A comprehensive guide to Commercial Building Surveys

What a Commercial Building Survey consists of  and what to consider when choosing a building surveyor

Harrison Clarke's in-depth guide to Commercial Building Surveys

Preparing a Commercial Building Survey is one of the most complicated tasks that a building surveyor carries out, so it is crucial to have confidence in the knowledge and experience of the surveyor you choose for this complex job.

A Commercial Building Survey is split into five main parts:

  1. The Executive Summary

A snapshot summary of the rest of the report, making it particularly useful for high-level decision makers such as asset managers, financial directors or managing directors to assess very quickly whether there are any ‘red flags’ to be addressed before making big financial decisions. This summary is also useful for highlighting outstanding matters for your legal advisers, too. A traffic light colour system is used to clearly signpost whether significant, minor or no issues are highlighted.

  1. Details about the property and extent of inspection

High level details of the building, including its type, size, basic construction and site configuration, which help to add context to the rest of the report for anyone unfamiliar with the building. It also provides a description of condition definitions used, and also details any notable exclusions from the report.

  1. Technical analysis of the building’s condition

An explanation of the condition of each accessible part of the building, including cost estimates for any current or foreseeable need to repair the property. Where necessary, and when first agreed with the client, Harrison Clarke works alongside services engineers to seamlessly add their content into our report format, avoiding two or three separate reports for the building fabric, electrical installation and mechanical installation.

  1. Statutory and legal issues

Confirmation of whether the building is listed, subject to any planning applications, any building regulations sign-offs available for recent work, health and safety issues such as whether fire risk assessments are satisfactory, whether materials hazardous to health (such as asbestos) are likely to be within the building, and whether services have been subject to the right statutory testing regimes. Access provision for disabled building users is also considered, as are EPC ratings. If the property is subject to any existing leases, these will be reviewed as part of the due diligence process.

  1. Budget costs for remedial work

A summary of estimated costs for required or anticipated remedial work once the property is purchased or leased, using industry-recognised cost data and recent tender prices to collate costs. Unless otherwise agreed, costs such as capital expenditure, recurring servicing and testing costs, and cyclical decorations, will not be included.

The process

Quoting for the job

Every building is different, so it is inevitable that a surveyor’s quote will differ from building to building.

As a general rule of thumb, you can expect to pay anything from £1,200 plus VAT for a small, simple property (such as an office or shop) and up to £5,000 plus VAT, or even more, for a much larger, more complex property (such as an entire office block or a large hotel).

There are a number of factors involved when a surveyor prices up a survey, such as the depth of reporting, the size of their company (which can result in potentially higher overheads), surveyor qualifications and experience, proximity to the property (longer travel time means time which cannot be spent on another instruction), whether a company charges VAT, whether they include a follow-up consultation, their hourly charge-out rate, and so on.

Except in rare cases where sub-consultants such as service engineers dictate their own extra costs, the vast majority of Commercial Building Surveys are commissioned on a fixed fee basis. 

Potential extra costs

When quoting for a Commercial Building Survey, Harrison Clarke will complete some preliminary research to identify the extent of technical due diligence required. If necessary, we can commission drone photography and specialist inspections. For example, we would not want to survey a highly serviced leisure centre without the support of mechanical and electrical specialists.

Sometimes, we might recommend further specialist investigations if we notice warning signs that something is wrong. For example, we would suggest a drainage survey if we saw signs such as cracking that might indicate drainage defects.

On occasion, we might recommend a structural engineer’s report, if something is seriously wrong. However, our surveyors are highly trained in building pathology so this only happens in exceptional circumstances.

Pre-survey preparation

Before our surveyors visit the site, they will complete desktop research into the property, reviewing publicly available information as well as documentation provided by the client.

They will consider its size, type of construction, accessibility of roofs, likely level of servicing, and so on.

If it is available, our surveyor will want to review key documentation like operation and maintenance manuals, as-built drawings, and any leases or tenancy schedules which affect the building.

In an ideal world, our surveyor will be provided with a full suite of information before they conduct the physical survey of the site, but we appreciate that this cannot always happen.

The site inspection

Our surveyor will inspect each individual accessible building element – everything from the main structural and weathering components, such as the steel or concrete frame, roof, walls and floors, to more minor fittings and fixings such as doors, sanitary provision and kitchen installations.

