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097 Building a Career in Surveying with Phill Sowden
Episode 9727th October 2022 • The Surveyor Hub Podcast • Marion Ellis
00:00:00 00:50:12

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Phill Sowden is an Associate Director at Charles Parker Bennett Surveyors. He has been a residential surveyor since 1988 in Preston & Lancashire and was elected as a member of the RICS in May 1994.

He has an impressive track record, having worked throughout the changed ownership at Entwistle Green/Black Horse Surveying Services, BBG Surveyors, Securemove Property Services (as Deputy area Surveyor) and finally, Countrywide Surveyors between 1988 to 2006. From 2006 to 2020, Phil was with Farrell Heyworth Surveyors as a Director from 2007. Before joining CPB Phill was an area surveyor for SDL Surveyors.

What is Covered: 

  • How to secure proper training for surveyors in the commercial world of today
  • Why there is a huge need for new surveyors and what firms can do to offer a career path to surveyors
  • The variety of a surveyor’s job and what made Phill change his job during the lockdown 
  • The benefits and challenges of hybrid work arrangement for surveyors
  • How the qualification path for surveyors can be improved and why the available qualifications do not necessarily reflect someone’s level of experience

Connect with Phill Sowden:

Connect with Marion:

Resources: 

The Surveyor Hub:

Transcripts

Marion Ellis 0:50

Today I'm chatting to Phil Sowden, a chartered surveyor and registered valuer working in the northwest of England. So Phil, great to have you on the podcast. When I record these podcasts, I do it on video so I can see you, because I find my guests because I find it easier. And you have the look of a man who's terrified.

Phil Sowden 1:13

Absolutely, yes. Not my comfort zone, I'm afraid.

Marion Ellis 1:19

So firstly, thank you for coming on the podcast. And we talked about getting you on the podcast for a couple of years now, I think. And you just seem to me somebody who was really supportive. Just really nice, what I'd call understated, interesting, but understated, and I thought I have to get you on the podcast. So I'm so pleased to have you.

Phil Sowden 1:41

Yeah, I realised that nodding along didn't really add anyhting to it.

Marion Ellis 1:46

It makes me feel good Phil. So for people who don't know who you are, I have to say that the podcasts that I have with surveyors, nobody has heard of are actually some of my favorite because it's real life stuff, the nitty gritty of what we do. But for those who don't know, tell us a bit about your surveying journey and how you got started. What kind of work do you do?

Phil Sowden 2:08

I'm kind of probably in a large group really, sort of mid 50s surveyors. So I started in '88, I was taken as a trainee, which is probably a rarer thing now. But yeah, I did a release course at Manchester College in building and then moved on to do the RICS external exams.

Marion Ellis 2:33

So you got a trainee job as a surveyor.

Phil Sowden 2:37

Yeah, I should really sort of qualify, what I did was not work hard enough at school, didn't pass my A levels, and then started again and went and did a diploma in building. I knew where I was heading, what I wanted to do from being 12 years old, which is not very sexy, and that I want to be a surveyor.

Marion Ellis 2:59

But you know, most people that age don't even know how to spell surveyor.

Phil Sowden 3:03

Actually, I was at my grandma's house, and a surveyor came around, and I just followed him around. And it just stuck with me. And when it came to sort of career things, it was between that and stuntman. Stuntman never happened, so I carried on with the surveying route. So I kind of started again with the exams a bit and went back to college. And then I got an opportunity. I had a choice of a university place at Southbank and a job. All my friends had either gone to university probably earlier, or were working, so I kind of went down the working route. And I think it was the right thing for me, because I was straight into sort of helping out, anybody who's done that route knows that initially, you're filing and carrying the tape measure for somebody who knows what they're doing. And I do remember thinking that I would never be able to do this job watching the qualified surveyors doing what they did. And I just thought I'd never be able to know what's wrong with that house. And yeah, sort of six years later, I finally qualified. So I think we were the last group to go through the external RICS exams, and then the CPD and the interview and everything. And then yeah, I stayed with that firm, which eventually became, after many years via BBG, part of Countrywide.

Marion Ellis 4:20

They blured into one, at some point, these firms.

Phil Sowden 4:23

I was 18 years with them, which I think I paid back my trainee in spades. And then I got asked to go and go and talk to somebody at a much smaller, local firm and work with them for 14 years. And that kind of all went wrong during lockdown when they decided just to shut the survey department and I was made redundant. Then I went to work for another corporation for a little while and was approached by the firm, Charles Parker Bennett Surveyors, to go and work with them and help build up their residential side. So that's kind of it really.

Marion Ellis 5:05

We all want to be Evil Knievel obviously.

