The rise of the interim executive in real estate

In this ever-evolving environment, we are seeing continuing demand for interim leaders to fill specific functions at senior levels across the real estate industry. 11% of all UK senior interim placements in the past year have been within the property / construction / real estate industry (Institute of Interim Management, 2023).

Real estate interim hires

Traditionally, interim hires haven’t been commonplace in our sector, but things are changing. For organisations grappling with a senior exit, a new strategy to implement or just a rapid stage of growth and development, a short-term expert with the experience to jump in and lead can deliver substantial benefits. In the past year, we have seen the requirement for interim c-suite operational and financial roles increase.

Interim leaders have a defined function, with specific delivery objectives within a set amount of time. The combination of tangibility and flexibility can be very attractive for senior real estate executives, not to mention lucrative. Companies benefit not only from an experienced talent delivering specific goals, but skills that they can transfer to the team. Significantly, these leaders are often uniquely objective and can bring a vital dose of neutrality to teams and situations.

Why hire an interim leader?

Our clients have particularly benefitted from this when expanding specific capabilities or developing their presence in new areas. Short-term, senior consultants can check the viability of projects or expansion with less financial risk. Covering maternity and, increasingly, paternity leave for six months or more is also beneficial when the work cannot be covered effectively internally.

Experience is the key requirement, so the average age of interim hires tends to be higher than those of their permanent counterparts. According to the Institute of Interim Management 2023 Survey, 68% of interim managers are between 40 and 60. With an uncertain market prevailing, we expect the need for senior interim hires to remain high within the real estate business. If you are interested in discussing interim options for your leadership team, please do get in touch.

Alex joined Madison Lincoln in 2022. Her extensive Real Estate recruitment experience means she has a deep understanding of the organisations and roles within our industry, enabling her to better advise our clients on shortlists, job specifications and the interview process.

How did you get into real estate executive search?

After graduating with a degree in French and Business, I took an internship in New York. After a year, I came back to London to join Foxtons in Mayfair, where I caught the real estate bug!  Although I didn’t want to pursue a career in estate agency, I was keen to explore opportunities in real estate recruitment. I spent 10 years at a recruitment consultancy, where I headed up the town planning division before moving into general practice.

What challenges have you faced in your career so far?

Juggling a career and having three very young children was tough. For me personally, a short career break allowed me to have some much-needed balance. During this time, I retrained as a personal trainer and sports massage therapist. This gave me the flexibility to work but also be available for my family.

For many women, their career (which may span 50 years) doesn’t need to be a linear line. However, I do see many talented women, often in their thirties, leaving the real estate industry.

How can we better support senior women in real estate?

Many of us, not just mothers, have other responsibilities outside of work. Women often bear a disproportionate share of household duties and other obligations, creating a much larger mental load.

The workplace environment and recruitment processes tend to be skewed towards men. The real estate industry is committed to recruiting more senior women, yet not enough firms are making the fundamental changes required to attract female talent.

More challenges are going to come back for women as the post-covid workplace necessitates people in the office more. Some companies are navigating this issue very well for all employees, whilst the larger firms tend to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Flexibility is still of central importance to many women of all levels in the industry.

Which skills have been most valuable in your career?

As well as an innate understanding and passion for the real estate industry, I would say that it’s the softer skills that enable me to effectively connect with the candidates that our clients want to attract. Honesty and integrity throughout are key to not mis-selling or misleading at any point in the process for both sides. This allows me to build long-term relationships with our clients and to create a constructive and fulfilling process for candidates.

Bonus season is upon us and, as these payments are made, we expect the usual uplift in resignations across the sector. 

How can real estate companies retain their best performing, senior staff?

It’s been a unique time, with very little job movement during covid followed by a record number of job vacancies last year (known as ‘The Great Resignation’) that drove average salaries and bonuses up. Although more cautiousness has since crept in, we see unwanted talent gaps within organisations that will be further compounded by imminent resignations. 

Are you paying ‘just enough’?

Money clearly talks. The primary reason why key talent leaves a company is the “opportunity to earn more pay elsewhere”, according to research commissioned by World at Work in 2012*. People will most likely see their largest salary increases by moving to a new employer.

A study undertaken by Workhuman and Gallup last year** establishes the significance of bonuses: employees are more likely to strongly agree they belong (30%) and that they see a path to grow at their organisation (41%) when their organisation offers financial rewards. Many companies pay ‘just enough’ to keep on par with market expectations when it can make more sense to pay an extra 10% to keep a valued employee.

