Management of any property requires a varying degree of resources and skills. Materials, capital, and personnel are required for everything from ordering supplies to the complete overseeing of a multi-unit, high rise co-op or condominium. Above all resources, human resources, are typically considered the most important asset of any business or company, and managing those living resources is an art, a science, and a very necessary skill set.
“From my standpoint of management the term ‘human resources’ are the staff that the property has hired to do the day-to-day maintenance of their building,” says Maryann Carro-Caputo, president of Tribor Management Inc. in Flushing. “For larger properties, the staff can include doormen, but for the majority of buildings in all but Manhattan, they generally are the supers, handymen, and porters. Our managers must be able to deal with the issues that come up, such as sick leave and holiday/vacation scheduling, and job-related injuries and disputes. Most buildings do not have more than a few employees, but as a management company, you are working with multiple buildings and you have to deal with the issues that a larger firm would have: larger staffs, even though, technically, these workers do not work directly for you.”
“We specialize in managing smaller co-ops and condos. Because of our specialty, we feel that the human resources involved in this context include, not just the staff, which may work for the condos and co-ops, but the shareholders and unit holders as well,” says Ralph Westerhoff, president of Brickwork Management Inc. in New York City. “These people are often a wonderful resource for helping to improve and enhance the properties in which they live. This context also extends to the resources who regularly work for the property. In the end, we try to treat everyone with respect.”
Value Your People
Well-trained, positively-motivated employees enhance the appeal and ambiance of a property, adding to both the real and perceived value. Who does the hiring, the training, and the evaluations of staff may vary between properties, but generally speaking, the board of directors and the property management company will work together to achieve the best results. When an effective system is in place and working well, the board will communicate their expectations for staff performance to the manager, and the manager will develop and enforce the policies, and be held accountable to the board. The manager will generally act in an advisory capacity, before, during, and after new staff is brought on, while the actual hiring of new employees is usually a board function.
“The board/association creates the policies, which govern how they want the building to run,” says Carro-Caputo. “With the help and direction of the agent, they create the schedule for their workers, the duties and tasks for the employees, and how they wish the staff to interact with the building’s residents. An actively-involved board is a good thing. Most board members live at the property managed so they are the sounding board for the residents.”
“The role of a building or association’s board in managing their staff in a smaller property is vital,” says Westerhoff. “There is usually a lot of interaction between the staff and the board members as they run into each other. That can also be a source of friction, which the property manager has to lubricate and smooth over. We ask that our boards let us know if they make specific requests of staff, and to generally have us give directions to the staff. This makes for consistency of message.”
Experts agree that it is inevitable that a board or one of its members will provide some direction to the staff. An example would be simply informing the staff of something they observe in the building that needs attention. The management company should embrace this type of interaction between the board and the staff. But major matters such as communicating policies and procedures, providing feedback on job performance or discipline needs to be a joint effort between the board and the management company.
Keep it Simple
Westerhoff utilizes a web-based program designed to ensure consistent customer service. His goal is to provide each company associate with the needed tools to deliver solutions for each client property. “We use off-the-shelf software that generates reports that boards understand and we tweak it for each building” he says. “Most property management software is overly complicated, and we’ve discovered most people who are supposed to be using it have little or no idea of what it does,” says Westerhoff, adding that the software reports are also confusing and difficult to understand. “If you use technology that’s readily available to everyone, including smart phones, apps, email and tweaking to standard software, you’ll stay on top of your client’s needs and be able to respond effectively and efficiently and give them information that’s understandable.”
Avoid Common Mistakes
Westerhoff, who oversees a staff that includes professionals in architecture, construction management, government affairs, city code and financial and administrative services, says he's seen new property managers make many mistakes, such as failing to be accessible to staff and residents alike.
“Good management really stems from being available, listening and taking concerns seriously,” he says. “We make a point of dealing with shareholders and unit holders, not just the boards of the buildings we manage. It’s the best way to truly understand the culture of a building and its needs. Another complaint we invariably hear from boards is that their management companies haven’t planned for their needs. So it’s a shock when the façade needs to be done, or the roof replaced, and there aren’t funds to do it. Buildings want long-term financial planning and leadership and guidance.”
And, says Simon Sarwa, CEO of Brooklyn-based Trillion Asset Management, “a common mistake building managers make is that they don’t realize that everything is based on relationships: relationships with vendors and unit owners.” Sometimes, he says, “property managers miss that part because of the pressures. For example, unit owners say they want a competitive rate but as an advisor for the building, you have to focus on the quality of the work. If you don’t, it could end up costing the building more money than necessary.”
“Every building is different,” says Carro-Caputo. “The biggest mistake I see is when a manager thinks that the methods used in one property must be used in another. Legally speaking, obviously, the rules are the same when dealing with city agencies but the policies made by building boards vary considerably, and you need to adapt to how one board wishes to run their building versus another, while still making sure that these policies all comply with the law.”
Learning More, Doing Better
Education and training for managers is available from a number of sources.
“Most agents take various classes in real estate whether its management techniques, building finances or project management,” says Carro-Caputo. “However, experience is the best teacher. I have found that making mistakes is the only way to learn what not to do in the future. The quicker a manager learns what works the most effectively in any situation is a sign of how good an agent will be. Also, keeping up with all new developments affecting buildings is extremely important. A manager who takes the time to keep informed is a skill that must be learned quickly.”
“I think the best way for a property manager to learn his or her craft is to work with an experienced manager, one recognized for successfully listening and producing for his or her clients,” says Westerhoff. “In our case, we learned the tools of our trade by managing our own co-ops and condos, because that’s the environment we understand and in which we know how to deliver for our clients. I also think that professionals, who have a consulting background often have the service mindset which the job of property manager requires. My partners and I all come from consulting backgrounds,” he says.
For education, networking within the property management arena, and leadership training, few resources are as helpful as The Cooperator, as well as The Cooperator's own annual Co-op & Condo Expo, held at the Hilton New York in Manhattan every spring. (Visit www.coopexpo.com for information and registration info on the 2014 event.) In addition to the publication and trade show, industry experts also recommend the Hudson Valley or Long Island chapters of Community Associations Institute and the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), which has a local chapter in St. Albans that serves the greater New York area.
The Pomona, New York and Commack, Long Island-based CAI chapters serve the educational, business and networking needs of community associations in the greater New York area. With nearly 60 chapters worldwide offering services and programs to its members, membership in CAI includes condominium, cooperative, and homeowner associations and those who provide services and products to associations. For additional informational on CAI and its chapters go to www.caionline.org. For information about IREM’s Greater New York Chapter No. 26, call them at 212-944-9445 or visit www.iremnyc.org.
Overall managing human resources is about providing excellent service, working as a team, sharing successes, failures, and training to continually improve performance—and of course, having a dose of humor never hurts. Humor and recognition for a job well done are both excellent teachers and motivators, and the best managers know that. When individuals learn to work together as a group, and/or a team, cohesiveness is often experienced as a result of mutual positive attitudes. Experts agree that in the end, the only thing that matters is what should be done for the greater good of the property and doing whatever is necessary to get the job done.
Anne Childers is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator. Staff writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.