PROPERTY JOURNAL

Experience pays off in becoming valuation professional

Specialist assessment gave a valuer with two decades' experience the chance to become a chartered surveyor after life interrupted her career development

Author:

  • Vicky-Jayne Lee MRICS

19 April 2024

Photo of a building façade

I didn't so much choose to be a valuer – I sort of stumbled into it.

When I graduated with a BSc in economics and statistics in 2003, I wanted to be a regional development officer. But there were no graduate vacancies then, so I just looked for a 12-month job to pay some of my bills in the hope of trying again the following year.

I took an admin assistant role with the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) for £10,000 a year, simply because they were the first people to offer me a full-time job and the salary was better than what I was earning part-time in a bar. And so began a fruitful career in the public sector.

Gaining experience across teams

After 18 months of issuing forms to collect and process rental data for rating purposes, I was promoted into an inspector role in preparation for the 2007 council tax revaluation.

In the first six months or so, I really enjoyed the job. I was out and about collecting and updating data on property attributes, using a company car, meeting all sorts of people and building local knowledge.

Then the council tax revaluation due in 2007 was cancelled following the Lyons review, an inquiry into local government funding. This essentially meant I didn't have a role any more because the council tax bands were staying as they were.

As my degree was in economics and statistics, I was recruited to another team at the agency that was developing software to value domestic properties automatically.

Once this software was successfully up and running, I was then allocated a role in the domestic team covering council tax.

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Challenges overcome to begin qualification

By 2009, I was desperate to work on commercial property – preferably as a chartered surveyor – so I successfully applied to an internal scheme to join the graduate conversion course with what was then the College of Estate Management at the University of Reading.

I enrolled on the course but then life intervened. I was due to start the foundation modules in January 2010, but at the same time I was diagnosed with a brain tumour the size of a plum. Emergency surgery followed and so my start on the course was delayed.

I still managed to complete half the foundation programme, and was allowed to start the course proper with my cohort in the April. I really enjoyed the first year. As students, we had a great online forum to discuss ideas, share work experience and support one another throughout.

I also learned a lot about building technology and sustainability – which were not only interesting but also a real help in my current role as a commercial inspector, and again later as a valuer in terms of increased demand for green buildings and changing market demand. By the end of the year, my marks were averaging more than 75% and I was eager to start year two.

Then life struck again – but in a good way this time. After my surgery and medication, the pregnancy that my husband and I had been trying for since our marriage in 2007 had eventually happened.

My due date was a week before the final exams. I wondered how much time people would spend in the exam hall wondering whether the woman on the next desk was going to pop out another human. How much could I concentrate on the exam, and what were my priorities? Overall, I thought it best to withdraw gracefully.

So I undertook managerial roles instead, which represented the only career path on offer to me without professional qualifications, before returning to casework.

I did this part-time to balance work responsibilities with high nursery fees, taking a reduction in my salary for the short term and pension in the long term – thus adding to the lifetime earnings gap between the genders. 

Parlaying specialist experience into becoming a chartered surveyor

In 2022, I read an article about how people with ten years' experience in valuation roles could apply for RICS membership if they were working in a specialist role.

Having not completed my previous attempt at qualification but been years in the job as a high performer, confident that I had the necessary knowledge and experience as a valuer, I saw this is a fantastic opportunity.

The scheme had been running in the VOA for a couple of years, and I knew of a colleague with similar work experience who had been successful in the first cohort. Having spoken to her about the requirements of the programme, the time commitment and her experiences of application, I decided I wanted to give it a go.

At 11 years old my daughter no longer required constant attention, and I felt it was the right moment to invest some time in myself and my career.

I also wanted to set an example to her that hard work pays off in the long term and that you have to make small sacrifices along the way – such as listening to podcasts about indemnity insurance on holiday while you're lying on a sun lounger, instead of being the embarrassing mum in the pool.

