Monday, April 23, 2018

Buying a Property – Part 2 - The Real Value of a Building Survey



Never be tempted to cut corners when considering the purchase of a property because even if you think a building survey is expensive …… it often proves to be much more expensive not to have one

Source: Daily Mirror
In my last article I discussed the limitations of a survey that would be instructed by a mortgage lender (a mortgage valuation survey) and how a purchaser should not rely on this as means of assessing the condition of a building. This is because the primary purpose of this type of survey is to establish the value of a property and to be confident that in the event of any default on behalf of the borrower, that the lender can re-coup what they are owed. The objectives of a purchaser however are very different in that they want to be satisfied that the building they plan to buy, and often live in, is not concealing anything that they are not aware of. I say ‘not aware of’ as it is perfectly feasible and acceptable to proceed with the purchase of a building as long as you are fully aware of any potential issues/problems. Let’s face it, buildings, particularly older buildings are highly unlikely to be free from defects and in fact many of us will accept buildings with issues/problems at a lower price, as a way of trying to get a bargain, this is particularly true of property developers.

Not all of us are property developers and the vast amount of residential property transactions that take place each year are by members of the public who in many cases have little to no knowledge of buildings and therefore rely on professional guidance. It would therefore seem sensible, particularly due to the large investment involved that prospective purchasers commission a survey so that they can establish if there are any issues/problems with the building they are considering buying. However, you may be surprised to learn that the vast majority of purchasers choose to ignore this very important part of the purchase process. 

Source: RMA Surveyors
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) recently reported: ‘Results from an RICS’ survey of home buying consumers, released today, show that many homeowners who did not take out a home survey are left with a property they regret buying and an average of £5,750 in repair bills. The survey of 1,017 buyers across the UK found that consumers are clearly aware of the need for independent advice, with 94% of respondents agreeing it is important to commission a survey. However, nearly a third failed to do so. This means buyers are left ignorant of issues with the property, such as structural defects, dry and wet rot, subsidence and many other faults, only for these to become serious matters at a later date. The new homeowner may then be unable to afford, or may lose the desire, to fix the faults and may be left with a property they may no longer want to live in but are unable to sell to recoup their losses'. (Source: http://www.rics.org/)

Over a third of those surveyed failed to have an independent survey commissioned. We could speculate on why, however as 94% of respondents agreed that it was important to commission a survey, I think it is reasonable to discount ignorance as the primary reason for this. I suspect that cost may be a significant contributing factor, where many prospective purchasers see this as a cost they can do without and hope that they ‘get lucky’ and purchase a property with no issues/defects, that they were not aware of.  However, trying to save money at this point is a false economy. True, a comprehensive residential building survey may cost on average between £700 and £1000 (costs will vary depending upon the size and complexity of a dwelling and the survey selected), however, this is always money well spent. In fact, purchasers should be asking themselves if they can afford not to have a building survey undertaken rather than thinking about how much they will save by not having one done.

A level 3 Building Survey (see below), will provide a prospective purchaser with a comprehensive assessment of a dwelling and highlight not just significant issues, but anything that the Surveyor thinks is relevant. Armed with this information, the prospective purchaser may decide you try to negotiate the sale price with the seller (to reflect the findings of the survey) or maybe even decide to discontinue their interest and look for alternative properties. Either way, the information provides the purchaser with choices, where decisions can be made before contracts are signed rather than having to deal with the consequences when the property comes into their legal ownership. I am sure that in hindsight many of those who took part in the RICS research above would have regretted not spending £700 to £1000 on a Building Survey, as they ended up with an average repair bill of nearly £6000. Never be tempted to cut corners when considering the purchase of a property because even if you think a building survey is expensive you can see from above that it often proves to be much more expensive not to have one. On the flip side, the Building Survey may not identify any significant issues. Even in this scenario this represents good value for money as you now have piece of mind that the property you are considering is in reasonable condition and you are likely to avoid any nasty surprises. The lesson here is very simple: Always commission a Building Survey before exchanging contracts!

The information provided by RICS below summaries three different levels of survey that you may consider when purchasing a dwelling: RICS surveys are available to suit the particular circumstances of the client and the property:

Level 1 - Condition Report

Provides an objective overview of the condition of the property, highlighting areas of major concern without extensive detail. This option is ideal for buyers purchasing a modern house in good condition and for sellers and owners.

Level 2 - Home-buyer Report

Is most suitable for standard older and modern properties that are in an apparent reasonable condition. It provides a concise report with advice detailing any significant problems that could make a difference to the value of a property.

