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Surveyor can be helpful to self builders in a number of ways:

  • A surveyor can help with surveying a building plot both in terms of its value and also on the nature of the land itself. see Pre-purchase land survey
  • A QS can help control costings and materials
  • A building society or other lender may insist on stage valuations before they will release payments. see Mortgages. A surveyor can do this.

Quantity surveyors

A quantity surveyor or (QS as they are called) may be useful to a self builder in two main  ways. However, whether they are in touch with developments in the field of eco building needs checking out. The RICS statement on sustainability is hardly an exciting document and surveyors in general tend to be a pretty conservative lot, although you do find progressive individuals, as in any ‘Royal Institute’. Particularly with the much higher specification required by standards such as Passivhaus, they need to have studied this and had practical experience.

Their basic job is to list the quantities of all the various materials which go into a building (this is called ‘taking off’) and then they can put a price to them. They do this by measuring the drawings and then converting this into areas and volumes. Much of this work may be computerised, especially if the drawings are done with CAD. They mainly use standard costings for the bulk of the pricing, and then price up special items separately, including PC Sums where necessary.

This process has several purposes:

  • It gives you a guide to what the building work will cost and therefore a way of making savings if necessary because you can see where the money is going.
  • When you go out to tender, the builder can quote more accurately by working off the bill of quantities which you have sent to them. They price each item and then add a percentage profit for their own work. This ensures that all the builders who tender for the job are ‘singing off the same song sheet’.
  • It helps with ordering the right amount of materials as the job goes along.
  • It helps with planning stage payments to the builder and planning for receiving them from the mortgage company.
  • It can help avoid the messy situation that can arise when the inevitable changes are made half way through the job because the breakdown of the costings is clear.

It may have other benefits:

As the QS prepares the list, called the Bill of Quantities, s/he will be able to include more detail about the job. E.g. the architect might have simply drawn a box and called it ‘gas boiler’. The QS will ask you whether you want the cheap one or the luxury one to go into the bill of quantities.  This then forms a rudimentary specification which helps pin down the quality standard you are looking for. A full specification, which is quite a large document, is seldom used on an individual domestic building (an exception might be where you are involved with a listed building and it is important to get everything exactly right).

You can ask QSs to carry out other related jobs like project management.

Don’t expect a QS to come up with novel imaginative ideas along the way. That is what architects (and occasionally structural engineers) are for. They are essentially bean counters who are good at controlling costs.

Many building companies employ estimators who carry out the same basic function as a QS (they may in fact be QSs).They do this so they can quote accurately for jobs.

If you engage a QS the you need to first agree with them what the cost of their fees will be as there is no written fee structure provided by RICS.

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