Host:        Welcome to the Cardoe Martin Podcast, Building Surveying for Professionals giving you a detailed and technical view of the world of building surveying.  In this episode we are going to have a chat with Richard Pegman a Director at Cardoe Martin on a subject lots of us will have thought about but perhaps not made the decision to go and do it and maybe there will some listeners out there who still have some slight regrets.  Welcome Richard thanks for joining us today.

RP:            Hi James.

Host:        (0.24) Before we start, I know we have done the quick-fire round during your A-Z of Building Surveying Podcasts, but I think it would be useful to give everyone a quick intro on who you are and what you do.

RP:            Yes sure, I’m a Director of Cardoe Martin, Building Surveying Practice and I undertake all aspects of building surveying basically so from Building Surveys to Party Wall Professional Services and Contract Administration.

Host:        (0.53) Thank you very much so join us now for a journey through time and materials as we reveal surveying abroad.  Right Richard, so I’ve been looking forward to this one this is going to be close to my heart travel and experience and working abroad, tell us a little about where did you work abroad and for how long were you there?

RP:            I worked in the Bahamas for several months back in 2011 and yeah it was the aftermath of Hurricane Irene so I was dealing with the claims over there for remedial work for repairs to hurricane damaged properties basically.  So I was dealing with a wide range of different properties, everything from a marine to a hotel, a docks where the piers had been washed away basically, so some mansion houses and some of the high end hotel developments out there.

Host:        (1.50) Tell us, how did you come to work there it seems quite an interesting place to have turned up just out of the blue.

RP:            Yeah, well I was very lucky to be put forward by it basically by my manager at the time, I was working for an American company and they’d centre a request across for names to be put forward, so I think there was 10 people they needed to go out to the Bahamas to act as loss adjusters so I had a phone call from my manager and he said are you interested in this, can I put you forward? and about 0.1 milliseconds later I answered yes (laughter) and he did and I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity.

Host:        (2.33) I know the Bahamas are quite influenced by the Americas are not they so why wouldn’t they have just recruited in the American Surveyors?

RP:            So they did, I mean there were a few American loss adjusters who we worked with in our team, there was loss adjusters from all over the world, there was some from Jamaica, Canada, US so we were just a part of that basically but it’s getting the numbers of people when it’s a fairly large event like that.

Host:        Yep.

RP:            It’s getting enough people down basically with the experience to deal with it.

Host:        (3.06) So I think you have covered a little bit of this but what made you decide to do this?

RP:            Well yeah, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to work in the Bahamas, it certainly disappoint, despite the tragic circumstances it was just a fantastic place to be, everything out there is so vivid and bright, yeah, it was like being in technicolour so the chance to be out in different environments very much appealed.

Host:        (3.38) Had you been to the Caribbean on holiday before or was this your first time?

RP:            No I’d never been to the Caribbean so yeah it was the first time, yep.

Host:        (3.45) Now were there any memorable jobs during the time you spent in the Bahamas. 

RP:            I’m not sure about memorable but I did spot Nicholas Cage at the airport, which I’ve never forgotten, we came into the main airport there, some other things that sort of stick out in my mind were the time that my, I had an old Buick as a hire car that I use to drive around in and one day it just , I was on the freeway and it just gave up the ghost, all the warning lights came on, it just conked out while I was driving along so that was interesting.  There was a property I was trying to arrange access to and I’d been trying to get hold of the owner who was American for weeks and eventually I managed to speak to her on the phone and she said she was due to be flying in at some point in the next few days, so I said, you know, can you tell me what flight your on and the place, her house was quite near to the airport and she basically replied that she’d be flying in using her own jet so that was interesting.  Other memorable moments where we had a fantastic barbeque on the beach outside the hotel eating crayfish that we’d caught basically, had been caught, yeah outside the hotel where we were.

Host:        (5.03) So it sounds like a good balance of work and fun or was kind of the work was just fun and that was, it was all just fun?

RP:            It was long days, it was the fun, you know, there were occasions when we did events like that most of the time it was long days, it was quite hard going but it was one of those things, yeah it was very well worthwhile and you felt a great sense of achievement at the end of my time there. 

