As part of your responsibility to preserve, protect and enhance your community association, you may choose to bring in a professional property management company. Professional management can provide a depth of resources that you may not have access to otherwise, can help you optimize your budget while improving your residents’ lifestyles and more. But what characteristics should you be looking for when looking at a management partner for your community association? There’s a lot of competition out there and it’s important that you know what to seek out.
What’s most important is that you know what matters to your community. Where are you having trouble? Budgeting? Policy enforcement? Preventative maintenance? Communication between the board and residents (or the board and your existing management)? These are all legitimate issues that board members deal with every day, and you need to know which ones are the greatest hurdles for your community association board so you can accurately assess how a management company can assist you.
The risks of not knowing what to look for in a management company are myriad: if you aren’t clear on what you want and need, a company cannot meet those needs. You can get stuck with management that you don’t really want, and no one wants that.
We’ve done lots of research and discovered some fairly universal needs among association boards. Board members say that while offerings like state-of-the-art technology are a great value-add, excellent service really comes down to one thing – the right team.
The single biggest complaint board members have when switching professional property management companies is that their old manager lacked “people-skills.” A manager that is the right fit for your community will work to develop a great working relationship with the board.
Phil Pool is the vice president for the metro division of FirstService Residential. He said that his teams do weekly updates for each board, and then some boards modify it to be more “user friendly” and send it out to the entire community. This regular communication helps ensure transparency between the board and the community, as well as between the management and the board. In addition to things that were done the past week, it includes information about what is coming up in the near future.
“Good communication is all about level of detail,” Pool said. “There are instances that require a great level of detail to be communicated, and some that do not. It’s a skill know whether you need to write a chapter or a book.”
Every community is different – from the physical building to the landscaping to the on-site amenities to the residents. Knowing every aspect of the property is essential to being able to maintain its value and provide the best service to the residents who live there. A property manager that values attention to detail will not only ensure the requests they handle themselves are completed 100 percent correctly, but will also be able monitor, manage and quality control vendors to ensure they respect details as well.
“We all do our site walks to notice burnt out light bulbs and other issues that need attention. We note it. We issue a work order,” Pool said. “The third or fourth time that bulb is burnt out? We need to dig deeper and get to the root cause of that. Does the fixture have a short? Because that could be a danger. Did we change brands of light bulbs and they just don’t last as long? Keep asking why. Don’t just have the light bulb changed – keep an eye on it, note how often it burns out and look to the deeper cause behind why it happens. I’ve been out on properties, touring with board members who were considering changing management to FirstService Residential, pointing out issues in the building to them, and been asked ‘Why doesn’t our onsite manager spot them?’ You have to treat things with a fresh set of eyes, even if you’re not new to the property.”
That’s the level of attention to detail and care that makes for a great management/board relationship.
The best community management companies employ teams of associates who make responsiveness their top priority. Look for a company that has a 24/7 customer care center you can call for issues ranging from account information to routine maintenance. The right company for you will have multiple channels of communication and provide quick and efficient follow-up to all your board or resident concerns – sometimes, even just a few hours can make a huge impact on a situation. Fast follow up, even just to say “we’re looking into it,” makes a difference to both residents and board members. It makes them feel they are being heard.
Sometimes a small problem snowballs into a much bigger one. Property improvements or beautification projects can unveil hidden structural issues. A single resident’s concern can turn into a seemingly never-ending stream of complaints. You know you are getting the best service from your property management company when they continue to attack a problem with a positive attitude, and go the extra mile to make sure it is resolved to your complete satisfaction.
A great community manager will be proactive, sharing recommendations and advice and bringing deals and cost-saving solutions to the board. They will actively audit your vendors, renegotiate existing contracts and use the power of collective buying to source the best deals for your community. They should take the view that their job is to increase your quality of life, improve your property values and save you money wherever possible.
What happens when the property manager you love gets sick, moves on, or is promoted? The best property management companies should have a strong “bench” and will be able to provide you with a suitable replacement that is the right fit for your community.
“There’s a second element to depth, which is having enough people onsite to adequately manage the property. You can’t have a 250 unit community with lots of amenities and programming and one onsite manager, but no concierge or administrative support or maintenance staff, things just aren’t going to get done,” Pool said. “While much of that is decided by the community board – and it’s something they need to prioritize – it’s important that the management company be able to fill all of the needed roles with quality, reliable personnel.”
Choosing the right community association management partner is a huge decision. Things like communication, response time and proactive management are a great place to start. Make sure that you take the time to assess the true wants and needs of your community and assess that the companies you are considering are able to meet them.