What Great Looks Like: Getting the Property Management Service You Deserve
There's no harm in window shopping.
“Are we getting the service we deserve from our property management company?”
Annual meeting season has arrived in Texas, and this question is one that many boards are asking themselves. New board members are elected, and they begin to wonder, is this really all the help we get? What if someone else out there can do more for us? As with many seemingly simple questions, the answer is: it depends.
It depends on the size and age of your community, its unique demographics, resident concerns and focus, your budget and a host of other variables. This large list is what makes comparing management services from different companies a difficult and overwhelming task for many Texas homeowner associations. The good news is, there is no reason to give in to FOMO (fear of missing out).
In a world that’s currently experiencing rapid changes in policy, legislation, rising costs of labor and materials, and continuing pandemic restrictions, it’s only good sense for an association to complete due diligence when it comes to managing their community. The fact is, it’s not only encouraged but, in many cases, actually required by an association’s governing documents to explore management options as part of the board’s fiduciary responsibilities.
Let’s begin with a high-level understanding of the type of management company you need. It’s important that the company have the resources to deliver the specifics of service that your community or building requires to operate smoothly.
5 Traits of a Great Property Management Company
Great! Your association has decided that it’s time to evaluate other professional property management companies against your current provider. Or perhaps your community has always been self-managed, but you’ve begun to feel the strain and want to look into getting professional management. This change represents a big step for your community and will directly impact your community for years to come.
So before deciding which company you want to partner with, you and your board must carefully research a variety of firms and become confident that the company you choose is the best suited for your community’s needs. So, what factors should your board consider when selecting the right property management company for your association?
1. Large or Small?
Mom-and-pop businesses are as American as apple pie, and we all know that these local staples pride themselves on personal service. But it’s also important to make sure that they have the depth of resources and experience to provide your community with what it needs and the buying power and leverage to save you money. The best large property management companies will be able to offer you a combination of the friendly service provided by smaller companies and the amenities and services provided by larger entities. These services may include negotiated vendor pricing that will save you money, preferred banking and insurance options and a large, professionally trained talent pool that can meet your staffing and support needs. Make sure to fairly consider companies of both sizes to get the best fit for your community.
2. Check out their experience
When looking for a property management company, check out their references and experience. It’s crucial to research how many properties they manage, the length of time that the company has been in business and the skills and accomplishments of their key management staff. Ask for references from other area properties that the company manages (If they won’t provide them, that’s a red flag!). When you speak to those references, ask how the company manages the maintenance and projects for the community and its finances. Find out what the company has done to save the community money and how the staff interacts with residents. Compare the answers for each company you are considering by placing them on a spreadsheet to see how they stack up in the areas most important to you.
3. Do they offer 24/7 communication?
No one lives from just 9 to 5, and your property needs to recognize that, and knowing you can rely on your property management company around the clock is vital. The right technology tools can alert your community of emergencies when they arise. A 24-hour call center, staffed by trained customer care operators, will answer residents’ questions on things like account balances, the hours of operation of amenity facilities and how they can replace a key fob any time of day. Additionally, you want to choose a company that will provide online portal services designed specifically for your community. Portal services are invaluable because they offer residents an easy, interactive tool to communicate with their management team and often include services such as customer care and after-hours emergency support. Knowing your property management company is there for you at all hours should put everyone’s minds at ease.
4. Focus on value instead of price
We’ve all heard the adage “you get what you pay for.” The old saying is often heard for a reason, and in most cases – it’s true. While getting a great deal is attractive to anyone, it shouldn’t be your only priority when hiring a property management company. The best property management companies might charge more for their services, but the value you get in return should more than make up for it. Your property management company will aim to find your community cost savings, from analyzing potential contracts to leveraging their business relationships in order to get better prices for services such as trash pickup and other contract services. A good property management company can help you minimize risk, potentially lowering your insurance costs, and make sure that your preventative maintenance program is designed to get the most from your physical assets. You should have access to better banking, insurance and investment programs, and your property management company can help you develop your annual budget and maintain a healthy reserve fund. Don’t just look at the bottom-line fee for services; examine and compare the full value brought to your association by those services and the resource pool they include.
5. Do they have a team you can count on?
Of course, your property manager will be a close partner, making that person a great asset to your community, but think beyond that. The best management companies will include an entire team of professionals to help make each aspect of your community work at peak efficiency: regional directors whose experience in the field can help guide your community’s needs, accounting and administration teams, and specialists in many areas, such as human resources. Picking the right property management company with more perks than you might have imagined!
Now that you know what kind of management company you should be looking for, it’s time to discuss the questions you should ask to get details on exactly what service levels you should expect. It’s possible that your board may not even be aware of the type of service that you should be getting – and aren’t!
