No future for rural chartered surveyors, valuers and estate managers?

The annual RICS Rural Land Conference takes place at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester on 21 June 2012.  Richard Benyon, Defra minister for environment and fisheries is due to open the conference.  Speakers from our leading rural surveying and legal firms, government, CLA, Andersons Consulting, and the RICS rural partner universities will address a range of topics including CAP reform, tree safety, rural housing and the Localism Act, policy and legal updates.  There’s a link to the conference details and booking arrangements at the end of this post.

I have been asked to speak about future challenges facing RICS rural members, and I would like to ask for your help.  Please could you complete the poll below and offer me a comment or two on what you see as key factors in shaping demand from our clients over the next ten years.

At the time of the last CAP reforms I prepared a paper for RICS on the subject of rural scenario planning, in which we categorised the countryside into: Primary Production Countryside (farming for food and fibre, forestry, minerals); entrepreneurial countryside (the web of mainly small businesses which comprise the rural economy) and what we called ‘Stakeholder Countryside’.

The significance of these categories was that each demanded a different set of skills, and exemplifed a different generic strategy.  Primary production for example focussed on cost leadership and attention to technical detail; whereas Stakeholder Countryside had a strong ‘differentiation’ focus in order to mark the differences from other initiative in search of competitive funding.  This helfpully enabled us to structure our thinking about the future calls on members of our profession at a strategic level – even if the concept did seem somewhat esoteric at the time to many practitioners understandly committed to their day to day client requirements.

Since then we have also seen the increasing recognition of, and emphasis upon, the role of ecosystem services and their valuation.  In my view this has profound implications for the future work of rural surveyors and valuers, and is the subject of a separate ‘Think Piece’ on which I am currently working for RICS.  This link to a recent RICS Land Blog gives a little more idea of this.  The conference will be an opportunity for a preview of this work.

But what other key political, economic, social, technical developments will shape the requirement for rural professional services over the next 10 years or so, and will this be  good news or not for land agents and rural valuers?  Clearly much will depend on how we embrace the new possibilities and in responding to this question some may fall back too easily on a tweedy, innately conservative stereotype of the traditional land agent and agricultural valuer.  But this is too lazy a response.  This is after all the profession which has supported farming through successive CAP reforms from the introduction of milk quota transfer services in the 1980’s, to all the requirements associated with entitlement for the Single Farm Payment in the 2000’s.

So I would like to ask you to respond to this poll about the future outlook for land agents’ and rural valuers’ services.

Please also feel free to tweet me (@charlescowap) or to use the comment facility to share your views on this important question as well.

Thank you.

Link to Conference Programme and Booking Form.

34 thoughts on “No future for rural chartered surveyors, valuers and estate managers?

  1. looking at the way in which recruitment to Estate CEOs is going (business skills needed); looking at the field for the Crown Estate Rural Director role (shortage of rural asset managers); looking at the reduced ‘end of tenancy’ val skills needed for FBT cf AHT;looking at the tendency for Banks, lawyers and accountants to think that they can do valuations, save money by doing informal ones or, perish the thouight, ask Estate Agents for a free ‘guess’; looking at the increasing need for PR skills in a polarised world and looking at the RICS ambition to play on a world stage when many rural Division skills are national, is it time to re-visit the skills required to prevent the disappearance of the roles that you identify?

    1. Thanks for our first comment on this post, David. You certainly pull together some of the trends which could take demand downwards. I hope some other commentators will be able to offer a different view!

      Your point about business and PR skills is well made, but I’m also aware that these have been regarded as an important part of the rural estate management syllabus for at least 22 years now. Students’ reaction is interesting as I think they often view the business elements as the ‘soft’ easy elements. This is in contract with other subjects on the curriculum like Valuation, Law, taxation etc which on first acquaintance can seem much harder to learn, and take more practise to ‘get right’ for the exams etc. In fact general management and business as part of the rural curriculum is not that new as I can recall quite clearly lectures in personnel management, marketing, finance, general economics etc as part of the Cirencester syllabus in the late 1970’s, plus a lot more farming than today. To some extent this continues through the early career years as well, given the emphasis of professional assessment by both RICS and CAAV. Admittedly RICS now includes a strong emphasis on general business knowledge and skills in its compulsory competencies.

      I also wonder to what extent those rural surveyors who are of a stronger general business orientation seek partnerships or directorships in surveying firms – where they are more likely to get to own the business unlike some of the senior positions you mention?

      The international dimension is a most interesting one I think, and I wonder if we lose sight of the larger questions surrounding land tenure, (e)valuation and management in favour of the minutae of English/Welsh (not even UK!) tenancy law, planning, compulsory purchase, taxation etc etc? There might be an answer to both problems in here somewhere.

