Make Things Better – how to give your property a facelift

So far in our Make Things Better series we’ve helped people who suspected they were getting poor value for money from their managing agent and an individual who felt the works carried out to repair their property were not up to scratch. This week, our help is required to outline the correct process for giving the property a facelift…..

I’ve decided it’s time we had the external walls of the property repainted but I don’t know how to go about it and I don’t always trust my managing agent with their advice. What is the process I need to follow? 

A fresh lick of paint on a building can make a fantastic difference, lifting the spirits of everyone who owns it or lives there. But you’re right, it’s not a straightforward process to get it done and you need the help of a solid managing agent every step of the way.

The first thing you must do is to look at the lease to see what it says about carrying out such work. Some leases will say that maintenance of the outside of the property needs to be carried out every five years, some will be longer, and so this will tell you what expectations the leaseholders already have about how often they should pay for such work to be carried out.  You then need to check when it was last completed.  If it’s not due to be painted yet according to the lease then it will be a challenge to get the works approved unless there is an issue with the building that needs to be resolved.

The next stage would be for your managing agent to get a cost for the work – a simple rough quote – in order to check if it would go over the Section 20 threshold.

If it’s not above the threshold, then we would get three quotes for the work as is our standard protocol to do so. We would then liaise with the directors or the leaseholders with regards to the costs to agree on which contractor will be appointed.

You also need to take into account whether or not it is a listed building as that will present some restrictions over what you can do. There’s also the consideration of whether or not the decorating needs to be done using a specific type of paint.

The other thing to consider – and again your managing agent should flag this – is that some of your window frames may need to be repaired before the painting can take place. You’ll need to find out who is responsible for the repair of the window frames as it could be each leaseholder. If this is the case, it could slow the process down significantly if you ask each one to repair the windows themselves. The approach we would take is to send out letters to each leaseholder to inform them that they are responsible for the repair, but that we can arrange for this work to be carried out as part of the painting work and pass the cost back to them. This speeds up the process whilst also ensuring full transparency for everyone involved.

Once all agreed, we’d make sure that all leaseholders and residents are made aware of when the works would be taking place to minimise inconvenience and disruption.

Finally, once the job is in progress, your managing agent should oversee it from start to finish to ensure that it’s completed to a high standard. Nothing should be paid until they have signed off the work and have possession of all assurances, method statements and other paperwork.

As you can see, it’s not straightforward but with the right managing agent in place, you’ll have nothing to worry about.

Do you have a problem with your current managing agent? Get in touch with us here and we’ll talk you through how we can make things better.

Why it pays to keep a close eye on every property

Property management isn’t simply about collecting ground rent and service charges and keeping a building and its grounds well maintained (although we’re sure many companies behave like it is). The reality is that the bulk of a managing agent’s time is spent on dealing with issues that arise.

Just a few weeks ago, one of our Directors spent a whole day dealing with one particular issue. And had she not spotted it so quickly, the problem could have taken far longer to resolve.

As it’s such a good example of why choosing the right contractors is so important, we wanted to share it with you here.

The careful selection of contractors is a subject which is not discussed enough in forums and on training courses. Any contractor employed by a managing agent to work on a residential building should be thoroughly assessed and subject to due diligence. After all, these companies are representative of the managing agent and if they do a bad job, this reflects badly on us.

On the flip side, if they do a good job or you have a good contractor who communicates well, it can become your lifeline for years to come.

Unfortunately, as our Director discovered a few weeks ago, our assessment of a new contractor had not been as thorough as it should have been. She learned that one of our contractors had started sub-contracting work out (at greater cost to the residents) and then not paying their sub-contractors. This meant that despite the fact that we had paid them, we were being contacted by their works asking for payment again. Alarmingly, this sub-contractor had also notified our resident, which made us inadvertently look as unprofessional as the people they were employed by.

When we contacted this company, we were met with defence, resistance, and a lack of customer service to discuss this topic or rectify the problem.

So how did we respond? We promptly took this contractor from our approved list, retrieved the funds and briefed another supplier to carry out the work at the same price.  Therefore, from the resident’s point of view, the work was completed to a high standard at the originally agreed price.