However, there were still many challenges. The traditional APC for graduates is very different to the Specialist assessment. 

Structured training is typically mandated by RICS for APC candidates, which ensures that they gain the necessary experience, including diary updates and rotations, generally supported by employers.

As structured training is not mandated for specialist candidates, they often need to independently ensure they can meet the necessary competencies.

Although I had spent almost 20 years in various aspects of valuation and been educated to degree level, the final assessment interview was still intimidating.

It was as much a memory test as a demonstration of my understanding of the subject. The mock interview questions posed by my colleagues often involved the ability to recite policies and legislation verbatim.

Although I can still remember almost every line of Lady Macbeth's speech that I learned in high school, menopausal hormones now prevented me reciting something that I had read ten minutes ago.

'Structured training is typically mandated by RICS for APC candidates, which ensures that they gain the necessary experience'

Successful interview despite nerves

Knowing that I needed to drill the key parts into what was left of my brain, I spent the summer listening to recordings of myself going over and over codes of conduct and case law so that I could recall the names of the parties rather than just the outcomes and the application of the findings.

Having data overload by the time the interview came around, I was a nervous wreck. The panel tried their best to put me at ease, but I still had moments during the interview where I was like a rabbit in the headlights.

When the interview concluded I went to the bathroom to say farewell to my breakfast, then I rang my mum and had a bit of a cry – partly because I thought the mental blocks had blown my chances of passing, but also with relief that it was over.

Seven days later I received an email to say that I had been successful. I was very surprised. As with most interviews, it is often easy to think of the things you could have done better and kick yourself about them while overlooking the parts that went well.

I then began looking for qualified roles in my department. In January this year I started my new job as a mineral and waste transfer valuer, working on contractors' valuations for all sorts of sites from quarries to brick works to recycling centres.

It is exciting to be starting something completely new and I feel that I have finally taken the step up that I had been wanting to make for more than ten years. And that is how I became a chartered surveyor.

'It is exciting to be starting something completely new and finally take the step up that I have been wanting to make'

Variety offers appealing vocation

If I can offer advice to anyone thinking of entering the surveying profession, or those already in the discipline looking to become qualified, it would be the following.

  • No two days are ever the same. There is always something new to be learned as technologies develop. Even if you have been in the job for decades, you have yet to see everything.
  • You get to meet a huge variety of people. It doesn't take long to build a wide network, and the use of social media such as LinkedIn has cast this net even wider.
  • If you are lucky enough to perform your own inspections, you will see some fantastic innovation in local communities. I have seen craftspeople hand-carving some of the most beautiful garden statues you could imagine, or creating bespoke furniture fit for a royal palace, and – my personal favourite – one of the finest ice-cream factories in the North East of England.
  • Overall, the profession gives you the opportunity to see the wider world around you. You visit places you didn't know existed, see technologies that you could never have conceived of, and create a vision of how the future is going to look.
  • You don't need to spend more than £9,000 a year on university tuition fees to start your career. This is a socially mobile profession, with several employers in both the private and public sectors who are willing to fund and support the right candidates through the necessary qualification. It isn't easy – you must be prepared to spend a lot of your own time on study alongside your day job – but you can get yourself into a professional role without dragging a big bag of debt behind you. Shop around, see what is on offer, apply for roles that do not need qualifications and ask what their development opportunities are. 

I completely dismissed the idea of surveying, along with accountancy, when I was applying for university courses at the age of 18. Both appeared to be well paid but dull as dishwater. How misguided the young me was.

'There is always something new to be learned as technologies develop'

Vicky-Jayne Lee MRICS is a mineral surveyor at the VOA

Contact Vicky-Jayne: Email

Related competencies include: Valuation 

RICS assessment routes

Vicky qualified via the RICS Specialist assessment.

RICS is undertaking a review of entry and assessment into the profession, including eligibility requirements and assessment methods. For the latest information and to get involved, please visit: Review of Entry and Assessment into the Profession.

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