      Are you coming to the conference at Cirencester on 21st? I hope your thoughtful comment will stimulate other readers to respond with their own views – thank you for getting us started.

  2. I believe our skills will be more in demand but as a specialist in a given area and there will be very limited places for general practice agents. Areas of work such as planning, valuation, tenancy advice and business consultancy are becoming increasingly specialist and fast moving, therefore to be able to add value to clients agents will need to specialise from an earlier stage. In addition we will increasingly need to work in conjunction with colleagues and other professionals to ensure the client receives the service they require.

    1. Thanks Sarah. Do you think this means that new entrants to the profession should be more specialised from the start, or is there still value in the broader view that we claim to bring to rural businesses? David Fursdon’s comment might be taken to mean that this broad view is not broad enough. Will we increasingly be divided into highly technical surveyors dealing with specialised aspects, and general business managers and directors – to whom RICS and CAAV membership may be irrelevant for the reasons that David has outlined in a previous comment?

  3. The rural environment provides real, tangible, commodities (primarily food and increasingly energy) that the world will demand in ever increasing quantity, especially with the massive populations of India and China in ecomomic ascendency.

    The economic explosion of 2008 has turned investors away from ‘paper’ assets (we all saw that if you try and liquidate the stock market in hurry it wasn’t worth as much as you thought it was the day before!) and turned them towards the ‘real’. Land will not disappear whatever happens.

    In such a climate where there is more value placed on rural assets (and their economic outputs) then there will, in my opinion, be increased demand for a Land Agents role in assisting with the management and trade of those rural assets. Most likely not the same exact processes have been done historically (e.g. reduced need for waygo valuations) but the underlying skillset is the same and will remain relevant.

    1. Thanks very much Niall. As you say, the fundamentals seem to be very much on our side. But I suppose the overarching question is this: will it be land agents and rural valuers doing the work, or will others have usurped us as they get to grip with new approaches, methods, techniques. And given that much of the challenge is a global and international one, are we best placed to make our mark on a world scale? I wonder what others think – land agents and others. Thanks again.

  4. I hear what you say Charles and I don’t want to be negative. My real point is that I think there will be a role in managing rural assets but if it is to be rural surveyors who do it then they may have to up their game- a point that you make above. I too learned ‘business’ at Cirencester in the 80’s but it wasn’t at a sufficiently sophisticated level for today’s demanding clients. Taking one example- risk management, in all its aspects- there are skills like this which are sometimes more associated with MBA courses that are needed. It may be therefore that we need to consider how these skills can be acquired later on in a career.

    1. I believe that Rural Chartered Surveyors will need to be increasingly active on the global stage and that there are many opportunities for them to do so. This is why the RICS has an increasingly Global perspective on land and property. I agree with both Niall and David’s view and think that we have a bright future, but we must ‘skill up’ when it comes to business management to keep the accountants and lawyers at bay. It makes sense that anyone wanting to land a top ‘CEO’ position managing a landed estate should consider studying for a relevant MBA. We need to develop tailor made MBA’s that as David said can be acquired later on in a career to fit in with work and family commitments. If we do the required ‘up skilling’ then who better to manage landed property assets than Rural Chartered Surveyors with the requisite land, property and business skills?

      1. Good to hear from you David – I’m privileged to be joined by such high profile Davids as yourself and David Fursdon on my blog!

        Two aspects here: global and ‘skilling up’. My last reply to David Fursdon picks up the point about professional practitioners and MBAs – I know I’m not alone in our profession in holding a MBA and it would be interesting to hear from practitioners in this position as to how useful or otherwise they have found this, how difficult they found it to achieve while working, and of other alternatives that have been taken up with the same end result.

        Global: I agree that we should have much to offer on a global stage – resource/asset valuation and management should both transcend boundaries with the intelligent consideration of the mix between land tenure, value, alternative uses, economics, finance, markets, policy and so on. Yet few rural practice chartered surveyors practise rural work overseas. When I last looked (admittedly some time ago) the small number practising overseas had migrated to commercial property and other work, as so many have done over the years. So this is another group who it would be good to hear from: rural chartered surveyors undertaking rural work overseas or internationally.

      2. this is interesting as I am currently looking for a surveying job oversees but I am struggling to find anything that I would be able to do – apart from commercial or ‘real estate’.

        I am 25 and just about to do my APC in a couple of weeks and, hopefully on passing – looking at options available.

        if there just no need for the same level of rural surveying in other countries? I would also like to hear from anyone in rural surveying/estate management jobs around the Globe. I am depserate to get out of the UK and use my skills and knowledge elsewhere but it seems an impossible sector to get into – surely we should be encouraging the younger generations, such as myself, to be branching out internationally?

