In these days of Trumpian hyperbole, you’d hesitate to brand anyone as the best or the worst in their field, unless they had a gold medal around their neck or shackles around their ankles.
However, a building manager we had the misfortune to encounter about 20 years ago was a candidate for the latter. Appointed by the developers of our off-the-plan apartment building, he turned out to be corrupt, discriminatory, a threat to security and almost impossible to get rid of. Almost.
A more recent example would be the building manager in Pyrmont, Sydney, who had built himself a lair, including an Aladdin’s cave of goods pilfered from owners, in the car park of one block.
But these are extreme cases and I am reliably informed that these days, generally, there’s greater professionalism in building facilities management.
According to UNSW’s National Strata Data report that came out last year, there are more than 5,000 people directly employed by strata blocks in Australia (not counting strata managing agents) and about 3.7 million tradies and professionals on-call to strata schemes.
Somewhere in there there’s a lot of building facilities managers who are either permanently attached to blocks or share their services among a number of schemes.
So what ingredients go into making a good building manager, bearing in mind that strata managers do all the clerical work like invoicing, bill paying and meeting agenda issuing?
It’s a job that’s hard to define but combines the same skill sets as a hotel manager and, say, a ship’s engineer.
People skills would be high on the list; dealing with demanding and often uninformed residents is a challenge in itself.
Having a grasp of the technical complexities of a large building and its infrastructure would be paramount.
Understanding not just what tradies do but how they work, and marrying that to the way residents of a building go about their lives requires an acute sense of balance.
Then there’s dealing with the committee – at best, a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs trying to do the right thing; at worst, squabbling power-players for whom winning the argument is more important than getting it right. The reality for most buildings lies somewhere in between.
Not all building managers operate at that level. Some are basically doormen with a list of tradies’ phone numbers. Others, especially in Queensland, live in the building as caretakers.
Contracts can range from five up to 25 years and more, depending on where you live. In Queensland, caretaker contracts are often sold by the developer on terms that the owners have no say in negotiating and no easy way out.
In Victoria, your owners corporation (strata) manager will often bring a building manager along as part of their deal.
In NSW, increasingly, strata management companies also have a building facilities management wing. The strata manager’s contracts are limited to three years at a time but, again, the building managers’ can run for much longer.
The only way to find out how good or bad a building manager is likely to be is to give them a go. But don’t just take “standard terms” – ask for a trial period and a contract with clearly defined and easily invoked performance indicators and exit clauses.
And negotiate a contract as short as possible. Few of us are on 10-year contracts, let alone 25-year deals. But if your building manager is as good as the best of them are, you’ll be begging for an extension when the time comes.
A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.