Level 3 - Building Survey

The ‘flagship’ service providing a detailed report on a property. It is particularly useful for older, larger or non-traditional properties, or one which is dilapidated and has been extensively altered or if the buyer is planning a major conversion or renovation. (Source: http://www.rics.org/)


Author: Gary O’Neill

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with colleagues, friends and family who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Buying a Property – Part 1 – The Limitations of a Mortgage Lender’s 'Survey'



A Mortgage Lender’s 'survey' is for the lender only and should not be relied upon by a purchaser as a means of accurately assessing the condition of a property

Source: The Telegraph
Buying and selling of property can be one of the most daunting experiences of our lives. The complex process of dealing with Solicitors, Surveyors, Estate Agents, Mortgage Providers, Vendors (the person/s selling the property) and the like is something that the vast majority of us do not undertake on a regular basis, and is therefore something that often proves to be very stressful. First time buyers in particular will often feel overwhelmed by the whole process and will rely heavily on their advisors to guide them through the process. Once a decision has been made to purchase a property, buyers will work out their finances and decide how much they can afford to borrow and then try to secure a mortgage or at least a mortgage guarantee before beginning the process of house hunting. 

For most of us purchasing a property will be the largest financial investment we will make in our lives. It is therefore essential that we know exactly what we are buying before we exchange contracts because it is at this point that a property comes into your legal ownership. At exchange of contracts the law assumes that you have made all of your enquiries and that you are fully aware of what you were buying. If subsequently you find problems with the property, then these problems become your responsibility to deal with (unless you feel that you have been advised inappropriately and that you can prove this). It is therefore advisable to be as thorough as you can be to establish the full extent of any issues with a property before you exchange contracts. A range of different surveys can be carried out during the conveyance process for which the inexperienced, particularly first time buyers often do not understand the purpose or scope of the range of different surveys available. For clarity, this article will consider conveyance in respect of a residential dwelling.

Source: Stringinfo
Firstly, if you apply for a mortgage, a survey will be carried out by the lender on the property you are considering purchasing. Do not be misled by this survey. This survey is for the lender and not the purchaser. The purpose of the survey is for the lender to be satisfied that in the event that you default in some way on your repayments then in a ‘worst case scenario’ they will be able to sell the property and re-coup the money they have borrowed to you. This is all about the lender assessing their risk. These types of surveys are not intrusive and in fact they are extremely brief and in most cases are completed in approximately 20 to 30 minutes. The ‘Surveyor’ will make a brief internal inspection looking in the roof space if possible (usually from the top of a ladder). The inspection will also look for visible signs of timber decay or woodworm, and also consider the electrical installation amongst other things. This will be followed by an equally brief external inspection where the roof, chimneys, external walls etc will be inspected. As the Surveyor undertakes the inspection, a two or three page proforma (paper or electronic), mainly consisting of tick boxes will be completed.  The ‘report’ will then be returned to the lender and will indicate whether the property is worth the agreed sale price and also detail any urgent remedial works. It is from this report that the lender will decide whether they will borrow the agreed amount to the buyer or withhold a certain amount for any works the surveyor has identified as affecting the value of the property. I have a personal dislike for these types of surveys because in my opinion ‘surveyors’ are far too cautious in what they report. They often recommend timber and damp surveys and electrical inspections as standard without any real grounds for doing so, and often inaccurately report other issues. This is hardly surprising given the very brief inspection undertaken, however this cautious approach is more likely to be a result of the litigious world we now live in, where ‘surveyors’ provide ‘their own safety net’, and therefore try to reduce the risk of being sued. To a certain extent this is understandable, but this should never be at the expense of accurate reporting.

I few years ago I bought and sold a property. The surveyor for the lender of the prospective purchaser of my former house reported damp problems and an issue with the chimney. A timber and damp survey was recommended (by the surveyor) with a £1000 retention sum for repairs to the chimney. The prospective purchaser tried to use this to negotiate a reduction of the purchase price, however as a Chartered Building Surveyor I knew that this was completely inaccurate and unnecessary. I tried to challenge this, however as it was not my lender (it was the purchasers of my house), I continually hit a brick wall. My purchaser became unnecessarily nervous about buying a house which they now thought was riddled with damp and with a chimney that was about to collapse! In the end, and to ensure that we did not lose the sale, through gritted teeth, I agreed to a £500 reduction, even though this was completely unnecessary. I am sure that many reading this will have similar experiences, which I am also sure is one of the reasons why some property transactions fall through at the last minute, which is extremely frustrating.

This demonstrates that lenders rely on the advice of ‘surveyors’ who carry out such a brief inspection that it is almost laughable, who then recommend further inspections and remedial works that are often not necessary. Remember, a mortgage lender’s survey is for the lender only and should not be relied upon by a purchaser (mainly for the reasons stated above), as a means of accurately assessing the condition of a property. A much more comprehensive inspection is therefore required and I would recommend that a Building Surveyor is instructed to undertake a full, comprehensive survey of a property prior to contracts being exchanged. Although this will have a cost attached to it, you will often find that a building survey will prove to be extremely cost effective as it will highlight possible defects/issues which can either be used to negotiate the sale price, or possibly allow the buyer the choice of pulling out of the sale, before contracts are exchanged. This is something I will discuss in my next article.

