Deciding to lease or even purchase your own premises is a major step for any business. It will almost certainly cost you money and time. Once you have instructed agents and solicitors it can be tempting to cut corners and not undertake a survey. However, instructing a surveyor to inspect the premises could be money very well spent and save you unexpected costs in the future.
A survey is one way that you can ensure that the building you wish to buy or lease is all that you think it is (or have been told). All buildings will suffer defects at some stage. It is important that you understand the consequences of resolving these defects and what unexpected costs you may face due to the terms of your lease, or by simply occupying your building.
Here are just some of the things that a building surveyor can advise on.
Advising on building defects is the core content of a building survey report. It will cover all the elements of the building fabric and identify any defects. The surveyor will also advise on the implications of the defects and the likely cost to remedy. Rectifying a leaking warehouse roof could cost tens of thousands of pounds. Even minor works to remedy defective electrical or fire alarm systems require specialist contractors and can cost several thousand pounds.
Remember, if you are signing a full repairing lease then you will be responsible for the repair of the property and will be obliged to repair defects regardless of the condition of the property at the commencement of the lease. Your only opportunity to limit this is before you sign the lease – and the building survey will help inform your negotiations - which could lead to rent reductions, capital contributions, service charged caps or dilution of lease clauses.
Owning and occupying property imposes a whole raft of statutory duties on a small business. Is there asbestos in the property? Are the electrical and fire alarm installations safe and fully tested? Are there adequate toilet facilities and fresh air ventilation? Is there a risk of contaminated land?
Your surveyor will also advise whether the property is listed or in a conservation area (both of which may restrict what works you can undertake or impose obligations beyond your expectations) and they will advise if recent works comply with planning and building regulation requirements.
Even new buildings may not be fully compliant – and if the developer or contractor has gone into liquidation there may well be some problems obtaining warranties for the works. This may create problems if you wish to sell or sub-let the premises and it will certainly cause delays if major repair works are necessary.
A good surveyor will ask questions about your proposed use and occupation of a property – and advise whether it will work for you.
- Will the floors be strong enough to support the storage you want to install?
- Are there issues around installing additional cooling systems for your IT systems?
- Do the fire escapes or fresh air supplies restrict the number of people who can be accommodated?
And it’s not just the immediate issues that need to be considered. Your surveyor will also advise on the likely maintenance costs and life expectancy of the building fabric and can advise on energy efficiency issues and running costs.
Undertaking a full inspection of a property and providing a detailed report does take time and does cost money. But without such a survey you could find your business is liable for a whole host of defects, breaches of statutory obligations and ultimately a property that fails to meet your requirements.
That, of course, could take a lot more time and a lot more money to put right.
Download the RICS Small Business Property Guide for comprehensive advice on common property decisions and actions you may need to take - from acquiring a lease to challenging a dilapidations claim – along with vital property-related issues such as valuations, planning permission and the business rates system.
Matt Neave MRICS is a Chartered Building Surveyor and Director at Macegreen Consulting Ltd. Matt has over 13 years experience of advising business who are relocating, acquiring and disposing of property.
Macegreen Consulting is a project management, building surveying and development consultancy practice providing full coverage across the UK. We have the experience and passion to really add value to our clients' businesses and projects.