A career as a surveyor may suit you if you are interested in property and want a professional role with plenty of structure and prospects

As a commercial/residential surveyor, you'll deal with all aspects of residential and commercial property in both the private and public sectors. Principal activities are related to the management, purchase, sale or leasing of land and property, as well as valuing and surveying property.

You may act as an agent, broker or auctioneer during a sale and may also carry out contract negotiations between landlords and tenants.

Types of commercial/residential surveyor

As well as specialising in either commercial or residential property, you'll also usually specialise further in one of the following areas:

  • consultancy
  • development
  • investment
  • management
  • planning.

Responsibilities

As a commercial/residential surveyor, you'll need to:

  • value properties by applying expert knowledge and awareness of the local property market
  • take accurate measurements of sites and premises
  • assess the impact of a major development in terms of economic viability and environmental impact
  • purchase land and secure funding
  • visit sites at all stages of development, from green field to foundations and completed buildings
  • write detailed reports on property for purposes such as rent reviews, investment potential, valuations for mortgages and other purposes, marketability and building surveys
  • negotiate with confidence, orally and in writing, on issues such as rents
  • sell and buy properties and sites on behalf of clients
  • apply appropriate law for landlord and tenant negotiations and enforce health and safety regulations
  • assess properties for business rates, capital taxation, acquisitions and disposals
  • manage large property portfolios for your clients and advise them on the purchase and sale of individual investments (if you specialise in investment)
  • manage all kinds of property on behalf of a landlord to meet the landlord's contractual obligations. This will include ensuring compliance with the conditions of the tenancy, collecting rents and handling building maintenance and repair (if you specialise in management)
  • work closely with other professionals such as highways and structural engineers, town planners and architects, in considering new developments (if you specialise in development).

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries range from £23,000 to £30,000.
  • The average salary of an experienced residential surveyor is around £46,000. Associates of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) earn around £43,500.
  • Members (MRICS) earn more than their non-RICS counterparts. An MRICS earns an average of £60,000, and a Fellow (FRICS) £79,500, compared with the average £48,500 earnings of a non-RICS counterpart.

The average annual bonus for a surveyor is around £6,000.

Income data from the RICS and Macdonald & Company UK Rewards and Attitudes Survey 2017. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

A working week is usually 40 hours, but if you work in the private sector you'll regularly be expected to do extra hours, which may include weekends. Working longer hours than average is necessary in the private sector whenever you have to meet deadlines, liaise with clients or network with other professionals, but also to progress in your career. There can be some variation of cultures in different firms.

In the public sector, working hours will usually be regular and may be based on flexitime. Networking and making personal contacts takes up less time for surveyors in the public sector.

Career breaks are possible but you must keep up with legal and market developments.

What to expect

  • Work is office based but also involves a lot of time out of the office, attending meetings, visiting sites and meeting with clients.
  • The dress code tends to be smart and you'll be expected to dress smartly, even when visiting sites. Opportunities for qualified surveyors exist throughout the UK, but are concentrated in London and the South East, where the large firms are based.
  • Opportunities for self-employment and freelance work are frequently possible, particularly in private practice for those who have good qualifications and significant experience. Working from home is also a possibility. These opportunities will occur especially in valuation.
  • Travel within a working day is frequent and may involve absence from home overnight.

Qualifications

There are several ways to become a commercial or residential surveyor. The most direct is to take a RICS-accredited undergraduate degree. Accreditation is available in many different subjects, including:

  • building construction management
  • building surveying
  • construction management
  • estate management
  • facilities management
  • quantity surveying.

Another is to take a RICS-accredited postgraduate degree. This option is available to those who haven't completed an accredited or relevant undergraduate degree. Some companies may allow you to complete the postgraduate qualification while you're working and may also help with funding.

A full list of accredited undergraduate, postgraduate and vocational courses is available at RICS Course.

Once you've completed an accredited undergraduate or postgraduate degree you'll be able to find a job as a trainee surveyor, where you can begin to work towards chartered status.