Phil Sowden 5:08

One of my heroes. Yeah.

Marion Ellis 5:09

But I want to ask you about that. Firstly trainees, you said we all start off with not so many words, the rubbish job, the shit job, I'll say that, we will start at the bottom and it can feel like you know quite a big gap between you starting on your first day and what you know these experienced people do. But I often hear trainees right now having difficult experiences in terms of where they work, what they're expected to do. And it's such a minefield, because there's no pattern, there's no blueprint of what's expected of you when you turn up as a trainee or a student or on that not quite qualified route yet. And I guess with apprenticeships, day release, and things like that they're sort of more of a bit of a structure. But I see lots of people doing all sorts of different things. And some people have worked before, a lot of us come into the industry and the profession is mature, shall we say? But if you've never come straight from school, you have no idea how to answer the phone, or what's expected of you, or what's right and what's wrong. And that's really, really hard. I mean, have you worked with trainees since then? Have you seen that it's evolved? Or have you stayed away?

Phil Sowden 6:22

I have had trainees working with me. So back when the Home Condition Report was coming out, or not, I was working with some people who weren't qualified surveyors for a little while. Some went on to become APC Assessors, one guy went on to be quite senior with one of the corporates now. Yeah, again, I don't think firms are set up for it. Part of the problem is, I think you're always gonna be a cost initially. The world, I think, has changed so much in terms of certainly what I do in the residential market, that I think a lot of people don't feel they have time to spend with the training. So when I was doing it, I don't think the pressure was there to do X number of jobs a day. The turnaround, I mean, we used to go into the office, pick your jobs up, go out and do your jobs, come back, dictate the reports, look at yesterday's reports and send them off, which then went into post today, it's almost instant. So everything's expected to be done very quickly. And not getting somebody to have the time to spend with training is very difficult. Because it's a cost implication to the person who's doing it. With the best will in the world. If you've got somebody with no idea what they're doing, and you're trying to teach them, you're going to do less work yourself, and I think that that's where part of the problem is, and how to convince smaller firms. I think smaller firms are probably the better breeding ground in a way I get the I think some of the big corporations now are doing training in schemes. Yes. So that's the word I was searching for. And I think that's great, because they've got the resources to do it. I mean, I don't know if somebody's in that world, I don't know whether when they go out with the qualified surveyors, allowances are made in the day for having more time, because if not, then they're not going to learn anything very quickly. I'd love to be able to take somebody on and bring them through from scratch. That'd be lovely to do that.

Marion Ellis 8:18

But it's the reality.

Phil Sowden 8:21

't the same, I don't think in:

Marion Ellis 8:26

It's really interesting, because I speak to and coach a lot of surveyors who are at the point where they're thinking about an exit plan for their business exit strategy, and do they retire? Do they sell their business, and you can create lots of assets even if you think, you know, well, I'm the surveyor generating all the work that you know, there's, there's lots of things you can create in your business that adds value. But thinking about that succession, and the future needs to be part of your plan at the start. And I guess it all comes down to how you view your work and your business and why you do what you do. And if it's important to you, you will find a way. I'm not saying that's easy, but we need to talk more about it, I think within an industry as to how we mentor and get people through it. Because quite frankly, there's a lot of people like you, Phil, in their mid 50s. And you might want to retire you know, 5-10 years time because like, where's everybody else going to come from? What does that mean? And you know, the corporates, lots of people have a love-hate relationship with the corporates, I worked for corporate, you have, you absolutely see the benefits of what they can do. And they're a different model, but they are designed to get people qualified with a technical skill and to go out and do a particular job in a particular way, using particular software and things but it's that wider life experience, that wider what it means to handle a customer when you've phoned them up and they're in tears or you know, something's happened when you go into a property, how you manage your time and your home life. It's that whole wider piece that I think has changed. We talk about the way we do the job has changed, but the expectations we have on new people and youngsters coming into the industry has certainly changed in our lifetime. And I think we can't ignore COVID. We've all found it hard, but geez, anybody who's a student, or gone through that, I've had the most difficult and different experience that any of us could have ever imagined. But also, I think, and I noticed this with the, with the Surveyor Hub, you know, the community group and the the podcast is that we say, we can't mentor, but there are still little things that we can do, like, share a picture and nudge, or well done, thanks for sharing that. Now, there are little things that can help people feel good about the journey they're on. And I've seen you do that within the Hub and support people in different ways. So commercially, sometimes it isn't viable to be a mentor in that way, or depending on what the business plan is. But I think all of us can still do something. and you talked about the gap. Sorry, got on, I'll shut up.

