A manager might have to coordinate operations with a single maintenance person or work with any number of doormen, porters, custodians and handypersons depending on the size and nature of the building. When well-trained and motivated, these employees enhance the appeal and ambiance of any property, adding to both the real and perceived value, but excellent employees don’t just show up that way by magic on their first day of work. And even an otherwise great managing agent may not be an expert in the supervision of human beings. Keeping an association staff working hard and happily involves a sophisticated set of communication skills.
Who’s in Charge?
First of all, the board and the association manager both have to understand the supervisory hierarchy. Most association managers agree with the description given by Rick Stern of Sutton Management Company in North Andover, Massachusetts: “The association’s board sets the direction of the property, and the management company carries out that direction. The on-site supervisors make sure all of the maintenance requirements are done according to the specific requirements set by the board and management company.”
Stern divides the tasks of the association manager further into property and asset management. “Property management,” he explains, “is overseeing the day-to-day operations of a property, such as making certain that the landscaping is done, the snow is removed, etc. Asset management examines the physical aspects of the condominium and implements programs that will maintain and enhance the asset. Long-range planning is done for landscaping improvements, painting cycles, capital reserve funding and overall asset values. If there are physical deficiencies, we bring them to the board’s attention with our recommendations.”
Sometimes maintaining a clear line of authority becomes problematic. “Ideally, the association gives orders to the manager, and the manager gives orders to the maintenance person,” states Tony Natale, president of the Greater Rhode Island Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) Chapter 88. “The board runs the association, and the manager works for the board, but if you have board members and the manager giving instructions to employees, I think that more often than not, you’ll have problems as a result. We’ve run into that too many times, where there’s several people involved in the management of the employee, and it always leads to problems.”
Board members are often tempted into on-the-spot supervision. If you’re sick of seeing a smudge on the wall, and you run into a maintenance person, why not mention it? Says Natale, “If I was a unit owner or board member, it might seem like the easiest way to do it. In a way, you think you’re doing the manager a favor by not bothering him with a minor thing. But if the manager’s in the middle of directing a project, even something small could throw it off. The schedules are planned pretty close. They don't have a whole lot of flexibility. In the morning, an on-site supervisor goes through the property and takes care of issues like that, but if you catch the person in the afternoon and take them away from something else, there could be repercussions.”