What's it really like?
Mark Roche is a Quantity Surveyor for Roche Chartered Surveyors, an independent surveyors based in East Anglia. He gives us the inside story…
I started working as a quantity surveyor in 1962 and have been working in the profession ever since. I began working with Healey and Baker in London where I gained chartered status and worked for thirteen years before moving to Cruso and Wilkin in Kings Lynn where I became a Commercial Development Partner. In 1988 I took the step of setting up my own business in Norwich where I expect to stay until my retirement! Working as a surveyor is very varied. Every day is different but typical tasks include managing staff, writing reports, meeting with clients, visiting projects as well as general tasks associated with running a business. The variety that goes with the job is probably the best thing about being a surveyor but I also enjoy meeting lots of different people and I like being in a profession that is really worthwhile. It is satisfying to know that clients pay a fair price for their property because of what we do. There is very little I dislike about the job but, if I had to say, I suppose it would be the long hours.
To anyone thinking of becoming a surveyor I would say, be prepared to work hard with long hours. Generally surveyors don’t make a fortune but the job makes for a pleasant and very interesting life. I would also advise prospective surveyors to begin their career in London or another big city. There is nothing wrong with working in smaller areas but it is useful to learn the national market mechanism, which can be more difficult from a local base.
Quantity surveyors are responsible for ensuring that building projects meet good legal and quality standards and for making sure clients get good value for money through careful monitoring of the project from start to finish.
Quantity surveyors manage the cost of a building project, from the initial design stages through to the building’s completion and sometimes even the costs incurred through maintenance, once the building is up and running. Quantity surveyors work on a range of projects including residential homes, industrial sites, commercial development and transport networks, ensuring the projects meet the required legal and quality standards. Surveyors work in close contact with the client (the person or company buying the building) and the vendor (the person or company selling the building), advising them on legal and financial matters that arise during the project.
Newly qualified quantity surveyors should expect to earn between £18,000 and £20,000 a year. With chartered status and significant experience, this can rise to £45,000 with senior surveyors earning as much as £80,000.
The responsibilities of a surveyor vary from day to day but most projects include the following stages:
- carrying out initial ‘feasibility’ studies, in order to assess costs and materials and estimate the amount of time a project will take
- ensuring that materials to be used during construction match up to environmental guidelines
- negotiating costs and working with vendors to draw up bids for contracts
- monitoring the construction of a building project to ensure costs and materials are in line with the initial assessment
- updating the client on the progress of the project, with particular reference to financial matters
- advising the client on any legal or contractual issues that arise during the project
- representing the client if and when disputes arise
- staying up-to-date on new standards in construction, property and surveying
- preparing and maintaining financial records
- preparing schedules
- writing reports
- monitoring maintenance, demolition and renovation costs of a building once it is up and running
Quantity surveyors are usually expected to have a degree or an equivalent qualification in a relevant subject such as civil or structural engineering, construction or surveying. To be classed as a qualified surveyor, degrees and other qualifications must be accredited by the RICS (Royal Institution for Chartered Surveyors) or the CIOB (Chartered Institute of Building) so graduates with a non-accredited degree are required to undertake a further postgraduate course in surveying. Many employees offer graduate training schemes, which allow trainees to acquire the necessary accredited qualifications whilst working. For graduates with a degree in construction or engineering there are also distance learning courses available, run by the College of Estate Management, which act as a conversion course to surveying from a relevant field. For those without a degree but with a BTEC, HND or other foundation qualification, it is often possible to start work as a surveying technician which enables employees to learn on the job and take the necessary qualifications to become an accredited surveyor whilst working.
Being a successful quantity surveyor requires a certain level of expertise. Quantity surveyors must keep updated with developments in regulations relating to property construction and must be aware of the appropriate legal guidelines when negotiating with clients and vendors. Additionally they should have:
- An excellent understanding of construction methods and materials
- The ability to manage finances
- A high level of IT competency
- Excellent maths skills
- Good attention to detail
- A creative approach to problem solving
- An organised and methodical approach to tasks
- Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal
- Excellent negotiation abilities
- The ability to work effectively as part of a team
- The ability to write reports and manage databases
- Excellent interpersonal skills
- A willingness and ability to relate to lots of different people
- The ability to stay calm as deadlines approach
- A commitment to the job and a willingness to work long hours
Quantity surveyors typically work normal office hours (9 – 5.30) from Monday to Friday but the job can require some weekend and evening work, particularly when unforeseen problems arise with a building project. The job is office-based but requires regular visits to building sites to meet with vendors and monitor progress.
Practical surveying experience is crucial for getting work as a quantity surveyor. Most foundation and degree courses have a placement aspect to the course as do professional qualifications and graduate traineeships, which allow students the chance to apply their theoretical knowledge in a working environment. It may still be useful to get further work experience with a qualified surveyor, (especially if there is a certain firm prospective surveyors wish to work for), as a way of making contacts and demonstrating a high level of commitment to the job.
There is currently a high demand for quantity surveyors in the UK so there are plenty of job opportunities for newly qualified surveyors. Alternatively there are good opportunities for quantity surveyors to use their skills overseas, particularly in Middle Eastern countries. The best job prospects for quantity surveyors are with independent surveying firms, building contractors, property businesses, civil engineers and with local authority and government departments. It is also common for surveyors to undertake consultancy work or to run their own business, although it is recommended that surveyors gain significant experience working for someone else before setting up alone, in order to develop contacts and gain insight into running a business.
Once qualified, quantity surveyors have plenty of opportunities for career development. Primarily they can work towards chartered status with the (RICS) Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors or with the (CIOB) Chartered Institute of Building’s Faculty for Architecture and Surveying. The RICS requires surveyors to complete what is known as an Assessment of Professional Competence which can only be completed once surveyors have undertaken at least two years of professional experience and passed an interview with a panel of registered assessors. Similarly chartered status with the CIOB also requires at least two years' work experience alongside an accredited honours degree in a relevant subject. Both the RICS and CIOB also offer various training opportunities to help surveyors stay abreast of changes in regulations associated with building construction and surveying.
Once surveyors have gained chartered status they are able to take on more responsibility in a company. This may include project management or working as a partner in an independent firm, which involves managing staff and making business decisions as well as the usual tasks involved in surveying.