Author: Gary O’Neill 

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with colleagues, friends and family who you think would be interested 

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Subsidence – Part 2 – Factors that contribute to subsidence



As with tree roots, a drainage system is buried therefore not obviously visible at the time of an inspection. It always amazes me how people tend to ignore the condition of the below ground drainage system when purchasing property and do not seem to see this as important

Source: Confused.com
In my last article I gave an example of the consequences of building subsidence, which can be extremely disruptive and expensive to deal with, however I also emphasised that the vast majority of subsidence damage is less serious and can be rectified reasonably easily. I also explained that to the average householder the mere mention of the word subsidence strikes fear and panic into them as there is a perception that subsidence damage is always serious. As you would expect and as I have mentioned many times before, if you are thinking of purchasing a property it is always advisable to have a professional, such as a Building Surveyor, inspect the building before you commit to buy. The Surveyor’s report will identify any issues that are present and inform you if any are serious. A Building Surveyor will also highlight factors that may contribute to subsidence in the future and not just focus on the here and now. There are a number of factors that could lead to subsidence and some examples are discussed below:

Clay SoilsTo support a building it is essential that the load bearing capacity of the ground is capable of supporting the dead load of the building (the building’s self weight) as well as any imposed load (furniture, fitting, people, snow etc.), once completed and occupied. The type of ground is essential to a building’s stability as this will determine the most appropriate as well as the depth of the foundation that should be used. When siting a building, clay soils are particularly problematic compared to most other types of soil because clay has the ability for significant volumetric change depending on how much water/moisture it contains at any particular time. When clay is wet it will swell and therefore expand, however when the ground starts to dry out all of this moisture is slowly removed and the clay will shrink. Think about this process happening with a building on it!  If the ground is constantly expanding and then shrinking, then it is inevitable that the weight of a building will eventually be affected by these changes and cause the building to move. Having said the above there is no reason why a building cannot be constructed on clay as long as this is established through ground investigations and appropriately catered for in the design. This may involve deeper foundations, as well as the inclusion of root barriers where trees and vegetation may be in close proximity to the building.

TreesWhilst inspecting a property, as well as focussing on the building itself I would always look very closely at the surrounding environment and in particular the size and location of trees. If not managed trees, and in particularly their roots have the ability to undermine foundations, damage drains and cause significant damage to a building. The problem with tree roots is that you often cannot see the extent of the root growth or proximity to the building because they are buried. This however does not mean that they should be ignored and where trees are deemed the pose a threat to a building then the services of a tree expert (Arboriculturist), should be called upon. This is necessary because different species of tree will exhibit different characteristic in terms of size, growth rate, root spread etc in addition to the advice that can be provided in respect of the condition of trees and any recommended remedial action.
Source: Absolute Plumbing and Drain Cleaning Services

Tree roots do a number of things when in the ground. Firstly, they take up large amounts of water. Given what has been discussed above in respect of clay soils you can easily see that in continued spells of warm weather and high temperatures that clay soil and tree roots are not a good combination and together this will significantly increase the potential for subsidence. Secondly, as the roots grow they have the ability to physically impact on soils, particularly the soft/granular types which can undermine their stability especially when they have a foundation and a building siting upon them.  Also, tree roots have the ability to damage below ground drainage.

DrainageAlthough it is possible to make a broad assessment of a drainage system during an inspection by lifting manhole/inspection chamber covers this is limited to a small number of access points only and does not identify the condition of the vast majority of the drainage system around a building. As with tree roots, a drainage system is buried therefore not obviously visible at the time of an inspection. It always amazes me how people tend to ignore the condition of the below ground drainage system when purchasing property and do not seem to see this as important. Even if there is no visible indication of any issues with a drainage system it is still worth considering a CCTV inspection of the system is carried out.

Below ground drainage is quite vulnerable and can become damaged in a number of ways. Ground movement, even subtle movement can result in drains becoming displaced and fractured, particularly around the joints. Tree roots can also damage below ground drains and find their way into the system. If this type of damage does occur then the surface and foul water which is usually heading toward a sewer, will actually start to discharge at the point/s where the drainage is affected. If left undetected for a period of time then vast amounts of foul and surface water can be discharged into the ground around a building, which over time can start to influence the stability of the soil, which could eventually lead to ground movement. The lesson here is always establish the condition of the below ground drainage system and deal with any problems quickly, before they become much more serious.

