How do you know if you've got the right property manager?

Nygel Scourfield, Managing Director of FirstPort Property Services shares his opinion:


As the largest residential property manager in the UK, looking after 185,000 homes, we have a fundamental role in making sure the buildings we manage are safe, well maintained and serviced. But that only scratches the surface of what we actually do.

Our 3,000 employees manage developments across the UK. Some of our development managers live on site, in the residential complexes themselves. Some manage a small portfolio of properties which require only a monthly inspection to ensure everything on site is as it should be.

As a leaseholder or freeholder selecting the right property manager whilst important need not be as bewildering as it might first seem.

First recognise there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing property, because good property management is actually about looking after people (our customers) as well as their homes, and what ‘good’ looks like will mean something different to each of them.

The secret to being the ‘right’ property manager for our customers is knowing what they want from us and responding to their needs.

Our approach to property management is defined by our ‘Four Pillars’. This structure ensures that we are consistently delivering a great service for our customers. This is how we want to be judged by our customers and clients to make sure we’re always exceeding expectations.

Strong health and safety

Our highest priority is the role we play in ensuring a safe environment at our developments and throughout their lifecycle. This has become a huge priority for our customers too, with the Grenfell Tower tragedy reminding us all that health and safety in our homes really is a matter of life and death.

Our safety and environmental management systems are five-star rated by the British Safety Council and are benchmarked against best-in-class industry standards. It is our absolute priority to make sure our customers understand our role, and theirs, in helping keep their homes safe. This role includes regularly checking anything that can cause harm in communal areas and maintaining protective equipment, including smoke ventilation, fire detection and emergency lighting.

FirstPort’s staff are highly trained to know exactly what to be alert to, and we play an important role in helping our customers understand what they can do to keep themselves safe.

High site standards

Wherever possible property management should involve pre-empting problems in order to prevent them. Is your property or development manager completing regular inspections of communal areas? Looking for problems like a crack in a window, or a tree that needs pruning, so that action can be taken before it becomes an issue?

Due to our scale many customers don’t realise that we have specialist teams working behind the scenes to support our on-site colleagues in making our sites the best they can be. These include accountants - making sure budgets and statements are delivered to customers accurately and on time; procurement professionals - working to leverage our spend and use our economies of scale to drive best value for money for customers; and in-house surveyors – supporting major works projects when our property managers need specialist input.

Healthy estate finances

It’s generally a good idea to keep savings for unexpected expenditure and the proverbial 'rainy day'. The same will apply for the property in which you live. In addition to the funds raised to cover items such as buildings insurance, fire and safety inspections, general maintenance and the property managers management fee, every development needs to build up a 'Reserve or Contingency Fund' to contribute towards the cost of non-annual expenditure like major repairs or regular external and internal decorations.

We set out in our annual budgets for leaseholders how much is being collected in that year, and we pride ourselves on making our budgets and accounts for customers clear, straight forward and easy to understand so there are no grey areas.

Longer-term, we know ‘property assets’ such as lifts, stairwells, gates and security systems have a lifespan and can be expensive. The last thing our customers want is a nasty surprise bill, not to mention the inevitable disruption an out-of-the-blue problem can cause. That’s why our developments have an asset management plan (typically designed for 20 years) allowing for strategic and highly focused reserve fund management. As part of this, we develop a programme of maintenance work that is comprehensive, well organised, affordable and transparent with no hidden catches – it covers everything from structural checks to redecorating and gutter clearing, plus maintenance needed for all communal areas of the building.

Great customer communication

For most of our customers doing a good job means providing a seamless service that ‘just happens’. Like clockwork. Grass gets cut, windows get cleaned and they return home to their property looking its best without giving it a second thought. To complement this hassle–free approach, we have developed communication tools to make our customers’ lives easier such as our Your Property Online (YPO) portal for customers who want to quickly report a problem or issue or get the latest updates from us straight to their phone.

However, we know that some customers want to interact with a person – they want to see us on site and have the opportunity to talk to us and ask questions. That’s why a good property or development managers will always regularly visit and inspect the communal areas of all our developments, backed up by a customer services team to answer things like accounts queries or to report a problem to. Many of our customers tell us that they find things like informal customer surgeries run by property managers a great way to feel involved and engaged, and we are always happy to oblige.

Whilst our Four Pillars approach gives us a solid foundation, it is our versatility and ability to adapt to our customers’ individual needs that makes us the ‘right’ property manager in the eyes of our customers.

 

FirstPort is the UK’s largest residential property manager, overseeing 185,000 homes in England, Wales and Scotland across over 3,900 developments. It is the market leading operator, with four decades of experience and 3,000 employees working with developers, investors, freeholders and over 200 Resident Management Companies.

Reviewed: July 2019