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A career in property: Letters to my younger self

Written by: EG
Published on: 8 Jul 2020

One of the biggest barriers to getting more people from a wider variety of backgrounds into the real estate sector is that young people in schools have no idea what a career in real estate looks like.

Say “real estate” to a 15 or 16-year-old today and they will probably think you are talking about a career in estate agency. But anyone who does get exposure to the industry knows that real estate is so much more than that.

The Pathways to Property Summer School is one tool the industry can use to connect with potential younger talent to showcase the industry in all its glory. Here, five graduates from the summer school deliver letters to their former Year 11 selves, outlining just why real estate is a career to consider.

Dear Aurora,

It’s me, your future self. The year is 2020 and it’s quite chaotic. The world went into lockdown because of a pandemic virus; we’re heading towards a no-deal Brexit with no trade deal; and a phenomenal movement called Black Lives Matter is standing in solidarity in the wake of another horrific murder because inequality and systemic racism still exists.

There’s a lot going on but you’re in Year 11 and it’s 2015. All you’re really thinking about is finishing the yearbook and trying to become prom queen. Oh yeah, and getting those GCSEs! First of all, the yearbook is a success and prom is great (although you don’t get the crown). With the exams, don’t fret. Just stay focused and study hard like always.

Now I want to tell you a bit about where your life is headed. You finish your undergraduate degree – a bachelor of science in investment and finance in property. You attend the University of Reading and somehow finish your last year in the pandemic.

Fortunately, before lockdown you secured a graduate role as a commercial surveyor and are on track to completing an accreditation in two years to become a chartered surveyor through the RICS.

I know you’re thinking “What? I haven’t got the slightest idea what a surveyor is, and why would I do a degree in property?” At the moment you think the property market is limited to the government, councils and estate agents, so why would you go into that? And even though you stop doing gigs with the band because of exams, you still have a love for singing and drama, and you currently have intentions to audition for The X Factor, which, by the way, you will do. Then there’s the fact you don’t really want to go to university – you want to get a job as soon as possible and support your family. There is nothing that you feel like studying further and you are not enticed to get into student debt.

Despite all these worries and conflicting goals, you are going to fall head over heels for the property market and become really passionate about UK real estate. Why? Because real estate is big, it influences everything, has tons of stakeholders, is fascinating and you are a dreamer, a visionary and a hard worker and it’s right up your alley.

Being a part of a market that influences the decisions of private and public institutions and how they frame properties in communities is thrilling. You do more than the average desk job. You travel to sites conducting valuations and appraisals of schemes, and advise on how a space should be used. To follow the flow of money into these illiquid but phenomenal assets that diversify a portfolio is a fantastic feeling. Being able to manage a development, a construction, a budget, a space, a tenant, a client, a portfolio is very endearing. Incrementally increasing an asset’s value, its environment, affordability and sustainability is euphoric and altruistic. Feeling like you can give back to the living and working standards of others is something you’ve always liked to do. Plus, it’s way interesting to study; you’ve always wanted to work on something that makes a difference.

How you learnt about this career, which you devote yourself to studying, is through Pathways to Property, an all-expenses-paid summer school that lasts four days at the University of Reading.

At first you go for the campus experience, but all it takes is four days to motivate you into following a career that leads you to internships in some of the tallest buildings in this country. You visit schemes that are yet to be completed and contribute ideas on how to use a space. You go to corporate networking events and seminars that are eye-opening and fantastic. You meet alumni and professionals in the industry who have done inspiring work, and being a part of their orbit is a great experience. To see where an industry that shapes the world you live in is moving is a feeling that always excites you because you are a part of something big.

That’s why you fall into property and real estate. You don’t abandon your other ambitions. You could do a property apprenticeship, but getting the career and networking experiences with your peers at university is something enjoyable and worth doing.

Aurora, life is always going to be a bit rough. You’re going to have some hard times but they make you work harder. You’ll have relationships that are going to tank and others that soar, but I assure you we’re going to do some big things.