Other reports also agree that pay is the main hygiene factor, so what else can organisations to do fulfil their senior people when financial seduction looms? For senior employees, factors such as culture and values, the quality of senior leadership and career opportunities matter even more, according to research by Glassdoor***. 

Recognising contribution: 

The Workhuman and Gallup study reports that recognition is not a major strategic priority for 81% of leaders. Companies should prioritise embedding a culture of appreciating employee contribution.

Values and Culture: 

The first step in improving workplace culture is to better understand it and put a cultural change programme in place to boost retention and performance. 

Diversity and Inclusion: 

A diverse workforce will have a plethora of views and needs. Are these being met to retain and attract the right people?


Strong ESG credentials can have a significant, positive impact on employee wellbeing and retention. In a 2021 survey from Morgan Lovell, 62% of office workers said it was important to them that their employer had a commitment to ESG****.

Career opportunities: 

Recognising and investing in employees’ paths to advancement recognises their worth and becomes a potent incentive to stay at the company.

Companies should develop retention strategies that work from the top down. If you want to enhance your talent strategy, get in touch.

*World at Work Retention of Key Talent and the Role of Rewards, Survey on Reward and Engagement. 2012

**Unleashing the Human Element at Work: Transforming Workplaces Through Recognition

***Why do Workers Quit? The Factors that Predict Employee Turnover. Glassdoor, 2017

****ESG in the Workplace, Morgan Lovell 2021

With annual investment in BtR and PBSA at a record high, firms need experienced leaders to steer next stage of growth

Both the Build to Rent (BtR) and purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) sectors remain resolutely buoyant. Annual investment in UK living real estate was a record £18bn in 2022* and investor appetite shows little sign of flagging.

Investors and developers are increasingly turning their attention to the UK living sector in a less certain real estate market because of its defensive nature and resistance to economic cycles. BtR represented 35% of investment in UK living real estate in 2022, with transactions expected to accelerate again in H2 2023 (JLL). For PBSA, current occupancy is at record levels and expected to endure, delivering strong rental and income growth in turbulent period.

PBSA and BtR are emerging as resilient and attractive asset classes for investors because they:

Demand for both high-quality, professionally managed homes and student accommodation in the UK remains high, yet new supply is still not meeting demand. According to StuRents, the UK’s largest student rental service, there will be a shortfall of approx.450,000 student beds by 2025, while the UK rental shortage has been well-documented in recent years. Student accommodation accounted for 45% of investment in UK living sectors in 2022

While investor demand has slowed because of development viability against a backdrop of debt considerations and construction challenges, the market is anticipating a significant upturn in the second half of 2023. Recently, we have seen large deals and significant market activity, such as GIC and Greystar’s recent acquisition of Student Roost, driving current and future activity.

We are actively hiring senior, leadership roles as our clients across the living sector seek experienced c-level executives to pilot this next stage of growth. Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss shaping your recruitment strategy.

Whilst it’s undeniable that the real estate market is suffering the consequences of higher interest rates and economic decline, analysts expect an upturn in property deals later this year*.

This can be a dangerous time for organisations that don’t have a plan to withstand these challenges with the best talent. Often, HR mistakes are made in these periods that may solve a short-term issue but don’t support successful teams long-term.

Senior talent acquisition in Real Estate

Key considerations should be:

What’s the plan?

Given how long it can take to recruit a senior executive (a year is not unheard of), developing a three to five-year recruitment plan that supports your business objectives is vital. Who are the people you need in your business? How can you develop the required talent?

What are the risks?

We encourage clients to undertake a mapping process that assesses risk in their workforce. Identify where you could lose potential talent and which skills will be in demand over a longer period. What are the consequences of not meeting future demand from clients or stakeholders?

Plan for eventualities

This mapping process allows businesses to develop contingencies to mitigate the risks identified.  We work with companies on strategies that include succession planning, interim talent, and long-term recruitment pipelines. Every business should know their next hire before a resignation or new business comes in. Be prepared!

Who do you want to attract?

Who do you want to attract to your future workforce and how will you do it? We help clients understand what makes a company attractive to strong candidates. Develop your employer value proposition and identify areas for improvement. Many companies are looking at diversity, equity and inclusion targets over the next few years, as well as ‘softer’ issues such as company culture. Madison Lincoln works with real estate companies to develop lasting recruitment strategies and create a rewarding process for the candidates we engage with on their behalf. To find out more, get in touch.

*Financial Times “UK commercial property dealmaking at lowest level in over a decade”, 11th January 2023

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