What do graduate building surveyors do in their jobs?
Building surveyors are professional consultants who provide technical advice for the construction and property industries. The work of a building surveyor is varied and straddles the divide between construction professionals and general practice surveyors in the property industry. You can expect to work on multiple projects at a time and to split your time between your office and clients’ properties.
What is the salary for building surveyors? Check out our guide to salaries within the construction industry to find out how your career could progress from graduate building surveyor to partner.
TARGETjobs asked James Pearce, a former director in building consultancy at BNP Paribas Real Estate and now working in building surveying at Capital & Counties Properties Plc, to outline the main functions and core roles in building surveying. This is what he told us…
Building surveyors can be involved in any part of the construction process and throughout the ‘operational lifecycle’ of a building.
Building surveyors conduct building surveys on freehold and leasehold properties. This is essentially an inspection of a property and provides information on the property’s construction, any building defects and the possible cost of repairs.
This concerns buildings requiring repair, where a tenant is responsible for keeping a building in repair during their lease. Claims are usually made by a landlord during or at the end of the lease and a building surveyor will usually inspect the building and value the cost of repairs. The building surveyor can either have the works carried out or negotiate with the landlord to agree a financial settlement. This area is governed by various statutes and case law and a good knowledge of these is vital.
On construction projects that don’t require an architect’s expertise but still need the input of a building professional, a building surveyor can design and specify the works. They may also act as project manager and administer the contracts. Examples of these types of project include office refurbishments and small extensions. On larger construction projects, they may monitor a project’s progress and quality on behalf of the client.
Building surveyors agree party wall awards; that is, they advise building owners over altering or repairing a wall/floor/ceiling shared with another property on a boundary shared by an adjoining property.
Other instructions can include: valuing a building’s reinstatement cost for insurance purposes; producing plans and schedules of the conditions of buildings; and monitoring the health and safety aspects of constructions works.
Building surveyors can play a key part in ensuring buildings are sustainable (so that the construction work and the buildings themselves have minimal environmental impact). Building surveyors advise on best practices, considering how to increase sustainability ratings alongside ensuring work meets sustainable guidelines.
Graduates start out by assisting more experienced colleagues on a full range of instructions, such as building inspections, while working towards gaining a professional qualification, known as chartership, with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). This involves passing the assessment of professional competence (APC) and usually takes two years. Some employers might place graduates in one specialist team from the beginning, while a few will rotate graduates around different teams.
As graduates gain more experience, they’ll take the lead on smaller instructions. Once surveyors become chartered, they can become a consultant responsible for a variety of work. Many surveyors choose to remain ‘generalists’ as they progress, applying their building surveying expertise in different ways to a number of projects as they climb their firm’s hierarchy. Others specialise in an aspect of surveying, such as:
- a particular type of building or sector, eg retail, historic
- refurbishment projects or new builds
- tenancy dispute resolutions
- party wall awards
- disability accessibility
- insolvency and corporate recovery (working on the buildings owned by organisations in financial difficulty).
Whether you specialise depends both on your own aspirations as well as on the needs of your employer: some firms will want you to specialise but others won’t. Self-employment is also an option for experienced surveyors.
Building surveying is a niche career; there are fewer graduate schemes and vacancies available than there are in other areas of construction and property. Most graduate-level vacancies are found in:
- large property firms, which advise on many different aspects of property both nationally and internationally. You’ll find building surveying positions in their building consultancy divisions.
- regional chartered surveying firms or estate agents, which may offer a variety of surveying-related services.
- larger construction companies that employ in-house specialists.
However, you might be able to find jobs or work experience in smaller, local building surveying practices or in the public sector – particularly in local authorities and, occasionally, in the Valuation Office Agency.
There may also be vacancies at large property-owning companies (such as retailers) or other types of organisation that class property as a financial asset – but graduate-level vacancies tend to appear only rarely.
Most graduate vacancies are aimed at those who have an RICS-accredited undergraduate degree in building surveying However, if you have a degree in a different subject, you can either:
- study an RICS-accredited postgraduate conversion course (see the RICS website for a list); or
- apply to one of the few employers that will hire you with any degree subject and then pay the fees for your RICS-accredited postgraduate degree – you will need to work and study at the same time.
Successful surveyors maintain an understanding of clients’ needs, while interpreting the effects of changes in legislation and best practice; they combine commercial awareness and an understanding of construction. This is a career for multitaskers: you will be working on a high number of projects simultaneously. It is a good choice for you if you are interested in the law, but want to apply it in a practical context.