What’s it like to be a graduate surveyor, routinely, and during lockdown?

2 April 2020
  • Le Gros 5 a side Rhodri Walters Cooke & Arkwright
  • Le Gros 5 a side Rhodri Walters front left, with a team from Cooke & Arkwright

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After graduating with a law degree, Rhodri Walters decided he wanted to explore a more practical and dynamic career in which he could still apply his law skills. This led him to join Cooke & Arkwright’s Retail & Leisure team as a non-cognate graduate surveyor. Rhodri describes the path he is taking, why it has been an eye-opener and what it’s like to work from home during the Coronavirus lockdown.

What was your route into Retail & Leisure as a career?

I graduated from Cardiff University with a law degree in 2015 but decided that the path of a lawyer wasn’t for me. I wanted a profession that had some practical elements to it whilst also allowing me to use the legal knowledge I had gained at university. Two friends told me about becoming surveyors after undertaking legal and accountancy degrees. They described site visits, viewings, inspections and measuring, as an attractive element to the job alongside the office based advisory role.

When I saw a position at Cooke & Arkwright advertised, I had no hesitation in applying and was happy to be accepted as a non-cognate graduate (without a RICS accredited property degree) within Retail & Leisure Agency. Cooke & Arkwright have proved very supportive of my studies for the MSc Real Estate which I undertake via distance learning at the University College of Estate Management. Studying the MSc whilst working has provided me with invaluable experience in the property sector and helped to contextualise the theory learnt in my studies.

Tell us about your area of the business

We cover all types of retail and leisure properties, from properties based in shopping parades to high streets, town centres and out of town retail parks throughout South Wales. My role is split between two disciplines: agency and lease advisory. As an agent I am responsible for marketing properties on behalf of landlords, identifying suitable tenants and agreeing terms on sales or lettings. I also assist my director in advising landlords and tenants on upcoming lease events such as lease renewals and rent reviews, and negotiating on their behalf until agreement is reached. I have gained experience acting for national occupiers including Greggs, Principality Building Society and Specsavers. 

How does your workday look now, under lockdown, compared with before?

There rarely is an average day. Ordinarily my time would be split between the office and being out and about in South Wales. My office role entails taking enquiries, speaking to local agents to gather evidence of recent transactions, writing reports and handling negotiations in either an agency capacity or lease advisory one. I enjoyed getting out and about conducting viewings of the properties we are marketing, as well as inspecting and measuring properties for both agency and lease advisory roles. I also value the flexibility to organise my diary to suit my workload.

As a result of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown, Cooke & Arkwright were quick to respond and get everyone set up to work from home. This has meant an almost seamless transition from office working to WFH, with daily team-meetings and client-meetings taking place over video-call instead of in-person. We have been able to maintain the high quality service and support we strive to provide our clients, albeit whilst dressed slightly more casually and from the comfort of our living rooms instead of the meeting rooms in the office. We are all working hard together as a team and with our clients to get through this.

What have you learnt in your role and what has surprised you?

It was a sector I hadn’t previously given a lot of thought to, but has turned out to be interesting, challenging and rewarding. There’s much more to the world of commercial property than I could have imagined. The retail sector was already experiencing a difficult transition period with the increased presence of internet shopping and the effect of the onerous business rates system. However, this is a challenge we embraced at Cooke & Arkwright and recently won the Estates Gazette ‘Most Active Retail Agent in South Wales’ award.

I found that Cooke & Arkwright have got the work/life balance just right. They reward hard work by supporting attendance of networking and social events in normal circumstances. I have played in 5-aside tournaments, golf days and other events. Even in lockdown, the firm is organising online events. It’s important to keep morale up during this crisis.

What’s the most rewarding part of the job?

It would have to be when, as an agent or in a lease advisory capacity, you get a deal agreed and completed after all the hard work that has gone into the negotiations and discussions. You are aware that you’ve achieved a good result for your client, and I find this a very rewarding element of the job.

Life will return to normal and we will need surveyors! What would you say to other graduates / students contemplating a career in surveying?

It is a great career path for those who don’t want to sit in an office all day long and who appreciate some variation in their role. Surveying does just that. No property is ever the same, nor a client’s needs, so it is an interesting and challenging job. Finally, surveyors enjoy a great social life, even if it’s online now (such as our online Thursday quiz), so it is perfect for those who are both industrious and gregarious.

Team photo - Le Gros Five-a-Side Tournament 2019; photo courtesy of Le Gros Solicitors; Rhodri Walters, front left, with the team from Cooke & Arkwright.

Cooke & Arkwright have been providing rating valuation advice to The Welsh Rugby Union Limited (“WRU”) and Millennium Stadium plc for many years. They were recently successful in achieving substantial reductions in the assessments of the Millennium Stadium, covering both the 2005 and 2010 rating list. These negotiated reductions yielded savings of c.£3.5m which, crucially, allows the WRU to re-invest in rugby throughout Wales. They advise the WRU across the group portfolio including the National Centre of Excellence in the Vale of Glamorgan. The valuation issues across the WRU portfolio are complex requiring a high level of understanding of the funding and finances of professional sport in Wales. Cooke & Arkwright’s experience and understanding of these issues and application to the rating valuation have yielded these substantial negotiated reductions. The WRU and the Millennium Stadium entrust our work to organisations with the required levels in experience and expertise in dealing with these complex issues. I am glad to say we have this expertise in Wales. I would have no hesitation in recommending ratepayers making use of this Welsh based expertise.

Steve Phillips, Group Finance Director, Welsh Rugby Union Group