Mary Anne Bowring, Managing Director of Ringley, one of London's leading Managing Agents, and a Governor for the Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM), gives leaseholders some top tips in how to monitor the performance of a Managing Agent.
There are many advantages in employing a competent Managing Agent, not only can it eliminate embarrassing situations, such as chasing your neighbour for their arrears, it means that the Managing Agent can share some of your responsibilities under the recent fire and asbestos legislation.
To effectively monitor your Managing Agent you must remember that they are your Agent and that ultimately it's the Directors of any residents freehold company or Management Company that are responsible for the block. In appointing a Managing Agent you delegate the activities but not the duty in its entirety. As with anything you delegate, the success is only as good as the reporting mechanisms you put in place (or are lucky enough to be delivered without even having to ask).
So the question is how should you monitor your Managing Agent? A good starting point is recognising the activities which should run like clockwork:
Demands - You should expect demands for service charge and/or ground rent, reminders and final notices to hit your door when they are due.
Budgets - You should expect to receive a proposed service charge budget in enough time to approve it well before the first due date. A clever managing agent may coincide this with a Directors meeting well before the year end.
Then ask yourself
Repairs - How quickly would you expect reactive maintenance to be dealt with? What do the Managing Agents contractors say about them?
Correspondence - Has the Agent set out their target response times? Do they meet them? 48 hours turnaround on an email or fax, and 5 days on a letter might be reasonable.
Named personnel - Do you have a dedicated team? Who are they, and when did they last write to you?
Phone service - Has your Agent realised that since 1985 legislation started favouring open communication with lessees, and have they adapted their business to reflect this change in the power balance?
Phone service - Can you get through? And are their staff experienced enough? Property Management is a difficult field where a call can start out about a recent bill received, and end up with a whole host of queries such as asking for an insurance policy or finding out what the lease says about satellite dishes. A Managing Agents operation needs to be well structured internally to deal with the multiple issues thrown at it. Are your calls returned?
Compliance with statute - Has your Agent arranged an Asbestos Survey, required for all buildings built before 2000 and a Fire Risk Assessment required since 2006? Have you had the risks debriefed to you?
Providing for the future - Has your Agent prepared a reserve plan for you or provided you with an estimate of future works at today's costs? Have they analysed the clauses of the lease which allow you to collect towards such items as roof renewal or redecorations and included this as an expenditure heading in your service charge budget?
Cashflow - How quickly can your Agent provide you with a report of actual spending against budget? And, more importantly, a list of payments due but not yet paid to prove to you your block is not spending beyond its means!
Serious arrears - It goes without saying that an arrears or debtors list should be available instantly by return, but why not go a stage further and ask for a list of all legal action on serious arrears instructed and the next stage of the recovery process?
Do they know your property - When did they last visit? Ask for a copy of their report, does the person who came to site care about the same things you do?
Commitment to self learning - Management is growing fast and a good Managing Agent will promote and support further training for its personnel to get professionally qualified, making them more able to give you good advice. Are you dealing with qualified professionals?
In 2008 you should be able to expect all of the above courteously and in multiple forms, by email, by post, or by logging into a specific web area for your block. A handful of managing agents really do deliver all of this on-line, and if a Managing Agent really understands that every leaseholder could be their Client then they will have communication strategies that deliver the above and more.
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