Among the various disciplines which make up the surveying profession, building surveyors are often thought to have the most diverse responsibilities. At some point, they are likely to be involved with all the key aspects of a construction project. For this, they need the quantity surveyor's knowledge of managing costs, the land surveyor's expertise in site usage, and the general practice surveyor's skill in planning and valuation.
If it is a new building project, the role starts with providing technical advice about regulations and legal restrictions. It then expands to entail consultancy and project management during the development phase. In the case of renovation work, the role is to act more as a "building doctor" to spot any defects, while also supervising maintenance, safety inspections and licence applications.
"We are involved in all these aspects," says Dennis Wong, Prudential Surveyors International's executive director. He adds that a building surveyor must also have a thorough understanding of structural safety, spatial planning, electrical and mechanical installations, facility management, fire safety and legal compliance.
You must be able to handle pressure as a normal part of the job
Mr Wong began his own career as a structural engineer in the UK, but after four years with a leading civil engineering consultancy decided to branch out. Not wanting to be restricted to a single professional discipline, he took a course to qualify as a building surveyor and applied to work for a local government building control office in London.
Aware of the numerous opportunities in Hong Kong, he returned in 1989 and joined Thomas Ng & Associates Limited as project manager. The company was restructured a year later and became Prudential Surveyors, and Mr Wong has been an executive director ever since.
As an experienced professional, he still derives the greatest satisfaction from working on new developments, which give the chance to build from the ground up and create something from scratch. He is, though, equally happy to take on the type of renovation and refurbishment projects which are becoming more common and are often just as challenging.
"For renewal projects, we are involved in the technical issues and have to deal with a lot of people including landlords and tenants," Mr Wong explains. "We need to consider the impact of reconstruction on the surroundings and the people living or working nearby."
Range of business
At present, Prudential Surveyors focuses on five main types of business: new developments, renovation and conversion projects, addition and alteration works; government contracts for building safety and urban renewal; and serving as expert witnesses in court cases.
"You obviously need in-depth knowledge of every aspect of building surveying," says Mr Wong, "However, you also have to be something of an expert on trends in the property market and relevant government policy."
Since building surveyors come into contact with people from all walks of life, they need self-confidence, strong communication skills, and to be proficient in written and spoken English and Chinese. Work is often won by submitting tenders which, for renovation projects, are often in Chinese.
Degree courses in surveying are now available at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, City University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University. Graduates commonly find a first job with the government, perhaps in the Buildings Department or the Hong Kong Housing Authority. Alternatively, they can join a surveying company where they will complete a two-year professional training programme to achieve chartered status. Standards are tough and the annual pass rate for those taking the professional examinations is around 30 per cent. As a result, it can take up to four years or more to become a fully qualified registered surveyor.
Mr Wong says recent graduates must learn the importance of perseverance. "In the early stages, you may have to do repetitive tasks and work long hours," he explains. "Later on, you must be able to handle pressure as a normal part of the job." His own motto is to work hard and play hard, which has helped him to accept the highs and lows and keep things in perspective.
In June, the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors (HKIS) and the China Association of Engineering Consultants reached an agreement concerning mutual recognition. Now, building surveyors in Hong Kong with five years' professional experience and an HKIS recommendation will be allowed to work in the mainland once they complete a course on mainland practices and pass a written test and an interview. In turn, engineering consultants in China who complete similar steps will be able to practise in Hong Kong.
Mr Wong says that with the current renovation projects there will be plenty of work for surveyors in Hong Kong. He does not expect too many to move to the mainland in the near future. Instead, the recent agreement may result in more mainland professionals coming to Hong Kong to further their careers.