The SCSI Annual Conference 2016 ‘Turning Challenges into Opportunities’ took place on November 10 in Croke Park and drew a big crowd and world-class speakers.

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Delegates at the SCSI Conference 2016.

After a networking breakfast and an introduction by conference moderator, Newstalk presenter Shane Coleman, SCSI President Claire Solon kicked off proceedings speaking about the challenges and changes facing surveyors. She said there was no time for complacency and that the profession must be able to adapt to and deal with unexpected events such as Brexit and the US presidential election. There are other changes that the profession needs to be aware of such as online selling and work automation. She said not to fight change and instead to incorporate your skills into the changes that come and make them work for you and your clients.

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SCSI President, Claire Solon.

Changes and challenges
New technologies are already changing the way surveyors work. Surveyors are sharing more and more information via the cloud and sending more drones into the sky.
Claire Solon said another challenge that the profession faces is improving its image, which suffered because of the crash. It needs to be known that surveying is not the shaky, risky, boom and bust career it is sometimes made out to be.
The Society is working with transition year students to get them interested in surveying and hopefully this will increase numbers entering the profession and help address the gender gap. Claire said she can’t count the amount of times she has been the only woman in a room: “To me it’s not that big a deal. You get on with it”. But she said surveyors need to work harder to show that the profession can fulfil the ambitions of both genders.

There is a need to engage with the communities in these developments and allow residents to interact. Residents should feel like they are renting the whole building, rather than just their unit.

She encouraged members to get involved in the SCSI and said the advice and guidance the Society publishes is only as good as the input it receives. She talked about how we’ve come through a number of horrific years and that trust in the profession has been damaged. Ireland needs to be adaptable to change as: “We’re a small country in a very big world. International events will affect us”.

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Eamon Ryan TD, Leader of the Green Party.

Build to rent
With home ownership becoming less and less viable for many people, Alexandra Notay of Places for People talked about the rise of the build to rent sector in the UK, which could provide an alternative for people in Ireland, a steady income to developers and optimise investors’ net income stream. Alexandra was an author on the respected ULI Build to Rent Best Practice Guide. Build to rent is different from just throwing up a block of flats. It is institutionally backed and developments should be of 100+ units. Alexandra said this is not about replacing home ownership. It is about creating “additionality of supply” and has proved popular in cities such as London, Glasgow and Manchester.
There is a need to engage with the communities in these developments and allow residents to interact. Residents should feel like they are renting the whole building, rather than just their unit.
There should be appropriate amenities but Alexandra said: “You don’t need a dog park on the roof”.
These communities are not just for young people. She gave the example of one development in America where a woman had moved into a small unit and then met her husband. They’d gotten married and moved into a bigger unit in the development and had their kids. Their kids grew up and moved out and then the couple moved into a smaller unit again. The woman had had the chance and the money to buy her own home but said: “Why would I? This is my home”.

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Stephen Vernon (left), Chairman of Green Property, chats with James Maddock, Head of Global Occupier Services EMEA, Cushman & Wakefield.

New double Irish
Dermot O’Leary of Goodbody Stockbrokers called Brexit and the US election the new double Irish. They are two international events, which we had absolutely no control over but which will affect us greatly. During the election campaign, Donald Trump promised to bring jobs back to America and adopt a more protectionist stance. Whether this was posturing to get votes is unclear. And although politicians are criticised for not living up to promises, O’Leary noted a study which found that 70% of US presidential election promises are followed through on.
Trump’s plan to cut corporation tax in the US to around 15-20% would be a significant change with a big impact on Ireland. Multinationals account for about 2% of the firms in the country but for 23% of total employment. And 72% of our foreign direct investment (FDI) comes from the US.
The UK didn’t suffer the massive crash a lot of people were expecting in the wake of the Brexit vote. But sterling has taken a beating and in a survey of UK firms, most said they plan to reduce spending and new employment over the next few years.
In reference to the recent UK High Court ruling, which said the government must consult parliament before enacting Article 50 to start the process of leaving the EU, O’Leary said that the courts in the UK have saved the country. While this ruling may not lead to a soft Brexit, it may lead to a “softer Brexit”. He predicted a big political collision over the next few months between the EU and the UK.
Although it is hard to predict what Brexit might mean for Ireland, there are some things we need to look at. Some 17% of Irish exports go to the UK. Irish SMEs will be hit hard. There is a danger that retail could suffer in the border regions.
For all the talk there’s been about how Brexit could spell disaster for Ireland, there has been almost as much about how we might gain. O’Leary sees advantages and disadvantages, and believes Brexit will provide opportunities for Ireland’s cities but that it could be another hit for rural Ireland.
FDI firms look for EU market access and may look to Ireland when the UK loses this. However, when foreign companies look here, they are not impressed by our infrastructure. He said office space should not be a problem but that housing is a big issue.

