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James Percival: Young Property Professional Blog: Playing detective gets me up in the morning1st June 2012

James Percival, 24, Savills Southampton

As a graduate building surveyor working for Savills in its Southampton office, this blog is intended to comment on aspects of the property industry as I encounter them and hopefully provide a bit of guidance to young surveyors in a similar situation to me, embarking on their career.

How I Got Here

I have always been interested in architecture and am unashamedly geeky about how things work. Building surveying struck me as the perfect blend of science and technology, creative design and hands-on practical work. I studied on the post graduate diploma at the University of West England, which was arranged over two years, one full time undergraduate year, and another year of part-time masters level study; the idea being that this was undertaken alongside full time employment.

Although I am the only one (of about 12) on the course who has managed to find a job in which I can work towards my APC, everyone has found relevant employment. The trick appears to be thinking outside the box: councils, housing associations, public bodies, universities and many organisations with large estates will have property professionals and these can be great places to launch a career by gaining experience and adding an extra dimension to your CV.

I managed to secure a graduate building surveying position at Savills Southampton and I am still thanking my lucky stars for the opportunity in the current graduate job market. My advice to anyone in a similar position would be put yourself out there! Use social networking sites like Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. Comb property job sites religiously and call companies direct in order to put yourself on their radar. It is crucial to do what you can to understand which companies might suit you. Get familiar with their graduate schemes and how to apply for them and meet representatives from those companies at careers events. The more you promote yourself to all kinds of people, the greater the likelihood that eventually your name is going to land on fertile soil. Your career might just start with the words “as it happens I have been pestered by a rather tenacious young graduate...”

Getting to the interview stage was daunting as I was aware of how competitive graduate positions are. I have been told that one of the reasons I got the job at interview was because I brought some examples of my university projects such as CAD drawings, feasibility studies and specifications and used them to promote myself and my abilities. I think that bringing props can really help prove to the interviewer that you are the best person for the job. After all that’s essentially what they are trying to find out.

So here I am, I’ve now been at Savills for around six months and have just finished my last masters level exam for my second year at UWE.

What I Do

My job is to identify defects and problems with buildings and specify the work required to repair them. We tackle all sorts of buildings and the job takes me to all sorts of unusual places; one day I’m clambering over mechanical plant on the top of a sky scraper and the next I’m scrambling around in the roof of a 17th century farmhouse (as pictured). Surveying a building and its condition forms part of dilapidations claims, fire insurance valuations and planed maintenance programs. Surveys are also required at various points throughout a lease, during the sale of an asset or before a building alteration.

When I’m not peering excitedly at a piece of rotten timber, the other side of the job is project management. Once the defect is identified, Savills often manage the refurbishment contract and this is the other aspect of my role. While I have great mentors who have their eagle eyes watching my every move, I feel that my projects really are my projects. It’s enormously satisfying to first visit a building in a dilapidated state, diagnose the problem, specify the works, appoint a contractor and then watch as the building is returned to a good state of repair.

What Gets Me Up in The Morning

What I love about building surveying is playing the detective. I really enjoy getting under the skin of a building, understanding how the structure works and what is causing a particular problem. Obviously this is a huge field of expertise and six months into the job, I am just starting to realise the amount I have still got to learn. Since arriving at Savills, I have developed a keen interest in the conservation of historic and vernacular buildings as well as the challenge of retrofitting modern, sustainable technology to solve problems existing buildings. I’ve got a long, long way to go, but Building Surveying is definitely the job for me and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.

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