Phil Sowden:

No, I was gonna agree with you that, I think sometimes it's doing what you can, I see a lot of people on the Hub giving great advice. And you see the little tag with students. And that is a benefit of the digital world that we live in, we are able to do that. Some people do quite a lot. And I can't remember names now. But they're very supportive and obviously very knowledgeable. So that can be passed on to people, but nothing replaces I don't think, that sort of face to face, one to one, it might take a change of Outlook, even for the corporates or for the smaller firms to be able to say ye, we can, it's not necessarily about we can't afford a trainee, it's more about succession planning. So can we bring somebody in and offer them a career path, a future, something that's going to excite them? Or are we going to take somebody on for two to three years, who then is going to go off and work for someone who can pay them more money, and get on the hamster wheel producing mortgage value?

Marion Ellis:

I think that's the difference, isn't it, of recognising that surveyors of people, or your employees, that people not robots there to do fee earning and a job and you decide what model you're going to take. And I think you're right, the way that we look at education in the UK, and not to get political, but as we sit here, the interest rates have just been put up, students are absolutely on the floor, not able to afford anything, those at university, perhaps it's time for the model to change, and that's something that you can wait for a government to do something. But that doesn't mean that we as an industry can't introduce something different and better, that supports people where they're at now rather than their lives. Yeah. So it's interesting, but what I would say to any trainees and students out there, or newly qualified because we get lots of them following the podcast. So hello to you all, my little fan club. Just hang in there, and don't worry about knowing everything straight away. Because you get to our age, Phil, don't we, and we still don't know everything about it.

Phil Sowden:

I started this job in '88. I learned things constantly. and anyone who says they don't, but in our job, you come across things and you see regularly on the Hub that somebody will say I've never come across this. And that's almost one of the beauties of the job really. It is veried, it is one of the selling points, I think, that you can be looking at a one bedroom rec flat somewhere one day and the next day, you can be looking at a massive Victorian three storey fantastic building with beautiful gardens. And that's part of the attraction for me was from the start, it was not being sat at a desk all the time. And there's a lot more of that now, there was a lot more sitting at the desk, I've got a pile of things here from today's reports that need to be signed off as SCT is to do and that kind of thing. So there is more of that than they used to be. But again, that's part of the changing world, I think and also it comes back to that, as I mentioned before, that hamster wheel of producing mortgage valuations, It's appropriate to say we're here but what we want to do and what sorts of attracted me to this job was, we want to try and sort of build something and we're looking at recruiting some more surveyors so that we can have a variety. So yes, there'll be some going out doing a bit more, almost going back to being a GP surveyor. So yes, doing mortgage valuation, but also doing a few more private condition surveys and other types of work as well.

Marion Ellis:

A I think that's so important now, because that builds your resilience as a business. And at one extreme, I see some surveyors with 26 million things listed on their website they can do, even though they hate doing them or nobody ever asks. And that becomes too confusing. But it's finding that balance of what you do you do well, but having enough variety, so that if the type of work turns off for any stage or reason is that you got to remember that you have the ability to work and earn money as a surveyor and doing surveying, because property is property, there's just different ways and different tasks that you might do and generate that money in different ways. And so on the other extreme, you've got people who just do the churning out mortgage vals, or hitting all their jobs or points that day. And what I find tends to happen is that, if you're doing well, and all that work is coming in, it's like you put your hands in a bucket and everything falls in. And people don't work on their business. So they don't think about the kind of work they want to do, or what they want to retrain or learn or be fearful, and on the other hand, when you've got a list of all of these different things that you do, you lose your identity of what am I anyway, because they don't know how to position themselves as a GP surveyor, but I think that's definitely something that's quite attractive to a lot of people.

Phil Sowden:

Yeah. I think you're exactly right. And there's nothing wrong with the model. I've been there myself, I've got a lot of friends who do, and I'm still doing it now. And it's the day that is set up for you, everything's booked for you. You go and do your six jobs, and five jobs and whatever it might be, and hit your targets and you get your bonuses and everything else. And there's nothing wrong with that at all. I got a little bit tired of it. But it's not repetitive, because every day is different. But I wanted to do a little bit more, if you like.

Marion Ellis:

Yeah, it's interesting you say that, Phil, because I was talking to a surveyor yesterday. And he was saying he wants his own practice. And he was saying, it's got a bit boring, it's got a bit repetitive. And I suppose it depends on what you start to notice about your work, what keeps you interested. I mean, I felt like that from the start, because I knew, I used to go out and do the inspections. And then I moved on to complaints and claims which obviously are a whole different kettle of fish. There were two things that I found, one, that was quite repetitive. I couldn't remember what day the week was. And depending on what area you're in some houses are all bloody the same. You got to keep track when you're going into so many. And then the other thing I found was it was physically tiring being out and about in the fresh air all day. Maybe I wasn't quite best suited. But it's interesting what you say about that repetitive tiredness. And I think people do get that, it just means you're ready for the next thing.

