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Broaden Your Horizons

Are you ready for adventure? Working overseas in property management can take your career to the next level, if you seek out the right opportunities. Fiona Blayney gives a personal account of how working overseas lead her to the successful consulting business that she has today.

Are you ready for adventure? Working overseas in property management can take your career to the next level, if you seek out the right opportunities. Fiona Blayney gives a personal account of how working overseas lead her to the successful consulting business that she has today.

In 1999 I commenced the journey that many young Australian’s make, I donned a backpack, and together with one of my dearest friends embarked on what would be the journey that would change the course of our lives forever. Flash forward 12 years and she is married to our London flatmate with a new baby, whilst the UK connections I have made and Real Estate experience I gained have propelled me to own an international Property Management Consultancy company – it’s amazing how life turns out.

During my time in the UK, I worked for a property group who provided services throughout Europe – Countrywide. Countrywide had several brands under their “property umbrella” which is not uncommon for a real estate business, think of it like the one company owning LJ Hooker and McGrath. Operating out of the main office in Chelsea, Managing Property for two brands – Faron Sutaria and John D Wood, I gained experience and insights into a new market, new people and different systems that ignited the knowledge that I was adaptable, loved a challenge and reinforced an ability to see things that others are blind to.

Imagine for a moment, starting on Day 1 and being given 40 properties to manage! Yes, they were fully furnished in some of London most elite suburbs, but still – 40 properties? Even back then, I knew that was not efficient – and it had to change! And so commenced my “Consultancy and Training’ career.

Together with the Directors and Management team, we remodelled the office, systems, procedures, communication methods with the branches, improved technology, and ultimately – everyone’s portfolios increased. You may call it sprinkling a little Australian “hard yakka” like fairy dust in the business. The greatest thing about my time with Countrywide, was that every day was a new experience, weekends were spent travelling and meeting new people, everyday was building a new and improved me – well certainly in kilo’s anyway (damn Heathrow injection!)

With a newfound appreciation for work practices in the Australian property industry, I returned home, and began the next stage of my life with McGrath. McGrath was a rapidly growing business, it was a hive of activity, the energy levels were high, and John had a laser focus to be world class. Foxtons was stepping up in the UK with its revolutionary business practices and McGrath was on track to be the same.

It was now evident that my UK experience had put me into a position of knowledge; of international business practices, an ability to see what is possible outside of my own home market, and so together with our team, we went about implementing leasing consultants, business development managers, centralised services, and much more. The face of real estate in Australia had been changed forever, and without my experience abroad, I would not have had the unique insight into what was possible! I would not have had such enormous challenges to my thinking, and I may have found it far more difficult to embrace change.

Not knowing where you are going to sleep at night, what country you may be in next week, who you will meet along the way, and not being able to speak the language of the country you are in, certainly creates an ability to adapt – it forces you to. A skill that is necessary for any career, but particularly in property management.

In recent years, I have again found myself back in the UK market, having been in partnership with “The Estate Agency Academy”, the transition into consulting and training in the UK was a rather simplistic segue, I had the market knowledge and familiarity on my side, plus I knew how to drink a pint.

Jonathan Handford of Newman Property Services, a client and now friend, has just spent a week in Sydney as my guest for ARPM 2011, (Australasian Residential Property Management Conference). So I thought it is an opportune time to share with you what you can expect if you head across to the land of “poms” (and no I don’t mean going to Bondi or Coogee!)

Jon, what do you see as being the similarities / differences between the UK and Australian property management markets? Well for start, we have a few language differences; we call property management – “lettings”. Our business development managers are valuers, our leasing consultants are negotiators, we call our property managers customer service advisors.

What qualifications do you need to be in “lettings” in the UK? Actually there are no qualifications needed, I am so impressed with the Australian requirements; I can see how it would have an impact on the professionalism of the market. In the UK, there are optional qualifications, so if you are a member of ARLA (the Association of Residential Letting Agents) you are required to have your “ARLA qualification”, not unlike your entry registration in Australia.

Tell me about the different types of agencies. There are two main types of agencies; corporates and independents. Countrywide as an example is a corporate; where as Newman Property Services is an independent. From my understanding of the market here, we have far more “corporate” businesses in the UK, that is agencies that are owned by multinationals, banking and financial Institutes, whilst still having the family run business in a small town.

If an Australian was to head to the UK, what would be your advice? London, not unlike other capital cities around the world, probably has better remuneration, however it comes with a far higher cost of living! In addition, the demand for roles right now in the property sector is high, with the supply lower than in previous years – in essence, there are more people looking for work than there are jobs.

There are differences between remuneration packages, training opportunities, culture and career progression, so you really need to think about what you want to get out of the stay abroad. Working abroad can provide you with amazing experience and provide you with unique skills to bring home or it can fund the release of the travel bug, like anything, it’s what you make of it.

Daniel Gonsalves from Real Estate Career Developers, returned to Sydney at the commencement of 2011, and like myself has found that his time abroad opened up new opportunities.

Despite a career in Residential Real Estate Sales progressing well, Daniel was bitten by the travel bug, and headed to the UK. What started out as a backpacking adventure and turned into five years of career development. Working with Marsh and Parsons in London, and Sherri Fitzgerald in Dublin, Daniel worked alongside some of the UK’s leading agents, resulting in a secondment to the sister company in Ireland training agents during one of Europe’s worst markets.

“I had no idea that my trip to London, would see me training real estate agents on prospecting in Ireland. I gained skills that I will take with me for the rest of my life! That said, it is not all smooth sailing. Yes travelling is great, but living in a foreign country is not for everyone. Sure it has some amazing benefits, and I have had some brilliant experiences, but you really need to be confident in being on your own, and “networking” becomes a way of life – you do it everyday to make friends, let alone business development. Returning to Australia after being away for over 5 years has been a slow induction. You forget that life moves on whilst you are gone, and in some ways I am now playing catch up. Friends move, people get married, and you do miss out on those “home magic moments”. However, taking my career to the UK and introducing an international flavour allows me to see outside of the Australian sector and I am drawing on the knowledge and skills I gained everyday”

Globalisation means that the world has become smaller, walking into Westfield’s with Jonathan Handford this week, we discussed how albeit the smiling Sydney faces, we could be anywhere in the world. Zara, Ted Baker, Prada and so many other stores are an indication of how intrinsically linked our societies are. Travelling and living in western countries is easier now than ever before, but the personal and professional development, the right of passage, will never change.

Whether you embark on taking your career to the UK, or you don your backpack in search of “you”, stepping outside your comfort zone can lead you down a path that you never quite know where you will end up. However, one thing is for certain, you will never be the same. I know having walked that path; it is a brilliant adventure.

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Fiona Blayney

Fiona Blayney is the founder and director of Real+, an industry first Property Management learning platform. For more info visit realplusonline.com.au.