Adjacent Excavations A building could sit quite happily for many years on stable ground without any problems and will only be affected if for some reason the ground conditions change. One way this could happen is works being carried out in close proximity to a building that requires excavations. If excavations are carried out to a depth and distance that could undermine or influence the stability of another building then this can cause movement, sometimes, sudden movement. This should be considered in design where it may be necessary to provide temporary support. I have encountered this on numerous occasions where ground movement has been caused by a neighbour excavating (usually foundations) and usually through ignorance has not considered the stability of their neighbours building.

Leaking Rainwater Goods (gutters and downpipes) - Even simple repair and maintenance tasks, if left unattended over a period of time can introduce large amounts of water into the ground, which can affect the soil and undermine foundations which can cause ground movement. Rainwater gutter and downpipe repairs are usually inexpensive however this is one of the most common defects that a Surveyor will encounter when carrying out inspections. Repairs to rainwater goods are usually inexpensive however if they are ignored and left for longer periods of time the consequential damage can be extensive and therefore much more expensive. The lesson here is to deal with routine maintenance and repairs sooner or pay the costs later! 

This article provides a quick overview of some of the factors that could contribute to subsidence. The points raised are not exhaustive (there are others) and you will note that no attempt has been made to discuss mining subsidence, which is a subject in its own right, perhaps for a future post.  

Author: Gary O’Neill

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with colleagues, friends and family who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Subsidence – Part 1 – Not all it’s cracked up to be!



When you see cracking in a building it will not always be, in-fact is unlikely to be subsidence. This can only be established through a comprehensive building survey and detailed investigations

Source: Simply Business
As a Building Surveyor, when inspecting buildings I have learned over the years to be very cautious in the terminology I use in the presence of Clients because there are some words that just provoke panic. Take asbestos for example, or cracking or even subsidence. These words strike fear into many people mainly as a result of what they have seen in the news or read in the media. It is fair to say that sometimes these fears can be realised if any of the above examples are found to be present/occurring in a building, however in the vast majority of cases, these issues can be dealt with relatively easily. This is generally a result of a lack of real understanding, which is why it is always advisable to seek professional advice from a Building Surveyor or other relevant professionals.

When I first graduated from University I joined a Property Consultancy who’s main area of business was dealing with subsidence insurance claims as Loss Adjusters. My role was to visit site with a more experienced Structural Engineer, who would make an initial assessment, and then I would be required to manage the claim to a conclusion. This often involved crack monitoring to establish whether any movement was historic (had now stopped) or progressive (was still continuing). This was a crucial part of the process as it is pointless dealing with the effect of subsidence until movement has been stopped. On the occasions where movement was found to be progressive, it was sometimes first necessary to undertake substantial remedial work such as underpinning to stabilise the building. In these instances, the whole process could be lengthy and disruptive for the residents and in some cases required temporarily decanting of the occupants to alternative accommodation for the duration of the works. Most home insurance policies will cover subsidence risk and incorporate an excess payment in the region of £1000 (always check the wording of your policy because there can be variations). This demonstrates that the effects of subsidence can be disruptive and even though it may be covered by home insurance it can still be expensive.

Source: own
The above scenario provides an example of what can happen at one end of the scale, however as already stated the vast majority of subsidence claims I managed were dealt with quickly and with minimal disruption, many proving not to be subsidence at all. When undertaking building surveys, a Surveyor will not just identify where and why subsidence has occurred, but also look for indicators that may contribute to subsidence in the future. Before providing you with details of what I would look for during a survey (this will be provided in part 2 of the article), I think it is important to first understand exactly what subsidence actually is.

Building design should involve careful consideration of the type/load of the building, the type of foundation used and ground bearing capacity and nature of the ground, the height of the water table and so on. These types of investigations should help to ensure that once the building is complete and occupied that it does not move!  Subsidence however is not the same as settlement. Settlement usually occurs in new or relatively new buildings. As buildings are very heavy they cause the ground to compact, although this will usually stop after a short period of time.  Also, most buildings are constructed in a variety of materials, all of which need to settle and in addition will have different rates of shrinkage.  Subsidence occurs when for some reason the load bearing capacity of the ground that a building is placed upon is no longer capable of accommodating that load. The reasons for the change is the load bearing capacity is impacted and this can occur for many different reasons and in some cases, many years after the building was first completed. It is quite feasible for a building to sit quite happily on a piece of ground for many years and due to some of the influences discussed it part 2 of this article, it can start to move.

Cracking in buildings occurs for many different reasons so it is fundamentally important that anyone who undertakes inspections or gives advice in respect of cracking should not make rash judgements and should gather all of the evidence before arriving at a possible cause. In order to aid the inspector, which as stated previously, can be a Building Surveyor, it might be necessary to recommend other investigations such as geo-technical surveys to establish ground type, composition, contaminants etc., trial holes to establish foundation depths, CCTV inspection of the drainage system and possibly an arboricultural survey to give advice on any trees that may be an influencing factor. The choice of which investigations are needed will be decided once the inspector has made an initial assessment of the cracking.  Therefore, when you see cracking in a building it will not always be, in-fact is unlikely to be subsidence however, this can only be established through a comprehensive building survey and detailed investigations.

