BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Heading down under to move up the career ladder

A fascination with historic structures put one woman on the path to a successful building surveying career working on diverse, inspiring projects – and taking her from Devon to Australia

Author:

  • Andrea Brown MRICS

11 July 2023

Sydney skyline

I have been fascinated by buildings since I was very young. Growing up in England, I found the old mills, dockyards, factories and rural hospitals mysterious. They told a story and evoked the past while being imposing in their beauty.

Initially, I thought that becoming an architect would fulfil my ambitions. However, I realised that my interest leaned more towards understanding the intricacies of existing buildings rather than designing new ones.

The right questions lead to the right qualification

Fate intervened when a careers adviser visited my small school in Cornwall when I was 17. After asking me a series of questions, they suggested a career as a land surveyor.

While unfamiliar with the role at the time, I took the opportunity to gain work experience at a private practice in Devon before choosing what to study at university. 

Although I quickly established that land surveying was of limited interest to me, the other partner in the firm was a chartered building surveyor and I was completely fascinated by what he was doing.

I spent three weeks primarily working with him rather than measuring stone quarries. It was a time that I am eternally grateful for, and which marked the start of my career in building surveying. Motivated by my new-found passion, I enrolled on a building surveying degree at the University of the West of England, Bristol, in 1993.

The programme offered a perfect blend of construction technology, law, economics, and design – a comprehensive education that laid the groundwork for my future career. 

During university holidays, I sought further work experience with supportive firms in Plymouth. One standout project was participating in the early investigations of the historic Royal William Yard, and its subsequent revitalisation. This remains a highlight of my career.

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Diverse experience lays foundations of career

One of the notable advantages of a building surveying career is the diverse range of roles available. Following university, my initial position was as an assistant estates officer responsible for capital expenditure works for a large hospital trust in Plymouth.

Over the course of 18 months, I successfully managed a range of key projects, including reroofing three hospitals, remediating dry rot at a maternity unit housed in a heritage building, and – of course – navigating the intricacies of stakeholder management. I laid great foundations in applying my knowledge of building pathology and contract administration.

The need to broaden the range of competencies for my APC, however, saw me relocate to Bristol to work at Watts Group in 1998, where I focused primarily on technical due diligence and dilapidations.

Watts opened my eyes to the commercial and transactional side of building surveying and working with clients. It was a role that saw me completing inspections at least three days a week, mainly in the South West of England and in Wales.

I enjoyed the logic and process of the work, as well as exploring parts of the country I had never been to or assessing buildings that I had frequently walked past. One inspection I always remember was of a warehouse in Bristol where pound coins were sorted and bagged before redistribution.

I also learned why due diligence is more than simply identifying defects: it requires a view about their causes, and being able to frame your advice in the context of the client's objectives for the asset.

I also had my first encounter with a dilapidations dispute, when there was a difference of opinion on the way an asbestos cement roof should be treated under a final assessment.

The landlord claimed it had to be completely replaced, but acting for the tenant I found this constituted an improvement that would exceed the lease requirements; the roof was not leaking and had been sealed so there were no loose fibres. My position was there was no disrepair and that age was not relevant.

The landlord was unable to demonstrate that the roof condition would affect future re-lease or rental values. Barristers were involved, but we agreed a settlement in favour of the tenant that did not include the cost of replacing the roof, avoiding the need to go to court.

'I enjoyed the logic and process of the work, as well as assessing buildings that I had frequently walked past'

Senior roles stimulate specialisation

After a decade working in the UK, however, I wanted to explore an opportunity to spend some time in Australia, both for personal development and to broaden my career.

I identified that the Australian market for building surveyors was not so well understood as the UK's, so there was potential to develop our service offering there.

Arriving down under in 2005 was a significant turning point in my professional journey and I have never looked back.

Working first for Cushman & Wakefield – then known as DTZ – I moved to Knight Frank Australia in 2011, where I remained for 12 years. I was fortunate enough to hold a number of senior roles at the firm, exploring building consultancy, project management and client management.

This has enabled me to develop what I consider a unique yet transferable skill set that combines leadership roles with precise project management and development monitoring expertise, the full range of technical skills as a building consultant – which is how a building surveyor is known in Australia – and a deep understanding of legal frameworks.

This is turn supports my passion for providing advice to real estate owners and users on achieving environmental, social and governance goals, and enabling business. I can operate throughout an asset's life cycle, across all types, and always with a commercial outcome.

All of this is underpinned by the integrity and professionalism of a trusted consultant and RICS member.

 A few highlights from my time at Knight Frank include: 

  • the due diligence for Oxford Properties' takeover of the Investa office portfolio 
  • completing several of the first assessments and replacements of combustible cladding for a number of Charter Hall's commercial office assets, and subsequently educating myself with a view to becoming an SME for such work
  • partnering with clients such as Goodman in developing the way the industry approaches dilapidations, or 'make good' as it is known in Australia
  • working with industrial occupiers, such as Electrolux, to support them through the industrial pre-lease process, where my commitment to the subject means occupiers have received high-quality technical advice. 

Most importantly, though, I have fed my passion for human connection and learning by partnering with people who stimulate me, such as colleagues, clients, consultants and contractors, making sure we all enjoy what we do. The common goal has been to provide exceptional service and ensure the most appropriate solutions.

Mentoring enables mutual growth

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to have exceptional mentors who have played a pivotal role in my professional growth. Their guidance and support have been invaluable. Recognising the significance of this, I am passionate about giving back, and I actively mentor aspiring professionals.

This two-way relationship fosters growth, learning and trust, often leading to lasting friendships. I encourage individuals who would like to be mentored to look beyond their immediate circles and seek diverse perspectives that offer mutual benefits. They can do so through formal programmes – many organisations offer these opportunities internally – or informally by networking with other RICS members and the wider profession.

The field of building surveying continues to evolve, offering endless possibilities for growth and professional development. Aspiring professionals should embrace the power of mentorship, actively seek challenges, and remain committed to lifelong learning.

Building surveying is not just a career: it fuels a lifelong passion for the built environment. My own career has provided me with the confidence to think and work differently, and I am excited to see where I head next and who I meet on the way.

'Recognising the significance of mentorship, I am passionate about giving back'

 

Andrea Brown MRICS is a former partner, national head of client solutions, at Knight Frank Australia
Contact Andrea: Email

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