It's been said before, but bears repeating: while there are certain similarities, every co-op and condo building in New York City is different, and every building community has different needs, expectations, and amenities. Those expectations and needs may change over time as well—what works for one community for a few years may not work so well as building demographics shift and redesign themselves.
A good management company makes it their business to ascertain—or even anticipate—their client buildings' changing needs, and adjusts their service accordingly. While basic functions like trash removal and general maintenance are universal necessities for all buildings, some managers go above and beyond when it comes to taking care of the communities in their portfolio.
Start with the Basics
Most reputable property managers outline similar responsibilities in their management agreements or contracts. The legal document will probably name numerous responsibilities of the agent, like hiring necessary maintenance contractors, keeping the property in good repair, maintaining up-to-date insurance, paying the bills and responding to complaints.
Additionally, managers attend board meetings, annual meetings and special meetings, produce monthly financial statements, supervise staff and make certain their building adheres to New York City codes. They also see to move-in/move-out administration, enforce the lease and house rules, oversee the payroll process for staff and file tax returns.
In an emergency, they are on the scene. When a contracting job is underway, they see to buying the supplies. When a resident wants to refinance or close on a property in their building, they oversee the process.
Having all of these details taken care of allows boards to concentrate on the larger picture.
"Management companies are generally responsible for day-to-day management like staff oversight, accounts payable and receivable, purchasing, etc.," explains Lawrence Lambert, board president of a 120-unit cooperative, Vanderbilt Plaza in Brooklyn. "Boards, on the other hand, generally concentrate on long-range planning and general leadership."
In some cases, a board may want to take on some of the management responsibilities themselves.
"Some of our buildings have a very active board that wants to remain in control and do things on their own," says Stuart Halpern, principal of Impact Real Estate Management, which manages over thirty properties in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx and Manhattan. "Others want us to do everything. We're very flexible. We'll do as much or as little as you want."
Michael Wolfe, president of Midboro Management, Inc. in Manhattan, agrees. "Management companies are flexible and will do anything reasonable to address client needs, but expectations need to be clear when negotiating the terms and conditions of the agreement," he says. "The goal is to remove as much of the ambiguity as possible. If a building has special needs, the general terms of the management agreement may differ."
Above and Beyond Basic Service
Most often, management agencies perform all of the day-to-day chores of running a building. But sometimes, for various reasons, a condo or co-op will need more than the basic offerings.
As Halper and Wolfe point out, management companies are nothing if they're not flexible. They'll go far to accommodate a building's needs or wants.
If the basic contract doesn't include a service that the building needs their manager to cover, then the board should simply ask about adding it to the contract. In exchange, the management company will probably need to adjust the price—but a board can negotiate—based on what terms they set.
"It's a competitive marketplace," says Halper, who is also an attorney with his own practice and offers his legal assistance as an additional service. "Our prices are commensurate with what we're providing. It's a question of what [buildings] are willing to pay."
An example of a needier building is one that is brand-new construction where the developer finishes the job and leaves the management company to pick up the pieces.
"Developers hire management companies that are recognized in the industry as strong performers and hire them for the start-up of the condominium," describes Wolfe. "Developers/sponsors have a vision of how these services should be managed and determine staffing, common charges and service contracts based upon that vision. However, they require a management company that can discuss their vision and provide feedback on the practicality of the plan."
Halper describes several newly-built condominiums they just signed on in the Bronx and in Queens.
"You're dealing with the formation of new buildings, starting with the basics—simple things like devising methodologies for garbage collection and arranging postal deliveries," he explains. "Becoming the manager at the get-go is much different than when we come into a condo or co-op that has all these basics under control and has been operating for years."
In a newly-developed condo, the management company would probably be responsible for hiring the initial superintendent, setting up the initial programming, arranging for cleaning personnel and dealing with general maintenance issues.
"That's part of our job: to decipher what exactly are the needs of the new development and what does the new board want to do," says Halper. "That could be very different from what the developer tells you what they believe is necessary. The new board, who are new homeowners for the most part, are thrust into this situation and, quite frankly, it's management that leads the way."
Additionally, more labor might be required of the management company when a new board is taking over. In this instance, a manager sometimes has more legwork to clean up the possible inattention of the outgoing board. They may be thrust into a situation where they must help a new board prioritize items and set goals for where they want their building to go.
Of course, buildings that offer more numerous and upscale amenities—like gyms, spas, pools or more common areas—will require more management.
But it isn't a big deal to most veteran management companies.
"We can quite easily adapt to changes like the introduction of a gym or a higher level of service at a spa," points out Wolfe, whose company has been in business since 1963. "An experienced management company can easily adapt the processes of another successful gym or spa program that is being utilized at another building."
Gym waiver forms and tracking systems are examples of items that management companies will need to address with new amenities. They also see to attendance management and take care of the equipment. Most often buildings with gyms and other facilities have staff members who handle much of this, but managers will get involved in the ordering and maintenance of gym equipment and the overall operations, says Halper.
"A board should always be looking for ways to improve their building, both to address the needs of current residents and to attract purchasers," advises Lambert. "For a management company, however, it can be difficult to deal with different standards and procedures from different boards. I feel that managers must be flexible if they are to meet the needs of their clients and take an active role while new ideas and projects are being considered by the board."
Parking could be another issue. If a building has limited spaces and requires a waiting list of residents who want a spot, then the manager could face more labor.
"We keep the lists and the assignment of spaces and the overall operation and maintenance of garages and outdoor parking spaces. We have had that in the past where the parking situation requires a little more work in devising the schemes of the waiting list," explains Halper. "We have to balance the execution of the waiting list and its criteria. But it's really nothing out of the ordinary."
Not Really Beyond…
Lambert feels that management companies, just by virtue of their profession, offer a special service to boards: their real estate expertise.
"It must be remembered that many boards are made up of members who are not real estate professionals who may not be aware of larger trends or issues," he states. "Managers can add value to their service by going beyond the traditional day-to-day management services and advising boards on ways to improve the property and the level of services offered to residents."
In cases where managers spend more hours on the job, take more phone calls or attend more meetings, it would be safe to say the management company might raise the rates for a building.
But real estate expertise is just something every manager offers as part of their overall role.
"Nothing is 'above and beyond' if the expectations are clear prior to a project or prior to contract renewal," says Wolfe, whose company manages a portfolio of 70 luxury cooperatives, condos and rental properties. "A good management company will plan and prepare for special items."
Wolfe goes on to say that management is a "client-based customer service industry"—and one that requires managers to constantly adapt to change. For example, a new trend toward environmental consciousness causes many buildings to 'go green' and renovate according to the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for existing buildings program. This makes more work for the management company.
Technological advancement brings with it more responsibility in many cases. Automated parking, upgraded heating systems and environmental control, modernized systems—these all require input, planning and more intense managing from the management company.
But a good company doesn't consider any of this more than what's expected.
"Adjusting to varying needs is the name of the game," says Wolfe. "A good management company should have no problem addressing almost any issue." Halper agrees.
"We really look at management as a catch-all where we expect to do anything and everything asked of us," he says. "We're there to say 'yes.' We're there to fully serve a board."
Domini Hedderman is a freelance writer and an aspiring novelist living in Erie, Pennsylvania.