Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Residential Real Estate: the revitalised profession?

Nick French (Professor of Real Estate and Director of the MSc Real Estate) recently organised a session which focused on the increasingly popular area of residential real estate (or 'resi' as it's known) so that students could get a taste of what it is like to work in 'resi'. I also caught up with a couple of our graduates who are already working in the sector to find out why they chose 'resi' (see below).

Here at Oxford Brookes, we have recently introduced a residential option on our MSc Real Estate in 2013 and the introduction of the RICS APC route in Residential Property would indicate that 'resi' is set to become an increasingly popular option with graduates.

James Ginley from Legal & General Surveying Services

The morning session was called 'Residential Real Estate: the revitalised profession' and featured the following presentations:

Following the session, I contacted two of our graduates who agreed to answer a few questions about why they chose to work in residential real estate.

Abigail Heyworth (London Residential Development Consultant at Savills - on the left)
and Naomi Bolt (Graduate Surveyor at Knight Frank)

1. What is your background and why did you choose to go into Real Estate?
AH: I have always been interested in the built environment and actually originally thought I would go into architecture. During my Sixth Form I realised I also had a strong interest in business and Real Estate seemed like a good amalgamation of the two. Fortunately I now get to work with architects daily and spend a lot of time scribbling on plans so I think I get the best of both worlds!

NB: I have had an interest in the property world from a young age, but I made the decision to do a broader undergraduate degree in Business Management first and then to go on to specialise by doing a masters in Real Estate Management afterwards. I thought that the business degree would be a help as there have been certain areas of crossover.

2. Why did you choose to go into residential?
AH: I have always been interested in how people respond to the built environment and nothing is more poignant than buying a home. I like the fact that someone might decide to buy their home because they fell in love with the front door or the ceiling rose! There isn’t the same emotional attachment with commercial property which is purely a ‘numbers’ exercise.

NB: I always had a preference for residential over commercial because of the more personal element to it. Whether you are building, designing, developing, selling or valuing a house, it is very personal to someone, it is their home and therefore possibly the biggest investment they will ever make. Working in a commercial capacity would not have given me the same personal aspect.

3. What do you like about it?
AH: I love the variation of product I deal with. In a single day I could deal with a dockside warehouse conversion, a City Boy crash pad on the 40th floor of a tower, a townhouse in Chelsea and many more besides! I advise property developers and therefore deal with interesting clients and also get to know the development whole project team, particularly working with architects and interior designers.

NB: One of the things I love about residential is that because of the number of rotations I do within the departments of Knight Frank, I get to see the many different elements that make up this side of the business. I also get to visit a vast array of homes around London, from tiny studio flats to £50 million mansions, which I find really interesting. Working in property also means that I’m not confined to a desk all week; each day is different and I get to go out and about around London.

4. Why did you choose the Oxford Brookes (and which course did you do)?
AH: I did the Real Estate Management undergraduate course. At the time of applying for jobs, I recognised that Oxford Brookes was one of the most renowned courses for Real Estate in the industry and I liked the university and loved Oxford when I visited.

NB: I chose Oxford Brookes as it has one of the leading degree programs for property in the country, with the choice of focusing either on the UK property market, or internationally. I liked the fact that the course size was relatively small, so I got to know the other students well. It also meant that the lecturers got to know us better than they would have done in a larger year group.

5. What was it like when you arrived and started the course?
AH: On the first day of my course, one member of staff stood up and told us all we were all wasting our time and we should be doing Geography degrees and then coming to do a Masters in Real Estate!!!! I’m glad I didn’t listen to him as my undergraduate course has stood me in very good stead and from the other side of the fence (I now get involved in recruitment), there really is no preference – it is down to the individual and the other experience they have gathered. Other than that, it was easy to get quickly involved in all the subjects and lectures!

NB: Nick French was keen for us all to get to know each other from day one, so he organised a big group dinner in town for all the students and lecturers, which helped to break the ice. In terms of work, we were thrown in at the deep end from week one, with a piece of group coursework which involved us walking around Oxford town centre looking at the different uses and pedestrian flows there. Although a bit of a shock to the system after a summer off from work, the coursework was a great way to help everyone get to know each other and to find our way around the city!

6. Looking back over the course and your time at Brookes, what were the highlights? And the most challenging bits?
 The amazing people I met during the course was definitely the highlight. The most challenging bit was deciding on a dissertation title! You know you are going to spend the next month of your life neck deep in the subject you choose so it’s vital you’re interested in it!

NB: The highlights for me were definitely making new friends and our course trip to Madrid in May. Although we did have to do an oral exam while we were out there, we had some great nights out as well, which a few of the lecturers got involved with too! The most challenging aspect I found was the sheer quantity of work we were given in the first term. Having just taken a gap year travelling around the world and not really having had to think about exams and coursework, it was a real shock! However, the second term things settled down a lot and I think everyone just got into the swing of it and managed the work load a lot better.

7. Bearing in mind your experience, what advice would you give to someone starting the course?
I ended up joining a graduate scheme on the residential pathway even though the course was quite commercial focused when I was there. I understand there are now residential options throughout the course so I would advise that future students are more aware of the different career options.

NB: I think the main piece of advice I would give someone starting the course is just to stick with it because it really is worth it. Nick dedicates so much of his time to the course and there really is a lot of fun to be had with BBQs, a group trip abroad, Christmas dinners etc.; it is just finding a balance between working hard and enjoying yourself too. There were definitely times during the first term that I wondered how on earth I would make it to Christmas, but I did and it was a huge relief! A large percentage of us then had jobs by January and everyone else had one by the summer. We are now all in good jobs all around the world.

8. What was your first job on graduating?
I joined Savills on the graduate programme. My first rotation was Valuation, predominantly valuing high end residential homes in central London. I now advise property developers on their residential developments in London helping them to optimise their developments to maximise value.

NB: My first and current job since graduating is as a residential graduate surveyor for Knight Frank.

9. What have you got planned for the next 5 years career-wise?
I was promoted to Associate Director in March this year and therefore my aspiration is to work towards my next promotion which would be to Director level.

NB: Currently, I am just focused on getting my APC (Assessment of Professional Competence) and becoming a qualified surveyor. This takes approximately two years to complete, rotating around the company, gaining various competencies in order to achieve a rounded understanding of the residential market. After I have completed my APC, I will be moved into a specific department within Knight Frank, although as yet I am not sure which one that will be.

Thanks to Abigail and Naomi for answering my questions - we hope they have inspired you! Finally, for more information on our courses in Real Estate, visit the Department of Real Estate and Construction webpage.

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