In Conversation with… Lesley Roberts
January 21, 2013
There’s a plethora of leading figures in the property, investment, finance and charity sectors who we’re regularly in conversation with, many of whom are guest authors for PRSupdate – and here we share more about them, their roles, priorities and backgrounds. 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:
- Stuart Corbyn, Chairman of Qatari Diar Delancey, East Village Operations
- Lesley-Anne Avis, National Chairman of the Association of Women in Property
- Mark Weedon, Head of Residential and UK Alternative Real Estate at IPD (Investment Property Databank)
Today we speak with Lesley Roberts, Associate Director of Asset Management, Young Group:
Can you tell us a little about your background?
Since arriving in the country 8 years ago I’ve been very busy working in the central London property market. One of my greatest achievements was the turnaround of a £100m residential portfolio taken over in receivership following the ‘credit crunch’. Prior to living in London I worked in Australia within the mining, shipping and heavy industry sectors specialising in stakeholder relations, media and community engagement for many years.
How did you get into the property sector?
Unintentionally! I started working on a temporary assignment which turned into a career. There is a very long and some say intriguing story behind it, but unfortunately there is not enough space to write about it here, that will have to be for another time…
How have you noticed the industry changing since you started?
I believe that operators in the industry are, for the most part, improving because competition is strong and more and more agents are choosing to self regulate. There is still a long way to go but it is getting better.
What affect did the financial crisis have on the industry?
To be honest, I was so busy at the time focusing on the turnaround of a 500 flat portfolio that I didn’t have much time to reflect on the industry itself except to say that it was a very difficult time for a lot of people and it weeded out the non-performers, highlighting the strengths of those who knew what they were doing and doing it well.
What is the biggest step that can be taken to attract investors into the PRS?
Returns are an obvious answer, but it’s not as simple as that for say, the institutional investor. The perceived risk of a non-regulated industry, coupled with a government that is wont to change its mind on tax structures and REITs without warning raises concerns for large scale PRS investment and rightly so. These concerns need to be adequately addressed before we will see this level of investment from the heavy weight investors, such as pension funds. However, I do believe we moving in the right direction and are on the cusp of some major change.
Regulation of the PRS is a current hot button political topic – What are your thoughts on the matter?
I welcome the idea of regulating letting and sales agents, but not regulating smaller scale landlords. There is already a multitude of regulation and legislation in place which councils struggle to cover and enforce, so add to that and all you will get is more backlog with nil effect. Furthermore, the onus on landlords is ever increasing and increased landlord regulation just adds further cost and red tape which ultimately means that only big private landlords will be able to afford to be involved with PRS which could result in “McDonaldisation” of the property industry. That’s not an outcome I welcome.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your role?
Balance! My role covers the Young London operational side, Young Group institutional client projects and strategic PRS / Social Housing consultancy as well as Asset Management of around 50 clients so there is never a typical day and demand from all sides. It’s busy and exhilarating and I love it.
What would you say is your most memorable moment or proudest achievement?
When I was in South Africa recently I took an elephant for a walk (the concept of which is pure self denial!). To walk in front and lead an animal four metres tall, weighing 7,000 kilograms with 2 metre tusks was humbling, intimidating, scary and liberating. I’d do it again in an instant.
Finally, do you have a favourite London landmark?
I have a particular fondness for the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. It’s a classic building with a twist. The light blue brick neatly incorporated into a very conservative structure is subliminally creative. The turrets have delicate detail which is elegant and dainty but yet the building is imposing and exudes stoic “Britishness”. I also quite like what’s inside, Natural History is a never ending source of wonder. I’m a huge fan of Charles Darwin, could you tell??