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Surveying the bigger picture

09 May 2014

It has been suggested to us that we employ a quantity surveyor for our building project, although our architect thinks it unnecessary. What would a quantity surveyor add?

SINCE your letter indicated a larger project - more than £50,000 - I would also recommend engaging a quantity surveyor, who could add several layers of reassurance to you and your team. The architect may think this is unnecessary, but could be over-optimistic about his or her ability to set and manage a realistic budget.

At the first stage of preparing for building works, the quantity surveyor will establish a thorough budget, that includes everything from planning costs to the contractor's overheads and VAT. This budget enables you to plan the finances of the project realistically, and with far less anxiety about the project's having the potential for financial surprises when the work on site is under way.

Once the budget is set out, the quantity surveyor can meet you to discuss where savings might be made. At times, the working method of the contractor may have an impact on the budget, and the quantity surveyor can prepare you for the variations in cost of different methods: for example, whether to have a temporary roof when slates are replaced, or different methods of dealing with subsidence issues.

In the industry, this stage is called cost engineering - a grand name for ensuring that the budgeted work fits the available finances.

During the process of going out to tender, the quantity surveyor will have a key part to play in preparing the tender documents and double-checking all the tender return figures. The quantity surveyor will assess and explain the reasons why different contractors have varying prices for aspects of the work. A significantly cheaper price on one tender could be the sign of a mistake by the contractor, or a sign of a different and more economical working method. A report identifying and recommending one contractor will help you to make a good decision.

During building works, the quantity surveyor will meet the contractor's own quantity surveyor on a monthly basis, to ensure that the assessments for payment (the architect's certificate), and the contractor's invoice are at the right level, and within the contracted figure.

When your project involves repairs that will replace like with like, even on a larger sum - say on stone repair, externally - it may be necessary to engage the quantity surveyor on a daily or hourly basis only, to help you set the budget. After that, the control of cost may be very straightforward. But if the project involves construction and alteration, it is advisable to keep your quantity surveyor working with you throughout the project.

As surprises arise, items that could not be foreseen, from a tomb in the floor or problems in the wooden structure supporting the tiles, he or she can help you to negotiate the issues and change the work so that essential items can be covered without going over the financial limit. Not all architects and not all contractors realise that when you say you have no more money, you really have no more money.

Find an independent quantity surveyor, not a member of the architect's team. Ask the DAC secretary or other churches to recommend names. 

Issues and questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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