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Property managers hold key to residents’ approval

Charles Lucas - Business Development & Mobilisation Director

In an article originally published in Property Week, Charles Lucas, our Business Development & Mobilisation Director, discusses why developers should involve property managers as early as possible to ensure a smooth tenant move-in process.

In an ideal world, when a tenant or leaseholder moves into a development, they don’t even realise the work that has gone into making their experience seamless.

But the reality is that these things must be planned to perfection. A whole world of pain emerges if they are not. There are a number of considerations that developers and managing agents need to think about in partnership to achieve a successful mobilisation process.

One size doesn’t fit all

First, all buildings are different, just as every developer is different. Some companies have their own in-house support, but some don’t. Some rely heavily on their contractors to keep an eye on the details, while others are far more hands-on. But whatever the situation, it is vital that all concerned work closely with whoever is going to manage the building. Getting the mobilisation phase right results in an engaged, informed, assured and happy community.

With so many moving parts, somebody needs to take overall responsibility for managing the mobilisation process and, in most cases, the appointed property manager is best placed to do so. At FirstPort, we have a dedicated mobilisation team. Each development is assigned a mobilisation manager who will be the client’s single point of contact throughout the process. Internally, our mobilisation lead liaises with individuals from our specialist support teams, such as finance, compliance, procurement, health and safety and legal, to ensure we consider holistically all aspects of the process. And our process is constantly evolving, adapting to client feedback and shifting customer expectations.

Early engagement

Appointing and empowering a property manager cannot be left until the last minute. It is essential that such a relationship is formed earlier – perhaps earlier than most would expect – and is well structured. Provided that partnership is put in place promptly, a good property manager can keep on top of what can be a complex and changing environment and can juggle the different demands.

As well as getting a building physically prepared for occupation, establishing a strong relationship with a property manager also means future potential issues can be identified and protocols put in place to mitigate them. Large developments are sophisticated machines and people understand that things sometimes go wrong. The point is to be prepared. The same principle applies when creating a community, which is often an important part of the client’s vision for their site. This doesn’t just happen, and it’s important to have a plan that starts before people move in, to make sure the development is set up for success.

Demonstrating value for money

Effective residential managing agents never forget that the service charge that pays their fees and funds essential maintenance works is paid directly by residents out of their disposable incomes. There is a regulatory and moral imperative to ensure that property managers provide genuine value for money. This has never been more important than with the cost-of-living crisis at play. Paying attention to the mobilisation phase facilitates better, more transparent financial management down the line. Customer satisfaction is key to a building’s success – and you won’t get strong customer satisfaction if residents feel they are not getting value.

Reacting to complexities

Early mobilisation also allows the property manager to truly get to know how a building has been put together and understand in detail how it works. Modern apartment buildings are far more complicated than they used to be and rightly the subject of far more scrutiny. Fire prevention and mitigation systems, for instance, are now highly sophisticated. They need to be fully understood so they can be maintained appropriately and safely.

Pressurised smoke extraction systems are a good example. They are highly technical equipment and property managers need to understand how they operate so that they can put in place the right service regime from the day the building becomes occupied. That is essential to ensure any warranties are maintained. If these systems aren’t correctly maintained, manufacturers can refuse to remedy any latent defects without additional costs being incurred. Such a situation cannot be allowed to happen and is less likely to do so if property managers are involved from the very beginning.

We also have to consider how dramatically the regulatory environment is evolving. Both the Fire Safety Act and Building Safety Act involve substantial and detailed change to how our sector operates. We are still waiting for some additional secondary legislation to provide absolute clarity, but broadly the new regime is to be welcomed for all its complexity. Developers and managing agents have a role to play in getting it right and must work together to adhere to both the letter and the spirit of the regulations.

Transparent oversight

In an ideal world, if a property manager is involved early, it will be clear at what stage they assume responsibility. In the real world, however, the situation isn’t always straightforward. For instance, developments are often handed over in phases. Once a phase is complete, residents may begin moving in while works continue on other phases around them. Effectively, the building is a live residence, but it is also at the same time a building site.

That raises all sorts of issues, not least when it comes to electricity supply. The main electricity supply will have been designed to service the whole building, so who picks up the cost for that when a building is only partially occupied? It is a grey area and one that needs to be addressed to ensure fairness both to residents and developers. Failing to do so would be akin to falling at the first hurdle, with a guarantee of disgruntled residents from day one.

Again, experience teaches us that anticipating and acknowledging any such issues as early as possible delivers the best outcomes. There are few dilemmas in life that cannot be overcome by honest, transparent negotiation. Usually, developers are accommodating because they like to take responsibility where buildings are incomplete. The buck stops with them and they understand that asking residents to pay for something that they aren’t benefiting from or have control over is not acceptable.

Marathon not a sprint

It also must be acknowledged that mobilisation is a process rather than a single event. With the best will in the world, issues will arise sometimes that do not have an obvious solution. It may also be unclear whose responsibility it is to take ownership of a problem and what resources are available for fixing it. Not everything in mobilisation can be anticipated and all parties need to be open about that and alive to the possibility that a situation can and probably will evolve.

For this reason, it is imperative that developers and managing agents establish strong lines of communication and schedule regular meetings, but as the pandemic showed, meetings don’t necessarily have to be conducted in person. Most people would agree that there are tangible benefits to being in the same room, especially in terms of creativity or resolving disagreements, but many productive conversations can be held effectively virtually, saving time and money.

It cannot be emphasised enough quite how vital it is for residential property managers to be fully engaged in the mobilisation process. It is vital to a successful relationship between developer and manager. More importantly still, it is the best way to ensure that customers are both satisfied and safe.

This article was originally posted on Property Week on 25th May 2023.

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