and opinions on the independent damp surveyor vs contractor damp surveyor throughout my 20 years experience.

Twenty years ago independent damp surveyors were few and far between, however, in recent years this sector has grown rapidly. why? Well, that’s probably a self-inflicted trend. For many years, if a client had a problem with damp, where did they go? Chances are after a quick flick through the yellow pages they ended up with a contractor on their doorstep. Of course, to make sure they got the best, most trusty worthy professionals around, the likelihood is that they instructed one of the national companies, because bigger is always better right?  It is often publicised that many contractors would agree to undertake a survey free of charge, why wouldn’t they when there’s potentially something to gain. Unfortunately, this free survey really became an invitation to quote, resulting in unnecessary treatments being recommended and commissioned. Couple this invitation to quote with a ‘company surveyor’ on commission and you have a recipe for a rip off. I say ‘company surveyor’ as we all know that’s really a salesman and although you might consider my comment above referring to the national companies being unfair, it was mainly the nationals employing ‘company salesmen’ on commission.

So inevitably, a history of miss-sold treatments and repairs promoted either through inaccurate diagnosis or simply greedy profit driven salesmen has most certainly assisted in the demand for independent surveyors.

It’s easy to see the attraction of an independent survey. A surveyor paid simply for their time and expertise with no apparent incentive to sell, surely that’s got to be worth the money.

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You’ll often see independent surveyors marketing themselves as the opposition to contractors, free from commercially driven incentives. Here’s a prime example extracted from an independent surveyor’s website “Many contractors, looking for chemical damp work, offer low cost, or sometimes “free” surveys. We do not and never will benefit financially from any recommended remediation. We are motivated to recommend optimal treatment to protect the property now and into the future.” Statements like this are not uncommon from independent surveyors – examples aside.

So, an independent opinion is what you need surely? But exactly how unbiased is an independent surveyor? Because independent does not necessarily mean unbiased! The same independent surveyor also states the following on their website – “We will repay the full fee, no questions asked, if we find rising damp is the root cause.” In fact, they are so confident they won’t find rising damp, they’re willing to refund the survey cost if they do. So, ask yourself, do you think this independent has a financial incentive to find anything other than rising damp? Same shoe, different foot!

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So, what do you really get from an independent survey report and is it worth the money?

Unbiased opinion

As I’ve just explained, an independent survey isn’t necessarily going to be unbiased. There are many surveyors, believe it or not, who still consider rising damp as mythical and choose to ignore proven science. In the same way contractors may choose to provide a free survey in return for the potential of quoting for work, some surveyors who believe rising damp is a fable created only by the damp proofing industry are unlikely to ever agree if you genuinely have a rising damp problem, especially if they’ve agreed to return the survey fee on the basis that there is.

Of course, if a treatable issue is obvious and an independent surveyor agrees that treatment should be undertaken, there is a likelihood that no arrangement will exist between the surveyor and the company providing the treatment either in terms of material or workmanship. The same cannot always be said with a contractor where many have relationships with specific manufacturers meaning they will only sell products from one supplier, particularly if that supplier is the guarantor of their work.


We’d like to assume that a level playing field of knowledge exists between surveyors in the industry no matter what their background, however, inevitably knowledge and experience will vary from surveyor to surveyor. Industry standards, codes of practice and trade organisations exist to ensure basic standards and technical competence are maintained, however, there will always be those surveyors who choose to strive above and beyond, and these can be contractors or independents.  

I should however point out that contractor surveyors who work for companies who are members of the PCA (Property Care Association) our leading trade body are audited regularly. Every two years the company will receive a visit from a PCA inspector and a sample number of reports will be scrutinised. Where necessary, guidance will be provided to ensure standards and technical competence is maintained.

Independent surveyors however, irrespective of PCA membership are not audited by the PCA and as such, their work is under the scrutiny of no-one. So, who do you put you faith in, the surveyor audited to industry standards or the self regulated surveyor?

Technical Accuracy  

It is often quoted that our eyes are the best surveying tool, however, over recent years the skill of surveying has progressed from a purely observational role with opinion forming much of the diagnosis, into more of a factual diagnostic role. Whilst it’s true that our eyes and brain are the first indicators of a problem and the likely causes, usually, without a disruptive investigation, scientific evaluation and diagnostic tools this cannot be confirmed factually.

