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Home » An Interview with James McLachlan of M Survey Chartered Surveyors

An Interview with James McLachlan of M Survey Chartered Surveyors

Transcript of our interview with James McLachlan

00:00:03 Vicky Downey 

Hi, James. Thank you for sitting down with me. You’ve been a client of ours for six years now this month. Tell me a little bit about M survey and what you do. 

00:00:14 James McLachlan 

Yeah. Well, so, umm surveys the Army, chartered building, surveyor and survey is a chartered building. Same practise.

It’s generally me as the surveyor with my own business, but then I have consultants and technical assistants that help me and then a predominantly to work, whose residential building surveillance. So house surveys for people buying houses which I think it’s the most enjoyable part of surveying because you know, everybody wants to look around people’s houses. It’s like location, location or Grand Designs. You know, people love it and I love that side of it. 

But the flip side is you’re also dealing with people who are very emotional at times, you know, because it’s the biggest thing in their life. You know, house moves tend to go in hand in hand with her, like births, deaths, marriages and relocation with work and that kind of thing. So people have often got a lot going on. And I’ve done other types of surveying in the past. 

But we don’t tend to do much commercial now and then in the early years of my business, we did a lot of architectural work as well, but that’s very difficult to be profitable unless you’re doing massive schemes. 

If you’re just doing residential self builds and extensions, yeah, it’s very difficult to for people to understand how much it’s going to cost for you to do a good job for the time involved. So these days, it’s basically mostly house surveys, you know, and they go from from a little bed sit for 12-30 grand somewhere up to a couple of £1,000,000 dream home, you know, and they tend to be what we’re all. Cheshire, Shropshire, North Wales. 

You get the odd one that’s further away, but that’s it. 

00:02:04 Vicky Downey 

And how many years is it now that you’ve been trading? 

00:02:07 James McLachlan 

Yeah, 18 years in October. So yeah, it’s 2006 in October 2006 has started, but that’s the official start date of it and yeah. 

It’s it’s mad to think, actually it’s 18 years. Yeah, it’s been. 

So actually I I hadn’t even clicked it 1/3 at that time. Is with yourselves, isn’t it? 

00:02:32 Vicky Downey 

Yeah, I think that our values as companies align quite well as well, really customer focused. 

00:02:35 James McLachlan 

Yeah. Yeah. And that that’s what I liked here. Because, you know, I obviously used other firms for the same type of service that I got from the city and. 

But I don’t wanna be too corporate either. You want to be very professional and very you want to be slick when you need to be. But my clients, they a lot of them, come to me by passing my name around and I’d pass the name around of this place, you know? Yeah. But that’s because of the that extra bit which is being. 

Customer focused, you know, when people get a survey from me, they’ll often wanna speak to me before I go speak to me after I’ve been and they know that it’s my business. It’s me that’s going. It’s me that’s surveying it. I’m not just dishing it out to. 

Somebody for, you know, a finder’s fee or a profit. 

Yeah, and that’s what I’ve found really good with this place is that I know the people in here actually from when I do pop my head in, which is too rare that I pop my head in. But you know, I know that when people phone up as a a face of my company or a voice of my company that they getting somebody who’s. 

You know actually cares about doing a good job. So yeah, it’s pretty good. 

00:03:54 Vicky Downey 

That’s good. So how do you think your business has changed or grown since you’ve been working with us? 

00:04:01 James McLachlan 

Yeah, I’d say it probably ties in with coming to yourselves where that probably tied tied in slightly with me moving away from some of the architectural and the commercial work which you know that probably comes. 

Partly from my professional background in the past where I did some of that type of work but. 

My yeah, my father’s charts Vale. He’s been a Charles Vayer since I was a kid. You know, carrying out house surveys. So it was always kind of fighting the the obvious that that was what was best that, you know, I’ve always been tagging along on surveys. When I was a kid or helping out with with this, that and the other.  

So and then with the where the housing market changes, if you think you’re looking at the last six years, the residential housing markets been. 

You know, so busy, you know, time with you that that I’ve really focused my business. Yeah, on just being, you know, very much residential house surveys and trying to not trying to be Jack of all trades you know trying to be you know really want to be the best at. 

00:04:54 Vicky Downey 

You know those COVID years as well, and it was flat out you know. 

House surveys? Yeah, and a massive part of that is, you know, when people phoned up, they want to check progress. So they want to, you know, an appointment booked and that kind of thing. Then I need a good team behind me. Yeah. And I think in the. 

You know HR environment, it makes a hell of a lot more sense to be doing what I do with yourselves than to be, you know, directly employing somebody who would have to have a side raise aspect to their job to justify it, because sometimes they need to be flat out there with the admin. 

Booking appointments and that kind of thing. But then other times you’d be trying to find things for them to do, so it would only work if they were like training to be a surveyor or something like that. So yeah, it works really well for me. 

00:06:02 Vicky Downey 

Can you remember why you chose Obsidian offices? 

00:06:07 James McLachlan 

I think for me it actually one of the funny things is probably when you’re first just looking on the Internet, aren’t you, you know, with my in my profession, I had a knowledge of some of the companies because, you know, my work overlapped into office space and things in the past.  

