Against the more popular doctor, lawyer, scientist, police or even bus driver, a valuer is hardly a coveted ambition for school children.
However, for Datuk Mani Usilappan it has definitely been a remunerative career over the past 44 years. A former Director General of the Board of Valuers, Appraisers and Estate Agents (BVAEA), Mani was awarded the title “Valuer of the Year” this year.
Although this is not his first award, Mani said it is a pleasant surprise for him as it shows the appreciation the board has for his work all these years.
“One should always have the passion and hunger to learn more to succeed in the industry,” he said.
Born and bred in Johor, he started his career as a Valuation Officer under the Singapore Tax Department in 1971 after obtaining his Higher School Certificate (HSC) in Muar High School.
“I had no prior qualification for the job but was accepted because my academic results were good. This was where I came to know about valuation services,” he said.
Mani moved on to the Malaysian Civil Service in 1973 as a Valuation Assistant. He passed as a qualified Chartered Valuation Surveyor and became a Property Consultant by profession in 1976.
Retired in 2006, Mani is still active in the field as a managing partner of VPC Alliance (Kajang) Sdn Bhd, a Council Member of the Association of Private Valuers and board member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Malaysia.
He conducts classes for surveyors, coaching them to prepare for their exams. He also lectured at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Mara, Universiti Malaya and Universiti Tun Hussein Onn until 2009.
Awarded “The Surveyor of the Year” title in 2006, Mani played a big part on the formation of the National Property Information Centre (Napic) and National Property Research Centre (Naprec).
He said current valuers have more opportunities to learn, improve and succeed in this industry compared to his early days.
“The district and state heads are now well-trained and the system has been set to run effectively,” he said.
Like most careers, his has had its fair share of challenges. Mani said one of the biggest was to make property management a mainstream profession.
He said the “fight” has been going on for years and no solution has been found as yet. He has been involved in debates and drafting of amendments to laws relating to property, Compulsory Land Acquisition, national policies on real estate and standard setting for valuation, estate agency and property management purposes.
He was active in the discussions on the formulation of the Property Management Standards, being one of its contributors and chief editor.
“Every year there will be different challenges in this industry. Keeping up-to-date and improving your ability to perform the job is a challenge by itself,” he said.
Even in his school days, Mani has stood out as an excellent student. He was active in extra-curricular activities and his leadership qualities were evident when he was chosen as the head prefect in Muar High School.
Asked about his ambition in school, he said he never had a specific ambition but jested that it was definitely not a doctor, as biology was not his favourite subject.
Being from a middle-class family, he knew he could not further his studies and decided that he should do something that can give him a sense of fulfilment as well as be financiallyrewarding.
Mani is an admirer of historical figures such as Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, and has a great love for books.
The love for reading creates in him a desire to learn more about his profession and improve his expertise.
“Since I started the career, I developed a passion for it and always update myself by reading and asking a lot of questions,” he said.
In the last 10 years of his service, he was the Professional and Technical Head of the Ministry of Finance’s Valuation and Property Services Department, as well as the Committee Chairman of BVAEA. In these capacities he was responsible for setting the standard practices and determining the direction of how valuations are conducted on behalf of the government and in the private sector.
Commenting on the significance of the Malaysian property sector internationally, he said the local market is still significant in South East Asia.
“In terms of attracting foreigners, we are just getting started. But we have the potential, as ours is still an open market,” he said.
However, he said, the “flip-flop” on policies might adversely affect the market. He said there should be better coordination among all the departments, not just property-related ones. In addition, departments such as immigration should “relax” their policies.
“The immigration procedures have always been a hindrance for foreigners when it comes to buying in Malaysia,” he opined.
“We also have not marketed our properties that well compared to other countries,” he added.
Overall, Mani believes the valuation profession in Malaysia is more developed compared to countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar.
Perhaps, with greater awareness, students of the future will consider valuation to be a career of choice.