In Part 2 of this article I will discuss subsidence in more detail and provide information of the things a Building Surveyor will look at to identify when and how subsidence is occurring as well as indicators that may suggest that subsidence can occur in the future.


Author: Gary O’Neill

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with colleagues, friends and family who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Stock Condition Surveys - Part 2 – A Consultant’s perspective



Above all, the success of a stock condition survey will be down to good organisation, management and leadership

Source: Spilled News
In my last article I discussed various reasons that may motivate a Client into undertaking a stock condition survey and identified a number of key factors that need to be considered prior to engaging a Consultant for delivery of the surveys.  In this article, after a brief explanation of how data capture has evolved over recent years, I want to view things from ‘the other side of the fence’ and discuss issues that a Consultant may encounter in both the pre and survey stages.

A short history of data capture

Over recent years technology had moved on at a rapid pace and there are now numerous hardware choices and software packages on the market that enable Surveyors to carry out surveys ‘remotely and in real time’. I have been lucky enough to be involved in stock condition surveys over the last 20 years, which initially were all undertaken on site by hand, usually with a pre-prepared proforma. This then developed into the first iteration of electronic data capture in the form Psion handheld’s. These were large ‘bulky’ pieces of equipment which were difficult to navigate through and were extremely limited in their capacity to store data. At the end of each day it was necessary to upload the information from the handheld via a docking station, which often led to ‘technical issues’ which sometimes resulted in data being lost.  As you can imagine this was very frustrating.  Battery life was also an issue, where it was necessary for us to take back up battery packs to allow us to stay on site for a full day. As technology advanced we started trialling on site data collection with smaller and slimmer PDA’s and Palm Pilots.  In the early days these were extremely ‘sluggish’ on site, as the capacity to store data was often limited. I can remember that one of my clients had produced a proforma that required recording of so many attributes that the PDA became unusable. We had to recommend a significant re-drafting of the proforma in order to be able to continue with the survey. Nowadays tablet’s have emerged as the new way of collecting on site data. These have built in camera’s, have much larger built in memories, are light weight and can offer unparalleled back up facilities. With a number of specialist stock survey software packages available we now have both hardware and software to make the whole process faster and more efficient. In addition, Cloud based technologies continue to evolve and these have significantly impacted on data storage and usability of data. It is however worth stating that however advanced hardware and software may become, the accuracy and value of the data will always be relative to the knowledge and expertise of the Surveyor.

Source: Journal for Clinical Studies
Pre-survey stage

It is highly unlikely that the cost of a stock condition survey will exceed OJEU thresholds (although after Brexit OJEU is unlikely to be an issue) therefore the content of a tender submission will be down to the requirements of each individual Client. At this stage it is vitally important to read the tender documents thoroughly to establish the scope of the survey and therefore assess the resources that will be needed to deliver what the client is expecting. Although very significant, resources will not just relate to the survey team.  Purchasing hardware and obtaining software licences can be extremely expensive which if not adequately considered could significantly reduce the profitability for the Consultant. Also, a Client may have their own in-house Asset Management system and if so are likely to require data collected during a stock condition survey to be compatible with their system. There are numerous examples of asset management software such as Orchard or Atrium to name a few, however a Consultant will need to become familiar with a Client’s particular system, which will involve consultation and possible training. In fact establishing a Client’s existing asset management processes and systems is fundamental to helping a Consultant to deliver a successful stock condition survey.

The deadline is also fundamentally important in planning the survey and also for fee calculation. A delivery programme should be formulated at the earliest possibly opportunity, working back from the Client’s deadline. The programme should include all pre and post survey activities including consultation with the Client; planning, pilot surveys, training of staff, arranging access, on site surveys, quality assurance checks, moderation and validation, reporting, etc. The amount of inspections that are required (which will be determined by the target sample size) will determine how many surveyors will be needed. It may be that during the preparation of the programme that a Consultant will realise they will need more surveyors than they first thought in order to achieve the deadline. This will subsequently impact on the amount of hardware and software licences that are needed and therefore the fee that is likely to be charged. 

Survey stage

Once a Consultant has been awarded a contract to deliver a stock condition survey there are number of things that can be done to ensure that the deadline is met and that the data collected in accurate and consistent:

Good leadership – It is extremely important that a Consultant appoints an experienced member of staff to oversee and take charge of the stock survey, right through to completion. Ideally, this individual should have been involved in the tender process and therefore understand the Client’s requirements; be able to manage a large team of surveyors and be able to incorporate and manage a robust quality assurance system and act as liaison with the Client. A Consultant should never underestimate the complexity of delivering a stock condition survey and unless a suitable ‘leader’ is appointed to manage the project, then the whole process can become chaotic and poorly managed and will ultimately result in failure.