Love Aurora

Aurora Barrett has just finished a three-year course at Henley Business School, University of Reading, and is due to start a graduate position with Savills in the autumn

Dear Deborah,

Girl, you are amazing and you are born for greatness. Being a young black girl raised in a single-parent household, life may seem a tad boring, but you are honestly a legend in the making.

After discovering your passion for real estate, you apply to the Pathways to Property Summer School to gain more of an insight into a career within the property industry. It is the best decision of your life.

It is phenomenal! While you are on the programme, you will learn about a typical day or week as a professional working in property. As shy as you think you are, you give a presentation to property industry professionals. Overall, the experience is amazing, and you enjoy every single bit of it.

Sounds shocking, right? Deborah, you’re not as shy as you think you are. You are about to embark on a journey that will change the trajectory of your life.

From that one experience, you will become a force to be reckoned with as you embark on a career with top-notch companies such as JLL, Knight Frank, BNP Paribas Real Estate, CBRE, Kontor and Cushman & Wakefield.

The kind of apprenticeship you will do is called a degree apprenticeship. The best part of the degree apprenticeship is the opportunity to gain five years’ experience while obtaining your degree. By the end of it you will have your degree, five years of experience, no debt and a lot of money (because the company pays you a salary too). Plus, it gives you an advantage over other people who are in your age bracket.

So what is my advice for you? Manage your time effectively from now. Organise yourself. These skills are so useful for the big world. Managing time between work, university and life as a normal teenager is quite hard. At first it can be very daunting, but with these skills it will get easier. Once you get the hang of it, you will feel like a superhero (I promise).

Another thing: don’t be too scared. Your initial thoughts of the property industry may be quite limited and daunting, but actually there are so many aspects to the industry. There’s valuation, investment, leasing and agency, to name but a few. There’s a bit of everything in the industry. The property world is your oyster.

And relating to that point, believe in yourself. You may look different from everyone else in the industry, and you may come from a completely different background, but that’s why you’re so special. Diversity is so important. People of different cultures, genders and ages can contribute unique thoughts, ideas and talents to the business. If everything was so black and white, the world wouldn’t be a very interesting place to live.

Most importantly, I would say the best advice I can give you right now is to be open to new opportunities. Networking is so important in property. It’s not just about what you know, but who you know.

Mini me, I love you and I am so proud of the woman you are becoming.

You’ve got this, girl!

Love from the older you

Deborah Israel is an apprentice surveyor at Cushman & Wakefield

Dear Sarah,

What even is property? There’s an array of definitions but I would say that property is the physical infrastructure that provides for the needs of people. It’s the places in which we live, work and play. Our schools, hospitals and care homes. The places you shop at, eat in and visit. Our communities and each of our lives all revolve around these buildings.

It’s estimated that we spend almost 87% of our lives inside buildings, so property really is fundamental, and the way it is designed and managed affects each one of us every day.

The property profession is made up of many people working in various roles, from those who design and build property to those who buy it, sell it or value it. There are many different jobs that are carried out by property professionals throughout the lifecycle of a building. Initially, a building is a concept often created by architects and designers, and reviewed by planners. Then it is constructed and engineered with many complex components. Once built, it is often leased or sold, fitted out and managed. It may be resold, relet, refurbished or repurposed numerous times, before one day being redeveloped. The job of a property professional touches each part of that lifecycle of a building. Each of these roles is interconnected and, as such, the profession is people-focused and sociable.

Ultimately, property is all about people. Each and every building should be designed to meet the needs of the people who will be using it. That’s why our industry needs a diverse range of people working in it. Each person working within the real estate sector can bring a unique perspective, and I am passionate about ensuring that our industry hears more from the passive voices.

By attracting a diverse range of people into the profession we are able to reflect the interests of wider society and, in turn, design places that begin to truly meet the needs of those using them. The characteristics that you have that make you an individual are valued in our industry.

The network of surveyors in our sector is what makes it so enjoyable. The property industry is well connected and a community of different people. By becoming a part of that community you are helping to improve the diversity of thought by offering fresh new ideas.

