• Bio: Chris Carter Keall is the Head of UK Funds for Valad Property Group

Chris Carter Keall

How I got started

I became interested in property while in my last year at school and wanted to find a career that gave variety, ability to travel, flexibility and the opportunity to meet people. My parents knew a surveyor and, at the age of 17, I spent a week with him while he undertook structural surveys on commercial buildings in my home city of Bristol.

I thought this was interesting, but preferred the idea of buying and selling and trading, rather than the details of how to construct commercial property. Therefore, I followed up this week with a summer placement with a Bristol firm of surveyors. Having enjoyed this, I chose to undertake a course in estates management in London. The sandwich type course offered two years’ study with a year in industry and a final year to achieve the degree.

The move to live in London, the location of the college and the type of fellow student was as much of an education as the lectures. I still remain convinced a number of the students thought they were going to study the management of large country estates, including the student who would regularly have a bag full of game at Monday morning lectures.

That was 20 years ago and my role today is very different to both the course I completed and the profession I imagined.

I am head of UK funds for a global fund manager; I look after a range of funds and companies investing in commercial property. Today, I rarely undertake surveying tasks, but have done so for much of my career so generally know what to ask and when (that said, everyone is learning new things about property in this market!).

However, the career paths are varied and provide something for everyone, these include:

  • Leasing agency.
  • Investment agency.
  • Management.
  • Project management.
  • Development.
  • Funds management.
  • Asset management.
  • Institutional investment management.
  • Property company.
  • Investment funds.

My sandwich year at Lloyds Bank

Working for Lloyds Bank in the City of London in 1988–89 was an introduction to the world of the wealthy and influential, without the income or knowledge. However, it was great to see.

Assisting in the management of the UK retail banking portfolio provided practical experience of the theory outlined in lectures and, being more practical than theoretical in my make up, proved much more enjoyable.

Joing a new team

By the age of 30, I had been fortunate to be involved in a number of large-scale deals and enjoyed the agency world for nine years. However, there was something missing and I felt that this was the full involvement from finding the asset, through working on making it a success and then the sale.

I was offered the opportunity to join a forward-thinking institution. The team comprised a number of individuals who had a great deal of experience and I was charged with a colleague to run the offices and industrial assets within the life fund. I will always remember the first morning where the investment team met and the chief executive asked ‘what do you think of the market and where do you think things are heading?’

Setting up property funds

The continued success of property in the late 1990s led to a number of institutions looking at funds and offshore structures where debt could be used to enhance returns. I was involved in the setting up of a Jersey property unit trust, the completion of a commercial mortgage backed security (CMBS), the sale of a fund management company and provided an executive role for a listed property company. I currently run four investment funds, with holdings across the UK in all sectors of commercial property.

The future for me

The only sure thing is that things will not stay the same. Investors’ perceptions of commercial property have been badly affected by the retail open-ended funds effect. The market was adversely affected by the so-called ‘re-rating of property yields’.

Debt was used on the basis that capital values never fall. Property is a cyclical market and individuals seeking a career in property should be aware that this will continue.

We are at the bottom of the cycle at the moment, but the future will be shaped by those within the sector.

We must therefore make sure that we utilise the skills that we have to provide investors with the returns they need.

As a result, the career of the property adviser will need skills in some, or all, of the following:

  • Negotiation.
  • Construction knowledge.
  • Law.
  • Economics.
  • Debt and equity.
  • Valuation principles.
  • Management of teams.
  • Report writing.
  • Information technology.
  • Mathematical knowledge and expertise.
  • Languages.
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