Training – Quality of data and consistency are important in ensuring that the data can be confidently used in the future for a variety of different things.  Achieving this however is always one of the biggest challenges a Consultant will face and one of the biggest frustrations that a Client will encounter if the information received is of poor quality.  The problem with undertaking any inspection is that different surveyors could inspect exactly the same building but actually produce a different assessment of an element or an attribute.  This is human nature and although impossible to avoid, it is possible to manage.  What a Consultant should be trying to achieve is for Surveyors to be looking at elements/attributes in the same way and although they may not arrive at identical assessments, they should be very similar.

Prior to letting my Surveyors undertake the onsite surveys I would give then lots of information which would include definitions of physical condition, priority, user effect and risk rating etc. (This would vary from survey to survey, depending on the Client brief). The table below provides an example of typical definitions that could be used:


I would then arrange a half day workshop with the whole survey team, where amongst other things we would discuss the definitions and use examples to assess how individual Surveyors would consider a particular element/attribute. During this meeting we would also discuss and use the hardware/software that was going to be used for data collection, discuss access issues, time frames and the quality assurance procedure. These types of meeting are invaluable as it gives the survey team the opportunity to understand what is expected and provide an opportunity to raise any questions they may have.

Quality Assurance Procedures – As discussed throughout this article, quality assurance processes are an extremely important part of the whole process.  When managing large condition surveys I would spend a few days out on site with each member of the survey team during the first few weeks of the survey. This enabled my Surveyors to ‘iron out’ any uncertainties whilst I was present and to ask further questions as needed.  When the data was uploaded I was able to view this through the relevant asset management database and I was able to add filters so that I could generate numerous reports throughout the whole time that the data was being collected.  I was then able to question things that appeared to have been missed where data fields were empty, or ask questions where surveyors had identified high priority issues etc.  This enabled data to be corrected where necessary and sometimes identified surveyors who I needed to spend more time with who clearly required more training.

To consider every aspect of a stock condition survey in such a short article would be impossible.  Hopefully, I have discussed some interesting aspects of what can be a complex process to manage and deliver.  Above all, the success of a stock condition survey will be down to good organisation, management and leadership which will incorporate all of the various aspects I have discussed above.  Once the process is set up and organised correctly the data collection is usually reasonably straightforward. In order for this to be achieved there needs to be a great deal of planning and consultation many months before the data is collected onsite, if this is not undertaken then a Consultant is likely to encounter serious difficulties in meeting the expectations of their Client

Author: Gary O’Neill

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with colleagues, friends and family 

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Stock Condition Surveys – Part 1 - A Client’s Perspective



Many Client organisations will not have the skills and resources available in-house and will therefore use external consultants for delivery of stock condition surveys due to their scale and complexity. The choice of consultant is fundamentally important to the success of the survey and clients should be very thorough in their selection and procurement processes

Source: Black Cat Building Surveys Ltd
For many years in my professional career I was responsible for advising, organising and managing numerous large stock condition surveys for a range of Local Authorities and Social Housing Providers. The prime motivation for the stock survey usually revolved around stock transfer, strategic planning related to asset management and business plans, or in the case of schools to follow a prescribed method such as the Department for Education and Skills Asset Management Strategy (now the Department for Education). My initial involvement would always involve helping each of the various clients to understand what they wanted (in most cases there was a lack of real understanding of was required), to set the scope of the surveys, to manage and co-ordinate large survey teams and to present the data in an understandable and usable way.

If you are currently planning for a stock condition survey or maybe you already have one in progress, then there are many different things you need to consider in order to try to ensure that the data collected and indeed the outputs are actually what you intend. I can think of numerous examples where Clients have had difficulty in managing/coping with the vast amount of data that is produced, and once received, they were not exactly sure what to do with it. Over recent years, technology has gone some way to addressing this as data can be collected and collated in ‘real time’ and there are a range of ‘off the shelf’ software packages that will analyse the data and produce all sorts of reports and charts, which are useful as long as the Client knows their output requirements. Therefore, a successful stock survey requires many months of planning and organising.  From a Client organisation perspective there needs to be well organised strategic approach establishing precisely what is required and importantly how this will be achieved. The information below identifies some key issues which should be considered:

Source: Homebuying Guide
What is the purpose of the Stock Survey?A very simple question which often produces a variety of different answers. The answer to this will actually set the scope of the survey and will decide the outputs that are required so if there is a lack of clarity at this point then the whole process becomes confused. Therefore will the data be used to plan future work packages, if so, over what period of time? Will the data be used for strategic planning and be incorporated into a business plan? or maybe assessing current and future repairs and maintenance liabilities or consider statutory compliance or possibly a combination of these. These examples are not exhaustive, however demonstrate the wide range of possibilities that a stock condition survey could be used to achieve. It is only possible to move onto the next stage of the process once a Client/organisation can provide a clear answer to this question. Only then is it possible to start to look at the scope of the survey, the attributes to be recorded, the sample size (will this involve cloning?), the required outputs, deadlines and also the available budget (for the condition survey).