As a young person considering a career in property, my advice would be to go for it. There are so many different job roles that you can find something to suit you. At the core, the property industry is about delivering places and spaces that thrive and are sustainable.

The property profession offers the opportunity not only to shape the buildings around you now but also to influence the environment for many years to come. For me, that’s a privilege.

From me, Sarah

Sarah Thorley is a graduate surveyor at Savills

Dear Aadam,

I envisage you being in the middle of your GCSE exams. If so, good luck! If you have already completed them, then well done! The results of these exams will be the starting point of your journey.

At this stage, it is OK to not know what career you want to pursue, despite the constant social and cultural pressures. There are so many career paths out there and you are unsure which one to pick. That’s why I am writing you this letter from the future, to tell you about the one you have chosen and the doors it will open.

Two years after finishing Year 11, you choose to participate in the Pathways to Property Summer School at the University of Reading to learn about what a career in property could entail. This develops your passion for the industry, and a year later you choose to pursue a surveying apprenticeship route. Despite getting through the assessment stages of these interviews, you are unsuccessful and begin to think you are unworthy of pursuing a career in property because of the social and economic obstacles that you face. Little do you know that you will go on to use these obstacles as motivation throughout the next few years, embarking on a degree pathway.

In 2017, you enrol on the BSc real estate course at the University of Reading and cover a wide range of modules including property valuation, property and planning law, development appraisal, real estate economics, investment, building and sustainability. Because of your financial situation, you probably think this won’t be possible, right? Well, with the help of the Reading Real Estate Foundation, it is.

During the summer after your first year of university, you will pursue placements at Savills, Gerald Eve and Transport for London, working in commercial and residential valuations, property management and property development. In your second year of university, you will undertake an internship at the Crown Estate, working in retail asset management.

I hope you can see that the property industry can provide you with some amazing experiences and opportunities to learn about the different aspects of the industry, and allow you to work on projects that will shape the future of the built environment.

I advise you to pursue this career path despite the social and economic challenges you’ll face. Going forward, I advise you to continue using the obstacles that are placed before you as motivation to further your journey into the property industry.

Fast-forward five years and you have developed a large network, undertaken many work experience placements and completed a BSc degree in real estate. Little do you know that in five years you will be considering continuing your studies with an MSc in urban planning and development at the same place your property journey began – the University of Reading.

Good Luck Aadam, your future self

Aadam Siddiqui has just finished a three-year course at Henley Business School, University of Reading, and is considering staying on to complete an MSc in urban planning & development

Dear Year 11 self,

I am writing this letter to you as a 23-year-old and a qualified chartered surveyor working for a commercial property owner in London.

That probably means very little to you now, but allow me to explain.

I would like to introduce you to the property industry. But what is property? Property is all around us – the house that we live in, the local shop, the school, the bank and the leisure centre. It is one of the largest industries in the world and offers an array of career opportunities.

You’re probably aware of estate agency, a role concerning the buying, selling and renting of property for a client. This role barely scratches the surface in terms of the jobs available within the industry. You can design new property, anything from a footballer’s house to a new shopping centre. You can manage property, which can be anything from the day-to-day running of a building to looking at ways to increase the property’s value. You can manage new development schemes, which involves working with different companies such as building contractors, architects and local councils. The list of job roles goes on and on, but the underlying fact is that there will be a position that suits your individual interests and skill set.   

A unique quality of this industry is that property is a tangible asset, which means you can see it and visit it. This means you can see a physical change to the urban landscape as a result of your work, which is very rewarding. A typical role in property involves working in and out of an office, and there are jobs at either end of this spectrum. The reality of this means you may be working in a variety of places and meeting lots of new people, which is something I have enjoyed.

The key message of this letter is that there are various careers in the industry that you will not be aware of at the school you attend. There are initiatives available which are designed to help people in your position. Pathways to Property is a fantastic example of an initiative aimed at helping students looking to learn more about the industry. Do take advantage of opportunities like these. 

Good luck and never take gyms, haircuts and handshakes for granted.

Kind regards, Brad

Bradley Walker is a portfolio analyst at British Land

Main photo: imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock