Charlie Leask: Property manager skills need to evolve with the industry

James Gibb property manager Charlie Leask details his experiences to date and how a Heriot-Watt University course will arm him and future property managers with futurefit skills.

Charlie Leask

Looking back, I think I was always destined to work in property. Brought up in a family that refurbished properties, my dad handed me a paintbrush aged 10 and the rest is history!

From that moment on, my dad taught me all that he knew about transforming properties both structurally and aesthetically. Over weekends and school holidays, I learnt how to rip-out bathroom suites, about the importance of structural walls and how to best make use of a space to ensure the best return on investment. I even earned pocket money from doing it!

Fast forward 16 years and I’m now a property manager at one of the oldest and most highly respected property management firms in Scotland, James Gibb, which has been managing properties since 1872.

Whilst it’s safe to say that my day-to-day role doesn’t involve ripping bathroom suites out (although my evening work of refurbishing my own property has), the skills I learnt in my early years have been invaluable for my current role. In fact, they’re becoming even more so as the industry evolves, and property owners expect more from their factors.

In my short career in the industry - around four years - there’s been a real step-change in a factor’s focus moving from the upkeep of a building’s interior and the ongoing maintenance of a building, to there being extensive high value structural works needing carried out and much more often too. This is in part down to there being a huge number of ‘new’ properties across Scotland which have shot up over the last 15 to 20 years. Some are now requiring big works and a lot sooner than owners might have expected.

This can only be a good thing for us in the industry (and indeed the wider sector) as we’re often a trusted source that owners can turn to ask for advice and to project manage any works required. It’s for this reason that factor property managers need to be armed with the right skills to manage this step change.

This type of work, alongside much more maintenance and upkeep of a building’s structure, is likely to come into sharp focus if the Tenement Maintenance Working Party’s quinquennial property inspections or ‘Property MOTs’ are passed. It’s a really positive step-forward to prevent major issues surfacing their heads too late down the line. This creates a wealth of opportunities for factors to step into the fold as that trusted source.

I’m fortunate that James Gibb is already anticipating this step change and they have made a commitment to put me through a course to help me develop my know-how and understanding of the industry. Two months ago, I started a Built Environment Graduate Apprenticeship scheme at Heriot Watt University, which I work on a couple of days during my working week.

The course covers everything from identifying works, planning and implementing a plan of works, tendering the works out to contractors and then ultimately signing off any works once completed. This process is key in delivering successful projects and I am looking forward to streamlining our practice to optimise our performance and provide an excellent outcome for our clients.

The surveying industry is one with a vast amount of support, guidance and governance which advance my continuous personal development. What’s also great about it is that it’s a melting pot of knowledge in terms of the class being made up of a host of people from across different sectors and at different points in their career so there’s lots of different insights flying around.

The longer-term goal is for the company to have more colleagues on the property management team also trained in this skillset. In the long term, I see this benefitting James Gibb’s portfolio as a whole as they will benefit from our advanced property knowledge, expertise and processes. On a personal level, I hope this will help me progress my career at James Gibb to senior management level and eventually director level.

It’s safe to say that it’s no easy feat studying a full-time course whilst working and after gaining my undergrad in business, I appreciate the hard work that it takes to make a success of studying! But long-term, I know it’ll be worth it, as I help to ensure that the property management industry continues to develop an understanding and genuine knowledge of residents’ needs.

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