What was your route into property as a career?
Property was not initially an ambition for me. I left university in 1999 with a non-cognate degree and zero idea what direction life would take me. After a couple of years working in publishing in Bath (home to the greatest rugby club on the planet), I returned to my home town of Salisbury where I worked in the sales and marketing department of Hydor, the company my father founded in the 1960s which specialises in agricultural ventilation.
Having sold the company in 2003, I needed a new challenge with more focus. My best friend was and is a successful commercial surveyor in London and had sold the idea of surveying to me. Whilst the bright lights of the big city certainly appealed, I had always been interested in farming and the countryside and the more I looked into it, the more I thought Land Agency was my bag.
I was lucky enough to secure a place on the Master’s degree course in Rural Estate and Land Management at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester, where I had an unbelievably good year getting to grips with the intricacies of topics such as agriculture, valuation, and Landlord & Tenant.
Towards the end of the course, I saw an advert for a position within Cooke & Arkwright’s Land Agency department which I applied for. Following what must’ve been a reasonably convincing interview with Andrew Gardner and Rod Perons in September 2005, I was offered my first, and so far only job in the profession.
Tell us about your work at Cooke & Arkwright
I predominantly work in Estate Management. Whilst Wales does not have same the abundance of country estates as England or Scotland, there are still a fair few about, and our department is fortunate enough to manage a fair proportion of them in South Wales which we divide between our team working out of the Bridgend office.
In addition to estate management, I am also an RICS Registered Valuer and have provided valuations on behalf of many clients, both public and private, and in 2019 valued the entire property portfolio of the Brecon Beacons National Park which was a significant exercise. We also sell and let property, my most interesting sale being Sully Island, a 4 acre island off the South Wales coast, which caught the public eye far and wide, and lead to my being interviewed for television and radio across the world. It was certainly my 15 minutes of fame!
In conjunction with my work, I also sit on the RICS Rural Professional Group Board for the UK, and on the Wales Group Board of the CAAV, the latter involves my organising the annual tutorial held in Aberystwyth, so I am kept busy on all fronts.
Give us an overview of what an average day for you could entail?
Most days will begin with the inexorable climb up the mountain of emails that inevitably greet me; some good, some not so good! Management responsibilities mean I can be arranging the removal of a swarm of bees from a house at one minute, to the rent review of a whole farm the next.
I am overseeing the refurbishment of a number of houses and flats at the moment, so ensuring work is completed on time and within budget has been interesting to say the least when considering the implications of lockdown and builders not being able to work on site. Furthermore, many of the properties I manage are within Conservation Areas and are often Listed. They have a habit of concealing a myriad of problems which are only apparent once works have begun, so small jobs can sometimes escalate.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
Being a Land Agent means I am often out and about, either on the estates I manage or properties I have to value, so I spend a lot of time meeting with people from all walks of life, be they clients, tenants, or estate staff. I am gregarious by nature and really enjoy this interaction. Inevitably, the nature of my work throws up all manner of challenges and conundrums that need resolution and this certainly helps to keep the grey matter ticking over.
We have a good team ethos at Cooke & Arkwright, both as a department and a firm which makes the working day infinitely easier when you have good people to bounce off and interact with.
What advice would you give someone starting out in property now
From a Land Agency perspective, if you’re not from a rural background try and gain some experience in farming and countryside matters; it can be quite unnerving coming up against someone professionally and not knowing the difference between a cow and a sheep! There are some very good universities to choose from offering cognate degree courses, and you’ll learn all the basics before entering the real world of surveying.
Be comfortable with your field of practice and where you choose to work. Do your research and have a good look around first- there’s nothing worse than accepting a job and finding out very quickly that you hate the town or city it’s based in.
Tell us a bit about your experience working from home
Working from home, or ‘WFH’ as the cool kids call it, has been a really interesting experience. On the whole, it has not been too bad. Having successfully evicted my wife from her office, I now treat it as my man cave and have done my best to colonise it with notepads, files, books, and letters, much to her annoyance. The use of conference call software such as MS Teams or Zoom has made life so much easier than were we working with just a laptop and a mobile, and I use it to communicate with clients and colleagues alike, though I have yet to perfect my bookshelf background.
The hardest part is juggling time with the kids, who can’t go to school and are desperately missing their friends, so I try to give them at least a little bit of my time during the working day so that they get some small break from Netflix, though this is a very difficult balancing act.
It will be very interesting the see the effect of WFH on daily routines post-Covid, as I think they will be quite profound and not all bad.