Sara is a chartered commercial property surveyor in Norfolk. She is the chair of RICS Matrics in Norfolk as well as a RICS APC mentor and counsellor for the commercial property pathway. She sits on RICS Governing Council and is a STEM Ambassador. Here she tells us about her journey to becoming a surveyor and answers some questions about her role.
My dad was a general builder and engineer and mum a former travel agent and geography super fan so it was no real surprise to them that I turned out to be curious about the world around me. I liked to see how things worked, just like dad, and was enthralled by geeky trips to interesting places and National Trust estates as mum loved going to different places. A fascination for the built environment and how land and buildings evolve and are reused turned into a real passion.
If I was pinpoint a single moment of inspiration it would be a school trip to a massive hole in the ground in Norwich. The Castle Mall development sparked international interest when I was at school as it was a multi-level underground development within the outer bailey of the castle and right next to the mound with the Norman keep atop it. The scale of the development, what they found in the ground, how the landscape was going to change from being a crater to being a major retail destination for the county – to the 13 year old me this was fascinating.
However, I think the moment I really knew I was heading for a career in the built environment was doing a piece of coursework later that same year for my R E class. Yes that is correct, religious studies led me to my career in the built environment! I had a piece of coursework that required exploration of different types of place of worship…I remember being super enthusiastic about it and made my parents drive round half of Norfolk looking at churches, now there are some 650 churches in Norfolk plus two cathedrals so this was a huge effort on their part. I was so proud when I presented my tutor with my report, I had detailed the journey of built fabric of churches in Norfolk over centuries from Saxon towers, to the Norman grandeur of Norwich Cathedral, to the abundance of medieval flint faced churches and the gothic revival buying wool magnates some divine intervention. Historic buildings a plenty.
I got my first and only F grade as a result of that report. Yup, I failed at the first hurdle, not understanding my client’s brief.
Failure aside, I knew one thing for sure, I was going to be a building surveyor.
Unfortunately, careers advice was largely non-existent. I sat in front of my school career adviser and said I wanted to be a surveyor, they didn’t know how to help me. So, I sourced my own work experience, I did my own research and worked hard to ensure I got the grades I needed for university. I needed at least 2 A levels, grade C or above – I got a B in English Literature and a C in Modern History and was thrilled to get an offer for my first choice, DeMontfort University in Leicester on a BSc Hons Building Surveying degree. But half way through my first year of building surveying I realised that I wasn’t enjoying all of the typical building surveying elements of the degree. It wasn’t the best fit – I was still interested in the field but it just wasn’t me.
The course did show me there was much more to surveying than I had been able to find out by myself and I talked to the tutors to explore other options. It was then that I realised how broad the industry was and how many types of surveyor there were. If only my careers advisor had been able to signpost this for me. I opted to transfer to a general practice real estate course – it meant extending my time at university by an extra year but it would ensure that I would end up in a role which not only met my expectations and but would be one that I enjoy! I enrolled on the BSc Hons Land Management degree that would give me a solid foundation for my 20 years (and counting) career in commercial property surveying. And I have never regretted it!
Q: Sara, what is your role?
A: I am a Chartered Commercial Property Surveyor currently working for Norfolk County Council’s Corporate Property Team. My primary role is client side (working on behalf of the client), developing strategies for achieving best cost in terms of selling and developing property held by the council. By making best use of the properties owned by the council either by selling them or by getting the best rental values, the council has more income to spend on the communities and deliver the services they need.
Q: What is the best part of your job?
A: The best part of my role as being able to work across a range of sectors and roles within the public sector – no two properties or projects are the same so there is no danger of becoming bored!
Q: How has your role changed throughout your career?
A: In addition to the changes already written about at the start of my surveying journey at university, I have developed from being a specialist in Land & Tenant and Asset Management to being a generalist offering advice across a broad range of real estate departments including planning and development, investment strategy, property purchase and sale.
Q: Because we know no job is perfect, can you tell us the worst bit about your job?
A: The worst part of my role is the changing nature of client briefs (what the client is asking for and the fact they change their minds quite often!) – the nature of public sector projects are dependent on numerous people and partnerships and this can sometimes mean that you are not always delivering the original project that your thought you would be. This has taken a lot of getting used to!
Q: Do you think its important to promote surveying as a career to the next generation?
A: I have 20 years’ experience in commercial real estate in both the private and public sectors. Throughout my career, I have pursued an interest in training and development and I am working to raise the profile of surveying as a career of choice, to inspire the next generation and to engage with future talent coming into surveying.