From our perspective, it gave us a wake up call. While we pride ourselves on having so many long-standing contractor relationships, we do still need to keep adding to our list of suppliers to meet new demands and cover wider areas. We thought our due diligence was strong enough but this incident has driven us to make it even stronger.

The board has since discussed the information we collect, the due diligence we do and the reviews we undertake when putting contractors on to our list and we have compiled new procedures for our maintenance team to make this happen.

Bring on the next issue…..we’re ready.

Make Things Better – paying for poor work?

The purpose of our Make Things Better series is to help anyone in need of a little extra advice or support for managing their property. Too often, managing agents are put in place that lack the time or knowledge required to deliver an excellent service to clients, and that is affecting the reputation of our industry. So we’re in a mission to change things and Make Things Better for you, and for us.

This week, we heard from a property owner and member of a RMC with this issue:

My managing agent organised for some roof repairs to our property but just one year later we need them to be redone. Clearly the supplier wasn’t very good. Is it fair that we need to pay again or is the managing agent liable for some of the repair costs?

First of all, we’re sorry to hear that this has happened to you. At TCML, we can say with confidence that we would never let this happen because of the guarantees we put in place for all major works that are carried out. There would be guarantees for the contractor as well as for the materials. That is very important and ensures another layer of protection if the contractor were to go bust.

Where your managing agent may have fallen flat is in their selection process of the contractor who carried out the work. No managing agent should take a chance on a new supplier. We have long standing relationships with the highest quality suppliers so you get suitably qualified and experienced people working on each and every job.

Unfortunately, it’s commonplace to find contractors who claim they can do any kind of maintenance or repair works when they’re not actually plumbing experts or roofing experts and therefore lack the specific knowledge required to do the work well. The only contractors that should be hired should have a solid track record for doing the job required and multiple references.

Also, all work should be inspected at several stages during any job and upon completion by a surveyor to sign off the project.  This ensures that the job has been done properly and you have an independent expert to verify that.

It’s not right that you have to pay again and we would recommend looking at the support you’re getting from your managing agent.

Have you got an issue you’d like to run past us? Get in touch with us at mail@townandcity.com or find out how to switch to us here.

Make Things Better – overpaying for managing agent support?

We aim to give our clients peace of mind that their property and interests will be cared for now and far into the future. And for those of you who aren’t our clients, we’ve found a way to help you too with our new advice series, Make Things Better.

To kick things off, here’s a query that came through to us just last week…..

“I get little contact from my managing agent and yet the service charges are really high. Is this normal?”

Sadly this is a regular occurrence with many managing agents, providing poor and infrequent communication, and in some cases not even an acknowledgement of a query.

More likely than not, the reason for this will be the size of the agent. Some companies are too big and you’re just a number to them. At Town & City, we see ourselves as small enough to care and big enough to cope. That means we’re small enough to be able to talk to people on an individual and personal basis, and treat each person well; but can also provide the best support and advice whenever and wherever in the country it’s needed.

We’re a mid-sized player in market and we’ve invested heavily in how we communicate through the hiring of high quality staff, training and our new client portal. What’s more, we never underestimate the importance of getting back to people properly and as quickly as possible. Why? Relationships are important to us. So much so, that some of the leaseholders we work for are now good friends too.

There could of course be another reason for the “little contact” you receive from your managing agent. The number and frequency of site visits depends on the contract – you could be entitled to weekly visits and around the clock one-to-one support. Or, a quarterly ‘check in’. You have to be aware of what you’re actually paying for. If you’ve noticed a reduction in the service and attention you’re receiving but the service charge has gone up, that is something to investigate.  With regards to transparency  of what should be offered, it’s all in the contract.

The last potential reason for radio silence from your managing agent could be that they have something to tell you that they know you won’t want to hear. Is that acceptable? No.  There’s no smoke and mirrors with us – nor should there be with any agent when it comes to giving the best advice for preserving your property. You need to resolve a problem in the best way possible and sometimes that way isn’t easy or cheap. There may be a legal route that has to be taken in certain circumstances. It may be that an inspection or investigation into a problem has uncovered bigger issues. Sometimes managing agents have to deliver bad news – it’s how they help you resolve the problem afterwards that matters.

