Seasoned valuer blazes a path for more women in the field

Gwendoline Callaghan - being a valuer is a great job for those with an eye for detail.
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax

Gwendoline Callaghan - being a valuer is a great job for those with an eye for detail.

When Gwendoline Callaghan became a trainee valuer in the late 1970s, there were a few women in the profession - they just had a habit of leaving.

"There were always a few dotted about but not many stayed long term, which is a real shame. "

Some went down the family route and did not return. Others became academics. And even fewer women even thought of valuation as a career option. Neither originally did Callaghan.

Gwendoline Callaghan - being a valuer is a great job for those with an eye for detail.
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Gwendoline Callaghan - being a valuer is a great job for those with an eye for detail.

"There are no television programmes made about them, children have no connection with them. For most people, it's when they buy their first home and the bank says we need a valuation.

"Where I first heard about valuers was [insurance firm] National Mutual where I first worked when I first left school. I was enrolled to be a nurse. "

Callaghan says she was always interested in property "but I didn't really know what the property job options were apart from architecture and I was no good at tech drawing. Girls were not allowed to do tech drawing".

And so while waiting for her nursing course to start, she worked as a temp for an insurance company, where she came across valuation reports for the first time.

"I thought it looked really interesting."

"Insurance companies provided mortgages and so their policy holders applied to the insurance company for a mortgage. They also provided a sponsorship programme where I could go off and do the exams."

However, National Mutual kept no valuers on staff and so she was taken on as a trainee by the Valuation Department, the predecessor to QV, which did all the council and government department valuations.

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"It was a very broad training ground."

Callaghan is now a director of Colliers International's Wellington valuation business.

She still loves the job.  "People think property is property ... [but] they're different to us. A shop is different from a shopping centre, is different from an office building, is different from an industrial property, is different from a block of land that some body might to want to develop."

And there's been new considerations along the way: hilltop installations, carbon credits, green buildings, air space, differences in construction materials, hot desking.

All these things have a bearing on a property's worth, and research is crucial to a valuer's job.

The advent of the Internet makes life a lot easier in that regard. But it's still a battle for valuers to determine a property's worth when there's missing information.

Each valuation is a journey, Callaghan says.

"You have to have an inquiring mind because you have to be a detective to find out information.  Because a property is so often like a Pandora's Box and it's not until you start investigating it that you find out the information there is and the information there isn't."

Other qualities she would advise an aspiring valuer to have is a good memory, the ability to write well, and excellent numeracy skills.

This is because the job will involve being able to read engineering reports and insurance policies, work out discounted cash flow models and analyse case law.

"You have to analyse the sales really carefully to determine what the rate of return was and sometimes properties have all kinds of weird aspects to them," Callaghan says.

"Like, they might have airspace above that you can build another three floors. So then you have to decide how much of the price paid for the property was attributable to that.

"If a property's earthquake-prone, then you hope that you have obtained a strengthening cost and deducted that from the strengthened value but it's not always the case.

"And sometimes nobody knows the strengthening cost, because the cost of finding these things out can be really expensive.

"Our dream would be that every property comes with a bundle of documents."

Getting an accurate value on a building is important both to potential buyers or sellers, landlords and tenants.

Buildings often come with a mixture of tenants on each floor, apartments on the roof, several floors of carparks and ground floor retail.

And each lease must be scrutinised to work out who owns the carpet and the blinds, how modern the lift and airconditioning is, and whether the rent covers rates and insurance.

Insurance policies become important, says Callaghan, because if the income does not include it, "the premium will be too low and you will have to assess a market based premium, which might be a lot higher, which will come off the income".

"The main drivers of value are rent and expenses and the higher the expenses, the lower the return to the owner, so we have to make sure that the expenses that we are using are sufficient. And sometimes no one knows them."

Callaghan became a registered valuer in 1983. She became the first female member of the Valuation Registration Board, the industry's disciplinary body, in 1996.

"I have always been an very enthusiastic promoter of the profession because I've found it very interesting and challenging and rewarding, trying to help people make soundly based decisions about their property deliberations.

Being part of the board proved a great insight into standards and ethics, training and education. "Because you saw the young people coming through and applying for registration and we examined them, and we also saw problems that could come out of valuations that can lead to disciplinary inquiries.

"You would see the good and the bad, and it was a very valuable experience."

She also joined the Land Valuation Tribunal, a body which consider value issues between statutory bodies, councils, acquiring authorities and members of the public, establishing compensation and rulings on rating value objections.

Callaghan may have chosen a fairly conservative career but her background was not. Both her parents were activists and she grew up going to protests. The Springbok Tour still sticks in her mind.

But her alternative upbringing still shines through. For more than a decade, she has lived lives in a converted bank, in a country town not far from Wellington, a lifestyle that she and her partner love.

Wellington and its property market are ever-changing to Callaghan. At the moment, the city seems to have shaken off its post-global financial crisis blues and concerns about its seismic situation seem to have settled down.

Valuers send people to auctions to gauge the mood and bidding, and at a recent auction the room was full.

"It's a barometer of how the market is behaving and things have definitely improved," she says.

"People are becoming more informed and knowledgeable about the issues and I think a challenge like seismic strengthening gives people a chance to come up with new engineering solutions.

"Wellington always been built to a stronger seismic standard, anyway."

 - Stuff

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