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Building surveyors issue building permits for custom homes. A few decades ago, there were only council surveyors, but the system was slow and inefficient. After introduction of private building surveyors, the industry became more flexible and cost competitive. The work of building surveyors in Victoria is strictly supervised and regulated by the Victorian Building Authority (VBA)
Recently the VBA began putting a lot of pressure on building surveyors with additional requests for various documents to be included in the building permit. A lot of them are related to building-product certifications, which, in my humble opinion, should be done by manufacturers before being allowed on the market. (Remember the defective cladding saga?) However, the VBA is just another bureaucratic institution unconcerned about anybody’s convenience, blindly following the law and shifting responsibility down the chain. Building surveyors simply shift these request onto the custom home builders and homeowners’ shoulders.
Most good custom house builders will have a preferred building surveyor which they normally use; however, the building surveyor does need to be appointed by the client. Normally we get our clients to sign the application form for our surveyor.
We prefer to use the smallest surveying company possible. The best is a ‘one-man band’ where the same person issues the building permit and conducts all site inspections. With our type of complex buildings, things rarely work out exactly as planned, and often we need last-minute variations to existing plans. With a surveyor familiar with the custom project, it’s much easier to navigate all the compliance requirements.
Most building surveyors just work in offices and issue building permits. For site inspections they appoint independent building inspectors whose role is not to check if something is built good or bad, but strictly to check if something is built in compliance with the approved plans or not. Inspectors on site may verbally agree that a deviation from the plan improved the building quality, but they aren’t authorised to approve it and will seek amendments of the plans.
There are only around 400 building surveyors in Victoria and everyone is very busy. Building permit applications are getting slower and slower to be approved.
A few years ago we started building a second-storey extension where the client organised all the documentation himself, including appointing a large surveying company. After we started the construction and opened a large section of the roof on a house where the owner still lived during the works, we discovered several discrepancies (quite common with home extensions). The large timber beam specified by the client’s engineers didn’t fit in the space provided. So as not to lose any time, I got our own engineer to specify a smaller steel alternative. Everything was done within hours, and the next morning I had the required steel beam on site, and we installed it within the same day. We were in a rush to cover and enclose the building to make the living conditions inside the tarp-covered house a bit more human.
However, when the frame was completed, the inspector (appointed by the large surveying company) refused to accept my engineer’s beam and requested that the original engineers, who provided the engineering for the whole project, should approve it. It took three weeks to get somebody from this engineering company (again, a large company) to come on site and confirm the beam specified by my engineers. They also charged a fee for this, and then it took another week for the large surveying company to amend the building permit (and charge another fee). So whole saga, with all its associated stress and costs, took nearly a month during a Melbourne winter. The moral of the story is: make sure you engage surveyors, designers and architects with maximum responsiveness; people who return emails within twenty-four hours or earlier and are available on the phone most of the time. Responsive Building Surveyor is very important in any custom built project by providing relevant advice and ensure compliance with Australian Standards.