Do It Yourself Can You Save Money with In-House Labor – And Is It Worth It?

A small-scale project is pending, and the management company is considering proposals or bids from several local contractors. The job could be as basic as trimming shrubs, staining decks or wiring some new lighting, so it’s no wonder that the perennial question from board members or trustees arises: “Why can’t our guy [the on-site management or maintenance staff] just do it?”

Mark Mediate, president of Mediate Management Co. in Boston, says it’s not unusual for trustees to look to their on-site managers or maintenance staff when a simple-looking repair or maintenance project comes up, figuring that jobbing it out will cost more. The first issue to decide, he says, is, “Who’s in charge? … Ultimately, the board makes the decision about who does what project, and who manages a project.”

Assessing the on-site staff’s ability for completing minor repairs or installations may be straightforward, he notes, but when a job gets more complex, a project manager will be needed to hire dependable contractors or vendors, do scheduling, acquire permits and monitor all activities. “You might have a property manager with the skills to serve as a project manager,” Mediate says, “but things can go awry if staff doesn’t have the [proper] skills. We assign our employees to certain jobs… depending on their résumé. For instance, we have a maintenance manager at a South Shore property and he has an engineering background.”

“I advise boards to decide on the nature of the project… What’s the scope and who is going to take care of what,” he adds. “Even if you have a site manager with construction or project management skills, any major project can take up to 10 or 20 hours per week of that person’s time,” interrupting that manager’s regular duties.

Mediate describes a situation his firm had with an association board in a Boston-area high-rise building. “It had about 180 units, and the windows needed caulking. We provide an on-site superintendent for this property, and were ready to figure out what was needed, then assign appropriate staff time or get the specialized contractors… whatever was called for. The trustees went ahead and found somebody on their own. We were concerned because there was no plan included for safety controls or swing staging, but if the trustees take responsibility for it, then it’s not our problem.

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