An Interview with an Award-Winning Property Management Company
Ringley seem to have piloted into the news recently, so Construction Magazines Editor caught up with Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring to find out why
How has the recession affected the property management industry?
It's not easy in recent years; developers new build pipelines have slowed considerably to what they were before the peak in summer 2008. It's true that a handful of regional developers have switched from building apartments to houses. However, in London affordability means the majority of new-build will always be flats, maisonettes or apartments. There is little appetite for the more tricky sites, the have-a-go developers appear to be extinct. In recent months we've seen those who have weathered the last two years beginning to acquire sites ready to go from those whose credit lines have run out.
There's been a number of new entrants to the market, both estate agents diversifying into service charge management to weather the fall in their sales activities and bright individuals exiting the remains of the big groups like Erinaceous and Peverel, of whom little good is read following receivership situations after buying sprees which challenged the norms of the property management industry and deals that broke all normal valuation terms.
Even in a buoyant market, most service charge payers question the service charge they have to pay; in a recession, increasingly the service of the Agent is questioned too. Whereas a house owner can choose to put off replacing the roof until better times, the same decision is not so easy for the Board of Directors of a Residents Management Company. Postponing works too long often leads to disharmony and threats by some leaseholders and threats by some leaseholders to sue the management company for not upholding covenants under the lease.
What about government cuts?
With increasing pressure on Local Authorities to reduce costs, choosing to not adopt roads, pathways, sewers, parking areas and, landscaping is the clear choice. Location is a new factor for developers to contend with and the planning gestation period continues to grow.
What's the biggest challenge facing property managers?
We seem to now be over the onslaught of legislation following the 2002 Act. It has taken several years to get customers to accept that their communal areas are classed as places of work subject to fire risk assessments and that their buildings need to be tested to see if asbestos is present. The real challenge is to look at property management as a service industry; after roadside recovery, arguably the Managing Agent is the fifth emergency service. At Ringley we benchmark ourselves against businesses such as First Direct or American Express, not the common denominator of our industry. Clients are increasingly discerning, typically property managers are generalists, to rise above the norm necessitates simplicity in processes and detail training. You have to make solving others problems fun, get the levels of personal accountability right and help people to find the reward in the work. We regularly find things to celebrate at Ringley, whether it be an on-the-spot award for a customer thank you letter, an 8+ out of 10 on a customer survey or a reason to ring the bell in the office and get a cheer.
To what do you attribute Ringleys success?
A key part of our mission is to generate recommendations so our customer survey starts with the ultimate question On a scale of 1-10, how likely is it that you would recommend Ringley to a friend or colleague?
We've then spent a lot of time developing strategies that bed this into our culture. Basically anything that signifies 5-star service. For example, part of our appraisals is based around the behaviours of 5-star service that the teams chose themselves in workshops. There's white glove tests and a star rating awarded to site cleaners, to keep them on their toes. In addition, we now run regular leaseholder Customer Focus Groups; we pay £5 as a token gesture to the first person to report defects on site. Service charge payers, can see works orders, site visits and every invoice on-line, network, upload buildings manuals and much more
We do require a lot of people and the recognition we've received as Gold Winner of Best Block Management Company 2011 by The Times/Sunday Times, London Property Management Company of the Year 2010, Green Champion 2010, receiving the Highly Commended Enfranchisement Valuation Company award 2011 and being Enfranchisement Valuer finalists have given our people the real realisation that our strategy is right.
So what of the future?
For us at Ringley 2011 is the Year of Leaseholder Love. It's about a number of new initiatives so that leaseholders can see the OPI (operational performance indicators) for their sites and get confidence in our strategic planning as well as telling as much of how it is in pictures as possible. For example, show the target date for decorations and changing carpets, show the audit trail of actions taken following site visits, the date the buildings insurance was renewed, the meters read, how many invoices are queuing and how many non-payers are in court.
There's a number of smaller developers out there who are doing more than they need to, which is a shame. A Managing Agents role starts by setting a service charge budget off plan, and includes reviewing lease and other legal documentation to check the management arrangements are workable. During the early phases the Managing Agent will be chasing the developer for costs they can recharge, helping the sales office and dealing with house-keeping such as refuse arrangements and the like.
Also, there's a new breed of client as Right to Manage continues to grow in popularity, offering a cheap solution to poor management or freeholders who don't provide the answers or transparency leaseholders crave.
With just 50% of a block participating, usually the management can be in the hands of the residents in about six months.
To be good in property management you have to care. If you're in it for the customer, profit follows, as a long term average profit margins are poor in comparison to valuations and agency, but it's the property management that provides the stability.
Mary-Anne Bowring is the founding director of Ringley Chartered Surveyors, a comprehensive property consultancy based in Camden Town, London. She also sits on the Board of Governors of the Institute of Residential Property Management. Over the last ten years, Mary-Anne has grown the Ringley Group to now manage just under 10,000 properties, provide valuation and building engineering services to 12 banks and the company boasts an in-house legal team to assist with upholding the covenants of the varied leases and in the niche work, the Ringley Group provides in the fields of lease extensions and Freehold Enfranchisement.
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