Host:        (5.33) So what would you say are the challenges that working in a foreign country can bring to your job and your life.

RP:            I think there is plenty of challenges, for a start there is getting to grips with the logistics of where you are so directions and maps, that was very difficult where on the island I was Abaco in the Bahamas because they don’t really go in for road signs or house numbers out there so even finding your way around without Sat-Nav or any decent maps was very difficult.  I remember, you know, people would give directions like it’s the octagonal house on the right hand side of the quay and you’d be needing to sort of go back to basics to try and find your way around.  Also it was just so different out there in that it wasn’t always possible to drive out to some of the buildings and developments we were looking at, sometimes it involved arranging to get there on a speed boat, it’s also quite challenging how to work out how to survey properties when you’re use to being able to refer to maps and to be able to get the train or bus, obviously I was reliant on a hire car out there and they drive on the right in the Bahamas which is one thing but the cars have the steering wheels on the left so it takes a bit of getting use to, a bit like patting your head and turning your hand on your stomach.

Host:        (7.02) So think about kind of the legislation side of things did you have to re-train to get this gig or are there any extra local exams to learn about or regulations or law that would be more applicable in the Caribbean then there would be in the UK?

RP:            Yeah so there weren’t any exams but I did have to undergo some training basically, several days of training when I first got out there, as the construction methods out there are completely different to the UK, some of the buildings are very rudimentary so for example they’re very basic shuttered concrete structures, they’ve got very little in the way of footings or foundations and they’ll have very basic sort of felt shingles for roof coverings.  So there were higher spec properties out there as well, you know, some buildings were really high spec they had like 140 mile an hour hurricane roofs and things like that, so there was a real mixture.

Host:        (7.57) Did they work these roofs are were you still doing as much of a job on those as you were loss adjusting the smaller ones?

RP:            Most of them worked, yeah most of the highest spec buildings worked, it was generally the more basic construction that really suffered the biggest losses, yeah and everything, the whole construction industry operates completely differently out there, nearly every single material which is used in the construction of those buildings has come down on a boat from America so the construction costs are massively high even for what you’d consider over here really basic construction. The costs can be eye watering and understanding that quite early on was important for accurately pricing things up.

Host:        (8.43) So how difficult was it to take on a job in a country you’ve never been to before, I know it was quite a short-term job as opposed to long term which we can talk about later, it can’t have been easy just to rock up with a suitcase and get to work after a bit of training?

RP:            Yeah, there were certainly challenges when I first arrived at the main airport I didn’t know any of the other members from my own company basically cos we’d got quite a big team they’d come from different parts of the country and an overzealous immigration official at the airport was going to let me through because I didn’t know the address of the hotel, I hadn’t been told the address of the hotel I was staying at on the first night, where I was going to be for a couple of nights so luckily I managed to flag down somebody from our company and they managed to get us through in the end, I didn’t have to spend a night at the airport.  But there’s other challenges as well like getting to grips with inherent cultural differences within the team, you know, colleagues like I mentioned before from all over the world and it’s just, yeah getting on and building relationships with them.  We had to build an office from scratch and figure out how to divide the work up by the team to deal by things by priority basically.

Host:        (9.57)  Maybe I’m being a bit harsh to your company but it does sound that they parachuted you in with a ration pack and like a packed lunch into this place without giving you the details, so would you advise anyone whose doing the same to perhaps dig around a bit deeper and get a lot more answers to everything and be really pernickety about those details when they arrive?

RP:            Yeah, it’s a difficult one because I think you can, you can only prepare so much for, so the company was geared up for these kind of events to take place but so soon after an event like that you don’t actually know what the conditions are like on the ground so in my suitcase I was putting, you know, wet weather gear along with my sort of Bermuda shorts, it was very difficult to know what we were in for and they can’t sort of tell you that so it’s just a case of, as you say, doing what reading up you can before and trying to work out what you’re gonna be in for.

Host:        (10.54) What advice would you give to a surveyor looking to work abroad?