Have you got an issue you’d like to run past us? Get in touch with us at mail@townandcity.com or find out how to switch to us here.

How to get the best from your managing agent

Had a bad experience with your managing agent? You are not alone. Research by consumer group Which? found that unfair practices can lead to as much as £700 million of unnecessary service charges being paid each year. What is more, in the summer of 2017, the UK Government announced it would be launching a consultation setting out radical proposals in order to restore power to the tenant and leaseholder.

Not only that, but a study by the Government found the following examples of poor management:

  • a London-based property agent who tried to charge a leaseholder almost £5,000 to transfer ownership of a parking space to other leaseholders
  • a group of leaseholders charged ten times the market rate to have a new fire escape fitted – with the £30,000 contract handed to the freeholder’s brother
  • one landlord charged £500 by his agent for repairing a shower door

Fortunately, not all managing agents behave in this way. Town & City Management Ltd, for example, has over 17 years’ experience of providing a responsive, effective, and transparent service to its clients and is working hard to improve the reputation of the sector.

That is why we have put together a guide to help you improve the service you are getting from your current managing agent. Alternatively, please click here to learn about switching to us. We would be delighted to help you.

 

How to get the best from your managing agent

Ensure clarity over what they should be doing

This sounds obvious, but far too often, expectations are not set correctly at the beginning of the relationship, ultimately leading to disappointment. Be sure to set out a clear brief at the start and get a full breakdown of everything else the managing agent intends to do to your property. This will then make it easier to assess their impact 6, 12 and 18 months down the line.

Also, make sure it is clear to the managing agent what they have authority to do. For example, if they are to be responsible for chasing late ground rent and service charge payments, what is the procedure they will put in place to do this and at what point do solicitors need to get involved?

They should also demonstrate a full understanding of all the leases for a building (as they may have different terms). If they do not have that understanding, help them. A little time spent doing this at the beginning will save you wasting a lot of time later.

It is also worthwhile discussing with them what your expectations of their service are or what you would perceive as “good”. This shall either help them to raise their standards to keep you happy or give them the opportunity to set you straight if any of your expectations are unachievable.

 

Get to know your contact and if you don’t like them, ask for someone else

 

To get the most from your managing agent, you not only need to trust the individual who is assigned to your development; you also need to want to work with them. This is because a successful managing agent contract does require your support and engagement, as well as theirs.

It may be the case that you have not met your contact yet. Perhaps a senior representative met with you to sign the deal and now you are left with another more junior member of staff whose preferred form of communication is email.  This is not good enough.

The managing agent acts as representative for you, as the landlord, and should always be acting in your interests, so there needs to be complete trust and clarity over everything being decided upon and communicated. How can this happen if you have never even met?

Make it so that you have regular and frequent meetings with them either face-to-face or by video call so that you can establish a solid working relationship and good level of trust. They should also share with you their working hours, response times and alternative contacts so you have peace of mind that you are represented 24/7.

 

All lines of communication should be open

 

Aside from face-to-face meetings which may happen no more than once every six months, do you have a way of communicating daily if you need it? How are they sharing urgent information with you, lessees, or tenants?

A number of agents have online portals which they use to store valuable building information, issue service charge or ground rent demands, and to get updates of issues or maintenance requirements, and this may be a perfect solution for you, particularly if you have a large property portfolio.

If this is not going to work for you, say so and find a form of communication that will work better.  And whichever platform you do opt for, portal or otherwise, make sure you try to use it as it could make your life easier, as well as your managing agent’s.

 

Get to know your lessees a little

 

Happy lessees mean a happy landlord because if a managing agent does not deal with a complaint appropriately, it may result in a claim against you to pay the losses the lessee has incurred.

Give your managing agent the opportunity to flag any issues they have faced with leases. If there are any breaches of lease, they should make you aware immediately, but it is also smart to ask to be kept in the loop of any properties they consider might become a concern.   If they seem to have a lot of concerns, then perhaps the problem lies not with your property but with its management.