      3. Thank you for this comment. There should be good opportunities in my view but undoubtedly there are different structures in different countries. You might try looking at the work of FIG or contacting the various RICS World Regional directors to get more background information and ideas.

    2. Thank you again for your further points David. This later-career acquisition of skills is a challenge for us I think. By the time people have passed their RICS and CAAV assessments I fear that mindsets are very much focussed on satisfying a minimum CPD requirement, in a way that tends still to concentrate on technical and legal updates – about which there continues to be plenty to learn! I achieved a MBA myself a few years ago, and in line with the general philosophy of MBAs this would not have worked at an early stage in my career. As an aside we also see a dearth of young or mid career land agents/valuers coming forward for Nuffield scholarships, or highly focussed courses like those offered by the Worshipful Company of Farmers. This was a particular problem a year or two ago when the CAAV joined forces with Nuffield to promote a scholarship – the reason from many in practice being that they were just too busy earning a living to spare the time. Nose to the grindstone …. Look up and take in the view.

  5. I would like to think that more of us would be required but logic says we are increasingly competing with other professionals (and some less than professionals) including solicitors, accountants and consultants. There will be times when our training and expertise are invaluable, perhaps for sorting out those who got things wrong in the first place. However, there has been a noticable drop in “routine” work.

    The better clients are more businesslike and generally more intelligent so have less need to rely on land agents and surveyors. They therefore call on us to just for the more specialist work.

    As an industry we have to adapt to the changing scene and seek out perhaps less traditional clients.

    I hope there will be a role for us in the future, it will just be different.

    1. Thank you Graham, and welcome to my blog. Your reply about clients undertaking more work for themselves echoes a comment made in response to the poll, and the rise of the intelligent and capable client has been recognised for some years as a threat to all the professions – be it medical consultants faced with the latest from Google to ourselves faced with DIY valuations from clients, accountants and banks.

      It would be interesting to hear some more about how we overlap with the solicitors, accountants, farm consultants and so on; where we see our unique points (USPs if we must) in relation to them; and where we see the complementarity of our services and theirs’. Does this point the way to multi-disciplinary professional service firms (again reflecting a point made in response to the poll) and what are the practical options for this? For example a partnership or company does not need to consist completely of chartered surveyors to practise as a firm of chartered surveyors any more, and I think the provision of legal services has seen similar relaxation recently. I’m not sure where the chartered accountants stand on this now, although accountant – like surveyor – is not a protected term until you put the word ‘chartered’ in front of it.

  6. Potentially there will be more demand from landowners/farmers. Needs lots of informal contact to keep on top of changing needs through workshops and informal meetings. Working with farmer groups to deliver large projects e.g. energy projects, especially where traditional farmer co-ops are failing.

    1. Thanks John for a farmer’s perspective – still the main client group for many land agents. That’s a very interesting point about farmer co-ops as they never seem to have worked as well in this country as elsewhere, with the idea of an independent consultant like a land agent ‘brokering’ arrangements for large-scale projects. Does this call for a more active involvement in project identification as well as subsequent promotion I wonder?

      1. Definitely project identification role. We have just been part of a large PV installation project where an agent pulled together up to 40 farmers to get extremely competitive quotes from PV suppliers to install 40 50kW arrays on our farms. It is an obvious one for co-ops to do but no one seemed to be doing it. Agent also helped with all paperwork etc making the whole event a “yes/no” exercise for farmers.

      2. Thanks John. That sounds like a fascinating scheme. Are you able to tell us more about it? Was it a local agent, independent of the energy company involved?

        Sent from my iPhone

      3. Thanks John. THis is a fascinating example. Was the agent a local one, independent of the equipment suppliers and energy companies involved? Any more information you are able to share would be most interesting I am sure. Thanks again.

  7. As a finite resource the pressures on land can only increase and with this the need for professional and innovative advice to ensure that it’s value is effectively captured. In the short term, food supply, eco-system services, water management and carbon are just some of the specialist areas where quality advice will be critical.

    1. Thanks John. We seem to be establishing categories of work which will need to be done – but will it be land agents and ag valuers doing it? There seems to be a good prospect of this, but agents and valuers themselves look as if they are going to have to be very sharp to be at the forefront of this work.

  8. This is a considerable topic! For the estate mangement aspect, my thoughts are, generally, that the demand for skills is increasing. The rub is that the skills required are becoming narrower and in more depth. For instance regard the evolution of the tradtional agents role – at one time the agent was the finance guy, the farming guy, the forestry guy as well as the property guy. These days we all employ specialists to advise on the technical aspects which never used to exist. So my feeling is that the estate manager is left with the property bit only and is becoming increasingly marginalised. We are about to appoint a facilities manager – there is a suggestion that the RICS may have missed an opportunity here??

