The Co-op Manager Shortage Anatomy of a Crisis

The horror stories abound: Ivy Leaguers flipping fries. Dot-com darlings begging for work. A six percent unemployment rate. It's no secret that the New York job market is in the intensive care unit right now. So then how is it possible that co-op management agencies are taking out full-page wanted ads and offering hefty signing bonuses for qualified (and sometimes even less-than-qualified) recruits?

The answer is that there is a severe shortage of experienced co-op and condo managers, and no one new is entering the biz. New York City real estate is practically a full-contact sport, and an almost-always robust sector of the economy, so why are management firms having such trouble attracting players? What lead up to the shortage? What can be done about it? And what does it mean for the future of co-op management?

It's a Dirty Job"¦

At the most obvious level, the problem arose because managing co-ops is no walk in the park. The hours are long, the pay is rather unimpressive, and the burnout factor is high. "A typical managing agent probably works until 10 p.m. at least two nights a week because of all the evening board meetings," says Michael Berenson of AKAM Associates, Inc., a co-op management agency. In return, a seasoned pro managing a portfolio of properties worth hundreds of millions can expect to command only an average $75,000 annual salary, or thereabouts.

But underpinning the low pay grievance lurks a more abstract complaint - a frequently cited lack of professional respect. "They [board members] often don't see us as professionals," says Mark Weil, another managing agent from AKAM Associates, Inc. "They're not real estate professionals themselves, so they're attending these meetings in their free time. This isn't their "˜real' job - so they don't seem to realize that this is our real job," he says.

Giving it 100 Percent

"A lot of board members sort of treat the whole thing as a spectator sport," adds Susan Wolf, a former real estate owner and manager who now works as a broker. "But a manager is only as good as the board he works for. If they're unqualified, you can have problems. Even if they're good, you're still beholden to a committee, which always makes it hard to get anything done."


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