No two condos are the same, and neither are the needs of the buildings. A brownstone in Cambridge, a hotel-like complex in Boston’s Back Bay, a row of townhouses in Nashua—each requires specific services from its management company.
Then there are properties like the soon-to-be-unveiled Mandarin Oriental in Boston, a mixed-use condo and five-star hotel, equipped with a stupefying list of amenities and services—and matched by an equally stupefying monthly maintenance charge.
How do management companies work with boards in meeting these extra needs? What are some of the ways management companies go the extra mile to provide such above-and-beyond service?
Before delving into the extras, it is necessary to understand the basic services management companies provide, and how the services are calculated. Hiring a management company is a bit like buying a car. There are some options that come standard—seat belts, radios and heat. There are options that so many people want that they may as well be standard—automatic transmission, power steering, air conditioning. And then there are options that are completely unnecessary but nice to have—GPS systems, a plug for your iPod, and, on the new Lexus, a self parallel parking system. Management companies offer their services in a similar way.
With a car, the most important thing is that it goes when you hit the gas (and stops when you apply the brakes). With management companies, the core of the business is financial management. This is the building block—or engine block, to continue the metaphor—on which all other services are based.
“The basic services are receiving and posting bills and fees, providing monthly reports, and meeting with trustees on a periodic basis,” says Dianne Carchedi, owner of Horizon Property Management in Abington, Massachusetts.
In addition to the basics, most companies also perform inspections ofthe property for compliance, attend monthly board meetings and annual meetings, offer advice and guidance in all areas related to property management, and, whether explicitly or not, train new board members (and teach old ones a new trick or two).
“I’m not sure I’d say that training the board is management’s role,” Carchedi says. “I think you do it—but I think it comes in stages. It’s a kind of process that goes along with meeting with the trustees.”
But let’s say an association wants—needs—more than the standard, basic options. Management companies are more than happy to help out.
For example, there might be a capital project—one that isn’t ordinarily covered in the contract—that the management company can take on, for an additional fee.
Then there is the hiring. Some condominiums are too small to require employees, but many have staffs: property manager, elevator operator, custodian, head groundskeeper, and, often, the superintendent. Managementcompanies will also take on the responsibility of managing the help.
“The management company is there to make sure the needs of the property are met,” says Carchedi. “If that means hiring people to do something, that’s part of the general role of management.”
Some of these services are rolled intothe general bill, but not necessarily.
“There is flexibility there, too,” Carchedi says. “If you are handling a special project, you may negotiate an advance. Or if it’s a million dollar job, you might do it for four percent instead of five.”
Sometimes, the associations assume that certain jobs are covered by the contract when they are not. For example, the condo might have a clubor community room—with its attendant jobs of scheduling, cleaning, and so forth—that it doesn’t bother to tell the management company about until after the contract is in place.
In a case like that, “I will not try to renegotiate,” Carchedi says. “I will wait until the contract is up to add it in as an extra.”
In more complicated cases, it can help to have separate contracts—one for just the basics, one to handle the maintenance of the club room, say, and so on. This separation makes it harder for work to get lost in the proverbial shuffle, and easier for the management company to stay on top of multiple responsibilities.
Then there are the condos that are the residential equivalent of the Aston Martin driven by James Bond in Goldfinger. You know, the car that had the oil slick and the machine guns and that little round thing that flattens the tires of the car running alongside. A growing trend in Boston is the rise of the mixed-use space, where a building is part swanky hotel, part luxury condo —replete with all the plush trappings.
“The nicest of the newer developments is the Intercontinental [in Boston],” says Matthew Winterle, a real estate broker and co-owner of Boston Condo Group, a sort of clearinghouse for Boston condo market information.
Indeed, the Intercontinental, managed by the luxury hotel chain of the same name, has garnered impressive press.
But two hotel/condos that have yet to open—the Battery Wharf and the aforementioned Mandarin Oriental —are potentially even more luxurious, Winterle says.
Opening in June 2008, the Mandarin —part of the larger Prudential Centerdevelopment—will boast an all-encompassing 15,000-square-foot spa and wellness center, vibrant dining and 7,000 square feet of extensive, state-of-the-art meeting and banquet facilities.
The property “truly embodies an extraordinary level of quality, a precise attention to detail and a total focus on the customer,” says Stephen R. Weiner, a principal of CWB Boylston, the site’s developer, and “promises to be Boston’s most exclusive landmark, providing visitors and residents alike with an excellent experience.”