You can also enter this profession without a degree if you have at least four years' relevant experience, or a relevant vocational qualification (HND/HNC/NVQ3/BTEC/foundation degree) with two years' experience.

There are also some fully-funded and supported apprenticeship schemes such as the ones delivered by CSTT leading to associate membership.

For a career as a residential surveyor, there is also the option to gain direct entry to RICS associate membership through an approved vocational diploma - see the RICS website for details.

Associate members can choose to apply for full chartered status once they gain a further four years' experience and complete an assessment on ethics. See RICS - Progression from AssocRICS to MRICS for further details.

Professionals with a degree and at least five years' post-degree experience can achieve chartered membership through an accelerated 12-month course.

Skills

You'll need to show:

  • enthusiasm and commitment for the surveying profession
  • good oral and written communication
  • excellent interpersonal skills
  • negotiation skills
  • strong numeracy skills
  • readiness to take responsibility and act on your own initiative
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • the ability to remain calm under pressure
  • you have confidence in your own judgement
  • the ability to develop and maintain a network of professional contacts
  • good physical mobility in order to survey a site, a building under construction or an inaccessible part of a residential property
  • a driving licence - this is usually essential, unless you are working in a defined urban area, such as a city local authority.

Work experience

Pre-entry work experience is highly regarded by employers so it's important you get some. Relevant experience might include clerical or sales work with an estate agency or labouring on a building site to learn how buildings are constructed. Anything that can give you an insight into the property industry will be helpful.

Employers

Employers include a mixture of private practices and public sector organisations. Smaller employers are open to receive speculative applications while public sector organisations commonly only accept applications to advertised vacancies.

Private practice is split between commercial and residential property.

Many large private practices 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.

Employers in the commercial property sector include:

  • large private surveying practices
  • house building companies
  • property developers
  • financial, pension fund and insurance institutions
  • large corporate organisations, such as retailing chains, banks, railways and other utilities that own large amounts of land.

In the public sector, commercial and residential surveyors are employed by:

  • local authorities
  • regional development agencies
  • universities
  • hospital trusts
  • several central government departments.

In the voluntary sector, surveyors are employed by housing associations.

The Valuation Office Agency determines business rates and council tax bands and recruits graduate surveyors who have completed a RICS-accredited degree.

The residential property market tends to be focused on smaller employers all around the UK. The large national chains of estate agents or major regional firms employ surveyors. Smaller firms are more likely to refer clients to an independent surveyor.

Consultants may work in private practice, for a local authority or other public sector organisations or they may be self-employed.

Look for job vacancies at:

Speculative approaches are definitely worth trying. RICS Find a Surveyor is a useful site for contact details.

Specialist recruitment agencies include:

Professional development

Once you've secured a job as a trainee surveyor you can then work towards gaining chartered status. This shows companies and clients that you've been trained to the highest possible standard and will enhance your prospects for promotion and wage increases.

To become chartered you must complete the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC), which is offered by RICS. You'll need to evidence your training through achievement records and logbooks and will need to complete an assessment interview.

In order to maintain current professional knowledge and to stay up to date with new developments, RICS members are required to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) every year for which online study programmes are available.

At more senior levels, there is a growing need for surveyors to understand business and management skills.

Career prospects

As a chartered surveyor, you may move employers to gain more experience and broaden your skills. In the private sector you could work for different size practices in order to gain different experiences. Some large organisations may own considerable numbers of premises or have dealings in property development.

You will usually have specialised in either commercial or residential surveying and will normally stay within that area. It's rare for surveyors to move between the private and public sectors.

If you work in the public sector, you can move between different public sector organisations, such as:

  • government posts
  • hospital trusts
  • local authorities
  • universities.

If you work in a large private sector firm you may have the opportunity to become an associate or salaried partner. You may also be invited to put money into the firm to become an equity partner, where you would directly share the profits.

With enough experience it's feasible you could set up in business on your own, and manage this either as a sole trader working from home or in partnership with other surveyors.