Olivia Pope, the main character on ABC’s Scandal, is a professional fixer. If you have a problem—any problem—she can fix it. Over the past two seasons plus, she’s rigged elections, covered up murders, employed professional hit men, exposed secrets, made and ruined countless lives, and played hard to get with the President of the United States. But the most amazing thing about Olivia Pope is that she’s always available. Walk into her office, she’s there. Call her cell, she’ll pick up. And when she answers, she can make even the biggest problems disappear.
In another life, Olivia Pope would be a terrific property manager—the best property manager who ever existed. After all, if she can rig presidential elections, she can handle complaints about noise and leaky pipes. But Olivia Pope is fictional in more ways than one. No one answers the phone every time it rings.
Whenever a problem arises in a condo or homeowners association—whether it’s a leak, a noisy neighbor, or some procedural question that has come up—it’s the impulse of many trustees, board members and residents to pick up the phone and immediately call their property manager. Most times, this is the right thing to do: the manager is first in line in an HOA’s administrative hierarchy. That said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to call your manager—and sometimes, it’s not appropriate to call at all.
When to Call
Property managers and management companies work for condos, co-ops and HOAs, which operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week But that’s doesn’t mean it’s okay to call your property manager at 2 a.m. because of your neighbor’s yapping Jack Russell terrier. If it isn’t urgent, use a little discretion.
“Everyone’s busy and we’re no different than anyone else in the world,” says Ian Gopin, president of G&G Management in Newton, Massachusetts. “But normally the best time to reach a busy property manager is after 10 a.m. and before 4 p.m. because most of the time when we get in, in the mornings, we are dealing with emergencies or dealing with something from the night before.”
“Our structure here is different because managers are frequently out in the field. We have dedicated phone staff who are in the office, they are portfolio assistants whose primary responsibility is to field calls from homeowners and make sure that they get addressed and that their issues are sent to the proper channels. If they need to be escalated to the manager, that’s fine; if they need to be escalated to the board, they do that,” says Bob McBride, CEO of the Dartmouth Group in Bedford, Massachusetts.
“Property managers should be accessible anytime by phone or email. Whatever is convenient to the resident,” adds Jim Toscano, PCAM, president of Property Management of Andover in Andover, Massachusetts. “Mid-to-late morning is probably a good time to reach managers because oftentimes they don’t come straight into the office, they’re out in the field.”
Just as there are best times to call your property manager, there are worst times. “Generally speaking. the best time is not Monday morning,” says Gopin. “Usually, after weekends, also depending on weather and different situations, managers are very, very busy. They are following up dealing with emergencies and situations that happened over the weekend and prepping for their week. Monday morning is literally the worst time. But the fact of the matter is a managing agent should always be available to their client just like any other service provider.”
This changes if the situation is an actual emergency, or otherwise urgent. In those cases, property managers will make themselves available no matter what.
“An urgent matter is a water leak; that would be the best example,” says McBride. “If it’s urgent as in fire, don’t call us, call 9-1-1. If it is truly an emergency that is threatening life and property always call 9-1-1, and then let us know. We come after that. An emergency for us is typically a water issue, any water intrusion.”
Toscano agrees with McBride about the urgency of water intrusion. “If a pipe has frozen or is broken you should reach out to your property manager immediately,” he adds. “You want to get that fixed because it has the potential to cause a lot of damage. It’s important to get it taken care of before the pipe thaws and breaks. Another urgent matter would be a plowing issue, if you can’t get out of your home.”
Why to Call, and How
Another point about Olivia Pope: every situation she deals with is a legitimate, dire emergency. If she doesn’t produce the documents in 24 hours, the story breaks and all hell breaks loose.
This is not the case with residential properties—although sometimes trustees, board members and residents can think that it is. The reality is, not every problem is a matter of life and death. If the heat stops working and it’s 13 degrees and it’s the middle of the night, that needs to be addressed right away; same thing with a gas leak. Almost anything else can be handled as soon as administratively possible. Indeed, much of a property manager’s job is prioritizing, rather than leaping into action every time the phone rings.
“There are certain things legally that we don’t respond to or can’t do anything about, and a barking dog is one of them. That’s a nuisance,” says Gopin. “That’s like your neighbor making too much noise. There’s not much we can do about that. That’s more of a legal issue. That’s more of a ‘right to enjoyment’ issue, which is not necessarily a management company’s issue. We are here so that common areas are properly managed and maintained. The joy of a management company’s job is that we are not required to go to any emergency. So if you call with a major flood we are not required to go. But good managers will go. I would get out of bed and go because it’s my property.”
Property managers note that in today’s society everyone is used to instant responses. But while managers would like to be able to do that, sometimes it’s not possible, given their workload.
“We at G&G have built a very technologically-centric company, so therefore, for us, it’s always best to contact us through our website. That way everything is tracked,” says Gopin. “I always tell people to go with email because it’s important to get something in writing; that’s your version of the story. Then subsequently that will be followed up with a phone call by the manager saying we are on it or whatever the problem is. Getting everything in writing first is key.”
“I think every association and management company tends to have their own protocol,” adds McBride. “I would always suggest the best protocol is to submit something in writing. That way there is a trail of what was submitted, how it was submitted and when it was submitted. In our organization we are also happy to take requests via telephone and then we put them into central database where all the calls get logged so we make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Generally the request is submitted, ideally in writing, and then the requester is notified if this is something that can be addressed immediately or if it may require an upcoming board meeting to address it.”
If you’ve called or emailed your property manager, the time in which you get a response often depends on the urgency of the situation, but you should get a response within 24 hours.
“This is one of those gray areas in our industry,” says Gopin. “We’ve been recently going on new business sales calls and the one thing we’re hearing from everybody is ‘our manager doesn’t call us back,’ and it’s very frustrating for them. Part of a property manager’s job is responding to a client, period. We have a requirement: Within one business day, everyone gets a response. Generally if you call today, you will get a response today and we have a four-hour email rule. All of our managers have iPhones. It’s just as easy to say I got your email and will look into it. You’ve at least substantiated someone’s need for communication and the same thing with a phone call. I’ve often said having no answer is better than having the wrong answer. The answer of ‘I’ll get back to you’ is far better than making something up you think will happen, then doesn’t happen.”
“If they are submitting by email there is an automated response,” adds McBride, “Within that time frame we are letting people know that the request has been received and we are working on what action needs to be taken. For example, if it’s a request for an architectural modification, they would be told what forms they need to submit or what they need to do. If it’s something that needs to be approved by the board, we’ll let them know when the next board meeting is.”
There are those impatient residents and board of trustee members who, if they don’t get a response to an email in an hour, send the email again. If three hours go by, they begin calling and demanding to speak to a manager—or the manager’s boss. Sometimes, an immediate response is not possible, or necessary.
One way that both boards and HOAs and managers can be proactive is to alert homeowners of projects in the building. If there’s banging and clattering at seven in the morning on a Wednesday, residents might call in droves to complain. If the manager sends around a notice explaining that maintenance workers are coming early Wednesday to repair the heating pipes, that will eliminate all those extra calls.
The general consensus among property management professionals is that most companies should have an open-door policy where comments and feedback are welcome, but equally important is ensuring that everyone follows a protocol that is put into place.
Greg Olear is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England Condominium. Staff writer Christy Smith-Sloman also contributed to this article.