After 30 turbulent years in the commercial property sector, some things remain constant

As I look back on 30 years with DM Hall, working and dealing with some of the best people in the profession and in commercial property, it is difficult to avoid mixed feelings.

Recessions have come and gone, the commercial market has collapsed and risen again and the nature of personal communication within the profession has changed out of all recognition.

But some things remain constant, and I am reminded of this when I think of one of my first clients, with whom I still maintain a strong business relationship, Pravesh (Bubbles) Randev, and latterly his brother Rahul.

When I first met Bubbles, he was running a small lock-up pub, The Rock, in the large Dunbartonshire housing estate of Bellsmyre, a bold venture for a budding leisure entrepreneur who was barely out of secondary education at the time.

Thirty years later, he and his brother now run a valuable estate of hospitality properties in some of Glasgow’s most desirable suburbs, including the Eagle Lodge in Bishopbriggs, Garvies in Milngave, The Grove in Lenzie and The Larder in Bearsden, not to mention a sizeable property investment portfolio.

As the licensed trade has gone through convulsions caused by changing social habits, a shifting demographic, the smoking ban and new drink-driving limits, they have been in the vanguard of a new type of classy, food-led, family-friendly outlets which provide a genuine service to their communities.

The primary constant has been their attitude to their business. They have worked hard, chosen good venues, shown fiscal prudence and sought appropriate professional guidance. They are a case study in how to evolve and survive in changing times.

And times have certainly changed since I was first starting to wonder what I would do with my life as I came to the end of school. I needn’t, as it happened, have worried.

A team from the Royal Bank of Scotland came in to Bearsden Academy like Army recruiters and scooped up many of the fifth year students who had a few Highers to their name. University as an option just did not come into it.

As it happened, The Royal was not for me and I joined DM Hall, where I have been fruitfully engaged ever since and now hold the title of Principal Commercial Partner at the firm.

In those days, private individuals simply were not involved in commercial property, apart from a few very wealthy families. Most industrial and retail sites were held by property companies, and the big brewers – Scottish & Newcastle and Whitbread – had a stranglehold on the pub trade.

That all changed with the Big Bang in the UK financial sector when banks became keen to grow their debt books and started to lend to individuals such as husband and wife teams in the lifestyle end of the leisure sector.

As the money taps were opened, other amateur developers and investors emerged, moving into small individual industrial parades and retail units. DM Hall has always served individuals through its residential side and was well-placed to expand its personal service to these commercial property clients.

This trickle of private entrepreneurship turned into a flood with buy-to-let, a sector whose pendulum is only now swinging the other way as a result of swingeing tax and regulatory changes.

After the chaos of 2008, banks are now largely once again fulfilling their proper traditional funding role – averse to risk and measured in their assessment of risk. That said, there is currently plenty of funding available for suitable investment opportunities with a good business case.

Perhaps the greatest changes I have seen have been in technology and social interaction. Without seeming like the office curmudgeon, when I started out information was exchanged by word of mouth, either by phone or – shockingly by today’s standards – in the pub.

Now email is the sine qua non. It was never meant to replace conversation, but it essentially has. It is now used as a record of conversations that used to be based on individual trust and professional integrity.

And now much information is held on databases published by various subscription websites, meaning opinions are being based on arguably less reliable sources, which should only really be used as a signpost towards valuation evidence.

That said, I have been delighted to see the back of carbon copies of documents and word processors which could only save 200 words at a time. Advancing age does not mean that I cannot see some of the benefits of technology.

But the lessons of three decades of the leisure property market are best encapsulated by Bubbles and Rahul. The tides of commerce may ebb and flow, but a good venue which keeps the customer happy will always float to the top.

Alan Gordon is Principal Commercial Partner, based in the Glasgow North office of DM Hall Chartered Surveyors.

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