Without a doubt, it has been quieter than normal here at CIAR. Whilst the cleaning side is predictably doing well and outdoor work like gardening keeps us busy, non-essential maintenance has been deferred so we’re doing our best to keep our engineers, decorators and handymen busy during this unique time.
Residential property management is often regarded recession proof. I spent an intensive and very enjoyable five-year period as a property manager for a busy and successful central London managing agent before joining CIAR as a director. I learned that no matter the financial circumstances of the leaseholders in our clients’ blocks of flats, they had to pay their service charges so we could insure the building, clean it, repair it, carry out H&S assessments and of course pay ourselves the management fees. If the leaseholder was out of work or without a tenant in their flat, they still had to pay their proportion of the service charge. There were no payment holidays, no loans, no excuses.
However, we hear first-hand from property managers – who are often leaseholders themselves – that they have never been busier or more stressed. We are all thankful that we remain in gainful employment, but the pressure you are under makes us all the keener to see how we can support you.
Through these unparalleled times, a supplier to the property management industry should have plenty of reasons to feel optimistic, because if property managers rely on their network of vetted suppliers to fulfil their obligations to their clients, the suppliers ought to feel secure. Once again, it’s not that simple.
In the same way that only certain businesses in wider society have benefitted from the coronavirus crisis – Ocado, Zoom, Amazon, Netflix, Domino’s and the people who sell latex gloves – only a few suppliers to the residential property management sector have flourished. Cleaning companies have benefitted and certain parts of health & safety consultancies, but to be frank, there isn’t a great deal of optimism out there. So we’ve all had to adapt and we reassure ourselves that most sought-after suppliers will still be sought-after when the lockdown is lifted – and there will be a heck of a backlog!
So how has CIAR adapted and what can we do for you?
We rely almost entirely on our managing agents – they are our bread and butter, our raison d’être. We have shaped our business around the way managing agents work. Given my PM background and Lee’s past experience of owning a managing agent, this has been straightforward for us to do. So how we adapt to the virus outbreak is directly in line with the needs of our managing agents.
ARMA made generally available their excellent publication “Covid-19: Best Practice Guidelines for Property Managers”. As the UK government updates their advice, and best practice from other ARMA equivalents in the US, Australia, and in Europe is discussed and passed on, so ARMA also updates this online document.
This is how we have adapted taking in account ARMA’s advice to its members and how its members have interpreted that advice.
Protecting your workforce and protecting our workforce. It’s number one on the list. Our cleaners, gardeners and engineers have appropriate PPE to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. We have invested in masks, gloves and specialist cleaning products to kill the virus. Our staff have been trained to social distance, which in residential common parts, means making the 2 metre move themselves rather than expecting a resident to do so (wherever possible).
Cleaning services. Common parts cleaning is where CIAR started and now it’s a critical service for our clients. We have been asked to increase frequency of visits and pay closer attention to areas that are regularly touched – lift buttons, entryphone/access panels, handrails etc. If you need to increase frequency or you need a quotation, please let us know.
Prioritising essential maintenance and compliance. ARMA makes it clear that essential maintenance must be carried out. It’s up to the managing agent to interpret what is ‘essential’, or ‘urgent’. As most insurance claims in residential buildings seem to be escape of water related, we can assist with trace and access, immediate repairs, and insurance reinstatement works thereafter. Anything loose, dangerous, etc, we would look to prioritise such repairs for you.
Site inspections. ARMA’s guidance refers to the potential of property managers as ‘super-spreaders if they visit high density residential buildings’ so property manager site visits are discouraged. Managing agents do have contractual obligations to meet and one of these is carrying our regular site visits. In our eyes, these are more important than ever, not least as most residential blocks of flats are full of residents in lockdown, so if there was an emergency such as a fire, I am sure that everyone concerned would like to see illuminated stairwells and uncluttered corridors. That’s why we’ve been stepping into property managers’ shoes by carry out full inspections of the common parts. If you need notices put up in the common parts for instance, we can also take care of that for you too. If you need meter readings taken, we’ll gladly oblige.
Compliance visits. As above, with blocks at full capacity, it’s more vital to ensure fire alarms and emergency lighting systems are functioning as they should. We already carry out bell tests flick tests for some of our clients – let us know if we can support you similarly.
Spring cleaning: Many of us are working from home and working through a list of chores , so there is plenty of spring cleaning going on. The same applies to the buildings under your management. A few tangible improvements would go down very well with your leaseholders as soon as lockdown is lifted. Bulky rubbish removal… carpet and upholstery cleaning…tiled/stone floor buffing…window cleaning…and the most tangible of all: jet washing. Nothing gives us more pleasure than seeing stone steps returned to their former glory. The residents feel the same.
Payment terms. Property managers are starting to see leaseholders question their obligation to pay service charges and the management fees in particular, given a number of services to their block have been put on hold. Whilst property managers and their credit control departments are chasing payment, we can look at extending our own payment terms (a bit!) as long as the communication lines are open. Healthy cashflow is vital for all business – particularly suppliers right now.
This is a complex time and we’ve all had to adapt. Personally, I’m still cycling into the office, combining my daily exercise with a social distancing commute across west London. It’s quite a lonely place at the moment (I’m holding the fort alone!), so it would be great to hear from you. We are fully resourced and ready to support you.
Emma Frances Thomas MIRPM AssocRICS