We hope this guide has given you a fresh perspective on any woes your experiencing with your current managing agent. If you would like to hear more about our approach to block management, click here.

What should you pay for your property management?

There is an age old saying that “you get what you pay for”, meaning that if something seems too cheap for all the elements you should get in return, it probably is. This applies with property management. Managing agents, like any other business, have costs to cover to recruit and train the best staff; to purchase technology for communication with contractors and clients; for premises and materials; and to ensure they’re abiding by all of the necessary rules and regulations. Scrimp on these and you, as a client, could live to regret it.

That being said, there is no set fee for property management as the cost to manage a development depends on the facilities and features within it; the number of apartments; the level of maintenance and support required; and location. What is key however is that you, as the client, understand how much you are paying for your building management services and have full transparency from start to finish.

What are you paying for?

Typically, your service charge will cover the cost of general maintenance and repairs as well as improvement to the building and the grounds. This includes cleaning, gardening, guttering, painting, roof works and more. The service charge may also cover buildings insurance, electricity, and heating of the communal area. If the property requires security or porters, these would be covered under the service charge too.

For full details of our charges and to discuss how we might cost for your development, please contact us here.

The sinking fund

Your managing agent will also look to accrue a sinking fund or reserve to cover larger pieces of repair or maintenance work required for the development. This is important as it means large and essential repair work can happen quickly without the leaseholders needing to find thousands of pounds at short notice.

This element can often be the reason why so many leaseholders feel their managing agent appears too costly – the service charge is going up and they are not seeing a return.  However, if your managing agent is being transparent with you, and displaying this sinking fund and all expenditure on quarterly or half yearly statements then it should be clear where every penny is going and what exactly has been spent vs what is left over.

The service you do not see

The other element that your money is spent on – and this is perhaps one of the biggest reasons not to “go cheap” – is communication. You need a managing agent who is available 24/7 – not just during typical office hours as that is when you are at work. And if you need to contact them because something is wrong, an automated message will not do. You need a quick response from a human being who you can trust will deal with the situation effectively and quickly.

But it is not just about flagging issues, it is also about having someone available to attend board meetings, make site visits and not be overwhelmed by the other properties they must manage. They need to be able to dedicate their time and headspace to ensuring your property is getting the care and attention to thrive now and long in the future.

If you are reading this because you are looking for a new managing agent, cost will undoubtedly be one of your biggest factors in making your decision. If you can take anything away from this article, it is that you are not looking for the lowest figure; you are looking for the best price for what you will get in return.

Be aware that many managing agents will provide you with a cost that looks reasonable but strips out a lot of their services, that they will simply add back on further down the line. This means that elements that come as part of the package for some managing agents such as sourcing supplier quotes or making site visits, will be charged as an extra by another. This could make them a far more expensive option in the long run.

How can you tell a “good price”?

When considering several managing agents, ask them what is covered in the price i.e.  do they take commission on supplier services, what could possibly be charged on top of the price they’ve quoted you, how much communication and face-to-face time have they allowed for in that price and if more is required, will they absorb that in the price or charge more? It is also worthwhile asking if you can see an annual statement from another client to get a sense of possible extras.

The more information they can provide in response to these questions, the more likely they are speaking from experience rather than blagging to get your business. What you do not want is for an agency to take your business by overpromising only to fail to keep up on their promises further down the line and presenting you with hefty price increases. How can you forecast the cost of keeping your property if you do not have transparency from the beginning?

Finally, experience.

Another element you are paying for is experience.  New kids on the block will be basing predicted costs for your property on guesswork and quotes they have hastily gathered from untested suppliers. Experienced managing agents on the other hand are highly likely to have managed properties that match your development both in size and complexity and will be able to predict the required sinking fund with impressive accuracy.

Experience on the face of it costs more but if you choose a partner who does not know what they are doing, poor decisions may mean new work will have to be redone at vast expense a year later. Not only that, but experienced managing agents will have established relationships with the best contractors which means you receive the highest standard of work and at “mates rates” prices because it’s likely they have a contract in place to deliver on a number of properties; not just your development.

