Member spotlight – Helena Eason

Shining the member spotlight on API member Helena Eason, Valuation Professional

In this month’s Member Spotlight we speak with Helena Eason, a highly experienced valuation professional from a long line of valuers.

How long have you been in the property industry?

I come from a family that has been involved in property in some fashion for generations, so it’s almost in my blood. I used to love going out in the field with my dad when he did valuations as a bank manager. Then one of my brothers suggested being a valuer might be great job – I agreed. Both of my brothers are now real estate agents and I am married to a valuer. You could say I had no choice as it’s the family tradition.

I commenced the Associate Diploma in Valuations at RMIT in 1983 and my training continued through my Viva Voce and my first job with the Valuer General’s Office in Victoria. I believe it was a fabulous foundation as the VG’s gave me the ability to develop my professional skills and embrace daily life as a valuer. This is why I am so passionate about providing the opportunity for others to have that same experience. My career has taken me from working with State Government, private practice, then to Federal Government, back to private practice and now with the Federal Government. I am lucky to have had all those opportunities.

Where are you currently working?

I currently work at the Australian Valuation Office and have worked there since 2008. I am an 'Outposter Valuer' in Bendigo, undertaking a broad range of valuations including real estate, rural, specialist valuations and have the opportunity to contribute, or have had a lead role in management operations, at both the regional and national level.

Most recently, I have been involved in the development and implementation of a national training program for trainee valuers, which the AVO refers to as the Valuer in Training Program (VIT). This included establishing relationships with a number of universities, the Australian Property Institute (API) and the ATO. It has been a success in every sense, several of our VITs are now being taken through their paces.

I have also just undertaken a joint lead role in the development of a new proposed compliance model for one of our key government agencies. This included thinking outside the box, considering new technologies and methodologies, as well as providing a pathway for other peers to actively contribute towards innovation for government.

I believe the AVO is one of the few organisations where you can practice your craft as a valuer, but you also have the opportunity to try your hand at everything from change management to methodology design, from developing new business programs (such as the VIT) to putting forward white papers to government about issues within our industry. The AVO actively encourages participation that joins the technical aspects of the discipline to the opportunities that innovation coupled with expertise can bring. It enables me to do what I love best – which is teach and convey 30 years’ worth of experience to those that are coming through the ranks.

How did you come to be in this role?

Training and sharing knowledge with people is a passion of mine. Although I have no formal education or qualifications in educating others, I believe my knowledge of the industry and practices is extensive and I can teach practical aspects that make a difference from day one. It’s one of the few ways the industry can sustain and maintain its knowledge and integrity. The AVO actively encourages the sharing of knowledge as we are all facing the challenge of retaining industry expertise with some of our older valuers leaving the industry. In essence, being passionate about my work, willing to share with others and having the opportunity through my employer to pursue that passion has all lead me to where I am today.

What are the best parts of your job?

The best part of the job is ‘property’. Every one of them is different and unique in its own way and examining a market for each property is the key. Other benefits of the job include not being office bound, being able to spend part of every day in a vehicle and learning more about other properties and, of course, the diverse range of people and personalities you meet along the way. Especially out in the country – you meet lots of characters.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

With the changed economic environment across both government and private industry, challenges seem to be the order of the day! I have no doubt my peers in the industry would also agree. I believe every work environment is currently faced with the need to constantly review and reconsider how it can best provide efficiencies, and I don’t think that is going to get easier any time soon.

I think longer term, what will be even more challenging for me as a valuer, but more broadly across the industry, is the increased reliance on technology and the loss of recognition of valuation as a discipline. To some extent the need for cost efficiencies are forcing our industry down a path where the distinction between a computer/formula generated outcome and a fully considered valuation is lost. I think for me, this is the most challenging aspect of knowing that unless there is investment and recognition of the industry broadly, we may be looking at a much different industry in 10 years’ time.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in this area?

This question is one of personal reflection. My father was a banker and reared nine children, 10 if you count his devotion to the bank. In the days when we lived in the Mallee he would take those of us that wanted to go for a drive with him to carry out valuations of farms. It was in the days when bank managers valued the real estate, stock and plant and machinery. That is when I realised how much I enjoyed property. I was about eight when I started doing those trips.

As we got older my family and others designed and developed some ‘spec houses’ in Latrobe Valley. It was a process of the first sketch around a table, through to the build and successful sale of the house. I was a teenager in those days. I am a property blueblood and proud of it. For me, I can’t remember a time when not being part of the industry was a consideration. My entire family loved it.

However, as I look to the next generation, I chuckle with enthusiasm as our children (both in the science industry) show no indication or interest in property apart from wanting assistance in buying a house – at the right price of course!

Have you received any awards/professional recognition for your work?

I have received a number of internal awards within the AVO. The one I am most proud of is a Commissioners Award for the Valuer in Training Program. The Commissioner of Taxation gives out approximately 10 awards per year after examination of all nominated staff within the ATO. I was the recipient of one of these in 2012. I am enormously proud of this award because it is recognition of the commitment and tenacity involved in getting the VIT Program up and running.

Although it is an individual award it is important to mention that I could not have achieved this alone. Recognition of the work of colleagues in the AVO, their support, encouragement and belief that we could get it to work, was instrumental. It was very much a team effort with me as the project manager. Management and organisational commitment was also an important factor – you need to have the backing and support at the high level to get something this big across the line.

What do you think are among the biggest challenges facing the property industry?

Succession planning is the biggest challenge facing the industry. I have had the benefit of having highly trained and respected mentors throughout my career, starting at the Valuer Generals Office in 1983. These quality valuers and mentors are slowly leaving the industry and I believe it’s a great loss of technical knowledge. We, as the next generation of valuers, must take on the challenge of providing the same opportunities for those coming into the industry, in spite of the various pressures that surround us. We are the leaders in our respective organisations, and we need to ensure that the ongoing training of the ‘young guns’ stays front of mind in the considerations and future business decisions that need to be made.

What are your plans?

Something that is on my list of priorities is to get a Future Property Professionals module for rural valuations underway. As we know, trainee valuers are required to carry out 12 modules in their training period prior to sitting their API Professional Interview. Although this is still in the early stages of implementation, I am looking forward to seeing this come to fruition.

From a work point of view, I will continue to carry out my management work, daily valuations and training. The AVO will have a number of VITs eligible to sit their Professional Interviews early next year and we will work toward the success of them achieving their CPV.

How is the API helping your career and why do you believe a membership organisation such as the API is important to property professionals?

The API is a significant organisation for not just valuers but all property professionals. It is the network of individuals that provides the integrity of the profession. The API provides the avenue for communication between peers of the industry and for sharing thoughts, ideas, innovation and challenges. They provide various learning and development opportunities with the CPD Program, specialist programs such as water and retail and of course work with the professionals to better the industry. As we move more towards an international standard for our industry, peak bodies such as the API are vital for representing Australia’s industry, which is highly regarded internationally.

What would you say to upcoming property professionals?

My advice would be to live by (and practice daily) certain attributes and attitudes that will always hold them in high regard and maintain their professional integrity. Those words are: Communication, integrity, enjoyment, networking, training, active listening, continuous learning, respect, achievement and of course due diligence. We are, after all, professionals.