An interview with Justin Mason

We sat down with Justin Mason for a cup of tea and to discuss his new business, the market for property valuation services and his plans for developing his practice.

Justin, you've recently launched your own consultancy. We've known each other for some years in your previous roles. With this new firm, what are the key services you're offering and the types of clients you're going to be looking after?

Thank you, David. Justin Mason Valuation Consultancy is a brand-new firm of residential valuers and surveyors in prime central and prime outer London. We look at a wide variety of property, but I'd say that most clients seek advice in relation to the prime and super-prime markets. By this I mean property between £3M and £15M in value and above this level up to about £40M. In terms of key services, we have five, these are valuation, survey, expert witness, valuation audit and consultancy. Of these, the core services are valuation, survey and expert witness. With time however, I envisage that consultancy shall become more and more important. The type of clients I look after are, broadly, anyone who needs the reassurance and guidance of a formal valuation and, so far, I've been appointed by a diverse range of wealth advisers on behalf of private clients, trusts and companies. As you may anticipate these include family offices, banks, accountants, lawyers and anyone else that provides these services both in London and offshore.

There was a big need for tax and legal advice around the introduction of the taxes on enveloped dwellings. Do you still see enquiries coming through from the tax and legal side linked to that?

Yes, I do, and I think it'll continue to be the case for some time to come. With my track history I have found that there is a demand for my services where cases are historic or complex and where there may be a need for negotiation with the District Valuer, if the case is called in by HMRC for example. My clients are looking for high quality, robust advice, a depth of knowledge which goes back years and also a valuer with skills to go into the witness box if necessary. What's driving demand for these services is uncertainty, and whilst informal advice or brief valuation reports have their place, there are a growing number of clients who are looking for something with a bit more clout.

You're offering your services now as an independent person, do you think there's an opportunity to provide a better service given your position of independence in the marketplace?

That's a good question. I spent over a decade as part of the residential valuation team at Knight Frank. It's a top tier consultancy and I had an excellent education there. In terms of service delivery and quality, it sets a high bar, but I think an independent has a number of advantages. If you're smaller you're more nimble, you're able to respond quicker and you're able to give more time to your clients. From my point of view, I've loved the chance to be able to give clients more time at the outset, during the course of the valuation and afterwards. In fact, I probably spend more time on aftercare than on the valuation exercise itself now. Most clients are short of time and they need someone to go through the report with them, explain things to them and help them to understand the rationale. They may not like the figure but if they understand it, it can be more palatable. Having got to this stage, a decision can be made and the client can get on with the next stage of their plans.

As an independent I am also able to be more responsive and I'm available when the client needs me. This can sometimes mean going out in the evening or at weekends but that's part and parcel of being a professional who adapts to their client's needs rather than expecting it to be the other way around.

A third factor that's extremely important to clients has been that of confidentiality. As an independent, I'm not tied to a large consultancy. I've had several clients approach me purely and simply because I'm independent. This has been for a variety of reasons but more often than not, they're looking for someone who is discreet and able to protect their identity at all times. Whilst it's true that a larger firm may be able to offer reassurances as to confidentiality, the fact remains that they're large organisations and clients are concerned that information will be spread to other departments or leaked to external sources.

The last point I'd make is about bias. When you have a client looking for a valuation they want something, generally, that's independent. If you're a valuer that's part of a firm that includes other areas of business, the client can become concerned that your relationship with the other parts of the business can cause a bias when undertaking the valuation. My personal experience is that bias is carefully managed by larger organisations, but some clients aren't prepared to take that chance. As an independent, I'm able to provide the reassurance that this issue won't arise.

For the broader consultancy services, what kind of activity might that encompass?

Well, consultancy can mean a number of different things. So far, I've had the opportunity to advise on a number of development schemes when a client has obtained planning permission for redevelopment of a site or the alteration of an existing building. Whilst an estate agent may be able to explain what the market requires in terms of presentation, specification and the like, a formal valuation should provide a robust figure for the developer's financial planning along with an indication as to whether or not the scheme adds value to the site in its current form and a risk analysis as well. In addition to development, I've also undertaken a series of valuations to assist property investors when deciding whether or not a property satisfies the objectives of their asset management strategy. Over time, an investor's needs change. This may be due to the need to realise a return on investment or it may be due to external factors like a change in market demand or the Building Regulations. I see demand for this kind of service growing, especially during this current phase of uncertainty. Clients need to be able to sleep at night, and the valuation provides a robust benchmark against which to make a decision.