8 Questions You Should Ask To Get the Service You Deserve
The homeowners in your association depend on you and other board members to look out for their best interests. That’s why it’s so important to thoroughly research and compare property management companies before selecting the one that will best meet the needs of your community. After all, the choice you make today can impact your property for years to come.
But believe it or not, you’re already a step ahead of countless other associations. Many of them aren’t even aware of the benefits they would gain by partnering with a professional management company. The fact that you’re in the evaluation process at all means you understand how a management company can
Help you enhance property values
Offer services that you might not otherwise have
Assist you in creating a more realistic and actionable budget
Mitigate your association’s exposure to a variety of risks
Improve resident lifestyles
For you, the question isn’t whether you should work with a property management company. The question is, “How do you decide which one to select when there are so many to choose from?”
Carefully assess each company’s ability to deliver the service and value your community expects. The following eight questions are designed to enable your association board to apply important criteria to your evaluation process.
1. What services are included?
A full-scale property management company should be able to handle all of your day-to-day operations, accounting, preventative maintenance and resident communication. It should also help you with your strategic planning and offer value-added services you may need, such as staffing, training and engineering. Be sure to get a breakdown of the included services before you sign a contract.
2. How will you help us better manage our money?
Look for a company that has in-house budgeting and financial management expertise. See if they’re willing to share that expertise through training programs designed for board members.
Find out if they offer any unique opportunities for saving your association money. Perhaps its buying power translates into discounts on products and services for your community. Or maybe it has partnerships with organizations that translate into favorable insurance premiums, attractive interest rates on loans and higher investment yields. Any of these advantages will be sure to stretch your association’s dollars.
3. Do you have the resources to support our community adequately?
A good management company should have the resources to quickly address your needs and offer specialized expertise when necessary. This is demonstrated by the company’s
A collaborative, team approach to property management
In-house legal, accounting, information technology and human resources professionals
Strict internal processes to protect your association’s finances and data
4. What kind of training do your associates receive?
Some states and provinces require property managers to be certified. However, even if it is not mandatory in your area, the company you work with should encourage staff to earn these credentials. Look for certifications and designations from professional organizations like the Community Associations Institute (CAI) and the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), which let you know that you will be in the hands of well-trained professionals.
You also want to see that the company offers continuing education opportunities to its associates. The property management industry is ever-evolving based on new research, new legislation, and communities' changing needs, so it’s important for your management team to stay current.
Check to see if the company also offers training classes for board members. If it does, it’s a strong indication that it is deeply committed to helping board members do the best job they can.
5. How will you deliver customer service?
Expect to have access to a customer service center that you can call anytime to get information, ask questions and report urgent issues. In addition, find out if
You will receive proactive communications on a regularly
Someone from your management team will be attending your association board meetings
Financial reports and statements will be provided to the board frequently
6. Do you offer a web-based platform to connect residents, board members and our property management team?
The management company should offer an online platform that can be customized for your community. Ask for a demo to see if it is easy to use and enables residents, board members and the management team to communicate, resolve issues and conduct community business anytime, from any device.
7. What safeguards do you have to protect our association?
Investigate the company’s level of transparency and accountability. The company should have the ability to separate financial responsibilities, and provide other internal controls to safeguard your money and protect both the association’s and homeowners’ confidential information. Keep in mind that a publicly-traded company will be held to strict standards and will be subject to annual third-party audits – all of which help to protect your community further.
8. What can you offer to help us be more competitive?
Companies that manage similar communities in your area will be able to collect and report on a significant amount of information. Find out if the company can provide you with benchmarking data so you can assess how your community measures up to others like yours. This will allow you to make informed decisions about improvements and upgrades you can make to help your community stay competitive in a vibrant real estate market.
Posing these questions will not only provide a vehicle for applying the right criteria but will also create consistency, so you are truly comparing apples to apples when looking at how different property management companies stack up.
Hiring a community association management company is a major task for any Board; the choice you make will affect your association’s money and well-being and has the potential to increase your property values and enhance the lives of your residents every day. Asking the right questions, doing your research, and avoiding some of the most common mistakes can ensure you hire a company you can trust for years.
FirstService Residential goes above and beyond to deliver exceptional service daily to keep your community looking great and running smoothly. How do we accomplish this? By providing:
Managers with time to serve your community
Customer Care Center with live help 24/7/365
Industry-leading vendor management
Trained, proactive management support teams
To know us is to know our mission, and it's right there in our name – first, service. That's why we have a client retention rate consistently at 93% or higher year over year. We strive to give your community the attention it deserves!
For more information on partnering with a quality management company and how it can benefit your community, get your no-obligation services proposal from FirstService Residential, Texas’ leading residential property management company.