I remember one particular organisation I was advising, a Local Authority, who required a stock condition survey for their commercial building stock. This included a range of buildings such as community centres, libraries, leisure centres, offices and numerous other public buildings. In total this amounted to approximately 400 different buildings, so not a large stock survey, but challenging due to the diversity of the building stock. I became involved at a very early stage and it soon became clear that there were differences of opinion in respect of what was required to be achieved within the client organisation itself. One particular senior manager was insistent that the data collected should be used for strategic asset planning and also to assist much lower cost day to day maintenance. This manager was adamant that the survey should record things like door handles, hinges, taps, plugs, sealant etc. therefore taking the required attributes to a ‘micro level’. I highlighted the consequences of this approach in terms of the high cost of each survey due to the amount of time the surveyor would be on site, the difficulty in consistency of recorded information if you provide surveyors with too many choices, and also the limitations of the hardware at the time. In the end I was able to steer this particular client down a much more sensible road however this demonstrates some of the challenges that may be encountered, through lack of understanding and differences of opinion.

Choosing the right peopleMany Client organisations will not have the skills and resources available in-house and will therefore use external consultants for delivery of stock condition surveys due to their scale and complexity. The choice of consultant is fundamentally important to the success of the survey and clients should be very thorough in their selection and procurement processes. Many consultants advertise their experience and skills in delivery of stock condition surveys, however there are some important factors that should be considered when selecting consultants for this type of work:

Resources – Based upon what you have detailed in your brief, what resources will the consultant provide to the project to ensure that the data collected will be appropriate and consistent and also achieve the deadline that you have set?  It is important to find out precisely who will be carrying out the surveys (ask for CV’s), and who will be responsible for managing/overseeing the survey. Consultants will usually calculate their fee based upon the amount of time they are likely to spend on the project and the level of staff that will be needed. For large stock surveys what tends to happen is that less experienced staff (newly qualified, or those undertaking professional qualification such as APC), are used for the bulk of the surveys and a more senior member of staff is used to oversee the project. This can work as long as the senior member of staff, undertakes robust quality assurance checks of the data being collected and undertakes continual training throughout the process with the surveyors to try to achieve consistency. The whole process can easily break down if a Consultant does not manage the process in this way and will lead to incorrect/inconsistent data being collected. This should never be allowed to happen and is something that a Client should explore during the procurement process.

Procurement – All Clients will have a budget available for a stock survey and in fact this is something that helps define the scope of the survey. If you want a Consultant to understand what you require, and you want a fee that is reflective of the services that they will provide then you must ensure that your brief is suitably detailed and clear. This probably sounds obvious, however I have prepared endless tenders for many different types of work, where the briefs provided are so vague or poorly written that it is difficult to understand exactly what the Client is looking for making reflective fee calculations very difficult.

Prior to tendering for the ‘main’ stock survey, my advice would be to invite a number of Consultants to tender for a ‘pilot survey’. This will enable each Consultant to demonstrate their resources and capabilities for a small number of surveys, as well as finding out what works, or maybe does not work, before ploughing on with the bulk of the surveys. This exercise could form the first part of the selection process, which should also be preceded by Consultant interviews. This may sound like a lengthy process; however, it is extremely important to appoint the right Consultant. This approach may well reduce the possibility of serious issues arising either during the survey process or when you come to rely on the data that has been collected.

Consultant’s Fee – Always analyse precisely what the Consultant has included with their fee.  If your tender documentation, including your survey brief are sufficiently detailed then the Consultant should have provided a fee to reflect what you have asked for. If not, and the Consultant has included their own ‘inclusions or interpretations’ then this will make the fee very difficult to compare with other tenders. This should not happen, as this could invalidate a tender, depending upon the method in which tenders were issued. In any event there needs to be a detailed tender analysis in order for a Client to satisfy themselves that the Consultant can provide precisely what they want for the fee they have provided. Never be tempted to look at the headline fee alone, as without looking you cannot know what (or what is not) included within that fee.

In my next article I will consider stock condition surveys from a Consultant’s viewpoint and provide some examples of how I used to manage large stock surveys.


Author: Gary O’Neill

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Damp in Buildings – Part 2 – Condensation – How to reduce the risk!