I can imagine that kind of service is very valuable to an offshore trustee who's looking at a portfolio of assets and trying to analyse how they can uplift the value, protect the value of the trust and also look at income levels that could be paid out. Have you been down to the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man as yet with your new offering?

Yes, I'm familiar with them both and in fact I recently went to Jersey for the PCD networking dinner on the 22nd of November. The market offshore is very important to me and I estimate that about half my work stems from this source. As an independent, I can tailor my offering to the needs of the offshore trustee. I've got the time to go through the portfolio with them. As their eyes and ears in London, I can help by providing options and solutions to maximise the portfolio's potential. I'm also able to let them know exactly what's going on around the assets themselves, both in terms of the direct locality, changes in the market and the impact of external factors. With time, I hope to revisit the Isle of Man and also get to visit other locations offshore in order to fly the flag for JMV and let people know what we do.

You had a long career in valuing residential property, some super prime London property amongst them and others. Do you have a favourite property or something that sticks out in the mind?

There have been quite a number if I am honest with you, and they stick in my mind for a variety of reasons. One of my favourites was a large house set in four and a half acres in the centre of a Royal Park. It was a beautiful Regency building with wonderful grounds and had its own lake, all within the centre of London.

There have been others that have appealed to me because they have been finished so beautifully. I can remember visiting one property that had been finished to the very best standard I'd ever seen. The decoration, carpentry and stone masonry were exemplary, and it was difficult to return to the real world afterwards.

Others have appealed to me because of their situation, being a wonderful home with a fantastic address and an amazing outlook, either over open parkland across London or over the River Thames.

As a residential valuer and surveyor, I think it's a privilege to be able to go into people's homes and for a brief moment to enjoy the very best that the Capital has to offer.

That's great. You struck out on your own now, you started your own business, what's coming down in the future for your consultancy? How do you see your plans to grow the business?

My plans are for Justin Mason Valuation Consultancy to grow organically. I want this practice to be considered the best independent valuation consultancy in London and, as and when it grows, it'll be due to the addition of some of the best valuers and surveyors in the Capital.

I'm looking for people with experience and while youth and energy can drive a business forward, it's insight that counts.

I'll explain why: the world of valuation is changing and it's no surprise that more and more valuation is being undertaken by artificial intelligence. In the past ten years, I've seen demand for valuation grow and I've seen a steady reliance upon what are known as AVMs or Automated Valuation Models. Like quantity surveyors before us, valuers must recognise this, accept it and adapt. To that end our future lies in becoming valuation consultants where we provide options and solutions for our clients against a background of valuation. The best consultants will be those who are able to draw on a broad range of experience in order to provide the level of creativity that our clients expect and deserve. If we were to chase the high-volume market for valuation, the future would be uncertain.

Talking to my clients and listening to their needs, I think that valuers are at a crossroads. On the one hand, the slow and steady decline in mass market valuation and on the other an exciting period of growth for valuation consultancy, be it residential, mixed use, commercial or specialist sector. Whilst my firm is set to grow, I don't anticipate it becoming a large one because I don't want the relationship with the client to suffer in any way shape or form. My practice is client led and, as I've said before, it's my job to adapt to my client's needs and not the other way around.

Well, that's great and I'm sure there's a great opportunity there for you to grow and develop the services. We look forward to seeing you along at that PCD event, so I'm sure you'll be delighted to hear from any of our members who have questions or queries for you in this area.

David, thank you: it's been a pleasure.

If readers would like more information about Justin Mason Valuation Consultancy, please take a look at our website or give him a call on 020 3409 0894.


Find out why leading brands in the private client industry are partnering with PCD to raise their profile, make connections and drive new business.



Find out how you can participate in the leading club for international private client advisors and unlock opportunities around the globe. 


MoST Content Management V3.0.8923