Hiring a quantity surveyor

Employing a professional to challenge your builder and/or architect on key issues like costings, value for money and quality control is a worthwhile consideration for any self-builder

Employing a professional to challenge your builder and/or architect on key issues like costings, value for money and quality control is a worthwhile consideration for any self-builder

AMONG the mind-boggling to-do list when you take on a self-build project, securing the services of a quantity surveyor – or a QS as the trade calls it – tends not to be the most urgent.

A shame, says Peter Judd, a QS with VB Johnson LLP, who works with many self-builders. Judd is adamant that a QS is a boon to projects at all levels, and should ideally be consulted at an early stage. ‘Self-builders tend to come to us too late,’ he says. ‘They should come earlier as a QS helps them know what they’re letting themselves in for – even if it’s just for a £20,000 extension.’

Mostly associated with commercial development, a QS’s task is to cost a construction job, making sure of gaining the best value. Often, self-builders will leave this to an architect or project manager, but some bring in a dedicated QS, who might also get involved with other aspects, like quality control, procurement and building regulations.

‘Although they’re not routinely used for domestic projects, a QS can save money,’ says Ken Rorrison of architect Henley Halebrown Rorrison. ‘They reduce the risk. Without a QS, the design goes to planning and tender without an extra layer of cost checking, and more chance of going over budget. With a QS, client aspiration is matched to budget early on.’

Architect Jon Darke of TP Bennett says that a QS is all about safeguarding. ‘If the builder doesn’t do the right thing, then there’s a fallback.’ He agrees with Rorrison that a QS adds a vital reality check. ‘If you’re after architecture with a capital A, a QS will stop you being blinded. Can that gorgeous sliding door for £40,000 be found for £20,000? The QS challenges both architect and the builder, making sure you’re never paying for more than what is done.’ Indeed, Darke thinks that a QS should be independent of both architect and builder. ‘I would go to the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) and get a recommendation,’ he says.

Judd thinks smaller firms provide the right scale. ‘Self-builders need a lot of handholding and a personal service,’ he says. ‘When appointing the architect, I’d appoint the QS. After all, there’s no point going for planning if you find you can’t afford it – and clients often have unrealistic impressions of costs.’ Plus, a good QS can cost labour as well as materials, and quantify the hours it’ll take to do the work. ‘This is difficult for a non-builder to comprehend,’ he says. Hang a door yourself – and then think about the work needed to build a house.’ There’s another use for a QS: client- builder conflict resolution. ‘A lot of our work looks into claims when self-building goes wrong,’ adds Judd. ‘A QS can advise as to whether the client is getting ripped off, frankly.’

So, a QS can help a self-builder through the fiscal swamp, hopefully saving money en route. The QS will cost, of course: perhaps up to two to four per cent of the whole contract if used for the entire time, or at an hourly rate Judd says could be as low as £50. He adds that some QS will project manage, but this might cost more.

Still, not all agree that a QS is essential. Architect Julian Owen, of Julian Owen Associates, thinks a QS is for larger jobs. ‘We do a lot of one-off houses and self-builds are difficult for a QS to cost,’ says Owen. ‘It’s more art than science.’ Indeed, his practice used to use a QS, but now relies on its own judgement. ‘Consistently, predictions were not coming true,’ adds Owen. ‘A QS is of most use when the product is standard. A self-build is often too bespoke and complex.’ Owen concedes that a QS can be helpful at a higher contract level – £500,000 and upwards – and for estimating, he uses a RICS chart giving a thumbnail of what costs to expect per square metre.

Whether you choose a QS or not, the point is to nail down the costs early on, says Owen: ‘Otherwise it’s like going into a supermarket with a huge trolley and not knowing the price until you get to the checkout.’

Words Oliver Bennett
Illustration Nick Edwards


Useful Tools

firsttime tradefinder mortgagecalc

Latest Press Releases

Latest Products, Services and Tradesmen from our Trade Finder

Expert videos

expert video2 2

Build Archive

riverside-new-build

Riverside new-build

Steve Clarke and Amanda Boot's ingenious home by the Thames in Surrey rests on a...
a-buyer-s-guide-to-windows

A buyer's guide to windows

If you are considering replacing your current windows or designing a new home,...
eco-home

Eco Home

With a Fenland site perfectly suited to wind-turbine-generated electricity, Graeme...
metrotile-product-profile-the-self-builder-magazine

Metrotile Product Profile - The...

Metrotile Lightweight Roofing has started 2014 with an exciting new content-rich...
transform-architects

Transform Architects

Transform Architects is an Award-winning RIBA Chartered Practice that specialises in...
basic-mortgage-calculator

Basic Mortgage Calculator

Enter details below to get a FREE mortgage calculation:
a-glaswegian-kitchen-refit

A Glaswegian kitchen refit

When Glasgow-based lawyer Marion Venman decided to improve her architect-designed...
self-build-zone-insurance-guide

Self Build Zone: Insurance

Is your home covered? The right type of insurance is critical for your peace of...
trespa-pura-nfc-specified-for-new-contemporary-home

Trespa Pura NFC specified for new...

Discovering Trespa’s high pressure laminate cladding provided the answer to a...
all-you-need-to-know-about-skylights

Skylights - All you need to...

As the first skylight manufacturer to have its skylights BSI accredited, Sunsquare,...