Is Professional Management Worth It? 6 Self-Managed Costs to Consider
How do you make the right choice for your association?
What’s one of the biggest considerations when it comes to hiring a property management partner? If you ask most association board members, they’ll likely say it’s the cost.
Can your association afford it? Is it worth it? Most importantly, will it pay off in the long run?
There are many aspects to consider when your board is deciding whether to partner with a property management company. While the actual price of the contract should factor into the decision-making process, there are many costs that come with operating as a self-managed association.
Read on to discover six costs to consider when choosing whether to self-manage or partner with a property management firm.
The cost of time: Your time is valuable
While tangible expenses may be the first thing you think about when deciding whether to partner with a management company, there’s a vital cost you may be overlooking: time. One way to think about this is by calculating exactly how many hours your board is spending on association business.
In fact, your time costs significantly more in the long run. Remember that association board members are volunteers, and many have full-time jobs and responsibilities. They shouldn’t be working 20 to 40 unpaid hours a week on association business. When board members and their manager don’t have support from a professional management company, many day-to-day tasks end up falling on their lap (e.g., creating communication templates, running meetings and drafting agendas, recruiting staff, etc.) versus their primary responsibility (i.e., strategic planning and decision making). This often results in board or manager burnout and turnover, where the remaining members end up shouldering even more of the responsibility of running the association.
FirstService Residential provides extensive support to ensure that the many admin and day-to-day tasks are completed efficiently outside of the board members’ responsibilities. Board members are given oversight over all tasks and decisions, but do not need to be the point people for either completing the tasks or making sure that tasks are completed.
The cost of risk: HR support (and penalties) can be expensive
For many associations, HR support is a significant expense. However, there’s more to it than that. Beyond the initial cost of third-party HR services and fees for recruitment, benefits and training, taking on HR responsibilities as an individual entity or association poses a significant risk for self-managed associations.
Without professional guidance, acting as an employer is fraught with potential for lawsuits and fines. For instance, if an association inadvertently violates a labor law related to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), discrimination, or workers’ compensation, they may be subject to hefty fines. Depending on the number of employees you are responsible for and your understanding of federal and state law regarding labor, your association could face significant fines or even lawsuits.
This area of support is often the reason many self-managed associations choose to partner with a professional property management firm. For instance, a 3,550-unit master-planned community determined that they were spending an average of $75,000 to $100,000 a year on legal fees just for HR-related services. After partnering with FirstService Residential, this fee was removed because their associates transitioned from association employees to property management employees, eliminating the cost of third-party HR services. The association’s 45 employees also gained access to training and development, extensive benefits and a local support team, helping with talent retention as well.
The cost of size: Larger companies can lead to savings
Self-managed associations may be missing out on additional funds and savings that come from partnering with a management company that has the added benefit of scale. Partnering with a large property management company can lead to savings or additional value on major expenses like utilities, insurance and supplies. They can often help negotiate rates because of the size of their company and they can leverage existing relationships honed during their time in the industry.
Think of it this way: When self-managed associations are bidding on utility providers or requesting quotes for elevator contracts, they are representing one community or building. That may pose a greater risk to a provider, given their small scale. On the other hand, a property management company that represents thousands of associations and residents has the added benefit of reputation to help negotiate better rates on behalf of the associations they serve. A vendor may also consider building a reputation with a larger property management company as more lucrative than developing one with an association on their own. This factor alone can result in potential deals or savings.
The cost of reputation: A true lifestyle community requires training and support
No matter what type of association you serve on, your resident experience is critical when it comes to engaging potential buyers and enhancing overall property values. Maximizing your amenities and curating the right lifestyle programming and mix of events for your community takes significant time and years of expertise in the industry. Even if you have a great general manager or a board member with hospitality experience, they may not have expertise in every area of lifestyle enhancements your community needs.
That’s why it’s important to work with a property management company that not only has lifestyle experience, but access to a support team with specialized expertise working with similar communities. A professional property management company can also provide lifestyle and customer support training to your staff, ensuring a consistent resident experience.
FirstService Residential’s dedicated Community Solutions team offers lifestyle management services designed to meet a community’s vision and fit resident preferences, solidifying your association’s reputation. These services include a residential hospitality program, concierge and front desk support, food and beverage expertise, spa/wellness/health programs, resident events (including children and pets!), sports programming, innovative technology offerings and more. Watch a video to learn more about our dedicated lifestyle services team.
The cost of finances: Budget challenges require dedicated accounting support
Association financials can be complex, and not every board has the expertise or the desire to manage it all themselves. Additionally, spending on financial activities like accounts receivable (AR), accounts payable (AP) and annual budget planning can add up. Partnering with a professional management firm will absorb those costs and also provide much-needed expertise from a team that specializes in association financials. Even if you have a former accountant on your board or employ a general manager who is well-versed in association finances, having a specialized team can make a big difference when it comes to your financials. A professional management company should have dedicated AR and AP teams on hand along with the financial expertise to help support your board with budget planning, delinquency guidance and accounting-related questions. Even if your financial needs seem simple now, dealing with a surprise maintenance cost or changes to staff wage requirements can negatively affect an otherwise solid association budget. Having the backing and support from a team of financial specialists will help you more easily manage these challenges.
The cost of missed revenue: Professional expertise can reveal opportunities
Working with a professional management company can also lead to revenue opportunities that can boost association funds. The best management companies have the lifestyle experience to help you monetize amenities such as restaurants, spas or event spaces. They can also provide guidance with other revenue-generating opportunities like increased interest on deposits, on-site vending machines and more. Perhaps most importantly, they can help your association maximize existing funds. For instance, your association may be missing out on higher returns if you aren’t leveraging your reserve funds in the right way. A professional property management firm can provide specialized financial services to associations to help, including reserve and lending programs.
FirstService Residential-managed associations have access to dedicated financial services affiliate FirstService Financial, which offers a reserve program, insurance products, and lending services, to name a few. Its Cash Management team helps tailor short- and long-term strategies for each association’s unique needs, with the goal of replacing lower-rate funding accounts (brokerage-based money market accounts, sweeps, etc.), reducing ongoing security and tracking burdens, improving asset liquidity, and maximizing interest revenue.
One master-planned association decided to partner with FirstService Residential after a financial audit revealed they were earning minimal interest on their reserve funds ($1,000 in annual interest from $1.5 million in reserves). After hiring FirstService Residential and getting a full banking analysis through FirstService Financial, they increased their interest to a projected $75,000 per year.
Weighing the costs of professional property management
Deciding whether to partner with a property management company is not an easy task, as there are many costs to consider. However, doing a side-by-side comparison of costs, including the costs that will be absorbed by the management company, may indicate that it makes more sense to work with a professional property management firm. Whether you are paying significant costs on HR and legal fees or not earning enough interest on reserve funds, having a property management team on your side can yield significant value. Contact FirstService Residential today to learn more about the services and support we offer the associations we serve.