The director at specialist chartered surveyor Proximity on how he got started in the property industry, his favourite book and podcast, the celebrity he would most like to meet and how he would spend £1m.

Mike Scanlan

Mike Scanlan

How did you join the property industry?

There was a quantity surveyor apprenticeship available through the careers department at school. I wrote to RICS and received a glossy pack in the post. I realised that quantity surveying was not for me, but maybe building surveying was. In 1998, I graduated from university with a building surveying degree.

What does your job entail?

Building surveying initially caught my eye because of the variety it offered. Ironically, I specialised quite early on in my career, denying myself said variety. I specialise in rights of light, party walls, daylight and sunlight (design/accreditations and impact assessments) and construction access (crane oversailing and the like) – the ‘neighbourly matters’, although we don’t call it that because it is naff and hammy. These things all pose ‘proximity risk’ to development, so that is how we refer to them – it better aligns with why we do what we do.

What do you like most about the property industry?

I work almost exclusively with developers and I really enjoy that the development process requires lots of different people, each with a different focus or specialism. I like collaboration.

And what do you dislike most about it?

In the here and now, things feel a bit stuck. I know how difficult it is for developers to make viability stack up – although this is a global economy issue and not exclusive to the property industry. If we can solve the viability woes, things should get moving again. Sounds simple!

What would you change about the property industry?

There is a lot that could be changed, but I am reluctant to make an obtuse economic or political statement. Recruitment has been challenging for as long as I can remember, so increased opportunities, pathways and training are essential. We have had some initial conversations with universities about what that might look like and the role they play.

What barriers or challenges have you overcome?

I am not sure I have had too much to grumble about. I did lack a bit of focus early on in my career – I inspected the wrong building one time – and I recall a couple of dressing-downs that were humbling, and rightly so. I am also not aware of having been overlooked or obstructed in anything I have wanted to do; although I am not saying I’ve not had to slog for it.

What are you most proud of in your career?

The specialism that I have developed and the practices I have set up and run – the current one being the best (obviously). I am also proud of the people I have helped train over the years who now have a proximity risk advisory specialism of their own.

What do you value in people?

Clarity and application. I won’t say trust, honesty or good manners as I feel these traits should be a given and in no way aspirational.

What advice would you give someone starting a career in the property industry?

Three things. Not everything will go your way. That’s OK; rationalise it, accept it and move on. Second, be curious and ask questions.

If the person you’re asking is giving you a hard time, then drop them and ask someone else (it’s definitely them, not you).

Last, be ‘folksy’. I don’t mean you have to be an Aran cable-knitter or the producer of sourdough starters. I mean show a bit of personality and have a sense of decorum in the way you go about things. Be accessible, approachable, affable, polite, unpretentious, supportive and helpful.

Top recommendations

Celebrity to meet:

An hour talking about fungi with the biologist Merlin Sheldrake would make my day. Photos of fungus that I find in my garden are the only things that I allow myself to post on Instagram. 

Favourite book:

I read a lot. Apparently, most men my age don’t read fiction, so I buck that trend. I don’t reread too often, but the one book I have probably reread the most is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, so let’s go with that. Why? Pirates.

Favourite podcast:

The Rest Is History, which I listen to in the car or on headphones when I am tidying the kids’ toys away or loading the dishwasher. I still (30-plus years on) think it was a shame I had to choose between doing history or geography GCSE at school. I picked the latter but would definitely have done history as well if it was possible. Maybe this podcast is filling a void in my knowledge and understanding from a formative time. 

How to spend a million pounds:

With huge difficulty, I imagine! I am a big fan of knitwear but, even so, £1m would buy a lot of jumpers.