Measure for Measure

Despite our professional roots in land surveying it is not uncommon as an arbitrator to come across valuation disputes in which the precise location and extent of the original problem is far from clear. How does this arise?

Take an example. A crop damage claim has arisen. The farmer instructs a valuer who undertakes an inspection as quickly as possible. Pictures are taken, the area is measured out, detailed instructions are taken, a claim is prepared and submitted in full confidence that it will be resolved speedily and effectively. The respondent’s valuer makes his own assessment and negotiations commence. Meanwhile the farmer needs to get on with farming so the damaged crop is managed as well as possible, the seasons revolve and the ground is prepared for the next crop.

By the time a dispute like this comes to arbitration it is more than likely that months or even years will have elapsed. The original crop will be long gone, and at least some of the longer term damage may be well on the way to a full recovery. What is there left for the arbitrator to see on a site inspection? Virtually nothing.

The arbitrator must therefore rely on the original notes, site plans and other evidence like photographs. Preparing a claim or counter-claim on the assumption that it might need to be substantiated a year or two later would be a great help to the arbitrator, and may well mean the difference between success and failure.

What needs to be done? Good quality photographs, with a clear indication of location, direction and scale and date-stamped are a good start. A clear and simple sketch plan showing the location and extent of damage, and the position from which photographs have been taken. Contemporaneous site notes with a clear factual record of what has been seen, when, and the valuers’ opinion formed from these observations. Contemporary notes of market prices and other economic information to back up the claim, including all the sources of information used so that this appraisal can be reconstructed a year or two, or longer, later. These would all make a very good start.

A range of guidance from the RICS can help, for example:

The new Property Measurement Standard

Boundary guidance

Land surveying client guides

Consistently high professional standards in these basic matters would eliminate some of the problems which are all too commonly-encountered in arbitration practice – and who is to say how many claims have to be settled without being fully tested because of the lack of good professional evidence?

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