Member Stories Victoria Barker 04/10/2019

Landlord hopes to inspire schoolchildren

Many landlords out there go above and beyond when it comes to their tenants and their local communities. Sarah Watt is a portfolio landlord with properties in Milton Keynes & in Australia.

In her free time, she visits local schools and teaches children about how she balances her career and property, and raises awareness of maternity leave. Victoria Barker meets her.

If you had to guess at how many women make up the property and construction industry in the UK, what would you say?

According to the organisation Women in Property, women represent around 15% of the property and construction industry. In August, the Government backed a £10million campaign- “Pathways into Constructions” aimed at recruiting more women into the sector.

It’s also something that landlord and property developer Sarah Watt is hoping to change.

Eight months ago, Sarah began visiting local high schools in her spare time, to talk to students all about her career and how she has incorporated property into the mix.

The sessions are organised by Milton Keynes based organisation Worktree, and they are designed to give children as young as twelve the chance to learn about different careers.

 “The children I go and speak to are at that age where their teachers or parents are asking them what sort of job they want to do in the future”, begins Sarah. “As a volunteer, I talk about what I do, and answer their questions as honestly as I can”.

Around four students at a time gather around Sarah, as she spends an hour talking about how she got into property development whilst managing her corporate career as an accountant.

“I start my sessions by asking the students of jobs the kids think they fancy doing when they are older. Fairly unsurprisingly no one really says real estate or property development” smiles Sarah.

“It is so important for children to learn as much as they can about as many industries they can, and about the exciting opportunities that come with pursuing a career in property. I talk about how fulfilling my job is and the sense of accomplishment that comes with taking a property and completely transforming it”.

So, what sort of reaction does she get?

“Sometimes the children look quite dumbfounded when I tell them I’m a property developer”, she says: “I think some still see this line of work as being a man’s world. Hopefully it’s opening their eyes to something new”, says Sarah.

“The younger ones in year seven will ask quite innocent questions like, ‘Do you bring your daughter with you during a refurb?’ whereas the older students will ask quite bold questions like how much money I make”.

Last year, the charity Education and Employers published the findings of a major study into the career aspirations of children aged 7-11 years old in the UK.

Out of 1300 respondents, the most popular career choice for boys was to be a sportsman, followed by gaming-while the top choice for girls was to be a teacher, followed by a vet.

Fewer than 0.1% of girls said that they aspired to be a builder when they grew up, compared with 1% of boys.

The report also found that there is a need for greater access to career role models from a young age.

This is something Sarah can get on board with.

Women in property

Sarah is a firm believer in the importance of having role models.

“Property traditionally is quite a mans world and when I go to some of the networking events they are still quite male dominated. Sometimes I’ll be one of maybe two or three women at an event”.

“I think women have a lot to offer to the property and construction industry. For example, women tend to be very creative and have good eyes for detail-both necessary qualities to be successful in property development”.

 “I try and make the students aware that they shouldn’t feel restricted when it comes to picking a particular career because of their gender”.

Balancing Careers

It was whilst on maternity leave in 2018 that gave Sarah the chance to reflect on what property project to pursue next.

“Being on maternity leave was the first time in over a decade that I stopped and thought about what I wanted to do next and how to go about it,” says Sarah.

“Originally, when my daughter was born, my intention was just to go back to normal after a year of maternity leave. It was a high pressured job, but I do miss the social aspect and the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. Now, my focus has changed to balancing work, property & family life.”

Project Managing

After her daughter was born, Sarah project managed a refurb on a property she secured a year before.

“My daughter was on site with me at 7 weeks and it took about 6 weeks to complete from start to finish. I remember feeding my baby in car, having tradesmen in the house whilst on the phone to the council all at the same time.”

It wasn’t the first time Sarah had project managed a property refurbishment.

“When I was living in Melbourne I bought a unit in Sydney and did a full cosmetic renovation with just one handyman, in eight days”, she said: “I take pride in bringing a property up to a high standard-after all one day it will be someone’s home-its very satisfying when you complete a project”

On being a landlord in Australia

Originally hailing from Sydney, Australia, Sarah first became a landlord in 2011 when she let out her former home.

She was a landlord alongside her day job, and over the course of four years Sarah and her husband bought two more buy to lets in Sydney, whilst also flipping properties in Melbourne.

Then, in 2016, the couple decided it was time for a complete change in lifestyle, so they accepted new jobs, and moved to the UK.

Despite being on the other side of the world, distance hasn’t stopped Sarah from project managing refurbs remotely. “A tenant recently moved out of one of our properties and it’s now pretty tired. So we wrote a scope of works and sent it to our managing agent who is co-ordinating the refurb for us on the ground with specialist tradesmen. It is possible to renovate, even when you aren’t physically there, you just need a great power team around you”, she says.

Role model

Back in Milton Keynes in the schools, Sarah brings her daughter with her to all the workshops.

“I’m the only one who brings their child to the school so I have to find schools that will let me bring her in, but I think it’s good for the children to see me, a working woman, successfully balancing my work, property & raising a family. The message I want to send across is that having kids doesn’t stop you from achieving things”.

 “Some girls may have simply not considered a career in property-I know it wasn’t something I had thought of growing up. But by making people aware of it, I feel like I am passing my knowledge on to the young people. I love it”.

Victoria Barker

Victoria Barker Communications Officer

Victoria is the Communications Officer for the NRLA.

She is responsible for producing articles for our news centre, the weekly e-newsletter, and manages and creates content for the association’s social media channels. She also contributes to our members magazine, Property.

See all articles by Victoria Barker