The Role of a Modern-Day Building Surveyor

Sarah Foster
When people ask what I do for a living and I respond with “Building Surveyor”, most of the time I get a reply like “oh, that’s interesting”, paired with a blank look. Generally, most people aren’t aware of what a Building Surveyor does – they tend to associate the role with selling or purchasing a property – so this is my chance to create some clarity.

The part of the role that most people associate building surveyors with is surveys e.g. pre-acquisition, dilapidation, condition, DDA/Equality Act audits etc, where we assess the condition of a built asset, usually for defects or compliance, and advise on remediation. We are the GPs of the property world; our role is to deal not just with building defects, but to ensure that they are well maintained so that they continue to work well for their owners and users.

With this in mind, our recent service developments have combined condition surveying with Strategic Asset Management. I was involved in the development of these ‘bottom-up’ surveys, which provide lifecycle costing projections to assist in maintenance/budgeting schedules. This has now led to the development of Smart Investment Planning which enables clients to target surveying, and ultimately investment, towards high risk assets or functions. Through this, we are seeing more and more organisations with large, dispersed property portfolios utilise our services to make the management of them more efficient.

But it’s not all about condition surveys! The other main part of the role of a Building Surveyor is project work – often the aspect of our role that people don’t know about. We cover all the RIBA stages through Feasibility Studies, Design, Contract Administration and Maintenance Support. We’re even involved before this, as often we’re the ones advising on what work is needed, leading to potential projects.

If you’re not familiar with Building Surveyors undertaking design work, you just need to take a look at the RICS APC Competencies which define what a Chartered Building Surveyor should be able to undertake. It shows ‘Design and Specification’ as one of our core competencies. There are of course limitations to our scope e.g. we generally don’t undertake anything large-scale, usually limited by contract sum, and we tend to work with existing buildings but can assist in small-scale extension/new-build. However, there is no defined line. Each project is considered on an individual basis, and we work closely with our clients to make informed decisions about when a Building Surveyor needs to be appointed, or can add further value to the delivery of their projects.

Building Surveyors provide added value in project work through:

  • In-depth knowledge of building defects and rectifications, allowing us to specialise in specifying for existing buildings
  • Able to undertake our own surveys to guide schedules of work
  • Provide continuity through the ability to cover the entire project from feasibility through to maintenance support; providing project savings, vital for smaller works

The recognition of this added value is evident through uptake from organisations with large property portfolios requesting Building Surveying experience for their secondment and permanent position PM roles. But we must know our limitations; where appropriate, we would gain advice from experts such as Structural Engineers, Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, Suppliers and Design Specialists such as Heritage Experts. However, one of the great benefits of our company is that we have many of these services in-house and great connections in our supply chain.

People’s perceptions of building surveying can seem limited, but hopefully I’ve created clarity on this incredibly diverse role which has endless possibilities, all of which have a positive and transformational impact on the built environment.

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