Most independent reports are similar to a pre-purchase survey, they’re non destructive. This means that the surveyor will not destructively test walls or plaster, lift carpets or floorboards or move furniture. The survey will be conducted in a non-disruptive manner which usually means that the diagnosis is based upon instrumental readings from an electronic moisture meter coupled with an educated guess.

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Many chartered surveyor’s reports I’ve read over the years recommended disruptive sampling and testing to confirm the diagnosis of a specialist, whether they be independent or contractors. Throughout the UK there are a number of highly commended and experienced contractors that have the skills, expertise and equipment to facilitate them in the undertakings of an accurate diagnostic survey which will present factual information to supplement their observational survey. This is the only way to be assured of correct diagnosis.

In over twenty years however, I can count on one hand the number of independent companies / surveyors who undertake disruptive investigations or have the armoury of diagnostic equipment to supplement their reports to this level. As such, many of these reports which are independent, may possibly be considered unbiased however, are still observational and opinion based.

Clients of independent surveyors will often believe that because they’re paying a substantial amount more for the survey that the report will be much more than an educated opinion which is rarely the case.


Well opinions here vary. As I’ve just mentioned many people believe that if they pay more for an independent survey, they’re actually getting much more than an independent opinion. That’s not always the case.

Almost all independents imply and sell their service on the basis that a contractor’s surveyor is incentivised and cannot be trusted, that’s grossly unfair and untrue. Whilst potentially contractors could and have in the past taken advantage of their position, it cannot be said that all contractors are untrustworthy. It is simply not true.

The cost of an independent survey really comes down to how much a client values the opinion. I’ve seen independents charge anything between £300.00 – £1500 for a survey. Whilst this could be considered expensive in comparison to a contractor’s survey, considering that this is their only revenue stream, provided the client receives the right advice, this isn’t that expensive.

A contractor’s survey will usually be cheaper than an independents, this is because a contractor will usually have two income revenues provided by both contracted repairs and surveys. To the benefit of the client, this will often mean that the full cost of a survey can be offset through other revenue streams, I should point out this does not necessarily mean from the same client. This allows the contractor to provide the same level of survey at a reduced cost.

Follow on

So where do you go from here? Ultimately, if you have a problem, the likelihood is that you will need the assistance of a contractor. The contractor can be appointed to design a specification and undertake the repair or simply follow a specification proposed by an independent surveyor. The problem you may encounter here is that a contractor may be unwilling to follow a specification designed by others, especially if they’re being asked to guarantee the work. Think about it, would you guarantee someone else’s work? Would the independent be willing guarantee the contractors work? Again, same shoe, different foot.

I’ve read statements from independent surveyors such as: “Contractors overstating the problem and therefore recommending a more disruptive and more expensive remedy than required”.

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Implying that contractors may deliberately over engineer specifications for their own gain. In my honest opinion however, this is rarely true in fact usually the opposite. In my experience contractors are guilty of under engineering, not doing enough, hence the multiple failed repairs we encounter. If anything, I often find an independents specification is over engineered to eliminate the responsibility of a failed repair and pointed finger in accusation in the future.

Independents also have a habit of downplaying issues, suggesting all that is needed is a simple repair such as, fixing the gutters and this work can be carried out by the homeowner for a fraction of the cost of a contractor. Whilst rectification of the offending cause may be relatively cheap and simple, not all homeowners are willing to climb ladders or have the skills to attend to a repair, dry down walls and re-plaster if needed. 

Whilst I cannot deny that our industry has been troubled with shadows cast by unscrupulous contractors and chemical manufacturers in the 70’s, 80’s and even early 90’s, the days of commission based company salesmen dressed up as surveyors are fading into past. There are now more than ever many honest, credible and technically competent contractors up and down the country with the skills and capability to undertake forensic diagnostic inspections.

So, when do you really need an independent surveyor? In my opinion very rarely and only in the event of a dispute between a client and a contractor. For everything else there are some highly credible, qualified, and experienced contractors throughout the country who can assist, just do your reasearch first.

I hope this article has provided some food for thought from the boot on the other foot.

Some may say I’m clearly biased as a contractor, however, I’m merely sharing my thoughts and opinions as many independents have done so over the years.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome and appreciated.


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Russell Rafton – Dryfix Preservation Ltd Senior Surveyor

Dryfix Yorkshires Leading Damp & Timber Specialists

A 5 x Industry Award Winning Company with the Property Care Association.

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