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The New ASTM Standard for Property Condition Assessments

The ASTM Standard E 2018-99 “Standard Guide for Property Condition Assessments: Baseline Property Condition Assessment Process” has been out for over a year. The Standard is intended to define good commercial and customary practice for conducting a baseline PCA for commercial properties in much the same way that ASTM E- 1527 did for Environmental Site Assessments.

Standard E 2018-99 is intended to act as a guide in defining the scope of work between a consultant and a user. “User” is the term the Standard employs for “client.” Proposals for Property Condition Assessments often use the Standard as the sole definition of the scope. This has the potential for creating confusion between the user and consultant because there is a general lack of understanding that the Standard defines only a baseline or minimum scope and that the user’s needs are likely to exceed that minimum.

The new Standard makes certain assumptions about the user’s level of understanding

The Standard makes certain implicit assumptions in the process of defining the relationship between the user and the consultant. One assumption is that both parties have read and thoroughly understand the Standard. Another assumption is that the user has made a conscious decision as to the level of risk he is willing to tolerate. The Standard further assumes that the user understands the implications of this decision as it pertains to the scope of work as it is outlined in the Standard. Default decisions generally favor the consultant, not the user.

For example, the Standard provides no definition of the qualifications of the consultant, whether that is the person performing the PCA (“field observer”), the person reviewing the PCA (“the reviewer”), or a third party employing the other two (the field observer, reviewer, and the consultant may all be the same person). The authors of the Standard did not seem to think it was their place to tell a user what his needs should be, particularly given the highly variable level of inquiry the Standard is expected to cover.

It is up to the client to establish the qualifications of the proposed field observer prior to engagement. If the client does not exercise this option, the decision of what the field observer’s qualifications are to be is left to the consultant. There is no guarantee that these qualifications will meet the client’s needs. The danger lies in that the user may assume that the Standard does define this relationship.

Use care in defining the scope

There are other instances where the user may expect that a particular area of concern is included in the scope of work as defined by the Standard when, in fact, it is not.

One of the areas on which the Standard is silent is that of “red flags.” “Red flags” are situations or materials that may, in themselves, be problematic regardless of their condition.

Typical red flags are building materials that have been subject to class action law suits or recalls. Some of these include EIFS, hardboard siding, polybutylene piping, Federal Pacific electrical breakers, aluminum branch wiring, and Omega and Star brand sprinkler heads. Many clients need to have a specific determination made of whether those products are present or not. Unless this is specified, it is not covered by the Standard.

Other issues not addressed by the Standard include flood zones, wetlands, grease and oil traps, backflow preventers, and privately owned transformers.

The Standard is mainly concerned with identifying the various components of the property and commenting on their obvious condition. There is little requirement for evaluation or judgment of the observed conditions. For example, the field observer may note cracks in a concrete foundation or corrosion of a steel beam. The field observer cannot comment on the structural significance of these deficiencies unless he is an engineer.

Understand the limitations 

In order to prevent misunderstandings, the user must be thoroughly familiar with the Standard, particularly what elements are included in the scope of work. When comparing proposals, the user should make sure that each party is addressing the same scope.

The ASTM Standard E 2018-99 “Standard Guide for Property Condition Assessments: Baseline Property Condition Assessment Process” does much to define the scope of Property Condition Assessments. It is a good tool, but, as with any tool, it is the user’s responsibility to understand its use and limitations.

Courses available for more information

To aid in understanding the Standard, ASTM is offering a two-day course entitled “Property Condition Assessments, Featuring E 2018-99 Standard Guide for Property Condition Assessments: Baseline Property Condition Assessment Process.” For information on this course, contact:

ASTM
Technical and Professional Training Department
100 Barr Harbor Drive, P.O. Box C700
West Conshohocken, PA 19428-2959

Or telephone 1-610-832-9686

You may view the ASTM Website at http://www.astm.org/TRAIN/envdates.html.

Volume 12, Number 2

April 2001

Copyright © 2001

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