Sunday, August 19
DIY

The case for making sure

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A quantity surveyor can eliminate tension and get the right quote

A full question box this week, which always makes me happy as this is what the column is really all about. 

David wants to know more about the role of quantity surveyors, saying that I regularly advise their use, but that in the HOME of September 16 I said a professional team of a quantity surveyor and an architect were probably not needed for add-ons or small renovations. 
David asked at what square metrage in a construction or extension would I recommend the appointment of such a team. He also wanted to know the duties of a surveyor, apart from drawing up a bill of quantities of the materials to be used, the labour costs and authorising the payments to the contractors at certain points in the process. 
He asked: “Does this mean the quantity surveyor must supervise the construction work while in progress (is this not the function of the architect?) And does it mean the quantity surveyor has calculated precisely a time scale and completion date for the project based on the bill of quantities for the materials to be used, and labour costs? 
“How else could he evaluate the labour costs, if the period of construction work is not calculated by him? If he does not perform this calculation who does?” 
I could write a whole column on the role of a quantity surveyor, especially as it is how I started off in the industry. Then you went to university to become a quantity surveyor, while others like myself went to tech, studied in-house with the large contractors and became building surveyors. 
The quantity surveyor looked after the interests of the client, while we performed the same function for the contractor. The best way to describe a quantity surveyor is to use the Afrikaans word, which is bourekenaar, roughly translated as building accountant. 
Personally, I would like to see a quantity surveyor appointed on all building works as that person removes much of the tension between client and contractor.
Unfortunately the costs involved mean this is not always possible. David asks at what square metrage would you appoint a quantity surveyor. Sadly, the way building costs are escalating it may soon be necessary for a 1m² building. 
Seriously, I would consider one for any build over R750 000 and I would definitely appoint one for a build of more than R1 million. I believe the initial savings at tender stage make up for the cost of the quantity surveyor. 
This is not necessarily a cheaper price but it will be the right price, which means the arguments between contractor and client don’t start in the first week or, indeed, ever. A properly measured bill of quantities is a pleasure for a contractor to price, and you can then have an accurate price in a week. The alternative is that a group of contractors are all issued with a set of drawings, which they all must measure and produce their own bill of quantities for pricing. 
I can guarantee those five bills will have very little in common. The result is that after weeks of effort, you will receive prices that are so far apart you will think some of the contractors live on a different planet. 
Then, being the people we are, we naturally go for the lowest price, only to find out later that this contractor was not good at measuring and the price is wrong. In this scenario, it is often best to choose the contractor whose price is closer to the average. 
When you have a professionally produced bill of quantities the contractors are all pricing the same document and can spend time on giving the right price instead of having to waste time measuring. It is very seldom the spread of prices will be more than 10% in this case, unless somebody does not want the job and just sticks in a high price. 
The duties of a quantity surveyor will vary from contract to contract. He or she could initially give you a budget for the works to be undertaken so you know upfront whether you can afford to have them carried out, but usually, their main function is to evaluate the tenders, make a recommendation and then monitor the cost control on the job. They are not there to try and squeeze the contractor’s price but to ensure all parties are treated fairly. 
Obviously, as they are paid by the client, the client’s interests come first, so the surveyor will ensure you are not overcharged for any extras or deviations from the original plan. It is common nowadays for quantity surveyors to act as project managers or for architects to take on part of the surveyor’s function. 
Personally, I believe in letting specialists perform their key function and not asking them to dabble in areas for which they are not trained. Programming of the works does not revolve around the cost of labour, but rather the amount of work to be done. 
Architects, quantity surveyors and contractors do this more by feel and the availability of materials, and this is often one of the first things to be discussed once the contract is awarded, as time scales can be blown out due to material or specialist items just not being available. Finally, as a contractor, I would much rather argue the costing of an item with a quantity surveyor as even though I might not get the money I wanted, I am at least arguing with somebody who understands the basics and concepts.

Handy Mac, aka Don MacAlister, is our expert on household DIY issues. If you have a question for him, please send it to don@macalister.co.za or SMS only to 082 446 3859. Find Don on FB: facebook.com/thehandymac
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