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Commercial, residential or rural? Graduates in property need to decide which market they will begin their career in.

Commercial, residential or rural: which market should I start in as a graduate property surveyor?

Graduates in property choose whether to enter the residential, commercial or rural property market. Find out some of the differences between markets and how to choose the right one for you.
Transactions in commercial tend to be larger and involve longer processes than residential. – James Mason, Knight Frank

Choosing your graduate property market: commercial graduate property careers | residential graduate property careers | rural graduate property careers

There are three main real estate markets in which property professionals work: commercial, residential and rural. Before you start your applications for a graduate surveying job, you need a good idea of which market you want to work in, because whether you apply to a single-market or multi-market firm, you’re likely to have to choose one market when you select a graduate scheme. Making an informed choice about your market can help you show recruiters that you are truly motivated to work for their particular firm and in that role – something that you are likely to be asked about at interview.

Graduates in commercial and residential property tend to work for firms based in the City of London and national firms, as well as smaller specialist firms. Unsurprisingly, rural firms are often based in towns or small cities in or near rural areas.

In recent years, a growing number of traditionally commercial clients have also been making transactions in the residential market. Richard Thomas, an associate director at BNP Paribas Real Estate, explains: 'The difference between working in residential and commercial property has narrowed considerably in recent years. Residential is now seen as something that commercial clients can invest in to generate a return.' This is especially the case in development and asset management.

Graduate careers in commercial property

The commercial property market concerns property that is used by businesses, such as shopping centres, convenience stores, office blocks and hotels. This variety is one reason why Richard Boyle, a commercial surveyor at BNP Paribas Real Estate, likes the commercial market: 'While other jobs may only give you commercial perspective of the domain you work in, I get complete variety from the range of property types and businesses I deal with.' Especially at larger commercial firms, clients tend to be institutions, such as pension companies, REITs (real estate investment trusts) and fund management companies, as opposed to individuals.

‘Transactions in commercial tend to be larger and involve longer processes than residential,’ says David Mumby, a partner and office head in residential lettings at Knight Frank, and, because of the length of time a deal can take to complete, contact with clients is frequent. ‘Decisions made in commercial property tend to be on a formal, businesslike basis, compared with residential, where decisions might be made because of life changes,’ says James Mason, a partner in capital markets, also at Knight Frank.

Commercial firms typically have main offices in larger cities and commercial centres.

You might be suited to commercial property if...

  • You have a good awareness of finance. ‘I wouldn’t advise graduates that they need an in-depth knowledge, but you do need to have an awareness of what is going on in the wider financial markets as this can inform the decisions clients make,’ says James.
  • You enjoy keeping up with current affairs. The commercial market is highly sensitive to events in the wider economy, so professionals need to keep on top of news in the sectors that their clients are part of.
  • Money is something that motivates you. There is the potential to earn a lot in the commercial sector (although this is not untrue of residential and rural). Find out about graduate surveyor salaries.

There is a shortage of residential surveyors, so entering this market could allow early responsibility and quick progression.

Graduate careers in residential property

The residential property market concerns property that is used for living in and not for business purposes. This includes housing developments, individual homes and apartment blocks. Student accommodation is sometimes treated as residential; other times, rural. Clients tend to be high-net-worth individuals and family trusts.

Richard Thomas sees residential as a tangible way of helping people achieve a common aspiration: 'Everyone can appreciate a nice house and the desire to own a home.' Transactions may not happen as frequently as in the commercial market, partly because they are often linked to major life events. But that isn’t to say you can’t build long-term relationships with clients: ‘I love the individual relationships you build with people when they are buying residential property; it can be very emotive and it is usually one of the most important financial decisions they make,’ says David. The aim is to encourage clients to take up the other services offered by the firm. Perhaps a client has used a firm’s residential agency service to acquire some new houses, and would now like the firm to let and manage the properties.

It is less imperative for residential firms to be head-quartered in larger cities and commercial centres than commercial firms, but large residential firms often are.

Within the profession, this market is sometimes referred to as ‘resi’ – but don’t use this term in applications or interviews.

You might be suited to residential property if…

  • You are keen to gain early responsibility and progress quickly. There is a shortage of residential surveyors, so entering this market could allow this.
  • You have good emotional intelligence – you’ll often be dealing with clients at major times of changes in their lives.

Sustainability is of particular concern to rural surveyors.

Graduate careers in rural property

The rural property market concerns all aspects of property in the countryside, including country estates, farms and land. Firms are often rural specialists that deal with commercial and residential property within rural areas, because rural land is used for both residential and commercial purposes (think countryside housing developments, which are residential, or farms, which are businesses).

Rural specialist firms tend to be smaller or regional, and therefore take on fewer graduates than the larger firms in other markets and are less likely to have an official graduate scheme.

A real concern for rural surveyors is sustainability – both in terms of resources, such as wind farms, and for making the best use of land.

You might be suited to rural property if…

  • You have a particular affinity with the countryside.
  • You are interested in sustainability matters.
  • You’d like some of the benefits of working in commercial and residential.
  • You’d prefer to work for a smaller firm and are happy not to be based in a big business district.

How to decide on a property market

You can do the same job functions whichever market you work in but, unsurprisingly, the type of property you will work with differ. The main differences between commercial and residential are the typical nature of transactions and client relationships.

One of the best ways to find out whether you’d like to work in a particular market is to get work experience. Official schemes, such as summer internships, may be structured to allow you to see work in action in several markets, or just one. Either way, an internship is your chance to ask questions and use other people’s experiences to help inform your decisions.