Before you Cross that Bridge

Building surveyor Matthew Williams looks at five top-tips when obtaining a pre-acquisition building survey for commercial premises.

I always enjoy undertaking pre-acquisition building surveys, it is a great mix of “detective work” researching the history of the building, a “workout” exploring lofts, basements and lifting drain covers, and some “panning” * of findings to pick out those nuggets of which the purchaser or leaseholder of the building should be aware.

Over the years, surveys have resulted in many surprises including finding bags full of money, an entire hidden floor, bats, a toilet block, of which the vendor was unaware, hidden by vegetation, a peppercorn rent of a red rose to be paid on midsummer’s day, and a perplexing bow in a gable wall due to a bomb having landed on the house next-door.

One large empty industrial unit I was surveying was broken into by a group of youths who, after kicking in the door and coming in, fortunately all fled at my shout of “Oi” from the far end of the building.

The cruck framed cottages, cob built post offices, Tudor mansions and thatched pubs are always fascinating, but offices, storage spaces and factories are equally intriguing to discover. I always loved the “how things work” book as a child, so getting access to a variety of businesses helps feed this fledgling interest.

There is of course a serious side to conducting building surveys. Businesses, investors or occupiers want assistance in their decision-making process to know their investment is wisely made and that the property will suit what they want to do.

Building surveys can reveal significant problems: Some of the worst I have encountered include; a main steel-frame that was far more hole than steel in the bottom metre, due to chemicals spilling across the floor; a steady rain of loose asbestos dust within an industrial plant boiler room; structural bracing that had been stolen; a pristine office space with the steel roof truss joints above completely corroded away; as well as many instances of structural movement, beetle infestation and wood rots.

The good news is that buildings can normally be fixed and, if you are aware of faults, deals can often be re-negotiated, and faults put right.

A pre-acquisition survey is a great chance for the surveyor to advise in advance. Over the years, this advice has saved many purchasers and lessees from major financial loss and has allowed many more to move into properties armed with practical advice, aware of issues needing to be addressed.

So, I would recommend, prior to taking on any commercial property, that you get a building survey done. The cost of a survey will be insignificant compared to the cost of dealing with a major issue after the purchase is made. I would suggest the following top-tips to make sure you get safely into the building you expect:

1. Choose your surveyor carefully
There are different types of surveyor, many of whom do not undertake building surveys. Get your survey done by a Chartered Building Surveyor and member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) with MRICS or FRICS after their name. A RICS registered firm will have professional indemnity insurances and procedures in place to give you security in the advice you get.

2. Tell your surveyor what your plans are
Building surveyors can produce bespoke reports and are often happy to advise on important issues or issues of concern and consider investment plans or plans for the building. Make sure you tell the surveyor what you are looking to do; to get their best advice.

3. Work with your legal adviser
The building survey should identify a list of items for your legal adviser. Boundary, access issues, or onerous repairing liabilities may only be recognised on visiting the site and if the surveyor has been your legal adviser’s eyes and ears on the ground.

4. Take notice of the executive summary
The building survey should contain an executive summary of main items the surveyor wants to bring to your attention, including major cost and other risks. Take these into account in your planning.

5. If you have a commercial property, engage a commercial surveyor
For commercial surveys (any property held for a commercial or investment purpose rather than the house you live in) ensure your surveyor specialises in “commercial” surveys and is familiar with commercial leases, dilapidations, structures and legislation.

Give me a ring, I will be pleased to talk about what you are looking to do, and give you a quote, I do enjoy a good building survey!

* “Panning” Extracting precious metals from silt using a pan and flowing water – for those not familiar with West Country mining or cowboy films.

Matthew Williams MRICS IMaPS BSc(Hons) Building Surveying, is part of the building consultancy team at Stratton Creber Commercial. He can be contacted on 07834 996419