I sometimes think that no one who works in flat management lives in a flat. This has to be true or otherwise they must switch off their home life experiences when they get to work! I say this from recent personal experience and also from the very long career in property management. In this article I am specifically referring to the inability for managing agents, and those involved in block management to deal swiftly and effectively with correspondence.
My recent experience is a legal matter relating to the title of my home. My lawyer was waiting for the freeholder’s manager to reply to enquiries and provide costs for notices. I only foreshortened what had already been a long delay because I am involved in the business and could go to the top of the manager to elicit replies. For the majority it is really frustrating and increases costs and delays.
Let us look at the situation when you are buying and consequently living in your leasehold home. There is an infrequent need when you will want information, answers or formalities dealt with. These could be replies to enquiries, questions on the service charge, notices to be acknowledged or a whole manner of other interventions. To you it will be important and essential, to the manager it will be one of a large amount of correspondence they receive. The simple fact is that the management of residential property is a thankless task that is under rewarded and can quickly become demotivating. Looking at each of these aspects you may get a better perspective.
A thankless task? Well in reality the only time the managers hear from the leaseholders is when there is a problem, they need something or in response to invoices raised. A number of the leaseholders will not be the most courteous in their communication. This all leads to a presumption that any email, call or letter will be abusive and a reluctance to pen them let alone deal with them. When I had my management company Chainbow a lot of time was spent to train our team to put themselves in the leaseholder’s shoes, as well as to be open and transparent. This perspective can reframe situations and allow a more open dialogue rather than confrontational or challenging.
Under rewarded? Typically, the managing agents fee will be around £300 for each flat each year. This is to cover not only the manager but also the accounts staff and the liability and risks on health and safety. That is not a lot in reality and depending on the number of flats in a building the total fee for the block may not be an awful lot. Consequently, the managing agents need to give their teams a large number of buildings to look after to make it profitable. The challenge therefore is to get first class service for a low fee. The one thing for sure with technological advances and algorithms is that there will be a major disruptor through technology to improve management services at the costs required. But that will be a later delivery, in the meanwhile the managers will need to improve their service skills. The large majority of the service charge you will pay is for maintenance and services which do not go to the managing agents – a common misunderstanding by even the most experienced leaseholders.
Demotivating? Well after years of abuse, disrespectful communication and contention from leaseholders it can have a demotivating effect. It is like a constant tapping, it becomes quickly irritating and frustrating.
None of this explanation is to make excuses for poor service, delays in replies, delay in service charge accounts or other poor handling. It is intended to give you the perspective of what goes on with managing agents for common parts and for the ground rent investor.
I would therefore always advise the leaseholder to think about how they communicate in terms of tone and timing. For instance, it is no god saying every request is urgent, it merely devalues those that genuinely are. You may have had a dreadful day and an issue with your home may be the final straw but taking it out on the manager is never going to get the best reaction. Think about how you react to awkward and challenging communication.
You don’t need to seal your letters with a kiss but an email written with a smile and engaging can make it all the more appreciated and swifter to get an answer!