Someone once said that "People who say that small things don't bother them have never slept in a room with a mosquito."
The truth is that there are little irritations—otherwise known as pet peeves—about a job, relationship, or other parts of life that bother everyone on a regular basis. In the property management industry, if you talk to enough of managers or residents in the region’s co-op/condo buildings, you’ll start to hear similar tales of woe: boards who won't return phone calls (or boards who call constantly for every little thing), long-running feuds between residents, simple maintenance issues that turn into legal/financial/logistical nightmares for whatever reason. The list is long, and most property managers can relate to their colleagues' frustrations.
Interestingly, while not all property managers want to share their pet peeves—much less name names—among the managers we spoke to, many said that they feel like they have something in common with legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield: they get no respect.
“There's a general sentiment among some managers that people don’t realize how hard working the managing agent is,” says Enid Hamelin, director of Lawrence Properties who has also served on the board at her own building. “If they are a good agent and the work is seamless they are taken for granted. The job is 24/7 and managers have to be available for anything that might come up. It’s important that people realize that this job requires dedication and a special person who can do it. They put their families on the back burner.”
In the management business for nearly 35 years, Steven W. Birbach, chairman of Carlton Management in New York, says he’s dealt with virtually every type of building repair one could imagine. Over the years he has accumulated a preferred vendor list of those who provide services to the buildings he manages at reasonable prices for quality work, so when a board member requests that he obtain several bids on a job that must be done promptly, he gets a little miffed.
“I know that my vendor will come promptly and do the job at a reasonable price,” Birbach says. “Yet I have to wait for several days or weeks, because additional proposals are requested. This could lead to further deterioration, which leads to additional costs. In addition, you have an owner calling you every day to inquire when repairs will be made. Ninety percent of the time a board will select the first vendor that I selected, but as the agent in a fiduciary capacity we have to go through the process.”
When it comes to behaviors, Mark B. Levine, RAM, the vice president of Excel Bradshaw Management Group in Manhattan, says that many issues that his managers deal with include handling board members' and residents' expectation of timing and issue resolution. “Unless a building has a full-time manager on site, there is most likely a portfolio manager servicing the property, managing a few buildings at a time,” says Levine. “When issues arise, unless they are an emergency situation, the property manager will need time to assess the situation, contact the appropriate parties (or decision makers) and work to resolve the issue.
Although we are in touch with the party who is making the complaint or request for repair from the beginning, there is an expectation that all issues should be solved immediately. Due to the nature of working with many cogs in the wheel, this is unlikely most times.”
Another example of a pet peeve comes courtesy of a resident’s sense of entitlement. “For example, residents will redo their kitchen without submitting any of the necessary paperwork to the board,” says Hamelin. “They’ll get a phone call because there is a crew at the unit to dismantle the kitchen, but people take things in their own hands and don’t follow the rules.”
Hamelin is quick to explain that managers might have pet peeves, but they understand that dealing with their complaints is just part of their job. “Another manager said their pet peeve is when they have to handle two neighbors who are complaining to each other—but that’s their job,” she says. “If they are handling noise complaints they go to the proper authorities to do so, but again, that’s what their job is. Their biggest pet peeve is when they think that others aren’t realizing what they do, the commitment and how hard they work. They are the front line and urban warriors.”
How could any issue have been avoided from the start? “Solid communication from the beginning of the issue is the key,” says Levine. “Managing the expectations of the person(s) initiating the complaint needs to be handled the correct way. Understanding that there are emergencies that come up from time to time and that will affect the timing of the resolution is also key to understanding that we are working on the issue and will resolve it as soon as possible.”
Hamelin says that someone will have an ‘aha’ moment to see how hard the managers are working. “It happens,” she says. “When you do your job well, someone will compliment you on your job. When you know you’ve done a good job, some will get it.”
In terms of the building as a whole, Levine says that pet peeves don’t really affect the residents. “It affects individual owners/shareholders at different times, but if more than one unit is experiencing an issue stemming from one problem, then we will work our hardest to resolve the conflict or the problem as soon as possible to minimize the trauma to any residents,” he says.
“There are buildings that recognize the nature of portfolio management (perhaps it is due to their smaller size or their need of lower management fees—that they don't have a full-time manager on-site) and educate their residents via e-mail, newsletters and in open meetings. We try to nip most problems in the bud before they grow unmanageable. We also try to keep those lines of communication open with the residents so that they're kept in the loop, and know that even if the issues are not resolved on their timetable, they're in the crosshairs of the managing agent and we're actively working to take care of it.”
It might be comforting to know that property managers across the nation often share the same pet peeves. Sandy Albecker of Enlan Condo Management in Chicago says that she's occasionally been conscripted by overzealous brokers who expect her to take on their duties as well as her own. “It’s a breakdown in communication. We are there to give good service, including to the broker, but some think we do the work that we don’t.”
There are going to be bumps in the road—and more pet peeves—along the way in the life of a property manager. However, most come with solutions, most importantly communication, that can prevent these from happening again.
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.