Empty views and things. So Adam, I probably had a knowledge of some of the companies that I thought were a bit. 

Certain types of companies you know, some maybe too big and too overly corporate and some that seem too much like the Lidl of of this kind of thing. You know, not that, not that Lidl aren’t great, but you know, as if you if people come to you as a chart to payers and you’re trying to be one of the the. 

00:06:45 Vicky Downey 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Budget version

00:06:54 James McLachlan 

Ones that people really want to use because you’re you’re very good. Then you. You certainly want to be in that that sector where you you. 

Everything’s just right and I think probably weirdly, I didn’t know much about Obsidian when I first found you, when I was looking up, but I saw where you were based. So the building here, and I think back then it does do 106 rounds on the radio. So I think I’d actually weirdly been down for something to do with that. 

And I thought. Yeah, if you if you choose to be in that building and you’ve got that, that’s your public facing aspect, then you’ve got a certain way of approaching it. Some of the competitors like actually I’ve been a director of my for a charity that run a. 

Business Centre and that’s an old converted steam factory, which is it’s. 

Sounds very romantic, but it’s also it’s quite. Bargain basement. And it’s it’ll and it’s in in every aspect of its approach. So it looks quite, you know. 

If I wanted to meet a client, you know, if they were coming to meet me in here to use a meeting room, then I think it looked just right for what I do because, you know, it’s nice and it’s very professional. I wouldn’t want it to be something that looks like an industrial estate with people changing car wheels outside. But then also, I probably don’t want to go too far the other way. Where people turn up and they think, wow, I know where all my all the fees going because you’ve got, you know, something too fancy. 

So I think this is just the right level for a nice you know, if I was choosing an office where I want people to come and actually visit me even. 

Though.  I’m not in here much. Yeah, it’s just right. Really. Yeah, in that way. 

00:08:37 Vicky Downey 

Is there an aspect of the service that is particularly helpful to you day-to-day? 

00:08:42 James McLachlan 

Ohh, definitely you know, fielding phone calls and that’s grown, you know, with yourself as well giving me advice. You know what business advice actually. And Jordi as well. You know where you get those tips about how to do things? 

To for me to get yourselves to you used to just answer the phone people phone or they’ve already communicated with me online or what the website and their phone up with a question. And you’d often just basically take the message and get me to phone them back. And that was the starting point. But then from speaking with yourself. 

And you had the idea that you could be contacting estate agents and booking my appointments that. 

That was the night and day change for my business. 

You know, I worked out. I could be losing 6 to 8 hours a week of doing that and I don’t do it that now. You know, it’s literally it’s. Yeah, I can probably, you know, I have never number crunched it, but it makes it a no brainer to use yourselves because so initially when I got to the point where your company where. 

Booking my appointments. So basically contact the estate agents and home owners and find out when it’s convenient. Looking at my diary, which also you had the idea of me using the electronic diary, booking those appointments in that whole thing was just a game changer for what I do. And then since then I’ve learned. 

That the part that I hadn’t realised is that if I’m like I’ve said, if I’m running late for an appointment or I need to move an appointment, something of that nature, I can be in the middle of something. I can drop a quick message to yourselves and then basically forget about it for a bit while constantly on my job. And I know that. 

Somebody, somewhere is contacting the appropriate person to say ohh this appointment needs to be moved or or James is running a bit late and like I said to you initially is sometimes that’s even a safety thing. You know instead of me racing along.  

You know, driving like a lunatic because I’m running late for a job. If I’ve when I’ve left my previous job dropped you an e-mail to say, can you tell them I’m running a bit late? Then it just calms me and I can just be safe. Get to my next appointment. And when I get there, inevitably I’ll say that the office contact you. It sounds good as well as then they’ll say Oh yeah. 

He said doing a bit late and that’s really good for. 

00:11:04 Vicky Downey 

And do you have any news or products that you’re working on that you? 

00:11:11 James McLachlan 

Like to share, I think, yeah, I think. 

You know, our latest thing, actually that we’ve started to do is to. Use a Drone you know which we hadn’t done. I have to go and do it. It sounds fancier than it is, but I have to do like the Civil Aviation Authority training and assessments to get. So now I have my CA. It’s not really a licence. It’s a user ID and M survey, the business has an operator ID as well, and then we have the insurance because I had a couple of clients who came to me asking about drones and I very much like to have that approach where you think. 

You wanna offer these services? Yeah. And you wanna keep up with new technology. And then I read, I think I’ve read too much of. I think it’s Richard Branson. Who? 

00:11:53 Vicky Downey 

Yeah, yeah. 

00:11:59 James McLachlan 

We say commit to something, then find out how you gonna do it. And I did that approach. I committed. I booked in a drone survey before I had one, and before I knew what to do. 

Because the guy thought, yeah, they want me to do that. I need to just force myself to learn it, and then I basically find out all about it, and then we’ve done multiple drone surveys now and it’s really handy.  The opportunity to to. And you know, people have found it, really cool

00:12:25 Vicky Downey 

So what’s the difference between a drone survey and a normal survey? 

