When Opteon regional director Richard Vaughan says “we are living in unprecedented times”, it’s worth listening. He’s not talking about the pandemic, but property prices – which continue to rise despite the New Zealand Government’s attempts to dampen the market. Prices have risen between 25-35% in the past year – between 5 and 10% in the past quarter alone, he says.
“It does make the job difficult. At the end of the day you can only really value on what’s in front of you and the existing conditions,” Richard says.
“The love affair with bricks and mortar continues because property is tangible. But you need to pay extra care and attention and listen to the signals of the market. A key part of our job is to make sure we’re speaking with real estate agents very regularly and watching the auction results.
“When the property market changes, it moves quickly. If it starts to fall, people generally hold onto their houses, but the median price point is now so high that the impact of any change in interest rates will be magnified.”
A long and varied career in valuation
After almost 20 years in the industry, Richard recalls his first experience as “chequered”. He started as a graduate valuer in 2000 – and left soon after. There was a considerable gap between his expectations of his profession, and what he saw happening in reality. “I felt very disillusioned. I couldn’t see a future for myself in the industry.”
He did a few other things, including commercial property management, and travelled overseas for a couple of years. Returning to New Zealand in 2006, he decided to give valuation another go and joined an Auckland firm.
In 2008 he went to the Middle East to help set up a valuation company. As he flew home, he recalls, the storm that was to become the global financial crisis was just taking hold.
In 2011 he joined Sheldons & Partners, a long-established Auckland company, and found a firm that operated in a way that matched his own ideals and values. “It had such a good reputation and was managed with such a steady hand. I jumped at the opportunity to join.”
He rose through the ranks and in 2019, two years after the merger between Sheldons and Opteon, was appointed one of three regional directors for New Zealand.
“The time was right for me. I wanted to focus on my children while they were young; now they were a bit older I wanted to put more energy into my career.”
Valuers trusted for their independence
One of the aspects he is enjoying most in his role is the opportunity to mentor graduate valuers. Each of the regional directors has a graduate who reports directly to them and they also share a graduate.
For young people considering a career in valuation, Richard says the qualities they need are a good work ethic, a desire to succeed and unshakeable integrity since they will come under all sorts of pressures.
“Even the best clients will sometimes try to lean on us but our integrity and professionalism are paramount. The reason the banks want us there is because they trust our independence. The integrity of the business and the industry are vital.”
His final advice to graduates is to work for a good firm with high standards.
Getting out of the office a plus
While he’s enjoying the strategic role as a regional director, he still loves the field work – especially in the midst of a NZ property boom.
“The best part of being a valuer is that you get to go out and about for at least half of the day, then you come back and write up your report.”
Every day is different, says Richard. No two homes are the same. “It’s very interesting. You get to see how the other half lives, every echelon of society. It’s such a personal thing to go into someone’s home. I think it’s a privilege.”
And he’s seen the best and the worst. “I’ve been to some magnificent homes. And I’ve walked away from others and had to throw out my shoes.”
Some of the inspections are lodged in his memory. One was a hoarder’s house where he had to crawl on hands and knees to get under the clutter of decades of newspapers and magazines.
A truly memorable visit was to a house in Campbells Bay, on Auckland’s North Shore, that went on to win the New Zealand Architecture Awards.
“It wasn’t an ostentatious house,” Richard recalls, “just exquisite in terms of materials and craftsmanship.”
At the time, it was the most expensive house he had ever valued. He can only wonder what it’s worth today!