News and Views

Charles Hoff’s Life as a Surveyor - March 1960 - March 2018

1.      Why did you get into property?

In the 1950’s there was no careers department at school so my father, who was a Branch Manager for Commercial Union in Norwich, discussed Architecture and Engineering with me but in the end, Surveying won the day. In March 1960 (just after my 18th birthday), I enrolled at the College of Estate Management at St Albans Grove to take the Auctioneers and the RICS exams (no ‘A’ levels were required, only 4 ‘O’ levels)!, however, I failed the Auctioneers exam because 33% of the marks available were on a question involving lamp posts which I simply could not do. I qualified in 1964 and became a Fellow in 1979.

2.      Give me a brief history of your professional career

Before going to College my father got on the ‘dog and bone’ to the senior partner Eddie Saunders of Richard Ellis, (now CBRE), who were the Surveyors for Commercial Union (I still see his son Richard). I went to see Eddie a few weeks later duly suited and booted and wearing my Father’s Trilby hat.  After finishing college in 1962, I was offered a job with Richard Ellis at £5.00 per week and two weeks holiday a year.  Shortly after I had joined in the Professional Department following that I went to City Agency, where I met Bertie Davies of more later. Then Idris Pearce (now Sir Idris) poached me to work for him at 26 Dover Street and in 1967 I was sent to undertake the Scottish Revaluation for Rates in Glasgow where RE had recently opened an Office.  Two years later when I asked to return to London there was no longer a position so I got a job with DTZ working for George Grover in the Professional Department. After 18 months, I realised that I was not a large firm ‘animal’. Bertie Davies was now a Partner at Newton Perkins and searching for an Agent. He persuaded Geoffrey Perkins to take me on in 1969 and I found myself a niche as a General Practice Surveyor.

3.      Who has been your greatest influence?

I owe a lot to Idris Pearce, as he guided me in the early days. He was a Major in the TA 135 Survey Regiment where I spent 2 years as an Officer Cadet and ended up as Second Lieutenant. However, I suppose the person I have to thank most is Bertie Davies, firstly for taking me on but also for supporting me through difficult personal times.

4.      What is the biggest deal you have done and what was your fondest?

Always remember the biggest ones are not always the sweetest. One of my most satisfying was a Compulsory Purchase where I acted for a wine merchant who leased arches underneath London Bridge. We had survived the Northern Line escalator construction through the Premises but now BR wanted them for access to the main station and the Jubilee Line. We were arguing about the temporary loss of profits for months with pages of accounting and cost detail. Finally, my client said to give up but I said let’s have one more go, we ended up with £50,000. The biggest deal was the £30M sale of Bunge House, 36 St Mary Axe in 1989. We demolished it before completion to avoid the requirement to elect for VAT which came into effect in April 1989.

5.      What has been the biggest change since you began and what is the biggest professional challenge that office agency faces?       

The biggest change would be the deregulation of the banks in 1986 along with technology.  The City at that time was not geared up to the increased office demand mainly because of resistance to high rise buildings and fragmented ownership not allowing for large enough sites. Offices did not stray from the ‘banking area’ as they have to be served by the ‘Runners’, who were messengers that ran between the banks before IT. Developments such as the Broadgate and Canary Wharf had a significant impact as they were able to provide the large office space by then in demand and ultimately, forced the City to wake up. The biggest challenge is Brexit as nobody has a clue where it’s going to lead. Even recently, an EU Spokesman said that ‘Services’ could not be part of the single market, in particular, the banking and insurance sectors are likely to suffer.  Canary Wharf has stopped building offices and are now building flats. I am not sure who is going to take all the new offices going up in the City especially with the number of ‘mixed use’ areas increasing. The biggest challenge for the City, with the help of politicians, is to come up with a strategy to fill the voids which may be left by Brexit.

6.      Where is your favourite spot in the City of London? There used to be a pub at the bottom of Fish Street Hill (can’t recall the name) where we used to drink gallons of beer.  On One City Festival night, a friend (now deceased) had drunk so much that as he poured it into his mouth it poured out again!

7.      What is the best piece of advice you could provide to a graduate joining the market today?

My advice to a new graduate is to develop a range of experience and knowledge that gives your clients the best advice and yourself options to switch track in a changing world.  During my career, I have tackled all sorts of issues from acquisitions to disposals, rent reviews, lease renewals, valuations, building work and rating. Do not forget that it is rare for a solicitor to visit a site, therefore, be able to draft meaningful HOTS and scrutinise lease terms relevant to a surveyor. Lastly, when preparing for a meeting or negotiation look at both points of view to anticipate the other side’s arguments and work out the counter to them Always ask why this and why that if you don’t understand.

8. What does Charles Hoff get up to in his free time?

Cabinet Making, DIY, Photography game fishing and culinary things.

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