It's easy enough to find a property manager —just flip open the Yellow Pages and you'll see dozens. That doesn't mean it's easy to choose one, however. Your managing agent is a fundamental member of your association's operating team, and needs to be someone you can count on to oversee your staff and maintenance program, submit bids for contract work, oversee billing and accounts payable and act as a liaison between residents and board members.
It's not a job for just anybody. You want someone ethical, dependable, accessible and who has the ability to think on their feet and find creative solutions to an array of challenges. Choosing the right person to serve as your community's managing agent can be tricky—so we've assembled a few tips below to help narrow the field.
Finding the best manager starts with finding the best management company for your community's particular needs. In a city like New York, where the housing stock varies from historic low-rise row homes to modern high-rise developments, management companies have to be flexible and diversified to best serve the communities in their portfolio. Regardless of whether you live in a six-unit Brooklyn brownstone or one of Manhattan's newer residential towers, the ideal management firm should:
• Provide accurate, up-to-date financial reports on a regular basis
• Provide overviews of your building's structural and mechanical elements
•Supervise your association's staff —including hiring, firing, performance reviews, background checks and payroll management
• Pay attention to changing federal, state and local laws to avoid violations and take advantage of incentives and benefits
• Maintain accurate, accessible files and records for your property, and make that information readily available to shareholders and residents
• Attend any special meetings of the board or residents
• Interact knowledgeably with other professionals like attorneys, accountants, engineers, etc.
• Respond promptly to inquiries from residents and shareholders
• Maintain working relationships with reputable contractors and service providers
• Provide individual managing agents with opportunities for continuing education and professional development
• Provide adequate administrative and technical support for agents and their buildings
Of course, a great management company is defined by the quality of its individual managing agents. A company committed to supporting and nurturing its employees is more likely to treat your building as a valued client - and a good agent shares many qualities with his or her parent company, plus a few extras. Your managing agent should:
• Understand that he or she is answerable to the board of directors
•Understand that his or her job is to deal with day-to-day issues so the board can focus on policy and direction
• Be accessible, and keep lines of communication with both boards and residents open
• Respond to boards' and residents' questions in a timely, courteous, and knowledgeable manner
• Know how to delegate tasks to avoid becoming overextended
• Think ahead and be proactive to avoid costly and inconvenient surprises
• Cooperate with boards to maximize value of meetings
• Cooperate with service providers and cultivate productive, positive relationships with professionals serving the building
•Know when a question or problem goes beyond the reach of his or her expertise, and know who to call upon for help in such a situation
• Take an interest in refining his or her professional skill set by participating in continuing education and development opportunities
While things like accessibility and good organization skills (or the lack thereof) are quickly apparent, other important managerial qualities like trustworthiness, integrity, and patience take time to establish. Sometimes, a managing agent's overall personality or demeanor is a bad fit with a particular building's board. That doesn't necessarily make them a bad manager —but it could stand in the way of good decision-making for the building community. It's important for boards to know that they're entitled to switch managers if the one assigned to them by their management company isn't working out.
A good manager should be committed to working with your board as a teammate and advocate—after all, most board members are volunteers who aren't compensated for their time, and may have little or no professional expertise when it comes to running a building or association. It's up to the manager to help guide the board through the day-to-day issues their community faces, advise them on the wisest course of action and deal directly with the non-board residents. Managers also have to make sure that community rules are being followed, staff are being productive, and that physical maintenance is being properly seen to.
In the end, many management companies gauge their success by how happy and productive their boards are. If your managing agent is accessible, committed to good communication and flexible enough to appreciate your building's unique needs, he or she is probably a keeper! However, if you find yourself frustrated with endless un-returned phone calls and unread e-mails, or if your board is meeting every couple of days to hash out yet another issue, it may be high time to consider a change.