What quantity surveyors do

02 August 2013

We have thought about whether we need a quantity surveyor for our repair project, but, because we don't really know what quantity surveyors do, we have gone no further. Should we be looking for a quantity surveyor? Could you explain what they do?

ON BUILDING projects, a quantity surveyor is there to control cost management. Every element of the building project, from process to materials, has a cost that needs to be included in your budget: for example, scaffolding, insurance; various trades - from stoneworker to carpenter, materials, timescales, labourers, access, delays, and contingencies.

A quantity surveyor will start with a careful look at the project with your architect. He or she will then work from a scale plan to estimate the quantities of all aspects of the work, and give you an estimated or indicative budget. In discussion with the church, the quantity surveyor will then go through the indicative budget in detail, and will help, if necessary, to adapt plans to the reality of the finance available, or to the finance that may need to be raised for the works.

Sometimes, in dialogue with the architect (and sometimes a consultant engineer), this will involve changing the plans a little: using different materials, for example, or a different building process to bring down the cost. The quantity surveyor, at this stage, is helping the church to be realistic about the known and as yet unidentified costs.

By meeting regularly with the church and its design team, the quantity surveyor will help you to look at any "risks" that may affect the cost. The works may involve roof repair, and he or she will want to build in a "contingency", as some of the wooden beams to which the slate is nailed may have rotted; an estimate may suggest that 15 or 20 per cent of the wood will need to be replaced. There may be discussion about the kind of roof insulation to be used, and the cost comparison will feature in the discussion to help you make your decision.

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Sending out tenders, selecting the best contract, and appointing the builders are all areas that the quantity surveyor will support. Builders do not always price out the tender documents (like a shopping list of works) in the manner that has been requested; so comparison is difficult. The quantity surveyor sorts this out, including, on occasion, checking that the prices are realistic, and that there are no mistakes.

During building works, the quantity surveyor will agree a value on works completed - once, each month - with the builder; this process ensures that the monthly invoice from the contractor is correct. The quantity surveyor will ensure that contingencies are not exceeded, and that the final figures on cost are correct.

If your building works are significant - more than £50,000, say - you may be well advised to have a quantity surveyor on your team. If you are working with a Heritage Lottery Fund grant for repairs, it may be a condition of the grant that you have a quantity surveyor on board.

It is normally advisable to interview and appoint a quantity surveyor who is independent of the architect's practice, and is interviewed and appointed directly by the church, not subcontracted through the architect.

Names of suitable quantity surveyors may be gleaned from other churches, the secretary of the diocesan advisory committee secretary, and your architect.

Your questions and comments to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com

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