A friend of a property manager of a New York co-op recently remarked that “Superman has finally met his match” when a task came in that seemed to have the effect of kryptonite and slowed him down—for a moment at least.
With managers constantly being faced with issue upon issue and people coming at them at all directions with emails, phone calls and complaints, it’s not an unfair analogy. A manager is something of a superhero at the end of the day.
A managing agent or property manager touches every aspect of a community, whether it is on a personal level or a professional level. It is both constant with day-to-day operations and filled with unexpected issues that arise and become a priority. “Every day varies. There is an unrecognized complexity to our job,” says Georgia Lombardo-Barton, president of Barton Management LLC. “Talented managers possess a diverse background in accounting, finance, project management as well as a more simplistic ability needed to handle people and resolve problems. It’s not a single-dimensional job description.”
No matter what the size of their portfolio, a manager must wear a great many professional hats: human resources pro, administrator, mediator, organizer, social director, project manager, sounding board—sometimes even therapist. An on-site manager has more than his or her share of responsibilities.
“One thing we deal with is that everyone feels their problem is important and they should be first,” says Stephen Elbaz, president of Esquire Management Corporation. “It’s really no different than how a doctor treats the emergency room; the cardiac arrest will always be treated first, yet everyone wants an instant, right away response.”
Property management is really a two-fold relationship. But sometimes the manager's role is misunderstood. A resident or a board member must realize that the building’s policies are designed for everyone to follow and, as with any entity that has its policies in place, there are also rules, regulations and restrictions, which must be supported.
“We are only human, and do not have a crystal ball to predict the future and what it will bring, or a magic wand to instantly make residents’ troubles disappear,” says Alex K. Kuffel, president of Pride Property Management Corp., with offices in New York City and New Jersey. “We do not create the rules and policies of a building. That's the board’s job, and we are hired to merely enforce them. Without support, there would be chaos and disorder, truly detrimental to any multifamily dwelling.”
All in a Day’s Work
A typical day for Kuffel begins at 8 a.m. by checking messages and responding to calls and emails appropriately.
“After that, we will call each building’s superintendent and go over with him any/all concerns, calls or matters relating to the building in question,” he says. “We will also call our various vendors, and board members, as needed in the course of the day.”
The day also consists of ordering supplies, directing the superintendent or other building-related personnel, perhaps working with the building's engineer, architect, or attorney, or other trades people, especially if there is work in progress.
“We will go to the building at any given time to conduct an inspection, or meet with a resident, or board member, or contractor for any number of reasons,” Kuffel says. “Additionally, the manager will usually meet with the Board of Directors for the traditional evening monthly meeting that takes place. We prepare the meeting agenda, and the monthly report, which will include a financial disclosure of all paid and unpaid bills, including accounts receivables and a shareholder/homeowner delinquency report for board review and vote, if applicable, for legal intervention.”
Elbaz says that in addition to answering emails, calls and doing work inside the office, an average building gets visited 1 to 2 times per week.
“We meet with the super, meet with residents who have repair issues or service problems, inspect work that’s underway or completed, spot check supply orders and check general building systems,” he says. “Most managers will create a laundry list of what needs to be done so on subsequent visits you can make sure things have been done.”
A manager is responsible dealing with everything, say, from a leaky pipe at 129 Grand Street to producing and balancing a $1,000,000 budget.
Proactive tasks include preparing annual budgets, meetings with vendors on site, handling conference calls with boards/professionals, handling annual meeting preparation, negotiating contracts, preparing manager packages for their associations, dealing with insurance claims, and speaking with board members to keep action items progressing.
But they must also keep up with city laws and regulations and make changes when necessary. Over the past decade, managers have had to deal with changes in laws concerning lead paint, fire safety, sprinkler and standpipe, elevator inspections and carbon monoxide detectors.
“Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors have a service life of seven years. Even though it lights up and tests, it will not detect it well. Managers have to deal with that,” Elbaz says. “You could have 1,000 detectors that are useless and you need to deal with facilitating the change.”
Right now, Kuffel is dealing with Local Law 11 issues on his buildings that are in need of mandatory city filing and facade repairs. Local Law 11 is a New York City ordinance originally enacted in 1980 to make building facades safe and protect pedestrians below.
Good Characters Welcome
A good manager must be of solid character and personality, and possess traits of honesty, sincerity and integrity. Other important assets to have are good organizational skills and discipline. It takes planning, follow through and a proactive approach to successfully accomplish the job. Juggling dozens of responsibilities is no easy task but the most adept managers can make it seem rather easy.
“Portfolio property management requires long hours and constant attention to detail, on a daily basis. However, we cannot do it alone and nor can we take full credit,” Kuffel says. “We are most fortunate to have gathered and maintained over the years a voluminous supply of professionals—including lawyers, engineers, architects, contractors, vendors and supply houses, which we access every single day of the week. I could not imagine life without any of them. Indeed, they are an important part of the ‘juggling’ act.”
No Ordinary Day
When you talk with different managers in Manhattan, you will realize that over time each manager has his or her own unique story or experience that is far from what you might consider in the realm of their responsibilities. Some are exhilarating, some funny and others can be nightmarish.
“A not-so-average day could consist of any unforeseen circumstance such as handling a gut-renovation that caused a massive leak to the condo owner beneath, who recently paid $20,000 for Venetian plaster in the affected area,” Lombardo-Barton says. “Winters are the most problematic time of year for agents. Boilers shut off; heat distribution is erratic; water is not hot enough, etc.”
Kuffel has started a tree beautification venture, which is something unusual and out of the ordinary for a manager. Thanks to his efforts, trees are in full bloom and the building has a much nicer appearance.
“It began with the board’s desire to upgrade and beautify the building’s property, but they did not have a lot of money to spend. So, they decided to purchase and plant some much-needed trees from the local nursery,” he says. “Of course retaining the nursery for this would have cost a small fortune, so I took charge of the project, rolled up my sleeves, drove to the nursery early one weekend morning, purchased the desired trees, loaded them in the back of my pickup truck, drove them back to the building, unloaded them with the help of the superintendent, then dug all the holes and personally planted each tree in every designated spot.”
One thing that comes up maybe once a year or so is dealing with a unit if a shareholder passes away and the apartment is sealed by the police.
“You need to determine who has the right to go in and that can be problematic, dealing with siblings or family members,” Elbaz says. Other situations also require your attention. If an older person is suffering with dementia, for example, they may act confused, wander the hallways, and perhaps, leave the stove on or a candle burning, he says.
The Perfect Manager
The responsibilities of property managers include a wide array of tasks, from the physical to the administrative.
If I were to create the perfect property manager, “the top characteristic more than anything is they have to be well-organized,” Elbaz says. “If you don’t have that basic talent, you are doomed to fail. One should also be a good time manager, have excellent people skills, a good knowledge of how a building operates and the ability to follow-up.”
While many of these jobs involve concrete things—like sending out monthly bills, filing paperwork, or going to meetings—equally important is managing the people involved with the building.
Good customer service and promptly responding to the needs of residents and the board is also paramount,” Kuffel says. “No two buildings are alike. Each one has its own personality and special set of requirements. We also realize that these are people’s homes, and there is often pride of ownership at stake.”
Communicating, being courteous and open to their residents are also important.
“Property managers should possess a professional demeanor at all times,” says Lombardo-Barton. “Their emotions should not interfere with how a situation is handled.”
Elbaz says that a good property manager can eliminated a lot of the night calls by maintaining the building, keeping up with inspections and responding to calls and emails in a timely manner.
A tough job can be made a whole lot easier when you love what you do, and most successful property managers usually love their jobs. And even a superhero can attest that helping people makes a positive difference in the world around them.
Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.