00:12:26 James McLachlan 

Well, often it’ll be tied in with a normal survey, but it tends to be if you’ve got.  

It’s more your larger properties, where the roof’s more complicated. Yeah. And with the drone, you can get the drone or, you know, wherever you want. Roof level and and, you know, film or photograph or zoom in and inspect pots off of the roof. So it’s really good for that. 

00:12:51 Vicky Downey 


00:12:58 James McLachlan 

You have to be careful about when you do it and where you do it. There’s rules about that, but yeah, I found it really good. I did do one in Ellesmere, which is well known for all the Nice RSPB bird life, so it’s completely fine to use the drone there. But I ended up like they were just circle in it and try to attack it. So I did the drone.  

So it didn’t last for long. But yeah, it’s been really good because also. 

I don’t turn to like upsell my clients, but if you can’t have add on things you know, some people, some people just want as much. 

Of everything they can have in terms of the inspection, so now I can say if somebody went and tried to get a drone survey independently, they’d spend, you know. 

£150 to £400 depending on what it was. Whereas I can be carrying out one of my normal building surveys, whatever level it is, normally A Level 3 and then I can save for £75 or so because I’m already there. They can add on a drone survey so. 

00:13:58 Vicky Downey 


00:14:02 James McLachlan 

So that’s something I’ll probably grow as well. I’m getting better at firing it. 

I’ve only crashed it about four times. So yeah. Yeah. Well, I need to. I need to practise it in my free time, cause then I’ll just learn how to be a a boss applying it cause. 

00:14:10 Vicky Downey 

They need more factors. They need to know more so. 


00:14:20 James McLachlan 

I’ve tended to just I turn up at survey, I’ve ticked all the boxes that I need to take, take about legally doing it, but then when you turn up there and some of the flying of it can actually. 

Be quite tricky. The other thing that we’ve invested in because of that is weather equipment, you know, so we can measure wind speed and things now. 

Because you’re also first of all, when you turn up, you need to know what is the weather suitable. You can kind of tell if really blowy, but it’s very fussy about wind. But also if somebody booked it to go out, if it’s just not possible, then you will have warned them prior to going. If it’s just not possible due to weather conditions, at least you. 

You know, it was, you know, a 20 mile an hour wind and you couldn’t use it. Yeah. And also there are a lot of rules with it. Like you can’t, you know, fly it in places where it could cause harm to other people. And obviously there’s privacy issues as well. So yeah, that’s probably the most recent thing. Is the drone surveying. 

00:15:04 Vicky Downey 

Yeah, yeah, he got the data to back up. 

00:15:15 Vicky Downey 


00:15:21 James McLachlan 

Which it’s funny how this technology just appears. You know, I’d say with my profession, there’s a bit of surveying and boring, but when it comes to technology, yeah, we normally jump on it, you know, you know, we were using digital cameras loads before. They were really an everyday thing, you know, because. 

00:15:24 Vicky Downey 


00:15:40 James McLachlan 

We used to go survey properties and you can only take 24 photographs or 36 because it was. 

00:15:44 James McLachlan 

An old film. 

00:15:45 James McLachlan 

One whereas every server I go to has 200 plus photographs these days it’s all digital. So the drone thing, it’s just like. 

00:15:53 James McLachlan 

Another level on that. 

00:15:53 Vicky Downey 


00:15:54 James McLachlan 

Oh, and then we also recently started to use an endoscope because we had a couple of properties where people. 

00:16:01 James McLachlan 

Very specific things. Looking at where you had to get permission to put, you know holes and ceilings for example, and then you get the endoscope in and you know build that. So all that stuff is and you’re there sort of things where you know I wanna. 

00:16:16 James McLachlan 

Expand the website to show that we do those things and that kind of does tie in with everything that you do here because you know anybody who goes to my website looking at those things, the next place they’re likely to actually contact is is here because they’ll phone here. So yeah. And also I suppose it gives yourselves a resource if somebody was asking you about something. 

You know when my websites got more of these services detailed on it, you can, you know, point people to that or have a look yourselves. So that’s the most recent thing I’d say. 

00:16:48 Vicky Downey 


00:16:49 James McLachlan 

Yeah. No, it’s good to be honest. It’s good fun to use it. Yeah, if you. I used it in a Harlock and Elsmere. There were two nice places, and I probably spent half my time just getting photos of the view because it’s so beautiful where it was, you know, because you can imagine when it’s in those sort of places. So you can get some really amazing views. But from a practical perspective. 

There are parts of. If I were surveying this building that were in, you could only do a good survey of the roof. 

00:17:19 James McLachlan 

With a drone, unless you had, you know, other types of access which the other types of access can cost you hundreds of pounds, if not thousands, to get safe access, whereas the drone you can just get for a detailed survey in like 20 minutes. 

00:17:35 Vicky Downey 

You have to worry about falling off the roofs or anything. 

00:17:37 James McLachlan 

No, no. Yeah. It’s good for safety perspective. Definitely. Yeah. And just try and not crash it too many times. Yeah. 

00:17:47 Vicky Downey 

Brilliant. Well, thank you very much, James. It’s lovely to speak to you. 

00:17:49 James McLachlan 

No worries – Cheers 


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