Phil Sowden:

Yeah, I think so. I still enjoy going out even if some days, I might be in the same town during the same type of houses. And I still enjoy the job. I think I just want a little bit of variety now. I think it's like you say, you get to a stage where you sort of almost plan your retirement because 10 years to wind down or five years hopefully to wind down more than 10. And I think part of the thing was doing your mastermind, not to blow smoke, but it made me think a bit more of it. I was on the cusp of perhaps doing something on my own. And I don't think I'm best suited for that.

Marion Ellis:

You joined the mastermind during lockdown, I think, and you were in between roles. and when you'vecome to the mastermind and it's evolved over the years, but they either work for themselves or they were thinking of working for themselves. And I only work with experienced surveyors. There's other stuff that I can offer students who are newly qualified, because I think you need a few years under your belt before you work for yourself. And you came, and I've had this with a couple of clients who actually came with a, I don't know, should I work for myself? Is that the right thing for me or not? And I think it's almost like a scratch, an itch that you've got to explore. Because people either find themselves thinking like me, when I left my corporate job, I literally thought nobody would hire me, and so I have never applied for a job. So I didn't think I was good enough, so it was like all I could do was either be a stay at home mum or work for myself. And I wasn't very good at being a stay at home mum. So it is where you find yourself and you know, but for other people, they've always thought, well, I would like to work for myself. But when you work for a corporate or a larger firm, you don't get to see the inner workings of what it's like to run a business, because you're just there as a fee earner and doing the surveys and so you have no view or no understanding of what it's like, other than perhaps fear.

Phil Sowden:

Absolutely. Right. And again, because I've been so long, 18 years with one company, 14 years with another company and the vast majority of the work is being provided, you weren't going out looking for work, let alone dealing with other stuff, so I was involved with claims and with with training and everything else, you still not business planning or anything like that. Dealing with the day to day or or I just got started on dealing with the PII renewal with the previous company. And then that came to a stop. But I think I've realized what your course helped me with really was realizing that, yes, I could do something on my own. But I also realised I didn't want to be on my own. I like working with other people. As I say this, this job now, I'm much more able to be involved in the day to day planning the things, helping to bring through the technology that wasn't in place when I started that we've now got. So we're able to compete with the bigger firms in terms of yes, we use that system, we can do that, we can do all that. But also going knocking on doors and chatting to people about work, and looking for relationships, building relationships in order to get to get more work in.

Marion Ellis:

And I think a lot of people sometimes think it's either or, work for corporate or a firm or myself, but there are gray areas, if you like, there are different ways that you can stretch yourself. And there's nothing better than having a team behind you. Or I know when I was at BlueBox, before we closed down, and we sold the business. You know, having those people to chat to was great. I feel incredibly lonely in my business sometimes, which is why I do what I do and chat to literally anybody. But I know that I don't fit into the typical model of what's expected in a business. And I know myself better now to have the confidence to do what I do, and work and liaise and align with others. But I think the more you know about yourself and how you fit in, what your worries are, where you can stretch what the opportunities are and get curious means that you can step into roles like the one that you've got. So I was really pleased you came to that decision. And you found it useful, because it's not about working for yourself. That's not the Holy Grail. Yeah, but it's knowing what's right. What's right for you,

Phil Sowden:

if it was more fit for me it was more about understanding a little bit where we've come from and it sounds a bit X Factor, the journey.

Marion Ellis:

Why do you do what you do?

Phil Sowden:

But yeah, knowing what you've done isn't necessarily the be all and end all. And it's a great training ground for doing the job of learning, and the great thing in the old days. We used to be in an office, and that could be anything between two, three or 10 surveyors in, and you'd all chat about stuff and show each other oh, look at this, I've just seen this, or you're constantly learning of all the surveyors and having that to and from. That's gone by the wayside to a large degree, because a lot of people, most sureyors now are home based. And you might meet for meetings or on a zoom call, we just want to get into the office, we have an option really, because you can work from home or we have an office, two offices you can go into. So you've got a bit of flexibility, if you are feeling like you're a bit isolated, you don't have to be and I liked that side of it. And I think a lot of firms are perhaps heading in that direction, the smaller firms that are more flexible, we have a mixture, we have a commercial section, there's a section called commercial firm, which is aligned with us, which is Parkinson's, and we talk across the subject. So I'm picking things up on commercial stuff that I've never really touched in my life. And I do think that's a positive thing about how I got on my own. Looking back, in the last sort of 12 to 18 months I've been here, I realised I can go out and find work, because that is what I have. Would it have been enough work? Possibly, if you work for yourself you just don't need to do as much to maintain the status quo, but I think I've been constantly frightened of the work drying up.

