Building Advice: Do I need a quantity surveyor?

Expert builder Kieran McCarthy answers your queries
Building Advice: Do I need a quantity surveyor?

Dermot Bannon and quantity surveyor Patricia Power in Room To Improve. The show highlights the role of the QS.

Is it worth getting a quantity surveyor for a self-build (either with a contractor or no contractor)? — Anne Fahy 

Hello Anne, great question. In a word, yes! Let me explain.

I occasionally get asked to look at a project where a customer has had a design drawn-up and they have been granted planning permission and are seeking a quote to build their new home. The first question I always ask is ‘did you get your plans cost-checked by a QS’?. If the answer is no then alarm bells start to ring in my head. When I have a detailed look at the plans they are usually significantly above budget which is a huge frustration and disappointment.

Kieran McCarthy: 'Over the course of a very significant project spend a quantity surveyor should save you more money than it costs to hire one.'
Kieran McCarthy: 'Over the course of a very significant project spend a quantity surveyor should save you more money than it costs to hire one.'

I can appreciate how this happens. A new client decides to build a new home. They look at images online of how their dream home could turn out and they begin to collect all their favourite images. They are clearly design-focused. In the absence of a clearly defined house building process they research (Google) house design and the word architect comes up. An architect can move them from design along to the planning permission stage and everything seems to be going smoothly so far but in truth what is missing is another professional who is an expert in building costs, the quantity surveyor (QS).

'Over the course of a very significant project spend a quantity surveyor should save you more money than it costs to hire one.'
'Over the course of a very significant project spend a quantity surveyor should save you more money than it costs to hire one.'

I would speak to a QS at the very beginning. Once your architect has a set of draft plans in place that you are broadly happy with, send them to the QS for an outline budget check. You will often find that you may need to adjust the plans to align with your budget even at this early stage. Once the design has been fully developed and signed-off by you, your QS can do a more detailed costing. If any further trimming is required, now is the time.

When this is completed, you are now in a position to lodge for planning permission. Once you have received planning permission and you have engaged an engineer and BER consultant to draw up construction drawings, you are ready to look for a builder. You have a choice here on whether you want your QS to manage the tender process or whether you want to go it alone. It must be borne in mind, though, that you will be reviewing complex lengthy, and technical costing documents involving large sums of money and this exercise is not for the faint-hearted. If you don’t use a main contractor you can engage the QS to provide a budget for you for all the various key elements of the build so you can seek subcontractor quotes etc.

On-site, of course, we know from all the entertaining tv programs, that things change. There are many lively debates on ‘extras and variations’; what is included in the original estimate and what assumptions were made. If you have a QS still involved this is his or her time to shine. They will engage with the builder to agree on what is fair as regards the ups and downs of the project costs to eventually agree on the final account.

You may look at the lengthy and somewhat confrontational process above and rightly wonder if there isn’t a simpler more streamlined way of building a new home? There is a process that is gaining in popularity called Design and Build where you engage with a single company that deals with all aspects of your project from design and costing right through to planning permission and building. Once your budget is agreed at the beginning, your house is built for this at a fixed price. This takes away most of the workload and indeed complexity of the process above.

If you were buying a new car, you would never walk into a showroom where the cars had no price stickers and choose ‘the blue car third from the left’, so get a QS involved as early as you can. Over the course of a very significant project spend they should save you much more money than their cost.

Kieran McCarthy is a builder and civil engineer and heads up Cork-based KMC Homes, a bespoke home Design and Build firm. He is also a co-presenter on RTÉ’s popular Cheap Irish Homes series.

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