“...We gather here today at the human resources department of Acme Property Management Company to bring together John Smith, property manager, with the building and board located at 123 Anywhere Street. If nobody objects to this arrangement, we now pronounce this property manager and this building united!”
It might sound silly, but the relationship between a property manager and a building and its board really is like a marriage in many ways. In this partnership, you have a building (filled with residents who have personalities all their own) and a manager. Like any couple, every building has its own needs. Every manager is an individual who does things in his or her own way. Of course you can’t forget about the board of directors, who have their own perspectives and set of expectations for the managing agent (think of them as the sometimes overbearing in-laws).
Bringing these parties together and making each personality and set of expectations work is like bringing together two people to see if they hit if off. If they do, it could be a match made in heaven. If they don't—not so much. If a manager’s style is at odds with a client community’s expectations, friction is bound to develop and the relationship—and by extension the building itself—will eventually suffer. It can all end in a messy breakup and the need for the board to start looking around again for its next property management relationship.
“Every building has different needs,” says Greg Carlson, a property manager and president of Carlson Realty, Inc. in Forest Hills, “so the chemistry has to be right.”
According to business management experts, there are many management styles: one manager may be described as a shark—more forceful and aggressive—while another is more of a turtle, taking his time solving a problem. Both of these styles can have their positive and negative sides. For example, a turtle might take too long to solve a problem if the board needs a manager who makes quick decisions. A more shark-like manager might be perfect in a larger building, where there is a chance for more conflicts, but perhaps that style might not work in a smaller, less formal building.
A manager may also have a laissez-faire style, tending to sit back and allow people to work things out without much of any direction from him. This approach could work well for a building or board made up of experienced and educated members, but if a board is populated with newcomers or relative neophytes, that's probably not the best approach to managing the building.
Jaime J. Raskulinecz, CPM and chief executive officer of Rainbow Property Management, LLC in Roseland, New Jersey, looks at this matchmaking as more art than science. “You try to think about the personality and style of the manager to see if it will mesh with the building,” she says. “Also you look at the experience of the agent and how it relates to the challenges of the community or building.”
Carlson agrees. “If a building is focusing on capital improvements, they want someone there who’s going to have experience with capital improvements, but you need to know the strengths of your property manager and the needs of the building,” he said.
Jeffrey Friedman, president of Vintage Real Estate Services, Ltd., in New York City manages 20 co-op and condo properties with a total of 29 buildings. Most of his managers manage multiple properties and are not on the property full-time. To make sure that the relationship between the property manager and the building is a good one, Friedman starts deciding even before he takes on a property. “I don’t pursue a property to manage it if I don’t have the right manpower for that property,” he says. “Otherwise you flounder, wondering who’s going to handle it and how it fits into their portfolio—and that’s not a great way to start off a relationship.”
In addition to experience, personalities have to mesh too. For example, a typically quiet reserved property manager may not work well in a building where the residents and the board are quite assertive. Once he moves forward with a building, Friedman decides which manager is good for the building by meeting the board. “If the board members are strong, then I’m going to assign a property manager who I believe can handle what the boards throw at them,” he says. “Some people are fantastic property managers but not all can handle a board that’s going to push you into the corner.”
Other factors that determine how property managers are matched with buildings include the size of the staff that the managers will have to handle. With a larger staff there is a higher chance for conflicts, which might require a more aggressive manager. However, it’s important to remember that not everybody has just one personality or management style. So a more aggressive property manager might make sense with a larger staff; it might not make sense if the residents are more laid back since the manager will have to handle both. In this case, it’s important for a manager to be able to adjust based on the situation at hand.
Each individual has his or her own management style that works best, says Stuart Halper of Impact Management, which has offices in Queens, Manhattan and Westchester.
“What works best is a matter of what the building or the board that we're dealing with,” says Halper. “If you have a hands-on board that is controlling everything, and they want you to take a back seat, you lay everything out, you do the groundwork for them, and you deal with it at that level. If you have a board that basically says ‘okay, take everything, then we become aggressive...’ you become a glove that has to fit the hand that you're dealing with.”
Suffice it to say, each property manager has to know the makeup of the board in order to know how to appeal and to deal with a particular board, he explains. “Not every situation is correct. That's a loaded statement that you're making that there is one way. No, there are multiple ways, and there is something in between as well too. You're basically trying to follow the edicts of these boards, and each board has its own personality and a smart manager knows how to play and either be aggressive or non-aggressive to that particular board.”
Halper adds that because each board is different, a certain manager’s style may rub them the wrong way. “You could be running bluntly into a board that says ‘no, that's not gonna work.’ So they're the customer and they're right. They set the tone. You get a sense of it when you interview with a new board or a new board comes into power and they want you be a certain way. That's the bottom line. You follow that. My company is capable of going to the particular level as much or as little as you want. That's they key to success.”
Halper says that he and fellow principal Gregory Cohen like to stay in the loop on the minutiae of all of the boards that they represent. Boards can go astray and management sometimes goes astray, but you’ve got to stay pretty grounded and restore order, he says.
As for particular style, he prefers hands-on. “As an owner, I like to be hands-on. I like to be there. Same thing with my partner as well. We find that works best if you let us in but it's up to a board letting us in,” Halper explains.
One of the best ways to find out if the unit owners are satisfied is by keeping the lines of communication open. “Are the majority of owners satisfied with communication and follow up?” asks Raskulinecz. “Are collections current, and if not, is there a clear policy to get it collected, is management proactive or do they wait for owners/board to discover issues?”
Once the property manager is on board, the management company should keep tabs on what the manager is doing and whether or not the board and residents are satisfied. “I go to meetings to get feedback from the board and the residents,” says Carlson.
A manager should be looked at as the extra board member, said Friedman. “We become very proprietary about buildings we are managing and I have an involvement in every property we take on. I’m at every board meeting and on-site once a week. I also get copies of emails that are going around, so I can keep up.”
Honeymoon is Over
Given time, the excitement of any new relationship can sour as personalities come out and situations cause friction. It happens in friendships, marriages and office environments and it happens between board members and property managers.
To get the relationship back on track, it may simply need what most relationships need—better communication between the parties. “We have a heart-to-heart with just the manager because there are things we can be more blunt about then if the board was involved,” says Carlson. “You can talk to the board too, but those are two atmospheres that need to be handled differently.”
Good communication with employees and residents is key, regardless of personality and management style. Managers should know how to quickly and efficiently handle a situation, but like most things in life, the solutions aren’t all neatly packaged up for the manager to handle. When this happens, managers should talk to higher-ups in the property management firm, the team of experts, such as an attorney, financial expert or accountant or network with other managers from other buildings to figure out the problem. Trade organizations such as NYARM can also help you as well as back issues of publication articles or online forums. Perhaps there is a particular problem that another manager has experienced as well and can help you with.
If, however, the problems aren’t fixed with some basic communication and problem-solving skills, perhaps it’s time to “break up,” or in this case, find a new property manager within the same firm that might have better chemistry. Friedman remembers one situation where one board was not pleased with the overpowering personality of their property manager. “To fix the problem, we just assigned another person who wasn’t as overpowering but was as equally qualified,” he says.
But as the song says, breaking up is hard to do—and usually not necessary. If the board and the manager are willing to take a look at the equation from one another's perspective and allow that even good relationships aren't perfect, they may be able to strike a balance between styles and personalities that makes for a dynamic, productive board/management relationship that serves the best interests of the building community—and that's success, no matter what your style.
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and author living in Poughkeepsie, New York.