In Conversation: Judienne Wood

Judienne Wood

There are a wealth of leading figures in the property, investment, finance and charity sectors and we want to speak to them about their work. If you would like to feature in this series, or to suggest someone who might, please get in touch through our contact us page or let us know on twitter.

Why not take a lucky dip into our In Conversation archives and discover:
Daniel Moylan, Deputy Chairman of Transport for London
Liz Peace, Chief Executive at British Property Federation
Jo Causon, Chief Executive of the Institute of Customer Service

Today we speak with Judienne Wood, Non-Executive Director at Young London.

You recently joined Young London as a Non-Executive Director, why?

I was introduced to Neil Young because he was looking for someone who could provide more experience for the property management area of Young London. I have been in the business for over thirty years and to be honest it takes a lot to impress me. But I have to say that I was genuinely blown away by the caring culture which Neil has created. Many companies say they care but it immediately became clear to me, and this has been proven since I joined, that Young London really do care about their clients, their clients’ assets and the tenants that they place within those assets.

Can you sum up your role as a Non-Executive Director?

With my many years of experience in the industry I offer independent opinion and advice based upon that experience in the lettings business I hope that providing this independent viewpoint will help Young London to meet its goals.

You have a great deal of estate agency experience – can you tell us more about your background?

I fell into lettings almost by accident in 1980 and found it was not only an area which fascinated me but also provided a continual challenge. My first position was with Marsh and Parsons, which was then an independent Estate Agency with four branches, three of which offered a lettings service. After eight years it was time to move on and I joined Mays Rentals, which was a Surrey based agency with 17 branches. It later become part of Nationwide and now forms part of the Countrywide Lettings empire. I then joined Barnard Marcus, a London based Estate Agency (which is part of Royal SunAlliance) to run their lettings division and then took a wider role in RSA as National Lettings ( Sales) director. This brought me into contact with all the letting branches within the Group, from Glasgow to Cornwall. It was quite a challenge and an eye-opener and I certainly learned that although it was the same business up and down the country, it was certainly not a case of one size fits all!

This experience proved invaluable when I joined Bradford & Bingley, which consisted of 72 branches nationwide. It was of course the top job in the industry, perhaps nominally, the pinnacle of my career and I thought it would be my last. However, some 18 months in the job and Bradford & Bingley decided to sell the Estate Agency side of their business. It was no secret that Countrywide would be buying the business, and to be frank I didn’t fancy working for Countrywide. I have always been a free spirit and managed my business in my own way and I knew that with Countrywide I would be constantly carrying out someone else’s plans and so knowing that Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward were looking for a Lettings Director I picked up the phone and called Lee Watts. The rest, as they say, is history. I loved being back in London with the special challenges that a London market brings. I retired from KFH early this year, after seven very happy years. I have to say that with all my roles over the past thirty years two things are true – I never stopped being surprised and I never stopped learning.

Can you tell us about your involvement with ARLA?

I joined ARLA way back in 1981. In those days you had to be formally invited to join, and I was taken out to lunch by Sam Lipfriend, who was a council member, and vetted! I obviously passed muster and a year or so later I was invited onto the Council and then subsequently became the Chair. It was during my time as Chair that I introduced ARLA to its logo – which has been subsequently updated, and along with a colleague, Liz McCallum introduced industry training – and many of those courses still exist today. In those days ARLA was nothing like the size it is today but my promise on being offered the Chair was to take ARLA and increase the membership, which was primarily London based, nationwide. I was delighted at my last annual conference, before stepping down from the Chair, to be told by a member firm that I had taken ARLA from a ‘like minds club’ to a truly national organisation. All in all I was involved with ARLA for 26 years.

What do you consider to be the main challenges facing lettings agency today?

One of the great strengths of the lettings sector is that it is far less vulnerable to the economic cycle than other areas of property industry. Having said that I think the biggest challenge for the sector is to be seen in its own right as thoroughly professional. As it happens to some the increase in regulation has facilitated this process. It is no longer just a case of opening an office plugging in your computer and going to work. The other challenge facing the industry is providing the necessary training and education to cope with the increased regulations and legislation placed upon both landlords and agents, it is no longer about just ‘sales’.

The private rented sector is currently unregulated. What are your views on this?

To my mind there is sufficient regulation and legislation which protect landlords and tenants, for agents to be self regulating. I don’t think any amount of regulation will ever stop the rogue agent running off with their clients’ money. But the public can choose an agent which belongs to a regulatory body such as ARLA or NALS – where clients’ monies are protected. Referring back to the previous question, one of the challenges is to get a wider public understanding and awareness of organisations such as ARLA which do self regulate and protect clients’ money in the same way that ABTA does in the travel industry. After all, would you ever dream of booking a holiday through a travel agent which didn’t have the ABTA logo? But how many tenants and landlords pick an agent without the ARLA or NALS logo? It is all about educating the public?

You are closely involved with the NFoPP Technical Awards; how important is education in the sector?

My involvement with the technical awards has finished and I am now working on the new Certificates. Such was my fervent belief that the lettings industry needed education that, as a council member on the board of ARLA, along with a colleague, I developed training courses in both the technical and practical side of letting and lettings management and later on introduced the ARLA competency test. Lettings and property management is multi-faceted – and most of it governed by law. The breadth of knowledge and understanding needed to carry out any function within the industry is immense. A letting agent owes its client a duty of care which inter alia means they must be fully educated on all aspects of the business from statutory regulations to marketing!

What is the most rewarding aspect of your current role/s?

The ability to pass on 30 years of knowledge, expertise and experience to others. Sometimes you only realise how much you have learnt and know, and indeed take for granted, when you move into a new environment.

What has been your most memorable career moment or proudest achievement?

It’s difficult to choose between being the first female chair of ARLA, a post which I held for six years and which culminated in being able to persuade Lord Caithness, the then Housing Minister to attend the annual conference, and being the National Lettings Director fro Bradford & Bingley which at that time was the largest lettings agency in the country.

How do you expect things to change in the lettings industry over the next 5 years?

Lettings is a very labour intensive business and the need to be more technically astute to facilitate what is also a very fast moving business will see it becoming much more technically advanced. Every indication is that the property market is going to remain depressed for up to five years and I believe that like in the late 80’s early 90’s this will represent both a challenge and an opportunity for lettings, fewer people will be buying and so they will need to rent instead. At the same time the estate agencies will look to lettings as a steady reliable stream of income to support their business. This of course will mean the lettings pie will be sliced very thinly. The difference between now and the last property dip is that the investor/buy- to-let landlord will be finding it more difficult to get the funding to bring more property into the market.

What do you consider to be London’s greatest asset?

Apart from its history and culture I think it is its world wide reputation as a leader in the financial services field. This brings in investment, jobs and people. Unfortunately the leading members of the EU are trying to ruin probably because they don’t have the same strength in financial services as a result of their proposed tax on financial transaction which will not be implemented world-wide.

Finally, if you were Major of London for a day, what would be top of your priority list?

The construction of a new major airport in the Thames estuary to replace Heathrow and Gatwick and to become the most important European hub for travel.

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