Boards sometimes fail to see their Managers as people
Have any of you watched What Women Want? For those who have not, it's about a man who acquires the ability to read the thoughts and desires of women. The classical "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" depiction of the two sexes always seems applicable when comparing the stereotypical simplicity of men and complexity of women.
It's a bit like the relationship between managers and their boards. Managers want to satisfy their Boards, dealing with every issue that comes their way in the most direct fashion possible. However, in the hoopla of trying to optimize their living space, Boards can sometimes forget to sympathize with their managers as people.
Analogies aside, the consequences of dissatisfying either party are becoming more than just a broken relationship, especially in light of changes to the Condo Act. Now that managers need to be licensed before being eligible to work, the industry is facing an unprecedented shortage of bodies to man the ships that are your condos. Retaining good managers has never been more important than it has now as the margin of error in the management-board relationship becomes ever slimmer.
Let's dig into some of the statistics. According to PayScale, a salary calculation website that collects salary statistics, the average condominium property manager in Toronto makes $55,599 per year. That is lower than the average salary across all jobs in Toronto, which is $58,279 per year. That might be okay if being a property manager took a below-average level of training and commitment, however this is not the case at all.
An article published by Toronto Condo News in December 2017 states "Property management is not something most choose as a profession. There is no traditional career path". Becoming a property manager is rarely someone's first choice as a profession, but the skillset required would objectively suggest otherwise. Experience in finance is needed to manage the millions of dollars of assets, communication skills are required to provide high quality customer service, basic engineering is recommended to understand the numerous maintenance issues that can occur… you may as well try to be Elon Musk at that point! The bottom line is that the requirements of the job are extremely demanding. Additionally, a manager does not simply work nine-to-five as is the expectation with most other office jobs. Hours change depending on the needs of the building, residents, and board requirements; an afternoon finish can easily become a late-night drive home. That's without including the additional time in a manager's contract allocated to various meetings and emergency duties. This is certainly a level of necessary commitment that is above average. Add on the sudden requirement for a manager to be licenced, and you begin to wonder why on Earth they would be paid below average. Despite this, managers understand that no job is above their paygrade.
It's not a stretch to say that being a property manager for a residential building is the hardest kind of management work.
Managers of commercial buildings have the luxury of keeping the professional and personal needs of their clients more separate. The workload is also decreased considering retail and commercial space rarely have special amenities to maintain. The same goes for office managers. Rental managers most of the time don't do late meetings. The rigorous demands of the job are only exacerbated by the power dynamic in the manager-board relationship. A resident's complaint can have more dire consequences than a manager's complaint. There's the potential of the manager's superiors hearing of the situation, which could even bring the manager's job security into question. Living under the constant threat of this possibility is not easy, nor can it be healthy for the manager, yet it is inevitable in such a relationship.
By virtue of their position, a manager in most of the cases will be blamed for inadequate service, even when the cause of a delay or inconsistency is out of their control. If a contractor runs late on repairs, or if the problem is an internal unit issue, it is often the manager who must face upset tenants and owners. Being a property manager, in that regard, is extremely mentally taxing. If everything listed above seems like a bit much, that's because it is; it's a bit too much to ask from a manager. And yet, there is still even more that needs to be done. Based on a survey done by Duka in half a dozen high-rise condominium buildings 50-70% of a site office's time is spent only on communication (verbal and e-mails) with residents, Board Members and other significant parties, barely leaving any time for inspections, expertise work, training or other duties. An environment like this is bound to cause a lot of stress. Alleviating that stress and pressure can go a long way to increase a manager's happiness and satisfaction in the workplace. By no means am I saying that managers should have the right to avoid doing their jobs, but making them feel more appreciated is key. A common and simple perk of being a property manager is the fulfillment of helping clients, and the board, is their biggest and most important client. A show of appreciation and thanks from a resident can have a monumental effect on the psyche of managers.
Retaining managers has never been more important. As of June 15, 2018, the CMRAO has only issued 2,522 individual property management licenses. There are approximately 2,000 licensed managers, general license and transitional license, in the entire province that have the experience to capably manage a property on their own. The other managers, limited licensees, would have less than two years of experience in the industry, which to many condo boards, is understandably not enough. Compare this to the 11,269 condos in Ontario, and you quickly realize the magnitude of the manager shortage. The ratio is approximately one manager for every 6 buildings, which may as well make every manager a regional manager. That ratio will continue to grow as developments accelerate across the province. As comical as it sounds, one can't help but imagine seeing the tables turn, where condos will be fighting over managers rather than managers looking for condos.
Managing a condo is almost like running your own little planet. Just as a planet never stops rotating, management is always bustling with a new task to complete. You can't stop day-to-day affairs to make repairs. Thus, it is vital for a condo's business to run as smoothly as possible. Consider the importance of continuity; many issues and projects that arise in a condo are not just solved over the course of a single day. Some repairs can take months depending on the contractor's schedule. If a condo commonly cycles through different management companies, the best one can hope for is for minimal delays. The worst could be a complete breakdown of service as the transition of information between management companies becomes sporadic and incomplete. Paperwork between companies is given at a sluggish pace, maintenance issues are rarely communicated, and the entropic nightmare only keeps spiraling downwards.
First and foremost, assess the quality of your management company (expertise, experience, qualification, support etc.). If it results in meeting your expectations, then assess your manager's performance. All this is to say that if your current manager, is doing a good job, keeping them is important, as more than likely there will be no better alternatives. When conducting the performance review of property manager (the company and the individual) take under consideration these aspects:
Define expected quality to be provided by the property manager and management company's supporting team.
Consider the pool of such property managers and management companies and their fee range.
Evaluate if the condo budget allows to pay such fees.
Assess the risks that your existing property manager may leave your site for another site or a larger site that may pay the property manager more.
According to Victor Vroom's expectancy theory "an individual will behave or act in a certain way because they are motivated to select a specific behavior over other behaviors due to what they expect the result of that selected behavior to be." Many managers experience a gap of valence. Managers are already underpaid in proportion to the work they do and the stress they must undergo. Residents, and even more importantly, the boards, have the capability to alleviate this gap in expectancy. Allocating more funds towards the manager's salary increases the reward. Fostering a positive relationship between you and your manager, softening the edge of the aforementioned power dynamic, reduces much of the manager's stress. Not committing to your manager in these ways could lead them to take off for greener pastures: buildings with higher pay and less stressful situations. It's not as crazy as you may think. Many site administrators refuse to be promoted to a manager despite the higher pay to spare themselves the stress of the job.
Additionally, consider that a manager today might leave for a new condo development promising a higher salary. The management fees in existing condos haven't increased to coincide with the higher fees of new condo developments. Older condos may be at risk as the experienced managers may leave them to work at these new condo developments.
Managers and boards will always have their inherent differences because of how the goals and interests of both parties contrast. However, just as a successful romance necessitates willing commitment from both sides, a well-run condo needs their board and manager to function in harmony. No one can read minds, but the very least a board can do is cater to what they do know. Managers want to stay, but you need to keep giving them reasons to do so. Take good care of them, and they will take great care of you.
Condovoice Magazine - Volume 24, Issue Number 3, Spring 2019
*Altin Nani is President of DUKA Property Management Inc & DUKA Consulting, Mississauga-Ontario