Career Advice Property and Construction

The Role & Job of Quantity Surveyors in Property Development

Due to the evolution of the construction industry, the construction process and its technology have rapidly changed.  A quantity surveyor (QS) in Hong Kong, who traditionally conducts cost and quality control throughout the life of a construction project, is required to continuously upgrade his/her skills, especially if he/she works in property development.  A QS in this specialty has to pay attention to not only the project’s development, but also to the nature and future perspectives of the construction industry in order to boost the developer’s overall financial performance.

Let us gain a clearer insight into the roles and emerging duties of QS jobs in property development.

Internal Controls in Property Development
Most developers set up internal controls, which aim to guide their internal operations by formulating policies.  One of the most common tools for implementing internal controls is a standard operating procedure, which streamlines the tasks of project tendering, variation order processing, and site safety inspection.  Due to the fragmented and complicated nature of the construction industry, a QS is required to familiarise him/herself with these procedures in order to achieve every performance target effectively and efficiently.  This is an essential skill for those who work in property development.

Good Knowledge of BIM
Unlike the traditional design process in 2D drawings, building information modelling (BIM) is a model-based process that aims to facilitate project development – from planning to design, construction, and management – by creating a 3D model system that incorporates all the necessary building information into a single database.  Providing better coordination and simulating buildability in advance, it can reduce errors in design, shorten development periods, and, thus, reduce overall construction costs in the long term.  It is necessary for a QS to have good knowledge of BIM in order to control project development properly.  One use of BIM in cost control is to carry out a feasibility study during the early stages of a project.

By visualising the building models of various design schemes, schemes comparisons and preliminary cost estimations can be readily achieved before further planning takes place.  Since a proposed building is built in both virtual and physical manners, any design conflict can be detected beforehand, which can reduce variations during construction.  As for the process of preparing bills of quantity, which is considered time-consuming, a QS must work hard to research and invent the methodology and software of BIM to be able to extract quantitative information from models to streamline the time-consuming and complicated measurement process.

Good Knowledge of Green Building Concepts
Green buildings, which, by definition, are environmentally-friendly and use resources efficiently throughout their life cycles, have become popular in Hong Kong.  From a developer’s perspective, a green building is an investment rather than a cost, since it can attract buyers and tenants, achieve gross floor area concessions from the government, and attract goodwill from the general public.  In order for a developer to win a share of the green building market and ensure its profitability, the QS it employs must acquire a deep knowledge of green building concepts and be properly certified to assess them.  Without comprehensive considerations, green features would definitely cost more.  Therefore, a QS must conduct cost-benefit and even mathematical analyses, such as life cycle costing and the optimisation of any green feature’s costs and benefits, for a green building project.  By estimating the initial costs of various green features and the number of years it takes to pay them off, with reference to the financial status of the developer, a QS can make it easier for the developer to decide whether or not to adopt them in its project.

Risk Management
It is impossible to initiate a construction project that does not require subsequent variations and amendments, so risk is always inherent in project development.  To better mitigate the implications of risk and facilitate a project’s development with the least deviation from its allotted budget, a QS must be familiar with the field of risk management.  Traditionally, the QS should know the Standard Form of Building Contract 2005, which is jointly published by the HKIS and other institutes.  A new challenge, as laid down in the New Engineering Contract 3 Engineering and Construction Contract (NEC3 ECC), involves early warnings, a new and significant risk management tool that obliges contractors and project managers to notify each other of any foreseeable risk.  The QS may have to convene a risk reduction meeting to analyse risk status and seek solutions through close collaboration.  In addition to convening the meeting, the QS should identify, analyse, track, and evaluate the risks constantly through a risk register.  With a list of all the identified risks and relevant information, the QS should be able to analyse the degree of uncertainty that exists in a project, understand the risks involved and their potential consequences, and decide on the actions to take to minimise their impacts on cost and time.

Incorporating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) into a Project Development
More property developers have taken CSR into consideration because it is beneficial to their images and future development.  Therefore, another emerging duty of a QS in the employ of a developer is to incorporate CSR into a project.  The first general practice is to achieve CSR in contractual arrangements.  For example, to ensure the safety of construction workers and third parties, the QS must draft a required safety plan and site safety training framework to be included in a mandatory contract clause that will be implemented along with the progress of the construction project.  The QS needs to formulate the contractual arrangement to an extent that can demonstrate CSR, while maintaining the developer’s profitability.  Another general practice is to carry out a pre-qualification of both consultants and contractors.  Here, the QS must conduct financial and technical appraisals and consider other issues, such as environmental certification, BIM application experience, and safety plans, before selecting the proper companies to partner with and ensuring the fulfillment of CSR throughout a project.

In summary, the duties of a QS in property development have become increasingly comprehensive.  In order to achieve effective cost control for a project and win more commercial opportunities for developers, the QS has to perform duties besides measurements and contractual arrangements.  To enhance his/her professionalism, the QS should upgrade his/her qualifications in the abovementioned areas.  Quantity surveying is definitely a knowledge-based career with high value and bright career prospects.

About the Author
Sr Annie Chu is a professional QS with over 10 years of experience and now working in the cost & quality control department in a local property developer. She got an honour degree in surveying from the University of Hong Kong and is a professional member of The Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors (HKIS), Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Hong Kong Institute of Building Information Modelling (HKIBIM), BEAM Professional and Certified Mediator.