Brett Williams, Managing Partner of Principle Estate Management, discusses how the residential estate management world is going through a host of change, and how the company is thriving.
The wind of change is blowing through the world of residential estate management, according to the man behind one of the UK’s newest and most innovative property management firms.
Brett Williams, managing partner of Principle Estate Management based in Birmingham, said: “The rise of the consumer and 24 hour access to social media and email has put residential property management firmly in the spotlight.
“And that’s something we embrace. From our launch this Spring, we have been very clear in regarding the owners of apartments that we manage as our customers, rather than tenants. Where the property is sublet to tenants on a rental basis, then they too are our customers.
“A lot of people in the industry have been talking about this sea change in attitude for a while, but doing it rather than talking about it is something else.
“This is at the heart of what we do. Our brand new IT system was set up to record apartment owners as customers – not tenants, very 1980s!”
He said the change in attitude should percolate through everything they do.
“To take one example, the perennial tricky issue of people parking in the wrong spaces. Historically, these would be dealt with as a ‘breach of lease’ and the next step was usually to proceed straight to the heavy artillery of legal letters to sort it out.
“Now we aim to word our initial contact much more gently and provide the customer with information to ‘help them park in the right place’ – a significant change in mindset for many agents!”
Another issue, and one they found in their recent appointment to manage the art deco Burne Jones House in the business quarter of central Birmingham, is refuse collection.
In a mixed use city centre scheme with new apartments above commercial and lots of people moving in, it was important to set out a refuse strategy from day one. This clearly outlines the location of the bins, which is a shared area with other neighbouring properties, the frequency of visits, and so on.
But with so many people moving in over relatively short period of time, Principle felt this was not enough and so arranged additional collections and cardboard clearance for the extra one-off refuse created by people moving in.
All this information needs to be transmitted in a site specific welcome back, provided not only in hard copy but also electronically to all owners.
It is also available via the residents’ portal – an absolutely vital new tool in estate management.
The residents’ portal is a great way of providing real time two way communications with owners and occupiers. It can operate as an electronic noticeboard, with static information about the development, live updates on current matters, voting facilities, online accounts details and payment online.
Today’s customers want to deal with life from their phone, laptop or tablet, not via a posted letter that requires a cheque sending back. How many of us these days could even locate our chequebook quickly?
Principle can also, as a matter of course, assist developers with access arrangements to occupied apartments for installation of items such as aircon units, or provide additional access fobs when owners are subletting, as a same day service.
Where necessary, on new or recommissioned apartments, they can help developers with quotes for a proper builders’ clean, and quotes for services such as fire alarms systems and dry risers before we actually take over the management and maintenance of a site.
A good example of an existing site where they have assisted is Florence House in Moseley in the suburbs of Birmingham.
This is a development that was built and has been managed by the same family for 15 years, with some apartments owner occupied and others with tenants.
The increasing demands of modern regulations and ever increasing standards meant that the requirements for compliance with fire regulations and ongoing maintenance meant that it was time to consider handing over to management specialists like Principle.
Brett Williams said: “Following a comprehensive site inspection with the client, we made various proposals, including improvements (within the confines of the lease), for example, moving the bin store now that old fashioned dustbins have been replaced with wheelie bins which take up more room.
“We suggested replacing damaged post boxes and most importantly got the tv reception working!
“We undertook an audit of compliance issues and other regulatory matters and put in place general and fire risk assessment reports. We also reviewed the standards and costs of all services, and put contracts out to tender to ensure best value.
“The upshot was that we had removed a huge weight of responsibility from our client. We had the resources to see what needed to be done, and more important ensure it happened quickly and effectively.
In the case of new builds, Principle recommends that developers involve a managing agent from the design and drawing board stage.
Housebuilders who work with a managing agent from the outset are better placed to develop and build a product that not only makes them profitable but also sustainable for the longer term by highlighting possible long-term management issues and offer solutions at the outset.
Principle will always tailor a service that meets the particular client’s requirements, however, some of the areas where managing agents can assist include:
How much it will cost to maintain the building, implementation of a management structure framework, undertake full lease reviews, and help work out the best way to structure and apportion the Service Charges.
They can assist with health and safety, provide advice on lifecycle costing and reserve funds, undertake a full review of Operation and Maintenance Manuals and advise on the sale of freehold reversion interests.
By producing responsible estate management strategies, it can help create socially sustainable communities for occupiers in the same way that the “bricks and mortar” that form a house, need a human input to become a home, an overall development needs a caring input that goes beyond property maintenance to help make it a community.
Brett Williams said: “Many of Principle’s developer and house builder clients have commented that getting Principle involved from an early stage has assisted in making cost savings by their ability to highlight any potential long-term management problems which could prevent effective sustainable property management in the long term.
“And as of 1 June 2018, our senior team is further boosted by the arrival of Joe Jobson as a director. Joe and I have worked together and he is an experienced chartered surveyor and estate management expert.”