The preliminary walk-through survey is the commercial property inspector’s top priority. It can be the difference between a merely satisfactory inspection and an exceptional one. It can also make a huge impact on your client’s experience. The preliminary walk-through is an informal initial survey of the entire property. Its purpose is to familiarize yourself with the subject property and to identify potential issues.
This is a quick but purposeful procedure that inspectors usually perform when they first arrive at the property. It involves walking around and through the building and taking mental notes. It may be conducted with or without your clients or a team. At this point, you should not be performing thorough assessments of building systems and components for your final report.
The Goals of the Preliminary Walk-Through Survey
Route the Inspection
While performing the preliminary walk-through, you’ll be building the roadmap for the actual inspection to follow by gathering information about the building’s layout and identifying roof access points, hidden hatches, and attics. This helps to develop an efficient and effective plan of attack.
Identify Inaccessible Areas
You may come across areas that are inaccessible due to physical barriers, special access conditions, or safety concerns. By identifying these issues early on, you can arrange to have someone available who can assist you with access or provide an alternative solution. If the client is present, this provides an opportunity to verbally communicate a contextual expectation of some of the limitations that their report will contain.
Example: The second floor laboratory is currently in use and is off limits to non-employees. At this point, the inspector may deduce that this area of the building is excluded from the inspection.
Modify the Scheduled Time
Establishing the route can also assist you in determining a more accurate estimate for the duration of the inspection than what you originally planned from your research and scheduling. The duration may be altered due to accessibility limitations, or, in some cases, building conditions, as well as the extent of systems and components present, and occupancy scenarios.
Example: The inspector researches a building and anticipates that the inspection is going to take four hours to complete, but, upon arriving, they find that the building is vacant. This may result in the inspection taking less than the scheduled four hours.
General Overall Condition
Many of the mental notes taken during the preliminary walk-through survey pertain to inventorying building systems and components, and identifying their apparent condition. The preliminary walk-through may provide insight on items that were not discovered from research or the client interview. This could range from finding unit heaters in an expansive warehouse to accounting for the general presence of systems, like an automatic fire-suppression sprinkler system installed throughout the building. The following items highlight the apparent condition of systems and components that provides valuable information for pinpointing deficiencies and optimizing your efficiency.
Water Leaks and Stains
You may come across signs of a water leak, such as stains, discoloration, dampness, or leak containment items during your preliminary walk-through. Identifying these early on can help you avoid backtracking when assessing the source of a leak and the extent of any water damage.
Example: The interior of the warehouse was found to have several leak containment systems installed under the skylights. The roof was inspected first and no issues were initially observed, but discovering the leak containment systems requires revisiting the roof for a second look at the skylights.
Inspectors can start formulating a structural assessment during their walk-through survey. While walking the building, they should look at the four components of a structure: plumb, level, square, and true (straight). Finding out about any deviations upfront can help you determine if they correlate to other portions of the building, and you can take a more in-depth look during the comprehensive inspection.
Example: There are interior cracks and displacement of the concrete block walls at the rear of the warehouse. The inspector should recall this when reviewing the exterior brick wall and look for similar issues.
Foster a Relationship with the Client
The preliminary walk-through offers inspectors an excellent opportunity to establish a rapport with their client, initiate a dialogue, and build trust. Building trust with the client can go a long way for word-of-mouth marketing and can significantly contribute to the success and expansion of your inspection business. Sometimes clients are present at the beginning of the inspection but have to leave before it’s completed. Inviting clients to join you on your preliminary walk-through can help acquaint them with the building and address their questions before they leave.
Example: Before starting the inspection, the inspector asks the client if they have any concerns. The client mentions water stains on the ceiling in one of the rooms. The inspector inspects that room first, identifies a minor leak, and explains it to the client. By addressing their concern beforehand, the inspector instills confidence in the client.
Methods for Performing a Preliminary Walk-Through
The preliminary walk-through is ultimately an inspection tool, and, like most tools, each inspector has the ability to tailor it to their own goals and personal preferences. Here are three approaches you may consider.
The first approach is working alone, and, regardless of the approach, time is valuable. Although you may be tempted to skip the preliminary walk-through for the sake of saving time, doing so can put you at a disadvantage. As demonstrated, skipping this procedure can lead to inefficiencies and a lack of preparedness. Building successful inspection habits should not change whether you’re working alone or working with a team. The more habitual an inspection process becomes, the less likely there will be issues with the procedure or process.
Working with a Team
The second approach applies to working with a team of inspectors. Generally, in this situation, each inspector is assigned a specific system to inspect. One inspector might address the roof, while another addresses the HVAC system. Walking the property together as a team will loop everyone in on what is present and where the systems are located, as well as help the lead inspector confirm that everyone understands their individual roles and responsibilities.
Working with Specialty Consultants
The third approach applies to working with specialty consultants. These are typically technicians or contractors hired to inspect a specific system or aspect of a building due to a gap in an inspector’s capabilities or client’s needs. Walking the property with specialty consultants provides similar benefits as working with a team of inspectors. It also helps the inspector ensure that each specialty consultant understands the scope of the assessment needed.
There will be times when specialty consultants arrive at different times. The lead inspector should stop their portion of the inspection and make sure to perform a preliminary walk-through with every specialty consultant as they arrive. Again, this ensures that every part of the building will be inspected properly and that everyone is on the same page.
Tips for a Successful Preliminary Walk-Through
The number one tip for performing a preliminary walk-through is to actually perform it despite the temptation to skip it. It also helps to set a company-wide policy that requires all employees to conduct them. This has the potential to enable inspectors to complete more inspections in less time, resulting in increased revenue for the business.
Another tip is to use this time to initiate or activate building systems so they are ready to inspect after the preliminary walk-through survey. This can lead to a more expedited operational testing process during the inspection. An example of this would be raising the temperature on the thermostat during the walk-through prior to getting on the roof and inspecting the rooftop HVAC unit.
Performing a preliminary walk-through survey before conducting a comprehensive inspection of a commercial property is a crucial step that should not be overlooked. Inspectors who prioritize the preliminary walk-through will ultimately be better equipped to execute an inspection that economizes the inspector’s time and fulfills the client’s expectations.
The benefits a preliminary walk-through are numerous:
- It familiarizes the inspector (and the client) with the layout of the property and its important systems and components.
- It helps the inspector formulate their plan of attack.
- It gets all team members on the same page.
- It maximizes the inspector’s time at the inspection.
- It’s a great work habit that will ultimately help your company’s bottom line.
By Rob Claus, CMI®
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