Marion Ellis:

Yeah, I guess the thing is, what you've got now, in your back pocket is that, you know if push came to shove, things happened, you could do it. You know more now than you did. And I think that kind of thing gives you that inner confidence, it means you've got the choice and you're choosing where you work. And you mentioned there something really interesting about people coming into offices or working from home. And boy, that has changed so much in the last 15 years. When I remember when I worked for the corporat, we both used to work for, when they closed all of their offices because they were the first to bring in tablet technology, and that was just awful. But when you look at the overheads of running businesses and offices and all of those things and travel times, and all of those things. It's huge. And then when you look at the efficiencies of technology, it's a no brainer. But I come back to word people, and we need to interact with humans. And so it's been a really interesting thing to see over the last few years and obviously, particularly COVID, with all the lockdown situation, that's when, you know, we had we had started to survey a Facebook group, but it really got quite active through lockdown was everyone was just twiddling their thumbs. But what I realized is that nobody knows how to talk to each other online. And how you say something can come across as a bit of a trouble, and things can get totally out of context, and the language that we have and the way that we interact with each other. And we run a few like lunchtime or afternoon sessions of just surveyors to be able to talk to each other and do or do good work. And that was interesting, as well as to who would show up why they would show up what they needed. So I wanted to chat. So I'm just wanting to know that there were other people. Most people were just interested and happy that if they needed something it was there, they didn't feel the need to join. But knowing that there's something there when you need it is actually quite powerful. But you do wonder, going forward, you know, what the implications are longer term for the surveyors moving forward? Because when we're in an office, and we're having those conversations, yes, we're learning, we're building relationships and things. But that's really powerful to see, well, what impact that has. My husband works for a firm of civil engineers, and they've noticed that they don't have brainstorming sessions, or the designer, they do design architecture. And I don't know what he does, obviously, but they you know, they do all this sort of development stuff. And they come up with problem solving solutions to things. And I've really noticed after a few months that I lack creativity, and you just cannot recreate it in an online environment. But I do wonder from surveyors' point of view, what is it we're going to notice that we've missed?

Phil Sowden:

I think it's a difficult thing, because I've been looking over the COVID thing and people working from home, and obviously, you see it a lot more people still working from home in different fields that never used to do, which can make an appointment easier sometimes, because people are at home rather than at work. But there's been quite a lot in the media, and quite a lot on social media people talking about this. Well, we've been doing this for years, it's not news working from home. And I didn't miss being in the office. But it's not practical. If you're doing what we're doing on the residential side, it's not as efficient because you go out in the morning, to your first appointment straight from home, go into your jobs, and then you go home and do work. And if you are with no surveyor, if you're working till 5:30, you're actually at home or 5:30. So, you know, today, no one does that. Obviously, they all work longer. But if you have a quiet day, you know, it's nicer to be at home rather than in the traffic. And I do find now that traveling in traffic is really annoying at rush hour times. But yeah, that steps back a little bit to what you're saying earlier about bringing through the new blood if you like and trainees because the majority of surveyors are based at home. What do you do with them? Do you bring them back home with you sitting at a desk, because you have to show them the back end of the job, you have to show them the SEC and you have to show them the insurance calculations and the stuff that you do have a desk, unless you sit in the car and do something on laptop in the car. And that's not a great learning environment. I think being in an office is probably better in that respect. Because then you do learn as you said earlier, you do learn the answering the phone, dealing without, is less paperwork now. But all that stuff that you did as a young trainee surveyor.

Marion Ellis:

How to write a nice polite email.

Phil Sowden:

It's going to be easier to train young or old new surveyors in person, in an environment where they get to learn about everything to do with a job rather than just the, this is what we're doing in appointment. This is how we speak to people when we go to answer the door. This is how we fill the boxes on the iPad.

