Property Management Sometimes it's a Matter of Style

Property Management

 “...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.”  

 Management Matchmaking

 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.”  

 It's Personal

 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.  

 Review Time

 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.  


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