When I graduated from the University of Manchester in 2012 with a BA (hons) in Spanish and English Language, I promised myself it would be my last encounter with higher education. But following an eclectic employment history – from selling diamond rings to teaching English in Bilbao and eventually joining the Residential Valuation team in Leeds – I find myself balancing a part-time MSc in Real Estate with full time employment, all the while trying to keep up with the requirements of the APC process. From the perspective of someone stumbling into this later in life than most other Allsop graduates – here are the basics of what this entails.
The first of these spinning plates is my role within the Residential Valuation team in Leeds. This involves managing larger scale portfolio valuations and acquisition valuations for regional and national funds. Unlike the traditional graduate pathway within Allsop – which usually involves a two-year period of six monthly rotations within different departments before sitting the APC – I was originally brought into the firm in 2015 as a temp to tackle mountains of paperwork. I shortly became a permanent member of the team in a role that has developed into my current position as Portfolio and Fund Valuation Manager.
As I have fewer than five years’ industry experience, the RICS require an undertaking of 24 months’ structured training before the final assessment interview. This has meant studying part-time for an MSc in Real Estate, a distance-taught RICS accredited course at the University College of Estate Management requiring 15 to 20 hours’ study per week. Being halfway through the second year and with dazzling light towards the end of the tunnel, assessment topics have so far extended to land law, real estate agency and aspects of the planning system I would have been otherwise unlikely to encounter in my day-to-day job.
As far as the APC goes, the final interview, case study and presentation still sits far enough away for me to not be quite as much of a demand on time as work and an MSc. However, I’ve been well advised to keep on top of my diary, CPD log and balance of competencies in order to avoid any last-minute nauseating panic.
Of course, it goes without saying that this work / study balancing is no walk in the park. Assignment due dates and exams inevitably fall during the busiest time of year for our portfolio valuation work, and naturally fee earning takes priority. This potential minefield of stress can only be mitigated with white-hot time management (a skill I’m admittedly still getting to grips with), as the option to pull an all-nighter with the help of Pro Plus and a pint of snakebite is a lot less viable when you have to be in the office again at 8am the next morning. However, as with all challenges this continues to teach how to prioritise, use available time in the best possible way and most importantly to step back and see the bigger picture when stress starts to mount.
Strangely, growing experience of valuation can sometimes be a hindrance rather than a help when following an academic course, as textbook methods can conflict with real life practice. Memorising formulae and methods and applying these verbatim in an exam is a completely different kettle of fish compared to, for example, assisting on a residual valuation for a real client. While there will always be a multitude of variables to balance in reality, an exam setting is a standardised and sanitised scenario within which to apply the taught methodology – separating this from real experience can be tricky and lead to over-complicating an otherwise straightforward exam question. Understanding how to reconcile methods in practice with taught techniques of an MSc is another steep (but incredibly valuable) learning curve in forming professional opinions and judgements.
In spite of the obvious challenges posed by juggling full time employment with a Masters, clearly the long-term career benefits far outweigh the temporary challenges. Qualification ultimately opens up the world of residential valuation for future progression in the industry, in addition to all the kinds of personal development the discipline encourages (time management, self-motivation, the ability to turn the urge to cry into laughter, to name a few).
Allsop is and always has been firmly committed to in-house development of its own surveyors. Out of 15 residential fee earners in our Leeds office, eight have been put through their APC by Allsop over the years – including partners, associates and senior surveyors. The firm’s attitude towards graduates, myself included, is very much centred on “we”, not “you”. Good exam results are a collective win, and near-misses are likewise addressed in the pub, importantly centred around what “we” can work on next time rather than how “you” may have performed better.
This incredible network of support offered doesn’t only come into play on results day, but for me has been a constant throughout both the MSc and will be into the APC process. The huge wealth and range of colleagues’ experience continues to be invaluable, as does their willingness to carve out time in busy working days to go through topics a textbook or webinar has failed to get to the bottom of. As with many things, the more work you put in the more you get out, and Allsop completely lives by this ethos. Although I might not have taken the traditional approach to qualification within the firm, my experience has shown that as long as the desire to work hard is there then Allsop are equally as actively committed to helping you through to qualification. When the time comes to burn past study notes in a Quality Street tin on the roof terrace I’m sure it’ll be a colleague helping to fan the flames.