My day job is an unusual one. If asked at a social event what I do for a living, I usually reply that I am a Chartered Surveyor, but many in the profession will be familiar with the blank expression (or an immediate launch into the state of house prices) that this can invoke. It might quicker to explain my work by saying that I am a judge. But that is not technically correct – I do hold a judicial appointment, but as a member of the Upper Tribunal, assigned to the Lands Chamber or, in old money, a Member of the Lands Tribunal. So I sit in court, usually at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, but occasionally around the country, hearing and deciding disputes about property. If the dispute involves points of law I sit with a judge, but if it’s pure valuation I hear the case alone.
I would like to say that being appointed to the Tribunal in 2013 was the culmination of some grand plan, but like many surveyors it was simply the product of a series of chance encounters or events.
2018 was my thirtieth year in property. In 1988 I left school and went straight to work in the Estates Department of a local authority in the East Midlands as a trainee valuer. I had no relatives in the profession, knew virtually nothing about surveying, but wanted to be an architect and thought the job sounded vaguely to do with property. In those days large local authority departments were real power houses with many staff and a strict hierarchical structure. But the real advantage for a learner was that the staff had time and patience to teach you, and I benefitted from both of these in abundance from colleagues. The council sent its trainees to the then Trent Polytechnic on a day release degree course, where we learnt valuation from first principles – the formula for “amount of £1” etc – from legendary figures such as David Richmond.
In 1991, in the teeth of a recession, the lure of private practice proved too great and with some sadness I left the council to join the small Derby office of what was then Connell Wilson, now part of LSH. Since there were only three of us, you learnt to do everything, and do it quickly – time was money! – but at the same time I finished my degree at the by then Nottingham Trent University. The recession had taken its toll – of the forty original students, only six of the original cohort completed the degree. It is a pleasure to occasionally lecture to the students on the current course, and show them around the RCJ.
My boss, Bryan Huckerby, was an RICS supporter, and it was with him that I attended the first of many (and I mean many) RICS events or meetings – the committee of the Notts and Derby Branch of the General Practice Division. At the same time I undertook my APC. In those days, at the end of your interview you were given a choice of three questions and picked one to provide a written exam paper. I can’t remember what mine was about but it must have not been too disastrous as I qualified as an Associate of the Institution in November 1994.
Over the following twenty five years in private practice, mostly with Innes England, I worked with a wide variety of characters, but at a fairly early stage I began to specialise in dispute resolution, completing a two year online diploma in Arbitration at what was then the College of Estate Management, and being appointed to the RICS Arbitration and Independent Expert panels for commercial rent reviews. That side of private practice was seen as a bit “owlish” – most of my contemporaries wanted to be in the flashier side of agency. Pausing there, my advice to young valuation surveyors in private practice is that however irritating one’s agency colleagues are (always onto the next deal, never or at best scantly fill in the comparable evidence sheet etc!), after you have spent a morning of careful research, application of Parry’s tables etc, walk across the office and ask the agents what they think. Irritatingly they will invariably be right!
My involvement with RICS continued. For some reason I never really became involved in Matrics, but over the next two decades my roles included APC assessor and chair, East Midlands Regional Board, Notts and Derby Local Association, before being elected to Governing Council to represent the East Midlands. I hear that GC meets in various exotic locations these days, but the most I got was a hotel near Manchester Airport! Being on GC was fascinating, including seeing the great duo of Jim Allan (later a colleague at LionHeart) as Hon Sec and Louis Armstrong as CEO in action, but it was relatively short lived because a year or so later I was appointed to the Conduct and Appeals Panel, and you couldn’t do that job while remaining on the executive side of RICS.
Of all my RICS roles, the C&A Panel was the most enjoyable, challenging and occasionally astonishing or upsetting. We formed a pool who, with lay members, amounted to about 16 people from which panels of three were selected to hear disciplinary cases against surveyors or firms. When I look back, I think it is that involvement that later stirred my interest in LionHeart. We saw some surveyors at probably the lowest point in their career, often in breach of the rules because their lives had spiralled downwards after some trigger event – bereavement, unemployment or similar. But some of course were in deliberate and flagrant breach of the rules, and sometimes the criminal law. And, I should add for balance, sometimes the charges were found not proved.
I have never asked, but it’s possible that my experience of chairing disciplinary panels made the Judicial Appointments selection panel take a risk and appoint a relatively young bloke to the Tribunal.
There are fairly strict rules about what judges can and can’t do out of work, but one role that is allowed is that of a charity trustee, which made it possible for me to join the board of LionHeart in 2017. Having had an insight into the work of the charity, I urge any surveyor to get involved. We have a great board of trustees representing the whole of the profession, and a dedicated first-class team of people, who offer an increasingly wide range of services, often at very short notice. As part of our overseeing role the trustees take turns to carry out periodic audit reviews of files with the support team – picking a selection of cases at random. That really brings home the difference which LionHeart can make to people’s lives, often in fairly desperate circumstances, and none of the trustees leave that session unaffected.
What would I do differently? Probably many things but not much, if that makes sense. If you are starting out on your career, I would strongly recommend you get involved in the Institution at any level you can. APC assessing is a rewarding role which you can fit work around, and you sit with a wide variety of surveyors from all walks of life. And because the candidates have mugged up, I never came away from a day’s assessing without learning something! Matrics will give you a network of contacts throughout the profession, and its amazing how your paths re-cross later in your career. Local Associations and Regional Boards give you the opportunity to cut your teeth and understand the workings of RICS. Never, ever, be afraid to be the youngest person in the room – I was on more occasions than I can remember. And, please, remember LionHeart in your annual subscription.
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LionHeart is the charity for RICS professionals, past and present, and their families.
Their aim is quite simple: to be there for members whenever life throws them a curve ball, from APC candidates right through to retirement.
If you watch the short video below, you’ll hear some of our staff describe what they do and the type of cases they help with.