Major works can be a major headache for property managers, but a good building surveyor can make the process that much easier from start to finish. The key is to understand how your surveyor fits into the process, and how to get the most out of them so you can focus on your job.
For a major works project to be successful, the property manager and building surveyor have to work as a team, each playing their part in getting the job done for the client. As a technical expert, part of the surveyor’s job is to guide the property manager through the process, starting by ascertaining and documenting the need for the works. This may be mandated by the lease or recommended in a planned maintenance programme, but if the work is in response to visible deterioration, the surveyor will make a full assessment, and demonstrate to the client that works are necessary.
Allow plenty of time, plan well ahead
Planning for the works should then start up to a year before work begins. This allows time for practicalities like serving Section 20 notices, liaising with the client and leaseholders and collecting and accounting for the required funds. These are the property manager’s responsibility, but a good surveyor will ensure they happen in good time, and help the property manager manage expectations by explaining the extent of disruption that is liable at each stage of the works. They will also advise on likely costs before tender prices are received. If cost is likely to be a problem, they can propose options such as phasing the works over time.
Let the surveyor take the reins
From there, the surveyor can take almost sole responsibility for the project, including the appointment and overseeing of other professionals such as interior designers or structural engineers as well as the contractors themselves. The surveyor will also explain the nuts and bolts of contracts. For example, while the client formally engages the surveyor to manage these relationships, the client will have a direct contract with the contractor, so the property manager needs to have an appreciation of all the contractual relationships and the underpinning terms and conditions.
“A good surveyor will guide the property manager at every stage, explaining the benefits of periodic face-to-face meetings with the client, and the perils of allowing the client to liaise directly with the contractor!”
For this reason, it is worth making sure the surveyor leading the contract administration is senior, or at least that a senior colleague is closely involved. The best surveyors will be more than happy to meet the client directly, or even compete in a ‘beauty parade’ with rival surveyors. They should have the ability to instil confidence in all concerned, including contractors, as a good relationship between the surveyor and contractor is key to a successful major work project.
Understand your role as the property manager – and stick to it
Good communications are essential throughout the project to ensure the property manager and the surveyor are on the same page and clear about their distinct role and responsibilities. This is especially important with regard to the client and leaseholders, so everyone knows who to go to, for what. And of course, no property manager wants to be mistaken for the surveyor and asked questions they cannot answer, so it is important that the surveyor is available when needed. This should be established at the outset, including the frequency of meetings and briefings for leaseholders where appropriate.
Getting to know your surveyor and what they have to offer will make the whole major works process far easier to manage. Crucially, a good surveyor will help ensure the works are carried out efficiently, to the agreed timescales and to the required standard – without unpleasant surprises.
Surprise avoidance is achievable! It’s all about having clear, realistic timings in place – within a mutually agreed plan without grey areas. The key is a relationship with a surveyor you trust, and who has a track record of running projects on time, on budget and without rancour. For all the technical expertise a building project requires, it’s the personal relationship with your surveyor whose value can be priceless.
Andrew Banister MRICS is Regional Director North, at Earl Kendrick Associates