Property Management [was emergency communications]
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 1 Nov 2005 10:41:16 -0800 (PST)

On Oct 31, 2005, at 1:42 PM, jane h wrote:

We are a young cohousing community deep inside the city of Boston. We have just survived our first major emergency - backed up city sewers flowing into our basement! - and as we are going into our first winter we are looking to create procedures to cope with building emergencies - from sewer overflows to broken pipes, power or heating failure, etc. Even should we decide to outsource this to a management company - and there is reluctance to take this route - we would still need a method for reporting, communicating, investigating, trouble-shooting such problems. Can you offer us some guidance from your experience?

We had all these same problems the first year we were in operation -- an inspector showed up to shut down our elevator because no inspection was on record with the city, the sewage ejector ejected all over people's stuff stored in their basements, and the city charged us $20,000 to clean out the storm sewer.

And we had a management company. We are now on our second management company and our third rep. The companies hire and assign reps to you and they can be good or bad.

But in general we have never gotten this kind of detailed help from any management company rep. Basically when a problem occurs we can call them and they will find someone to fix it. They do not supervise or follow up. They don't even do things like inspect the ordered light fixture to be sure it matches the light fixtures already in place.

This is one reason I wanted to start the newsletter Building Community. I am now planning to do a website with information like this. It is very hard to manage small condos. There is not enough money in the work to support a management company and most are not interested in working with small condos. They charge by the unit but a small condo has all the same systems but far fewer units than are needed to support a real management team. Ours is not even good at our finances -- they pay some vendors twice, send checks to the wrong person, and don't even pay our utility bills for 2-3 months. One vendor refused to work with us because a previous bill had not been paid for 6 months. When we inquired, our management company told us that they don't pay "purchase orders" and the vendor had been sending purchase orders. THEY NEVER EVEN CALLED THE VENDOR AND TOLD THEM THE PROBLEM. We had to call the vendor and tell them to send something labeled "invoice."

You can see that I and our Admin Team are at odds over the advisability of paying these people $700 a month for such service, but for some reason, they feel more secure just having a company.

My advice is to join and attend the local meetings of the Community Associations Institute (CAI) and find a part time manager -- someone who works for a large building or for several small buildings -- to manage your facilities. Such a person will know who the best vendors are and what needs to be inspected when to ensure good performance. With your membership in CAI you will get a large book listing all the people who provide the services you need. Just reading it will help you understand part of what you need. Call them to get estimates and WALK THROUGH THE PROPERTY WITH THEM ASKING QUESTIONS and you will get an education as well as a good sense of whether they know what they are talking about or not.

Hire a small financial services firm to handle the finances if you don't have members who can do this. With QuickBooks, you everything that needs to be done. You just need good controls over money handling -- different people (not friends) to handle the checkbook and the accounting so they double check each other, and two people to sign each check (again, not roommates or lovers or father and son). You can also have these people bonded. And have books audited once a year.

I personally think you get better, more professional services from several experts than from one management company that you expect to be good at everything. Even though we have a management company we still have inspections done by 4-5 different companies that inspect and monitor fire alarms, sprinkler systems, elevator innards. elevator phone, sump pumps, sewage ejector, etc. We do the supervision of these people -- not the management company. We have had to solve the problem with water in the elevator pit -- the management company only told us who to call. It took hours of our time to arrange for them as well as the various inspectors to be here to approve the fix and get our certification.

Managing property is not easy. It is rewarding financially and personally because this is your home and you can take pride in it but you need to educate yourself to do it well. Since you care more about it than anyone else, you are the best person to manage it.

Sharon Villines
Building Community: A Newsletter on New Neighborhoods

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