There are a few very simple, but nevertheless very effective ways we can reduce the risk of condensation, just by simply being aware of some of the activities we would normally undertake without even thinking

Source: Homebuilding & Renovating
In order to understand how to reduce the risk of condensation it is important to first understand how it occurs. If you have not already done so I would recommend reading last week’s article, ‘How condensation occurs’, before going any further. You will then understand that the ‘ingredients’ necessary for condensation to occur are moisture vapour and cool surfaces, which are exacerbated by poor insulation, poor heating and poor ventilation. Cool surfaces could be present due to thermally inefficient walls and surfaces, particularly in older buildings. In fact there are a whole host of reasons why the internal surface temperature of the internal fabric of a building may be cool (walls, windows, ceilings etc.,) including poor maintenance of external walls, rising damp, penetrating damp due to leaking rainwater guttering or downpipes, leaking roofs, single glazed windows, poor weather sealing around openings and cold bridges, which are areas of the building fabric which are less thermally efficient than the surrounding construction.

To reduce the risk of condensation occurring there are two primary things we should consider. Firstly, dealing with the root cause of the condensation and secondly, looking at the way we use a building and trying to find ways of reducing the amount of moisture vapour we emit.

Source: Home Guides - SFGate
In order to rectify the problem, we first need to establish the cause. This is where you may need the advice of a Building Surveyor, who will be able to undertake a thorough inspection and establish which factors or combination of factors are contributing to the condensation. This is important because if you do not deal with ALL of the contributing factors, you may slow down the amount of condensation occurring, however you will not actually solve the problem.  For example you may decide to improve the heating system, but if you do not deal with the thermally inefficient walls, then all of that increased heat will just disappear through the walls, and will have a limited effect.  So depending on what is established as the cause, it may be necessary to increase the internal surface temperature of the walls by either insulating internally (dry lining) or externally (insulated render system), replacing windows (possibly double or triple glazing), improving ventilation (possibly a mechanical extractor fan) and upgrading the heating system. As you would imagine, this could become very expensive, which highlights why you may need the advice of a professional to ensure that the correct remedial measures are undertaken. All buildings are different and the way we use buildings will also be different, therefore we cannot assume that the cause of condensation and the remedial works required will be the same in every situation.

After dealing with the building itself we must also consider ways in which we can reduce the amount of moisture vapour we emit in buildings. Yes, our human behaviour can have a significant impact on reducing moisture vapour in a building. If we start to think about ways in which we use and occupy our buildings and either do thinks in different ways, or even stop doing them completely, we can significantly reduce the risk of condensation. The best thing of all is that a change of behaviour is absolutely free! There are a few very simple, but nevertheless very effective ways we can achieve this, just by simply being aware of some of the activities we would normally undertake without even thinking.

Showering/bathing, Washing and Cooking are activities that we cannot avoid however all produce large amounts of moisture vapour.  We undertake these activities on a day to day basis, however when showering/bathing, try to not leave the shower or bath taps running more than you need, switch them off as soon as you can. If you have extractor fans, ensure that they are working, adequately sized and switched on when needed. You should also ensure that trickle vents in windows are open and that air bricks are not blocked. Although it may be cold outside, when you are leaving the bathroom, open the window to let fresh air in, which will soon clear the moisture vapour by replacing the moisture laden air with new fresher dryer air which will prevent moisture vapour condensing on the walls and windows.

Source: Maxzi
If you are using a Tumble Dryer, ensure that it is vented to the outside. I have undertaken a number of previous inspections where I have seen the flexible tumble dryer vents extracting into a room, rather than outside. This was due to lack of thought of the location of the tumble dryer and a general lack of understanding on the part of the occupiers. Also, when Drying Clothes try to avoid placing them on top of radiators. This is usually done for convenience, however again produces large amounts of moisture vapour. Whenever possible washing should be dried outside, or if weather conditions do not permit this then consider using an appropriately vented tumble dryer, or maybe even a trip to the launderette.

When Cooking use an extractor hood if you have one above your cooker and keep lids on saucepans as much as you can.  Avoid using Bottled Gas and Paraffin Heaters these produce large amounts of moisture vapour.

Finally, but very importantly, try to ensure you have a regular flow of fresh air around your house/buildings. This effectively dries out any moisture vapour and prevents it reaching concentration levels where condensation may become an issue.  Granted, nobody wants to release all of that lovely heat from a building in the depths of winter, however, opening windows for a short period of time may result in the internal environment becoming temporarily cooler, but it will also significantly help to reduce the risk of condensation.

Hopefully, now that you know how condensation occurs you can start to thing about ways in which you can help to reduce the risk. In future articles I will discuss other forms of damp in buildings such as rising damp and penetrating damp.

Author: Gary O'Neill

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.