A property manager responsible for the management of a block of flats has a long list of ongoing obligations to fulfil: insurance procurement, health and safety compliance, site inspections, cleaning, repairs and maintenance, utilities, on-site staffing, client meetings, cyclical refurbishments and other duties as determined by the lease and good practice. In fact, if the leaseholders were as good as gold and paying their service charges on time every time, the property manager’s list of core tasks would still keep them very busy.
And that’s why the best property managers use their network of suppliers to good effect. Delegation is essential for a property manager to maintain a safe environment for its residents and visitors, and the cost of those delegated tasks is a legitimate service charge expense.
In this blog, we will look at one of these essential tasks that is often overlooked to the detriment of the leaseholders and the person managing the block!
During the earlier stages of lockdown, blocks of flats were given a wide berth by property managers. Residents concerned about the spread of Covid-19 asked their property managers to put all but urgent maintenance tasks on hold. Whilst inspections were on ice, buildings continued to deteriorate.
As we get back to a semblance of normality in most parts of the country, property managers are resuming the regular inspections of their properties. However, what a property manager looks at on their inspection and what a surveyor sees on a health-check visit are, understandably, very different.
What are the key benefits of a surveyor health-check?
As a property manager, you need to stay on the front foot as much as possible. That means being proactive about the condition of the buildings in your portfolio, pre-empting problems and planning well in advance for major works.
A surveyor is trained to look for building defects before they become a serious problem, so the health-check is a particularly beneficial and low-cost method to stay ahead of the game. We know from experience that property managers that ignore minor defects pay the price when it comes to expensive and disruptive insurance claims. Falling masonry can have devastating consequences so it is preferable to spot defects and deal decisively with them before they cause a serious problem.
A minimal up-front investment in a surveyor’s visit can save thousands of pounds, even in the short term. Budget for a health-check at the start of the service charge year and you’ll have the funds ready for these proactive inspections.
What should a health-check comprise?
A surveyor’s health-check of a residential block of flats is focussed primarily on the fabric of the building. A surveyor will study the façades, looking for brickwork cracks, failing render, loose panels, and rotting window frames. He/she will assess the state of the rainwater goods – downpipes, hoppers and guttering, looking for defects and signs of blockages – whilst keeping an eye out for overflow pipes discharging. If safe access is available to the roof through an external staircase or through the internal common parts, a visual inspection will be made of the accessible flat and pitched roofs.
The surveyor will provide his/her expert opinion on the state of the exterior elevations and suggest ad hoc repairs or even a full programme of external repairs and redecorations if deemed due/overdue.
Provided the surveyor has access to the internal common parts, he/she will assess the decorative state of the lobbies, hallways and corridors. If there is parking and other internal amenities, these will be walked, and relevant notes made.
A picture paints a thousand words, so photos of pertinent issues helpfully supplement the health-check write-up you receive.
How often should I organise a surveyor to do a health-check?
A trained property manager carrying out, say, quarterly inspections should escalate any building fabric concerns he/she has to a building surveyor. If a schedule of quarterly or more frequent inspections take place by the PM, a surveyor’s health-check carried out annually should be all that you need to budget for.
If, however, inspections are fewer and farther between, you may wish your surveyor to undertake quarterly or half-yearly inspections.
What equipment will be used for the inspection?
A surveyor will carry a camera, binoculars, a protimeter (damp meter), FB keys and necessary PPE. If organised in advance for hard to reach areas such as the roofs, your appointed surveyor may have access to an aerial drone for high resolution stills and video.
Will the health-check be written up in layman’s terms?
A switched-on building surveyor knows that a property manager needs his/her client’s green light for anything other than routine expenditure, so a report in plain English supplemented by photos can be sent to the landlord (freeholder/RMC/RTM) for their perusal – and to make decisions. And with that in mind, a clear and concise health-check write-up will include timescales: If a matter is urgent, your surveyor will say so – no doubt by making a call from site.
A health-check on a block of flats is an ideal way to get to know a new building surveyor, one that you may look to to build a long-term relationship. A low-cost health-check gives you an opportunity to test a surveyor’s technical skills, to see how they set out their reports, the language used and how images complement the words. A health-check can be an important pre-cursor for a full planned maintenance programme or capital expenditure plan – and to help you prepare for the next cyclical internal common parts works or ‘ex decs’.
Top tip: Visit with the building surveyor and get some bespoke training at the same time!
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