Online Communities The Internet as a Management Tool

Online Communities

By now, it is evident that the Internet is to our generation what the West was to our founding fathers–a vast land of opportunity to explore and cultivate. The World Wide Web has already established itself as a place to obtain information, chat with a celebrity or write to a friend–all from the comfort of home. Thanks to the Internet you can shop for everything from stocks to shirts to an apartment without shedding your pajamas. You can read magazines, listen to music and play along with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Every day, different uses are being found for the Internet. It is truly the New Frontier, and among the most recent pioneers are real estate management companies and their clients, who are finding ways to use the web as a building and communications management tool.

Within the last five years, almost every major property management company in the Metropolitan area has launched its own website. Typically, these function like advertisements, allowing a co-op board shopping for a management company to review a particular firm’s client list and credentials. In the last few years, several luxury buildings have also established websites, primarily geared towards outsiders and used to sell the building.

The newest trend, as typified by three websites launching this spring, is to create portals which feature individualized web pages for buildings. The pages, which are accessible only to management, residents, owners and staff, are tailored to the needs of each building and offer a range of features from a message board for notices to online repair requests. The websites vary too, supplying everything from weather and traffic to an exclusive online magazine.

What’s Out There?

Insignia Financial Group, the parent company of both Insignia Residential Group, which manages about 60,000 co-op and condo apartments, and Douglas Elliman, one of the largest real estate brokerage firms in the city, has joined forces with several other management companies to launch Edificerex.com. The website is designed to create an online community for residents of luxury apartment buildings. "For the first time we can offer a truly differentiating product in property management," says Insignia chairman and chief executive officer Andrew Farkas. "Edificerex is the ultimate amenity representing the future of metropolitan living."

Initially, approximately 300 buildings managed by Insignia will be able to access the exclusive areas of the website (know as The Network) using unique building codes and passwords. The Network is also being made available to owners of other upscale residential buildings including Insignia’s partners in Edificerex: Apollo Real Estate Advisors, Blackacre Capital Management, Casden Properties, Milford Management Corporation, The Related Companies, and The Witkoff Group. For everyone else, the site offers a guide to New York’s exclusive nightspots and restaurants, a calendar of charitable events, referrals to services like nannies and dog walkers, and an online magazine with articles by New York’s hippest writers, like Tama Janowitz.

Proving that this is an idea whose time has come, two other websites have been created to provide internal communications systems for co-op and condo buildings. AKAM Associates Inc., a full service property management company based in Manhattan, has unveiled The AKAM Genesis System as a web-based management tool. Unlike Edificerex, the site, AKAM.com\ genesis, is intended solely for use by AKAM clients. For example, the site has links to traffic, and weather, but the emphasis is on the building-specific applications. "We are focused on giving our buildings more service in the most efficient way possible," says AKAM chief executive officer, Leslie Kaminoff, whose company manages approximately 90 co-op and condo associations in the Metropolitan area. "We basically sat down and thought of all the paperwork generated in running a building and ways to minimize it. AKAM Genesis is the answer. "

Smaller property management companies and independent buildings need not be shut out either, thanks to Buildinglink.com, the brainchild of entrepreneur Jerry Kastenbaum. "We are providing an easier way to collect and store data, and then display information with free access to all," says Kastenbaum, who unveiled Buildinglink.com at The Cooperator’s Co-op and Condo Expo in February and has already signed on seven of New York’s property management companies. "This is a solution for the question, ‘How do we communicate more effectively?’" The site is currently advertising free and costs a small annual fee for participation.

Building Info, A Click Away

So, what exactly are these sites offering that is useful to co-op management? The ability to post all notices and meeting minutes online. You can request to have them e-mailed to you, or you can view them online. The bylaws and proprietary lease can be accessed and work orders can be submitted online, at any time. Copies of repair requests will go to the management company, as well. "This gives us better control over tracking orders," says Kaminoff. "We’re in a service business and we have to respond promptly." In addition, a history of repairs for individual units and the building as a whole can be accessed with the click of a mouse by maintenance and staff with proper access codes. Staff names and schedules can be posted and special instructions can be sent directly to the concierge regarding guests and deliveries.

Board members can choose to have an e-mail address, making them accessible to shareholders while maintaining their privacy. Two features that the site creators tout is the online bulletin board which allows members to post messages about items for sale, baby-sitting services etc., and the Professional Directory which will enable residents to post what they do for a living and how their product or service can be accessed. MaryAnn Rothman, executive director of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums says, "[The Internet] can give an added sense of community." She adds, "And it’s a bonus to be able to access information quickly and privately in your home."

In order to fully utilize these new services, many buildings will need to install terminals with Internet access at the concierge desk, in the super’s office, or both. AKAM and Insignia are offering training programs to any staff or residents who need to learn how to use the new technology. Kaminoff says his managers are beginning to get used to checking their e-mail in addition to their phone messages. Residents, who can still rely on receiving their information the old-fashioned way, are embracing the programs with caution. Some critics suggest that people spend all day on the computer. The last thing they want to do is go on at home.

Lloyd Chrein, web designer and director of Chrein.com Webdesign, voices the other side of the argument. "It’s nice that people can go on any time that is convenient." For residents who travel extensively, the new programs can provide a needed link to home.

And buildings need to chose how much or how little to post on their Internet pages. Greg Carlson, president of Carlson Realty Property Management and Consulting Company says, "You have to be careful. There’s a lot of people who don’t want sensitive information on the web." At Edificerex, residents can access their current bills and account history. At AKAM Genesis, no financial information is posted, however users can link to the accounting office via e-mail and receive a quick response.

Just the Beginning

Edificerex is leading the pack in terms of providing extra services for users. Residents can take advantage of exclusive deals with shopping retailers and service providers. A unique offering on the site is the opportunity to bid on reservations at the city’s top restaurants including Lespinasse and Daniel, with the proceeds going to charity. While critics of the site say that much of the content is duplicated elsewhere, Insignia is confident that the site will bring new business to the company, while adding value for their current clientele.

The Internet is the newest tool in the box, but hardly an exclusive one. Memos still get posted, letters get sent out, and paperless management is a far off dream. But you can learn more about your neighbors, read the house rules at your leisure, and tell your super about a leak at 2 a.m. without waking him up. Which if you are the super, is very good news indeed.

"The current sites are just skimming the surface," Kaminoff says. He predicts that one day residents will be holding board meetings online, and paying their maintenance using credit cards. He adds, "It just keeps growing."

Ms. Mulhare is a freelance writer living in Queens.

Related Articles

Doodle social media icons. Drawing symbols, website sketch art. Network or digital marketing, photo click arrow web vector set. Doodle sketch and internet drawing to social online illustration

Co-ops, Condos, & Social Media

To Tweet…or Not to Tweet?

Logo of Continental Automated Buildings Association

Healthy Buildings & Indoor Air Quality

FREE Webinar - Thursday, July 28 from 12pm - 1pm

Smart home concept.Hand of man using smart home control app on mobile phone.Remote home control.Smart home technology.

Upgrading to Self-Operating Systems

Now's the Time

 

Comments

  • I would be particularly interested in what smaller co-op buildings, who may not have the need for all the features of the sites mentioned here, are doing to simply help facilitate e-mail communication between the management company, board members and residents.