RP:            I think it’s as you say doing as much research as possible, I think finding out, not just about the work itself, although that’s an important element of it but what life is like, how you’re actually gonna live day to day and how that’s all gonna sort of work out, it’s very easy to sort of think, you know, just about a location and think, you know, these are the , that’s somewhere I want to go and that’s something I want to experience.  It’s looking at the bigger picture of everything that’s involved I think that’s important.

Host:        (11.34)  One of the interesting challenges some people will face is, and I’d guess you’ve got to lightly off with it, is that you went for a couple of months whereas some people might be anticipating a full move, would you, obviously I think we can discuss in a second about whether you would have stayed in the Caribbean but would you look to work abroad as a more permanent solution, say if you were looking in Texas or Arizona or went over to New Zealand or Australia?

RP:            Yeah, I mean it’s certainly something I’d like to do again, at the end of, you know, the few months that I was in the Bahamas for, yeah working in the heat, in 40oc heat every day and the mosquito bites, I was ready to go home but I really enjoyed the experience but I think, yeah working abroad for a longer period of time is something that definitely appeals to me, but it’s just about finding the kind of role and the experience along with the location that’s really, that’s gonna suit you, that’s the most important thing.

Host:        (12.31) What about the impact on family life cos this is some time ago and I know you have a family now, was a family consideration when you left in 2011?

RP:            No it wasn’t at the time it was quite easy, sort of a drop of a hat just to head out there but the same wouldn’t be true now I’ve got a 3 year boy and a 9 month old boy so yeah, whose going through some teething at the moment, so I wouldn’t be too popular if I disappeared off to the Caribbean for a few months at the moment. 

Host:        (13.01) But what about if you took them somewhere totally different and did a permanent shift or do a 2–3-year secondment?

RP:            Yeah I definitely that’s a, you know, there’s a lot of amazing experiences out there, different places that you can work and I think it would be great, great sort of to immerse them in a different culture and I think they could gain a lot from that so yeah it could be interesting. 

Host:        (13.25) Do you think your building surveying has improved because of your experiences abroad or do you think it was perhaps a diversion rather an addition?

RP:            It was a diversion, I mean it was interesting, I don’t think always, there’s always new things, the thing with building surveying is there’s always new things to be learnt and it was certainly that but as much as the technical side of things it was the dealing with the people themselves, so these people who held insurance had been paying thousands and thousands of pounds a month for hurricane insurance basically, managing their expectations and dealing with the claims was, and those relationships with them was as important as the technical aspect side of things. 

Host:        (14.11) So it sounded like you need quite a lot of emotional intelligence a lot of patience to deal with people going through trauma, did you have to apply a lot of rules, or could you manage the situation as you saw fit?  Was it more like framework over the top does it fit, does it not?

RP:            Yeah so you’d having to be giving a decision to people’s, on your initial visit about, you know, whether this is something where the insurance policy would kick in and it’s something that you’d be able to put to their insurers but that didn’t always satisfy the insured basically, I remember there was one particular guy whose house was a fairly basic property and there was very little damage to it and the amount of damage to the property wasn’t enough to trigger the insurance policy but he was very upset about this and I remember him coming down to the, so he wasn’t too bad at the time when I initially went out there but I remember him coming back to the office and shouting and screaming he was outside, he wanted to speak to me and he said I’m gonna get the President of the Bahamas onto you, it’s very difficult to sort of try and deal with that, as you say people have got a lot invested and you know feelings can run very high.

Host:        (15.28) And what did the President of the Bahamas say did he pick up his call?  (laughter)

RP:            (laughter) He did.

Host:        (15.30) Was it dark and stormy during lunchtime or something?

RP:            He didn’t no, fortunately no, he no, we managed to, yeah, to not have to deal with the President yeah.

Host:        Lovely well thanks for that, so you’ve been tuned into Cardoe Martin’s Building Surveying for Professionals Podcast, thanks for listening and thank you very much to Richard Pegman for joining us today.

RP:            Okay thanks very much James. 

Host:        And sharing his very interesting and rewarding stories about surveying abroad.