Building surveying has been around as a profession since the 1970s, and it is now one of the broadest areas of surveying practice, taking in projects from a domestic extension to a major retail development. Building surveyors offer advice on many aspects of design and construction, including maintenance, repair, refurbishment and restoration of proposed and existing buildings.
They offer quality assessments and report on defects in, or ways of improving, all kinds of buildings. As well as finding structural faults, building surveyors recommend solutions. They can advise on the feasibility of a building project, and how much it might cost to carry out, or how suitable a building could be for a particular purpose.
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Building surveying work can also involve drawing up detailed plans, and advising on whether a grant might be available. Building surveyors instruct architects to prepare detailed plans and help provide estimates for the work. While work is going on, building surveyors project manage, are responsible for budgets and oversee work on site.
Finally, building surveyors are responsible for dealing with planning applications and advise on property law, building regulations and other legal matters such as health and safety. In building and contract disputers, building surveyors can act as expert witnesses or represent their clients.
Clients are broad-ranging, and might include prospective buyers, sellers, mortgage lenders and property owners.
Helen Brown is a building surveyor who specialises in conservation buildings for the National Trust. She says: “I have never had any problems as a female in the male-dominated construction industry and sometimes it might actually have been a benefit as people remember you and recommend you for work.
“I manage major projects when they arise. For example a medieval mansion came to the National Trust in need of major repair. I carried out stone-tile roof and structural repairs; upgraded heating, rewiring, foul drainage, installed a fire-detection and alarm system; and provided a staff flat, a holiday apartment.
“I would recommend building surveying to anyone with an interest in buildings, it is a varied and fulfilling job which doesn’t keep you stuck in an office. It’s also mentally stimulating. I’d urge anyone starting out to gain as broad an experience as possible with different employers.”
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Professionals in the field made on average from £37,800 to £42,100 in 2008, and from £35,900 to £40,100 in 2009, according to figures from jobs posted on CareerStructure.com.
Hours and environment
There are site visits and external meetings, but building surveyors also spend much of their time writing reports and records, dealing with admin and generally working a standard 37-hour week. Sometimes the hours are longer to cope with deadlines, although you will probably only rarely be away from home overnight.
For some employers, you may be on a 24-hour emergency call out rota.
Inspecting buildings can be a dark, dirty and damp business, and you could find yourself up ladders or scaffolding, and may need to be outside in all weathers, so expect to wear protective clothing. As a building surveyor, you’ll find yourself away from your desk more often than in other branches of the profession.
Self-employment is common, especially in private practice, and consultancy and part-time work is possible. A building surveying qualification is also often recognised abroad.
Skills and interests
A reasonable level of physical fitness will stand you in good stead for site visits.
Building surveyors combine strong technical skills with excellent people skills and are able to work as part of a team as well as alone. They also display confident communication skills at all levels, both verbally and in writing.
Because clients need to have total confidence in them and their impartial advice, building surveyors must also display high levels of professional integrity.
You’ll also need technical knowledge of planning, construction and design and a logical, practical mind, along with strong IT skills. You’ll be a good problem solver, and interested in building techniques and methods.
Finally, building surveyors have sound business knowledge and commercial instinct, and can appreciate matters of economics and law.
A driving licence may well be needed for some site visits.
Demand for building surveyors is rising with the increasing refurbishment of urban areas, older properties and rural sites. While no one would pretend the construction industry was not affected by the recession, and the level of opportunities reflects the economy as a whole, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) suggests there is still plenty of demand, especially for building control surveyors.
Although only 15% of chartered surveyors are women, the RICS says current student membership is almost a quarter female, so things are changing, and the RICS is keen to have more female members.
Equally, many building surveyors have weathered the effects of the recession by taking up opportunities abroad or have been relocated by their firms.
There are no set minimum entry requirements to becoming a building surveyor, but in practice most who enter the profession are educated to at least A-level or equivalent.
The most common route to qualification is by first taking a degree accredited by the RICS or the Chartered Institute of Building, followed by two years’ professional experience and on-the-job training.
Most accredited courses ask for at least two A-levels, and a minimum of four good GCSE passes, or equivalent.
Relevant degree subjects include surveying, construction, civil engineering and
If you don’t want to study full-time for three years, distance learning, part-time courses and sandwich courses, including a year’s work which can count towards the professional experience you need to qualify, are all options. There are also relevant post graduate and conversion courses if you haven’t done an accredited first degree.
It’s also possible to start in a trainee position with a surveying firm and work towards professional qualifications while working.
Training and advancement
To fully qualify, you need to complete at least two years’ structured professional experience after completing your accredited degree or diploma, and many organisations run graduate trainee schemes.
This will lead to the RICS professional assessment interview — or Assessment of Professional Competence (APC). You will be interviewed and have to give a presentation, testing your business and interpersonal skills as well as the key competencies specific to building surveying. You’ll also need to provide a written record of your experience to date.
Once you have passed this assessment, you are entitled to use the letters MRICS (Member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) after your name.
The Chartered Institute of Building, the Association of Building Engineers and the British Institute of Facilities Management also offer related professional qualifications.
Ongoing professional development remain crucial throughout your career.
Building surveyors can progress to senior management, and most larger organisations have a formal promotional structure. If you are with a smaller company, you may need to change employer to progress or gain wider experience.
Alternatively, you may wish to opt for self-employment, perhaps become a partner in a practice, or to specialise in an area such as dilapidations, landlord and tenant dispute resolution or project management.
The largest employer is the private sector, but building surveyors also work for local authorities, where they maintain, repair and improve all council-owned property. There are opportunities with the charities or trusts which manage large historical buildings.
There are further openings in central government, and large property-owning bodies such as housing associations, NHS, loss adjusters and public-private organisations.
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