Marion Ellis:

Yeah, and it might sound a bit woowoo but I think surveying, when we're going out inspecting buildings is quite sensory. As you walk up the path or walk into a property if you're experienced enough, you know what is wrong. There's never many huge shockers, you've got a sense of, you know what that paint smells a bit fresh or that's a new floor that's a bit bouncy, and it's a mix of your mastery and skills in it as a surveyor and experience that you get, but also really tuning into your senses. And I think that's something that you just cannot replicate unless you're in and out of a property, but also you talk to someone about it, about how you feel in that property and, and in turn with clients as well. And that's the root of all complaints and claims, you know, is he didn't speak to me very well, etcetera, etcetera. Interesting, you know what you were just saying about, you know, how do we get people back in the office. And I know, as we record this today, lots of companies across the UK and beyond, are struggling to get people back into work. And the way that I look at it, there's two things, one is the practical challenges that we now have. My husband's going into London, five days, four or five days a week now. It is incredibly inconvenient for me now. Just having someone home at tea time, so I could rush one to a club, or do the school run or whatever. So there's that, the practical challenges, that inconvenience and family life and where we need to be here and, or not, and that we don't want to lose some of that. And then there's also the cost. Now, for a lot of people, the costs, you know, when I was looking at the price of diesel was put to the supermarket earlier on, I thought dia may well moaning about it, when it got to go around, it's really double that, you know, and so there's there's costs. And so it's that convenience that cost, that time, it's very willful for a lot of people as we as we sit now. But I suppose what we need to do as businesses is to look at what's the purpose of us coming together. And if we can't create it, so that we're there in the morning, and you know, for tea at the end, what's the next best thing? And even if it's something like, company WhatsApp, we keep in touch, or you come in once a fortnight on this day, and dedicate the time and structure your business, so that the fees and the money and income works that you can have that time together, it means that everybody values it, and it becomes non negotiable. And so it's understanding what it gives you, what the benefit is, because there's nothing worse, I can imagine that someone is going into work and thinking, what's the point, I could have done this at home, or I haven't done any work because everyone's been talking to me.

Phil Sowden:

I know people in that exact situation. I often work for firms where they sort of off-set and say, Well, we're certain people and you can come in on, we want you two days a week. And which days didn't matter? Well, if you turn up on one day when no one's in, then you've wasted your journey. So the structure needs to be there. And I do think a lot of people have got used to the idea of working from home, I think firms have found that production has not been affected in a lot of industries, like they thought it would be. The effects in the housing market, really, people walking home, the COVID lockdown. So people were wanting gardens or to be away from town, people wanting properties with an office space, and this kind of thing. So that's all had a knock on effect.

Marion Ellis:

What's interesting is through COVID, we've got lots of changes with the housing market in that people want properties with a garden space, oh, they want properties tha they've got a home office space and things and things like that. And that's changed our worker surveyors, but also we gotta remember that as surveyors ourselves, we want that. And I think there's a difference between working from home sitting on the sofa, or the kitchen table, doing a few sign off reports or whatever, to having proper working space at home. And I used to think, you know, surveyors don't earn sacks of money. You know, we're not all property investors sitting on empires. Most of us are just normal, paying the mortgage, you know, doing what we can. Even though we've been doing this for a long time working from home, I think it's still quite difficult for a lot of people. I want you to ask you a question, because you're unusual, not unusual, in that you've worked for two companies for quite a long time. Yeah, somebody that works for the whole life, or they've sort of jumped around a bit, 18 years at one firm is quite a long time, isn't it?

Phil Sowden:

I think it is these days. Perhaps coming from a different era. I mean, to put it down to loyalty, or I suppose you could say it's lack of ambition. I don't know which way, I was comfortable where I was, I felt supported and could see opportunities there. So although the company changed its form a few times along the way, it always felt like it was a firm of surveyors run by surveyors. There were opportunities to do things, so I say we got into condition reports quite early. I became a trainer and assessor on that which was money well spent, obviously. But it was interesting, and I quite enjoyed the diversity of that. So that's what they offered me. I think perhaps it became a bit too big, not sure, but less personal as it got swallowed up a little bit by another firm. And I think it just didn't feel the same. And I had a few opportunities over the years where I've spoken to other companies pretty much doing the same thing. So I've never gone looking for anything, but I've been when you're working in a local area, you tend to get to know people, and then people give you a call. But nothing ever felt different or better. So I carried on as it was, and I think the timing ofwhen I did move eventually, I probably would have stayed there, but the opportunity arose, it was interesting, and I think it was a point in my life, where I felt like I couldn't do it now, probably never will do.

Marion Ellis:

Sometimes it's just you're ready when you're ready. And I think every surveyor always has one eye open. One thing that drives me absolutely nuts is adverts for surveyor's jobs. Because they seem like the most boring thing ever. A lot of them are this postcode, this much money, we'll look after you, this is the car, they're all the same. And you speak to people who are in recruitment, not actual surveyors doing the job. And I just find it's so sad, because it makes it like we're a commodity, it's a boring job, and it's repetitive and it's just not. To an extent it is yeah, this is the work that we do, that we produce. But it's more than that.