    As estates modernise and demand more from from their lead agent, I see this role becoming taken by others with more business skills. RICS skills are good up to the property management level, but beyond that, albeit dependant upon the estate itself, it’s all about leadership – a psychological game more practised by others in big offices and organisations. Not typical in rural surveying.

    So long as we have a litigious culture (and it’s only getting worse) I think valuers will always be in demand.

    As mentioned by a previous contributor as well, new skills and requirements are needed as statute continues to develop as fast as land use conflict. We must harness them and display excellence, otherwise I fear the market place will leave us behind as generalists: good for networks and introductions, not for doing the modern job….

    1. Thanks very much Alun. It is hard to fault your analysis and you are obviously writing from considerable experience. Interesting point about facility managers although RICS does have a professional group for this now.
      The key point must be the need for land agents’ training and early experience to prepare them for the challenges you describe I guess. This is almost certainly a postgraduate task to build on basics learned while qualifying.

  9. We land agents – let’s keep it short for rural chartered surveyors – have hoisted ourselves by our own petard. Keeping control of things when outsourcing would have reaped benefits: undertaking a Higher Level Stewardship scheme is easy, isn’t it? In fact we should know when to let go and hand certain aspects over ecologists/ornithologists who are better on specifics while we head up the overall project. In the ‘old days’, the Nat Trust land agent had just that role; bringing in historic buildings reps, archaeologists et al to the team. Goes without saying that land agents don’t exist at the NT anymore – I suppose their property managers are today’s facilities managers?
    At times we land agents don’t keep up with the bigger picture – at last year’s RICS rural conf, some had never heard of the Natural Enviro White Paper and were distasteful of the word ‘Twitter’ or Daily Mail readers & thought the RSPB were out to get them….
    Backslapping and networking at conferences is great but the benefit of occasionally challenging ourselves within the rural sector – if we don’t talk about larger farms, ecosystem services and smart technology – others will take the initiative in either knocking them or developing them; we end up acting for clients reacting to events rather than leading them.

    “I’m too busy earning a crust to have time for all this other stuff” is a common refrain for a profession at the lower end of chartered surveyor earning power working within a traditional and conservative arena.

    Times are a-changing but the rural sector remains a pivotal part of farming & countryside; a primary industry, it’s time will come and as the world urbanises and moves even faster than before; a little Lycra under the tweed would do the profession no harm in staying up front.

    1. Thanks Rob, what more can I add? From Hamlet’s sapper being blown up by his own bomb to lycra under tweed! There are some land agents of whom I would more care to think of this combination than others. My thanks to you and all the contributors on this post who I think have really given us lots to think about for the future …..

  10. From a lawyer’s perspective it is interesting to see the land agents saying that we are encroaching on their work & it would be useful for them to give some examples particularly if these have been with non-agricultural lawyers. As a member of one of the country’s largest specialist agricultural law teams I feel that we work closely with agents & that we value their role & do not try to ‘muscle in’. I would never try to value land or conduct a rent review nor advise the clients on anything but the legal side of ELS agreements etc. I recently completed the Agricultural Law Assocation’s Fellowship programme & there were 2 land agents on the course. Their perspective on the case study was invaluable as often brought very different issues up which had not been considered by the lawyers – showing, as I had been taught, that we must work together for the benefit of the rural client. The ALA really does promote this within the association and there is not a ‘them & us’ culture between members – any rural professionals can be members not just lawyers.
    It seems that, as lawyers have found already, agents will end up specialising in a particular area and will need to draw together a team of agents to advise a client – the requirement now for such specialist knowledge means that it is impossible for an individual agent or lawyer to be a one stop shop for a client.

    1. Alex, this is a fascinating contribution and I thank you for it. The points about inter-discipline working are particularly well-focussed I think, and are by no means confined to the rural professional sector. Does this mean that organisations like the Agricultural Law Association are the way forward? Personally it has sparked something of an interest in local rural professional inter-disciplinary activity. For example, what about getting a group of rural professional advisers together at county level to work on some case studies as part of an inter-disciplinary cpd programme, theoretical or practical if we could identify suitable hosts? Subject to some funding to at least cover costs, I would be very happy to give this a go and think it could have excellent outcomes for everybody involved – great care would be needed to set it up right however as it would need to be more than a whinge-fest/talking shop. I wonder what other readers think of this?

      1. Charles, I think that multi-disciplinary cpd would be of far more value than always learning in isolation within your own field. The ALA has regional branches which organise training and social events so could be the network to join with for case studies etc. Something to discuss with Geoff Whittaker? Does the RICS have a similar set up? The professionals within each area would then know farmers/agronomists/wildlife experts/banks etc to join in.

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