With 15 years of experience serving properties across the UK, we are immensely proud of the value we bring our clients and would love the opportunity to show you what high quality property management is. After all, we are the managing agent you’ll stick with.

How the lockdown is changing us for the better

The pandemic has widened the divides between rich and poor, white collar and blue collar workers, rural dwellers and urban ones, and more. It has also introduced new disparities; one of which being wealth of time. Those now fulfilling their full time roles at home but with kids in tow to teach are facing 20 hour days to get everything done; while approximately 2.2 million employed people now on furlough have an abundance of free time on their hands to garden, take up yoga or bake banana bread if they wish.

For us here at Town & City Management Ltd, it’s still very much business as usual and every one of us is keeping busy each day serving clients, even if it’s done from the comfort of our own homes. We have found, however, that the lockdown and the way we responded to it has given us back several hours each and every day. Thanks to modern technology, we’re able to meet with clients and residents virtually, saving us significant travel time. What’s more, the trusted suppliers still operating on each of our sites to fulfil essential maintenance and repair services during lockdown have also been able to carry out site checks on our behalf, giving us peace of mind that everything is as it should be.

What have we done with this new time we’ve gained? Well, we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to reinvest it back into ourselves. From taking up new sporting pursuits to maintain a positive attitude and a sharp mind for work, to gaining new qualifications or doing online training, we’ve been making the most of this time. Here’s what we’ve been doing.

 

Increasing our knowledge and expertise

If you follow our LinkedIn page, you’ll have seen a few weeks ago that one of our apprentices, Lewis Poole, completed his AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting with a Merit. But he’s not the only member of the TCML team taking on new qualifications.

Matthew Harris, one of our Regional Property Managers, has been continuing with his business administration course studies throughout lockdown and is also poised to start another one – a new Build to Rent course provided by the IRPM – very soon.

David Holland, another TCML Property Manager, has completed his CIH and IRPM qualifications since we have been in lockdown and to his delight and ours, passed them with distinction. After working towards these for 18 months, it is an incredible achievement. But he’s not stopping there: he’s already signed up for CIH Level 4.

Not only that, but both he and Matthew have also been taking full advantage of the weekly updates and webinars provided by ARMA, the IRPM and surveyor firms such as Earl Kendrick and FlixFlow, among others. Commenting on the training, David said, “It has really increased my knowledge and the perfect time to get crucial information from industry experts. I am very lucky to work for an employer who has such a heavy focus on training and personal development.”

 

Finding more efficient ways of working for the long term

It would be hard to find someone who hasn’t done a Zoom video call over the last six weeks. And with residents meetings, team catch ups, quiz nights and even a video call with an elderly grandparent, the TCML team have become experts in the software.

It seems to be the general consensus that this technology will greatly improve how the majority of businesses operate, increasing levels of productivity significantly. With the team having spent considerable periods of time travelling to resident meetings and then evenings driving back down the motorway afterwards pre-lockdown, it may be that there will be an increase in the use of video calls for TCML on a permanent basis.

Getting to grips with virtual meetings may have involved a steep learning curve for property manager Gemma Woodford, but she’s now really enjoying them. She said, “I hope future meetings can be set up in this manner to make it easier for those leaseholders who can’t always attend meetings.”

Another effect of the lockdown has been a decrease in the volume of emails received by team members, giving us more time to plan, organise, catch up on non-urgent items and increase client care.

 

Keeping fit

For Sarah Jones, one of our property managers and a keen swimmer, the lockdown prevented her from keeping fit in the way she wanted and she was forced to find an alternative form of exercise quickly. Used to training up to five times a week in the pool, Sarah knew that a significant drop in physical activity would affect her wellbeing and focus at work. “Swimming in the morning certainly helped to set me up for the day, and was around an hour of each day of just ‘me time’, where I got the opportunity to think of nothing else but the next competition that I was training for and the water around me.  Fortunately, in the run up to the lockdown, one of our Contractors loaned me a road bike to train for  a Triathlon and I  have been alternating cycling with running on a daily basis to manage stress, keep focused, fit and  sane,” she told us.