Phil Sowden:

I think that's what I'd like it to be more than that, more than just, as I say, I've worked in different companies. And yes, there is a pressure to do a certain number of jobs, or wanting to get onto fee levels. Because I think that's part and parcel of the issue of bringing younger surveyors or new surveyors into the business is being able to offer a good package, a good future. Yes, you're gonna come and work for us. And we're going to pay you absolute peanuts, because you know nothing, and we're going to train you. And then when you're trained, you're going to be doing this.

Phil Sowden:

And work so hard you won't believe it.

Phil Sowden:

When I started, and you have every stage you've got through, you got an incremental pay rise, which is quite a big chunk in those days. So I think I started about 3000 pounds a year. So by now I'd have four houses. But all my friends who worked in the civil service were probably double that, then you start to accept that you're of no value to the company. As you went through stages, it jumped up and it seemed to pass what my friends were at age. It's kind of stayed there. And I think that's a lot to do with. In a way it's a fight to the bottom, but the pressure on competition for the work has driven fees. Also they're not in line with where they should be, which was probably contentious.

Marion Ellis:

I think you're right, there are factors around that with PII, the way the lenders are, all of their approaches to risk all of those things. But I do think a lot of surveyors resigned too, that's what the fee is, and I can't charge any more. And the thing is, you just don't accept it, you just decide, well, I'm not going to do that work. It's a loss, you can do a bit of loss leading work, but not a lot. And you talked about trainees adding value. And I think maybe that's, earlier on we talked about, you know, what if there was a different model is how can trainees, students, when they're coming into the business, people start to add value straightaway. And I think we often forget the skills that people have, particularly if they're more mature, you do what you do, you just happen to do it in the world of surveying. And people have got skills doing other things they've learned, there's always something that can be taught. So rather than sending them out to do or the dog's body jobs, actually give them some really good things to do, particularly we think about social media, marketing and all of those things that comes naturally to a lot of these people. But then on the other end of the scale, you've got, where's the point if we come in, if I'm mRICS if I'm ASSOC on what's the point of becoming a fellow or the equivalent, because I can't charge any more? Well, I'm sure RICS at some point will sort that out, one day we can live in hope as we SAY.

Phil Sowden:

That's a whole a whole podcast there on the MRICS ASSOC. I wasn't in RICS when I started, I used to be on that chase to the mRICS, and those in need to bring people through quickly because of a shortage, because of a lack of training. That hadn't gone on for a long time. I think again, partly due to the financial crash. There's a big gap in bringing trainees of any type through, because no one could justify it. So yes, there's a shortage of surveyors because a lot of them are my age or older. I think the average age is probably about mine still.

Marion Ellis:

I think it is, I know there was some data going around a couple of years ago that it was, you know, mid to late 50s was the average age of a surveyor. I don't think it's helped by new surveyors actually being mature.

Phil Sowden:

Absolutely. And I've heard conversations about the the RICS thing and devaluing the

Marion Ellis:

with Assoc's, yeah.

Phil Sowden:

That's not necessarily true. I mean, I had two ASSOCS working with me and my previous company that were great lads. I don't know if they actually go on to do the full charter book. They knew what they were doing and they worked, worked really hard.

Marion Ellis:

Some of the most experienced surveyors, I know, are actually ASSOCs or RICS. And I think the way it's set out, I understand the need and why it came in. But I think the way it's currently set out, it's promoted and how it is the RICS, it sits with them ultimately, how they present it doesn't help the consumer, it doesn't help us as surveyors because everybody's infighting, and that's not nice. And it's, it's not kind. So there needs to be a recalibration, if you like, of what's involved in that. Because I've seen reports from fellows that are quite frankly dreadful. So it's membership, not, not true skill necessarily, is it?

Phil Sowden:

It's not a blanket thing, it's not a we're better than than you are kind of thing. I remember going back years ago, when the ISVA became incorporated into, and thinking that's ridiculous. They can start their course with A levels. So we have to wait for A levels to do ours, so you know, we obviously, and we're charted, I got a little bit sniffy about it. And my boss told me that he was ASSOC, so I calmed down a little bit. But I think in a way, it's a good thing, because it's pride in the mark, and anything that changes, I think, when you've been doing the job for a long time, you almost feel this pride, and I'm a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, that came into my head over the weekend as well, with the funeral. I have a royal charter. I remember being really proud when I got that, and working really hard for it. Failed the interview the first time, passed the second time

Marion Ellis:

You should have mentioned that at the start of the podcast, Phil.

