If you enjoy problem solving and are interested in the design and construction of buildings, a career as a building surveyor would suit you

Building surveyors provide professional advice on property and construction, completing detailed reports known as building surveys. They identify defects and advise on repair and maintenance options.

As well as advising on the restoration and maintenance of existing buildings, they also work on the design and development of new buildings. The nature of the work may range from the design of large, multimillion-pound structures to modest adaptations and repairs. It can also involve working with buildings of architectural or historic importance.

Building surveyors often work on preventative measures to keep buildings in good condition and look for ways to make buildings sustainable. They may also be called upon to give evidence in court in cases where building regulations have been breached and as expert witnesses on building defects and dilapidations.

Responsibilities

As a building surveyor, you'll need to:

  • ensure projects are completed on budget and to schedule;
  • advise clients on schemes and projects and determine requirements;
  • prepare scheme designs with costings, programmes for completion of projects and specification of works;
  • organise documents for tender and advise on appointing contractors, designers and procurement routes;
  • determine the condition of existing buildings, identify and analyse defects, including proposals for repair;
  • advise on energy efficiency, environmental impact and sustainable construction;
  • instruct on the preservation/conservation of historic buildings;
  • advise on the management and supervision of maintenance of buildings;
  • deal with planning applications and advise on property legislation and building regulations;
  • assess and design buildings to meet the needs of people with disabilities;
  • instruct on construction design and management regulations;
  • negotiate dilapidations (when there is a legal liability for a property's state of disrepair);
  • carry out feasibility studies;
  • advise on the health and safety aspects of buildings;
  • advise on boundary and ‘right to light’ disputes and party wall procedures;
  • prepare insurance assessments and claims.

Salary

  • Graduate building surveyors can expect to earn around £22,000 to £26,000, although in London this may be higher.
  • With a few years' experience building surveyors earn in the region of £28,000 to £50,000. According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) the average salary is £44,000.
  • Chartered building surveyors usually earn 15% more than their non-chartered counterparts; at senior level they can earn up to £70,000. Partners and directors have the potential to reach six-figure salaries.

Salaries vary depending on location, with central London offering the highest.

Additional benefits often include a company car, mobile telephone and pension.

Income data from the RICS. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are generally nine to five, although you may be required to work longer hours. Meeting and socialising with clients can sometimes require out-of-hours working.

The work is much less desk bound than some branches of surveying, with a large proportion of the working day spent on site. This may require working alone for significant periods of time.

What to expect

  • A reasonable level of fitness and mobility is required, as the job may involve working on scaffolding and in difficult spaces. However, physically disabled surveyors are to be found within the profession.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the country, especially if you reach chartered status.
  • Self-employment/freelance work is common in private practice, specialising in building surveying, or working with other specialists such as architects and quantity surveyors. In the longer term, there may be opportunities to establish your own consultancy or become a partner or corporate director.
  • Local/regional travel within a working day is frequent. This may be to meet with contractors to discuss technical documents or to visit clients/members of the public who have no knowledge of construction. This means that good communication will be required at all times. Overnight absence from home is uncommon.
  • Overseas work or travel is occasional.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree in building surveying, combined with technical knowledge will improve your chances. Other subjects that may help to provide relevant knowledge include:

  • economics;
  • geography;
  • languages;
  • mathematics;
  • science;
  • social sciences;
  • urban and land studies.

Degrees are available in a range of property and construction-related subjects, accredited by the RICS. Studying a RICS accredited degree will qualify you to take the relevant training to become a chartered surveyor.

If your degree is in an unrelated topic or is not accredited you can go on to take a RICS accredited Masters degree, which will lead on to the chartered training. Some employers will support you through this postgraduate training while working and may be able to help with funding. For a full list of courses, see RICS Courses.

HND entry is available at surveying technician level. Technical property-related subjects, such as building surveying and building/construction, may improve your chances. The work of a surveying technician usually involves less complex tasks and comes with less responsibility. To reach the level of full surveyor further qualifications would need to be taken while working.

The Chartered Surveyors Training Trust provides opportunities for 16 to 24 year olds, from disadvantaged backgrounds, to undertake tutor supported surveying apprenticeships.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • technical knowledge and competence;
  • a logical and practical mind;
  • good oral and written communication skills;
  • the ability to build lasting relationships with clients and colleagues;
  • negotiation, presentation and report writing skills;
  • the ability to analyse problems in order to identify solutions;
  • commercial awareness and the ability to ensure that you are adding maximum value to clients' businesses;
  • the ability to take on high levels of responsibility and be enthusiastic and motivated;
  • good IT skills, including computer-aided design (CAD);
  • a driving licence - usually essential, especially if you are going to be involved in a design role.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience is desirable. Graduates who have completed a sandwich year in industry are at a considerable advantage and are better placed in the job market. However, gaining relevant work experience in vacations or on placements can help you secure a permanent job.

Employers

Building surveying is required in a variety of real estate markets, including residential, commercial, leisure, agricultural and industrial.

As a chartered building surveyor, you could work in the private, corporate, public or voluntary sectors. Typical employers include:

  • specialised private practices, e.g. surveying firms, specialist property consultancies and construction companies;
  • central government, e.g. valuation office;
  • local government, e.g. local authorities;
  • large property-owning organisations, such as housing associations, retailers and leisure groups;
  • public-private organisations;
  • loss adjusters.

It is also possible for building surveyors to become self-employed and set up their own private practice. Professional qualifications in surveying are recognised worldwide and with a range of international property and construction firms there are opportunities to work abroad.

Opportunities in surveying are linked very closely to the health of the economy and the state of the property market and construction industries.

Many large, private practice firms have an annual intake of graduates and may have closing dates as early as December or January of your final year. Others will accept speculative applications slightly later. Contact smaller employers on a speculative basis from around Easter. Public sector organisations rarely accept speculative applications and usually advertise vacancies as they occur.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment consultants often handle vacancies in this area including Macdonald and Company, which is endorsed by the RICS.

Professional development

If you have successfully completed a degree or Masters accredited by the RICS, you can work towards chartered status. This is achieved through the completion of the RICS Assessment of Professional Competence (APC), which is a work-based professional training scheme that usually takes two to three years.

The scheme consists of on-the-job learning, which must be evidenced, regular meetings with a supervisor, a set amount of hours of professional development and ends with an assessment interview. Completion of the APC along with academic qualifications leads to RICS membership and chartered surveyor status.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is an important aspect of the surveyor role as you need to maintain professional competencies and practice standards. RICS supports CPD and can help provide ideas for CPD qualifying activities as well as how to keep accurate records.

There are many training courses available that support and enhance the work of a building surveyor. RICS offers a range of courses that cover technical topics as well as personal development, management and leadership, and business skills.

Other professional qualifications and training opportunities are available from the:

Being a member of a professional body can also aid CPD as it provides access to professional journals, electronic communications and a network of professional colleagues.

Career prospects

If you work within the public sector, it is usually possible to move between local authorities, universities, hospital trusts and government posts in order to gain broader experience and achieve a more senior position.

Most large organisations have formal channels of promotion for surveyors who take on increased technical and managerial responsibility.

With experience, building surveyors may progress to full project management, taking responsibility for the planning, control and coordination of projects from inception to completion. Success in these roles can bring the opportunity to be a departmental head or manager in the public sector and, in private practice, a director or partner.

You may choose to specialise and become an expert in one particular area, such as building defects or sustainability, or in a particular sector such as residential or retail. Another option, once you are chartered, is to set up your own private practice.