David Holland is also quite an athlete and was due to run the London Marathon last month. He has found the ability to continue to run and get fresh air during the lockdown invaluable. He said, “I hope it will motivate others to keep up their fitness once this is all over.  It takes something as simple as a short walk to make a difference to one’s mental health.”

 

On the job compassion practice

We’ve always put our clients first but with the lockdown dramatically affecting people’s behaviour, patience and mental health, a recent webinar on how to manage clients in times of stress has been really helpful. Sarah Jones explained, “it was explained to us that many people will be going through the five stages of grief and looking back at it now, many of our Lessees have followed this cycle. It has certainly been hard at times to try and deal with your own ups and downs in relation to Covid-19, whilst also trying to appease and placate others and we’ve acquired a great deal of knowledge and experience in handling these situations both effectively and empathetically.” 

The role of a property manager encompasses many different professions, part surveyor, part lawyer, accountant and mediator and we’re gaining a lot of experience in all of them during lockdown.

What new skills or habits are you forming during lockdown?

Caring for your property during the Covid-19 pandemic

In our last blog post, we shared with you the actions we’re taking to ensure all of our clients’ properties continue to receive our care at this difficult time. But there’s plenty that you can do too, whether you live in the property or are letting it out to others.

Every day the UK gets one step closer to conquering this virus and when normal life resumes, we want to ensure that your property is in the best possible condition. Here’s how you can help us to do that.

Maintain good neighbourly relations and support others

While it’s vital that everyone follows the Government’s instructions on social distancing and staying at home, there are many ways that we are all still in contact with friends and family, through the phone, video conferencing and chat tools.

If you can extend this form of contact to neighbours, please do so. Connecting with neighbours or other residents/owners on your development is beneficial both in the short term and the long.

Supporting with grocery visits, identifying who might need extra help, or understanding if there are property issues common to a number of households is incredibly valuable. You could even find it a boost to your mental health to see some familiar faces on the weekly Clap for our Carers.

A WhatsApp group for all residents to check in on each other is a great way to get things started and could make life a little easier for everyone.

Ensure an open channel of communication between every resident and us

We remain open as usual at this time offering as many of our services as is safe to do so (see here for the latest update). However, as we are unable to make site visits as frequently as usual, we are more reliant on residents to report any issues or needs. If you let out your property, please ensure that we have contact details for your tenant so we can contact them and offer our assistance.  The sooner we can be made aware of an issue the more quickly we can resolve it, ensuring a speedier and potentially cheaper resolution. It also means we can coordinate the visits of our contractors to ensure their visits are as safe and as brief as possible.

We are also keeping a log of self-isolation cases and would appreciate you or your resident alerting us if symptoms arise.

In addition to this, by being in touch with all residents we are well placed to share information gathered by other residents which may be beneficial to the development as a whole such as local restaurants offering takeaways, supermarket deliveries or other valuable insight.

Support your local community

A property’s value is somewhat dependent on its location and an abundance of successful independent businesses in the local area can be a big plus. The pandemic will unfortunately force the closure of many small businesses which is why we must all do what we can to support local businesses (safely) during this time to ensure they survive.

As mentioned above, we’re happy to share details of local businesses offering help and services during the pandemic.

DIY with care (and think before you act) 

Bank holidays are a popular time to do some home improvement and with more time indoors than we’re used to, you might be tempted to go to extremes. Our advice is to plan any home improvements carefully and know your creative and DIY limits. You do not want to exacerbate an issue or start a job only to find that the tool shop is shut. 

What a lot of rubbish

The refuse collection services may be continuing but with clear outs in full swing across the country and all Waste & Recycling Centres closed, you may have more rubbish or unusual items to get rid of. Please be considerate of others when disposing of your rubbish in communal areas, ensuring they’re double bagged and exits are not blocked.  Please tell your tenants to do this if you’re not a resident of your property.

Work together within COVID-19 Government Guidelines

The Government may be calling them Guidelines but they are being enforced by police nationwide so they must be taken seriously. Be considerate and only leave your household for essential outings, respect social distancing with members of the public, including other residents in your building.

Stay at home, support the NHS and save lives.  Thank you from all of us at Town & City.