Podcast Summary 012: Business Stories with Nick Brown

In this edition of the Surveyor Business Stories, Marion talked to Nick Brown FRICS, the founder of Ashridge Surveyors. As a Residential Building Surveyor, APC Mentor and Assessor, he claims to help anyone who asks nicely, so we asked him to share his journey as a small business surveyor with the Surveyor Hub members.

What School Governors and Surveyors Have in Common

Nick started his own business as a residential surveyor five years ago. But even before he set the business up, he had been a school governor for 10 years in various schools. The position of a school governor has been an eye opener for Nick, because schools are run like little businesses.

“I think a lot of the surveying skills are transferable over to schools, especially when there are capital projects going on, whereby a surveyor can give their time and knowledge on tendering processes and contracts. At the school that I’m currently in, I helped do the planned maintenance and also checked over the health and safety files. If a surveyor has got the time to give, then being a school governor is absolutely fantastic,” says Nick.

What it’s Like to be a Party Wall Surveyor

Nick is one of the editors of Whispers, a magazine published by Pyramus & Thisbe Club, which gathers party walls professionals and promotes excellence in this practice. Nick uncovers for us how it is to be a party wall surveyor.

“I enjoy legal bits and pieces, and eventually I’d like to get my company to go down the alternative dispute resolution path. When you are following a party wall dispute process, quite often you become a sympathetic ear. You’re almost a mediator, which I find quite interesting. Because of the COVID thing, I have a feeling that there’s going to be quite a few construction disputes arising. Anybody that’s in the alternative dispute resolution space at the moment is going to be well placed to help out.”

However, there are big challenges that come with being a party wall professional.

“Party walls are one of the few areas where you don’t obviously have to be a Chartered Surveyor. Sometimes I have encounters with other surveyors who perhaps haven’t got the FRICS behind them, so they can just say whatever they want. Emails come into my inbox which are almost personal, and I have to take a very deep breath, take a couple of hours and never respond to those kinds of emails on the same day. There are a few party wall surveyors out there, who are very well known within the industry, and eyes get rolled when their names are mentioned,” Nick warns, but nevertheless he still sees party walls surveying as a less stressful job than valuation, which he never wanted to get a license for.

What Students Can Do In The Current Market

Nick occasionally lectures at Plymouth Oxford Brookes University, but as the pandemic kicked in, universities shut down, and students got concerned with missing out on their studies. So Nick and his colleagues responded by giving webinars on building related matters, defects, fire safety, contracts, and specifically force majeure and where COVID-19 might be affecting construction contracts.

“We’ll keep going until the lockdown is formally over. If there are any APC students or university students out there that can benefit from this, great. It keeps me busy as my work too has essentially dropped off a cliff. I don’t think there’s any excuse for any Chartered Surveyor not to be hitting their CPD records now. There is so much great content out there that people are giving in their free time!”

The Importance of Developing Soft Skills as a Surveyor

This is a good time for surveyors to pause and reflect on their career so far. In that respect, Nick has chosen to focus on developing soft skills.

“I’ve received some criticism for the lack of listening, and I figured out that perhaps I’ve let my soft skills slip a bit. When I’m working late, I tend to go into work mode and I’m looking at the screen trying to focus, but then a phone call may come in. So I’ll take that phone call, but I’ll still be working on bits and pieces, so neither my work or the person on the other side of the line are getting my full attention. So this is what I’m focusing on rather than the technical side, although I did sign up to a training provider for CDM.”

As surveyors, we don’t always prioritise soft skills as we go through our careers, but we are effectively managers of people. So we’d like to conclude by recommending two great books by Sue Willcock, Help! I’m a Manager and Help! I’m Starting Work, which can give surveyors great support in building their management skills.

To listen to the podcast click here

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The Surveyor Hub is a proud partner of  Lionheart, the benevolent fund which supports RICS members and their families.

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