Phil Sowden:

I can tell you exactly why I actually, on the advice of somebody at the time I actually filled the wrong box in and I turned up basically was grilled by three commercial surveyors about rating, and didn't have a foggiest what I was talking about. So yeah, second time round, they were asking about it. I remember going into the interview, and then they were saying to me, so can you tell us what you'd expect to find in a trust rafter?'', and I sort of looked and thought, this is what I do. I know the answer to this, in completely different situations. Trouble is you start rambling, and then you blurt out things you didn't need to tell.

Marion Ellis:

That's why I love this podcast.

Phil Sowden:

You're very good at this.

Marion Ellis:

But this is the Goldust, you know, because there'll be people here listening who also failed the first time or second time, or graduates worrying right now about going for their next APC session. And, you know, it's okay. It's just the next thing that you do, and it's absolutely all life experience. And you talked there about, about pride in the job, and I guess, and I very much feel that, and it is difficult when there's, you know, shenanigans going on, you know, and different membership bodies, institutions, they're all the same. There's all stuff that goes on behind doors as an industry in a profession. But I think it is a shame when it gets to a point where we sort of come up against each other over almost who's the best or, and I was actually, when I did my degree, it was ISVA accredited, and that's how I became a member of the RICS. I think I was lucky, I managed to get an MRICS route, because they're just putting the tech ASSOC route, I think it was at the time. I remember people saying, looking at me, like, Oh, I remember one particular person, and I won't name him because he's quite well known. I did a training session and he was absolutely aghast that I went to a local Institute to do my degree and not Reading University. You just think that kind of, on the one hand, yes, it's pride. But I think that for me, that says a lot about diversity and culture, and what do we all bring to it now? And it's a communication challenge, I think ultimately.

Phil Sowden:

We've got to get past that. And as I say, I was probably just finishing my RICS qualifications, when this all happened. So as a young person, I was, really? I could have done this than been qualified two years earlier, and earning money, and it wasn't the full story at all. But as a youngster, you pick on the bit and go, well, yeah, I'm charted. But I guess I am proud of that. But I do think that everything needs to be brought in together and work together. And I would love to see, I don't know if there is a lot of noise now, I don't know if there is a route whereby, when you get your ASSOC qualification, there's a step then to lead you on to the full charter?

Marion Ellis:

Well, there is, but it's not straightforward for most people. And for me, that is the diversity issue. If you haven't got a degree, or if you've got to do it a certain way, I mean we don't know all the details, but it's the kind of thing, we can talk about gender and diversity and do things differently. This is actually bringing it into the way that we operate as surveyors and the actual work we physically do as well. You know, it's really integrating it rather than let's have a panel and talk about this, that and the other.

Phil Sowden:

People are out there now doing the job, and they are ASSOCs RICS, but they are doing the job. As I say, the two guys I work with are absolutely brilliant. Doing home buyers reports, I consult their reports, consult their knowledge, and to get away from this diversity confusion, It needs to be that these guys have been doing the job for a while now. I'm not saying you also have to get the charter, but that experience, and maybe an interview around how it works should then lead to them being brought into the full.

Marion Ellis:

I think there is, you know, not everybody wants to climb up what they do at the ranks, so to speak, you know, some people are happy that they've achieved what they've achieved, they're able to earn a living. And that's fine. It should always be a choice. But I think there is some sorting out to do in terms of clearing up experience levels, qualification levels, what people are able to do, and levels of membership, if you'd like because they seem to be tied. And actually that particularly the residential sector, and that's not quite right, I don't think. Confusion isn't helpful and clear is kind. And I think if we approach that it helps us, and it helps consumers ultimately, as well. But look,Phil, it's been really, really good to talk to you.

Phil Sowden:

It's lovely to see you and chat with you.

Marion Ellis:

Really good.

Phil Sowden:

I'll listen to it back.

Marion Ellis:

Well, I don't either. Now, as a professional, I probably should get better, but I don't.

Phil Sowden:

I probably should, but I hate to listen to my own voice. Using a dictating machine makes me dreadful.

Marion Ellis:

But you know what I love, though, Phil, is the fact that eventually, I don't think I've persuaded you too much, but I've given you the opportunity. And when the time is right, you've come and you've done it. And that's why I like these kinds of conversations. I remember chatting to two ladies who came on a Women in Surveying one that I did, and they were physically shaking with nerves. And it was a fabulous conversation and chat. And they did really well, just goes to show, we stretch our boundaries, we put ourselves in these positions. But also I know that lots of people listening to this will be really interested in your career and will have learned a lot as well. And so I'll give you a gold star.

Phil Sowden:

Very nice. Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure, you put me at my ease. If it sounds like I'm rambling, that's just what I do.

Marion Ellis:

So for everybody else listening to podcasts, Phil says it's okay. Thanks so much.

Phil Sowden:

Not as scary as you think. Okay, thank you.

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