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Dermot O’Leary, Goodbody Stockbrokers.

Opportunity in opposition
Leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan TD said he thinks the current minority government is a good thing, as it allows for legislation to get through which would be easily blocked by a majority government.
He said it is in no one’s interests to break apart the current arrangement and predicted there won’t be another general election until summer 2018. There is an opportunity to do things in opposition now he said, highlighting the recent ban on fracking. There are consensus meetings between party leaders every two to three weeks to decide what’s going to happen and see who agrees on what. Ryan believes this type of approach suits the country.
In terms of housing, he said the way politicians consult with people needs to change. He wanted to ask the people in (and in charge of) Irish cities how they see their areas developing.

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Colin Bray (left) and Pat McGovern.

A great life
After a short break, Stephen Vernon, Chairman of Green Property, talked about his long career with Shane Coleman.
Stephen did not aspire to be a surveyor when he was a child, and in fact never even heard of the profession until after he finished college. He worked in London for many years before coming to Ireland in 1993, while the Celtic Tiger was still only suckling, to accept a job that offered only a third of the salary of his previous job in London. People thought he was mad but he went on to have great success here and was the key figure behind the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. He criticised the way the country was run during the boom years. He said: “A soft landing from the Celtic Tiger was never going to happen. It was inconceivable”.

James Maddock
Lead speaker on the day was Head of Global Occupier Services EMEA at Cushman & Wakefield, James Maddock, who spoke about what he sees in store for the property industry and the world in the future. He said that in the property industry there is the widely known gender gap, but something that is not talked about as often is the age gap. He said we need to start listening to younger people more.

New technology
The industry can and should be using data better he stated, revealing that only 0.5% of real estate data is used effectively.
He noted how the sharing economy is becoming more and more prominent. Companies such as Airbnb and Uber are having a very real impact on the world.
Robots and work automation will have a serious effect on the way things work very soon. This may impact severely on countries such as China, where manufacturing is a large provider of jobs. Adidas, the German clothing brand, is to move some of its manufacturing to Germany and the US next year where it will be done by robots. Ironically, the robots that will make the shoes will be made in China. James then spoke about how 3D printing is another invention that is already changing the world and solving problems. Astronauts on board the International Space Station needed to fix some equipment but the spanner they needed broke. In the past they would have had to just make do but they used their 3D printer to print a replacement spanner in metal and then fixed the equipment. This may change things for businesses that have to use a lot of storage space to house spare parts. He said the most successful companies are the ones who look at what other industries are doing. The idea is to look at your comparators, not just your competitors – see what they’re doing better than you are.

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From left: Áine Myler, SCSI Director General; Dermot O’Leary; Claire Solon, SCSI President; Shane Coleman, Newstalk; and, Alexandra Notay, Places for People.

Panel discussion
After Maddock finished, he took part in a group discussion on the issues raised during the day with Nick Lyons of Bank of Ireland, Roland O’Connell of Savills, AnnMarie Farrelly of Fingal County Council and John Bruder of Burlington Real Estate. O’Connell said that the industry needs to do better at communicating with the public and politicians. He said that during the recession, many within the profession saw that there was going to be a housing shortage but this was not communicated effectively. He wants members to be more vocal.
New Director General of the SCSI, Áine Myler closed proceedings by thanking all attendees and speakers and saying it is important that all surveyors remain flexible and open to change.

Colm Quinn

Colm Quinn

Journalist and Sub-Editor with Think Media Ltd.