PROPERTY JOURNAL

Preparing for APC in Inspection

Inspection is a core commercial competency in the APC. What do candidates need to know and how can they avoid common pitfalls?

Author: Jen Lemen

14 March 2020

Inspection is a core competency to Level 3 on RICS' Commercial Real Estate APC pathway, as it was on the Commercial Property pathway before August 2018. It is also an optional competency on various other related pathways, such as Corporate Real Estate, Building Surveying and Property Finance and Investment.

At Level 3, candidates need to give practical examples in their summary of experience or case study of having provided reasoned advice on inspections, as well as demonstrating a depth of relevant technical knowledge and the ability to synthesise and apply this in practice.

Inspection is fundamental to providing accurate property advice and includes the following aspects, as detailed in the RICS competency guidance:
  • understanding the reasons for physical inspection
  • being conscious of health and safety issues
  • carrying out desktop due diligence
  • making access arrangements
  • having a logical inspection methodology
  • understanding construction and materials
  • considering the factors that affect value
  • knowing the legal requirements relating to occupation and ownership
  • accurately recording your observations and giving advice.
Aspects of the competency

There are many reasons to inspect a property physically, such as valuation, management of occupied and unoccupied properties, agency and lease consultancy. Depending on the particular purpose, candidates may need to focus on different aspects in their inspection, such as advising how to increase marketability for an agency disposal, or on the quality of location and accessibility for a valuation report.

Inspection is fundamental to providing accurate property advice

In terms of health and safety, candidates should be familiar with the RICS Surveying safely guidance note, second edition, particularly in relation to risk assessment, the hierarchy of risk control, lone working and personal protective equipment. Before attending site, they will also have needed to carry out comprehensive due diligence according to the purpose of the inspection. This could cover planning use, environmental issues, flood risk, neighbouring occupiers, lease terms and site boundaries, for instance.

Candidates should always check whether a lease is in place, so they can make appropriate access arrangements with the occupier. Disruption to occupiers should be minimised, and depending on the purpose, confidentiality should be maintained. If the survey is for disposal purposes, say, the occupier may not be aware of this and the surveyor could maintain confidentiality by indicating a more general reason for the inspection, such as property management.

In making the inspection, candidates should take a logical and methodical approach by, for example, starting with the surrounding area, before proceeding to inspect the external and internal parts of the building. For valuation work, candidates will need to refer specifically to valuation technical and performance standard (VPS) 2 and valuation practice guidance - application (VPGA) 8 of the Red Book.

Any limitations or restrictions on an inspection should be recorded in the subsequent client advice. Candidates should also ensure that accurate site notes and photographs are taken during inspections and held on file to provide a clear audit trail. Ideally, an inspection checklist or pro forma will be completed to ensure that nothing pertinent on site is missed.

Candidates should demonstrate relevant knowledge of building construction, defects and deleterious and hazardous materials, and be aware of the following:

  • building age and associated typical architectural characteristics or construction details, which can be cross-checked with planning records and historic maps or by speaking with the client
  • construction types, such as foundations, solid or cavity walls
  • materials that degrade with age causing structural problems, such as high-alumina cement, calcium chloride or mundic
  • materials that are harmful to health, including asbestos, lead piping and wood wool slabs
  • invasive species such as Japanese knotweed or giant hogweed
  • defects, including the difference between inherent and latent defects and common defects such as structural movement, wet and dry rot and various types of damp.

Succeeding in Inspection
  • Put health and safety first at all times if in any doubt go with your gut and withdraw from an inspection until you can return to do it safely.
  • Collate comprehensive desktop due diligence before a visit; you can often identify potential issues at the outset that you can further investigate on site.
  • Take neat, tidy and professional notes that enable you to provide diligent reasoned advice, and to which someone else can refer at a later date.
  • Act within your scope of competence and recommend specialist advice from other professionals where necessary.
  • Brush up on your technical knowledge through further CPD, such as through informal private study of Property Journal.

Candidates should have a broad knowledge of these issues, as well as in-depth knowledge relating to the construction, specification, age and potential defects associated with any Level 2 or 3 examples mentioned in their summary of experience. Insufficient depth of detail is a common area of referral for commercial candidates, so they should make sure that they brush up on inspection knowledge as part of their final assessment preparation in order not to fall short.

Candidates should likewise be able to assess various factors relating to the surrounding area and subject property, including how they may influence value or marketability. These will depend on the property type: for instance, a retail unit may have a shell specification with capped services; an office may have a modern grade A specification; or an industrial unit may require a certain eaves height. Candidates should also know the difference between category and grade in terms of office specification, as well as the different types of air conditioning, being aware of the ban on the R22 refrigerant.

Legal requirements relating to occupation and ownership are particularly important for property managers, who should be aware and alert to any potential compliance issues. Examples include duty of care towards visitors and trespassers under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and Occupiers' Liability Act 1984, as well as fire safety under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Inspection findings and observations will then be used to provide reasoned client advice and recommendations at Level 3 - for instance in a valuation, marketing or pre-negotiation rent review report - if a defect has been identified, or to advise a client of their statutory responsibilities. In many instances, to ensure they do not act outside their own scope of competence, candidates will need to recommend that clients consultant specialists. For example, if water ingress has been identified, advice on how to respond should be sought from a building surveyor.

Potential pitfalls

Commercial candidates often find the Inspection competency challenging because it requires technical knowledge, practical experience and an awareness of where advice may fall outside the core scope of a commercial candidate's role. This knowledge is often acquired during degree studies and has not been revisited since and might include construction types, common defects and typical specifications of different building types.

Furthermore, the competency requires candidates to analyse and reflect on the process of inspecting in a logical and methodical manner. This is sometimes difficult to explain in simple step-by-step terms, especially in establishing a timeline for an inspection and associated reporting to the client.

Jen Lemen BSc (Hons) FRICS is a partner at Property Elite providing training and support to RICS APC and AssocRICS candidates jen@property-elite.co.uk

Related competencies include: Inspection

As well as RICS journals and Modus, isurv.com is an excellent source of information as are degree-level textbooks and RICS guidance notes such as Surveying safely and Environmental risks and global real estate (rics.org/guidance) and the Red Book (rics.org/redbook).

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