Chartered surveying during COVID - drones, proptech and the insurance implications

Chartered surveying during COVID - drones, proptech and the insurance implications

We spoke to James McArthur of NG Chartered Surveyors, a respected chartered surveyor based in Nottingham, on how he and his team have worked through COVID.

Could you tell us a little bit about NG Chartered Surveyors and your role within it? 

NG Chartered Surveyors are based in Nottingham serving clients across the East Midlands. We deal with all aspects of commercial property, including property management.

We have more than 750 properties under our management, from full industrial estates and office parks to individual commercial properties and residential block management. 

We punch above our weight in terms of our client base - we deal with all types of clients, from household names and large property companies and pension funds to people who have one or two investment properties.


How has COVID changed how your team works?

When COVID hit, we knew we couldn’t just stand still - we had to adapt. 

Initially, I think the world thought it would stop turning and lockdown might be downtime, but because we have a growing management and building surveying department, we thought we could use it as an opportunity to increase our offering to clients, which resulted very quickly in two NG qualified drone pilots. 

We now carry out roof surveys using the drones.  We’re able to get much more detail on the condition of roofs and the speed of service has never been better. It’s now a great combination of quality and delivery.

Another thing we initiated in lockdown 1, was virtual tours for our commercial properties. We were the first people in the East Midlands to start doing that, and even now there aren’t many commercial agents that do it, and if they do, the quality can vary.

It started out of necessity because we weren’t able to do viewings, but now we’re doing it for all our properties outside of lockdown. It’s something that's helped us ensure that when we do in-person viewings, they’re worthwhile. We can check people have seen the virtual tour before meeting them in person.


Is there a trend across the industry towards greater use of technology now?

Yes. COVID has brought technology to the forefront. With fewer people, technology takes a greater role.

After the initial shock of lockdown 1, we sat back and thought, ‘We're on laptops, we've got cloud-based software, we can get our files in the cloud. We don't need to be office-based.’

We had invested in technology not because of Covid, but because we wanted a more agile way of working and delivering service to our clients. This means we can operate better and faster than before.

We had made a conscious decision three years ago to be digital, including using the Re-Leased software for property management, closely followed by Edozo.

If we had to rely on the old property software we had two years ago, we would have genuinely been in serious trouble. It was rigid, and it wasn't cloud-based. I look back and think how glad I am that we did adopt it early.

We're continually looking at where tech can help us serve our clients, and how we can make better use of our time.

Proptech takes away all the small stuff that would have taken 20 minutes per job in the past.


What are the insurance implications for drone surveying? 

When we put a property on insurance, in many cases the roof needs to be inspected once a year to ensure it's in good order. If we don't do that, it negates any claims against roof issues in the future.

In the past, that has been prohibitive. For example, if we can't get access to a roof easily, that means we need a cherry picker, which is incredibly costly, and they’re costs we can't always recover. The ability to send our drone up and take high-resolution video enables us to put together a comprehensive report with photos and video, if needed. We can spot problems very easily.

If we need to get contractors on a roof, it helps to send the video to them, so that they can use the high-resolution video to give us an accurate and quick quote.


Any drawbacks?


Adopting new tech takes you out of your comfort zone, but the younger more tech-savvy members of the team have helped the older guys, teaching us how to use the software.

We’ve now all embraced it. 


What would you say to a fellow chartered surveyor considering it?

If you're not adopting proptech, you need to seriously consider it, and think about how it can aid your business moving forward in terms of increasing efficiency and increasing revenue streams.

Our virtual tours have made us stand out. We don't know of many in the East Midlands who do virtual tours. 

You’ve got to be an early adopter – standing still is not an option; proptech helps us do that.

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