In Conversation with Andrew Smith, 29 January 2021

Don’t stay in your comfort zone

In the third SPR ‘In Conversation’ talk, SPR President Andrew Smith suggested that property researchers are often at their most valuable when they feel uncomfortable about the views they are expressing.  Speaking to Tom Duncan of Mayfair Capital, Andrew recalled that when advising on transactions there could often be pressure to back up an existing viewpoint rather than arguing against it, which could sound negative – but if that criticism was based on sound data and analysis, it could prove to be valuable.

Andrew also noted how during his time at insurers AMP in the late ‘eighties, research was key to their decision to invest in some of the earliest UK retail parks, helping the organisation to get ahead of its competitors, at least for a while.

Drawing on experience that began as an ‘accidental researcher’ at Pearl Insurance (later acquired by AMP) and included a stint as Head of Investment Strategy at Aberdeen Asset Management, prior to his current role as CIO at Hearthstone, he expressed excitement that research and researchers had played a big role in the changes that have transformed real estate as an asset class.  Research has gone way beyond its initial focus on information gathering to have a major influence on investment strategy and decision making.
Andrew stressed that property research can take you in many different directions, making it important for those embarking on a career in the field to keep an open mind about where they might be heading, particularly as real estate is changing so fast.  In part this stems from the trend to internationalisation that he has experienced through his career, but also from the emergence of new sectors.  For example, he suggested that UK residential investment is an area of strong potential growth where research has been relatively limited thus far.

He proposed that data analysis is likely to remain a crucial skill for researchers, even if there are problems with the availability of market data, which he put down to the predominance of ‘commercial’ considerations.  There had been calls for more data sharing since his earliest days in research, but progress had been disappointing, despite the fact that the tools for analysing such data have improved dramatically.

Asked by an audience member about his most bizarre experience as a property researcher, Andrew cited an occasion that had added to his suspicion of data sources.  An asset manager for one of his organisation’s shopping centres had claimed a dramatic increase in footfall, only for it to later emerge that the data had been severely corrupted by a spider that had set up home in the counting machine.

Tim Horsey