12 April 2002

Far more than selling land…

Land agency can be one of the most rewarding rural

careers, as Tim Relf discovers from a leading agent

CHARLIE Gooch is in the Cranbrook office of FPDSavills talking about a deal hes just done on a mower.

The quote hes been given is £175 below any other. That may sound small beer – the estate for which the mower is destined costs £0.5m/year to run – but it highlights two qualities a land agent needs: a commercial mind and an attention to detail. "Imagine," he says, "if we could save the same percentage on every amount we spend!"

Kent-based Charlie, a director of FPDSavills, has worked for the firm for 24 years. "I love the job," he says. "You rarely do the same thing two days running. If you want a varied, interesting life, you cant beat it."

The role of a land agent has changed greatly over those 24 years. The traditional image of hunting, shooting and fishing is completely outdated. "Its become much more commercial."

Land agency is, he says, "about looking after and caring for the property assets of your clients with a view to maximising the income from, or capital value of, those assets".

But this definition embraces a range of disciplines – everything from agricultural law and finance to building regulations and health and safety. "Youve got to be flexible. Youve got to be 100 different things."

Most of all, however, its about people. "Communication skills are vital – you have to deal with so many different people.

"My oldest client is in his 90s; my youngest is in his 20s," says Charlie. "One day recently I was trying to persuade someone to leave a flea-infested caravan so we could sell the farm; another day arranging a tea party for Prince Charles!"

&#42 Key decisions

Playing a key part in the countryside and its communities is extremely rewarding, he says. "You take decisions that affect the land and the people on it. Its a real responsibility – but you can make a difference.

"The sense of continuity is satisfying, too. When I eventually retire, the estates that Ive been involved with will pass on and Ill know Ill have played my part. Theyll be in good heart for whoever comes next to do things their own way.

"I also enjoy agreeing a strategy for an estate and then fulfilling that strategy," he says, highlighting the example of one where improving – and renting out – the cottages saw the rent roll increase fourfold.

As well as communication skills, a broad agricultural knowledge is also vital to do this job well. "You cant go and talk credibly to a farmer if youve got no idea what a tonne of wheat is worth.

"It can be hard work. Early starts and late nights are part of the territory. Youve got to really want to do it. You probably wont make a fortune either – but youll have a really interesting lifestyle and a fascinating career."

Though land agency is sometimes seen as the "poor relation" of commercial or development surveying, its a great basic grounding, says Charlie. "Its multi-faceted nature means it can open doors to many different other careers, too."

&#42 Clients become friends

But there must be a downside? "Its a real downer if you work really hard to pitch for work and dont get the instruction. The success rate can be varied – because theres always someone wholl do it for half the money. They probably wont do it half as well though!"

So what would Charlie have done had he not opted for this career? Maybe, he muses, become a farmer? Or a vet? "But I never really thought about doing anything else – I always wanted to do this."

And then hes back on one of his favourite subjects. "I just get such a buzz from doing deals.

"Perhaps the most satisfying part of all, though, is seeing the results of your work. That, and when a client becomes a friend."

Charlie Gooch: "If you want a varied, interesting career, you cant beat land agency."