Inside an empty, tall office block.

They will assess the type and condition of services, such as the electrical installation, plumbing, drainage and fire safety components. They will also consider less-common items such as lifts and sprinklers although, unless specialist engineers are involved, these will only be covered by a high-level narrative in the report.

Post-inspection reporting

Our surveyor will collate and combine the findings from their desktop research and their on-site inspection into a clear and comprehensive report. If key information is outstanding when the survey is completed, they will work with the client to get hold of the necessary information so that it can be added into the report. If this information remains outstanding soon after the property is inspected, the report will highlight these key areas for review at a later date.

What to consider when choosing a building surveyor


Of course the comparative quotes you gather are a key part of your decision making. Make sure you are comparing like for like quotes, for example, at Harrison Clarke we include cost estimates for remedial work as standard, whereas other surveyors often charge an additional fee to provide these cost estimates.

Harrison Clarke is also happy to absorb follow-up consultations into our original survey fee.

Timescales and service levels

There are other factors to consider aside from the financial aspect; time usually being critical in the purchase or leasing process.

Harrison Clarke will normally aim to inspect properties within a working week of instruction, providing your report within a week or so after that. 

If the project is really urgent, we will do our best to work even quicker.

As clear and straightforward as our surveyors make the reports, we are aware that these documents can be complicated and you may have further questions about the building or want to discuss details in the survey in more depth. Our surveyors will always be on hand to talk things through with you, until you are satisfied that you have all the information you need to make your important purchase or leasing decision with peace of mind.

Make sure that any surveyor you are considering using is clear about their timescales and service levels.


Check that, like Harrison Clarke, any surveyor you are considering has appropriate Professional Indemnity Insurance to cover the recommendations they make, just in case anything goes wrong.

Qualifications and experience

Technically, this is an unregulated area so a Commercial Building Surveyor does not have to be specially qualified, but why would you risk such an important part of the decision-making process that has huge financial implications, on someone not qualified or experienced?!

Ideally, a RICS Chartered Surveyor should prepare your commercial survey, as RICS Regulations prevent surveyors from completing work which is outside of their area of expertise. Chartered Surveyors, by their very profession, must adhere to these regulations.

The majority of Chartered Building Surveyors are also degree qualified, which generally means that they approach buildings with an analytical mind, and present information in an articulate and understandable format.

The best way to assess a surveyor’s experience is to ask them. Harrison Clarke’s surveying team has worked on an extensive range of different building types and construction styles, including retail, industrial, commercial, education, residential and leisure. 

At time of writing, Harrison Clarke’s Chartered Building Surveyors each have at least 14 years’ experience behind them. 

We would not recommend that you use your builder to complete your Commercial Building Survey. Firstly, they have not been trained in building pathology; how a building can fail, and why, and they are unlikely to fully understand historical construction methods.

Secondly, builders have not been trained to analyse defects in detail and to communicate this analysis to a third party. We are often asked to pick up the pieces where a builder has suggested or completed inappropriate repairs and they have not considered the knock-on implications of such work.

Thirdly, it is rare for a builder to carry appropriate Professional Indemnity Insurance.

Reputation and testimonials

Online Trustpilot feedback and Google reviews are a robust and reassuring way to check out the service levels of any Chartered Surveyor that you are considering using. Alternatively, your solicitor might be able to recommend a reputable firm of Chartered Surveyors that they trust.

At the time of writing, Harrison Clarke is very proud to be able to say that all our online customer reviews give glowing 5-star feedback, which we are really proud of.

Next steps

If you need to commission a Commercial Building Survey, please contact our team of friendly and highly competent surveyors, who will be happy to talk through your requirements and answer any questions you may have.

Call 023 8155 0051 

Email info@harrisonclarke.co

Discover something you would like to know more about?

Tim Clarke, Director at Harrison Clarke chartered surveyors.

About the author

Tim Clarke,


Tim set up Harrison Clarke Chartered Surveyors in July 2017 following a series of public and private sector surveying roles, having previously worked for the University of Cambridge, Rund Partnership, Goadsby, and CBRE. 

Tim has degrees in building surveying, construction project management, and business administration.