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‘We must not overlook the basics of property management’

In an article originally published in Property Week, Mike Dowland, our UK Operations Director, discusses the importance of FirstPort’s back-to-the-basics strategy. 

In today’s complex world, it’s easy for property managers to become preoccupied with shifting priorities and processes, which is why revisiting the fundamental principles that underpin what we do is crucial.

With nearly 25 years’ experience in property management, I’ve seen firsthand how the industry has changed. For the right reasons, buildings are more complicated because of increased health and safety legislation, and technology has advanced.

But effective property management means not overlooking the basics and getting it right with maintenance and the touchpoints that customers see every day, as well as producing clear and simple service charge estimates that people understand. At FirstPort, we’ve adopted a back-to-the-basics strategy which ensures we focus on the key functions of property management that matter most to our residents.

Delivering a professional service

Investing in staff training and development is key to our back-to-basics approach. Working alongside our Customer Operations Director, we have designed and delivered a ‘property management 101’ training programme. The course involves educating all colleagues – from customer service to accountants – about the fundamentals of property management. It means everyone in the business is able to read and understand important management documents. This empowers our customer service team to handle queries quickly and effectively, and it offers a clear career progression route into property manager roles.

We are also enhancing our professional support teams by appointing experts with the right experience in property management, such as the recent appointment of our Health and Safety Director Fleur Bowen. Fleur has operations experience and understands the technicalities of the job, and that makes a massive difference because she’s realistic about what can be achieved and when. This strategy ensures our business leaders have a comprehensive understanding of operations, which is vital for managing the complexities of the property management sector.

Regular inspections

As property managers, it is important that we carry out regular inspections of our sites, take a proactive approach to maintenance and identify issues before they escalate. To support this, we put in place a site inspection app which has simplified our approach to inspections across the developments we manage. The app provides detailed reports so we can clearly communicate to customers and clients about the work being done at their developments. This regular and proactive approach to site maintenance builds confidence among residents and clients because they can see we’re doing our job effectively.

Clear and timely budgets and accounts

As a property manager, our top priority is to ensure our customers’ homes are safe and well-maintained and that our service provides value for money – a balance that has become more challenging over time. Managing agents now face increased demands for health and safety compliance, including general and fire risk assessments and checks on fire doors where applicable. But this comes at a cost. The Property Institute’s recent Service Charge Index found that health and safety related costs for leaseholders have increased by 40% over the past five years. It’s essential to ensure buildings are safe, but every development is different, so we’ve got to make sure we’re pragmatic and sensible about the number of inspections that are done so it is proportionate to the risk of the site.

The Property Institute’s data also revealed that service charge costs have increased by 41% since 2019. We are continuing to witness enormous pressure on rising insurance, supply, and labour costs. Against the backdrop of these increased costs, it’s important that service charge budgets and end-of-year accounts are clear and can be easily understood so that customers will continue to pay the bills that fund the essential services needed to maintain their developments.

Multi-channel communication

Communication is an essential part of being a property manager and it’s crucial that customers can contact us in a way they choose to. For example, not all customers want to call us. It’s our job now in an evolving world to come up with alternative channels. We recently launched a new CRM system which includes a refreshed customer portal set to revolutionise the way we go about handling customer enquiries. The portal gives our customers more ways to communicate with us. As it develops, it will contain more and more self-serve options to ensure customers get the information they need at the time they need it.

Moving forwards

In essence, a back-to-the-basics strategy involves a more proactive approach to property management, something we should all strive for in our industry. Whilst a simple concept, it has the potential for truly exceptional results, providing a property management service that exceeds the needs of residents and clients.