Every home has its own foibles, its own creaks and sounds that we, as its inhabitants, know so well. We know that our ovens run a little hot or that our clothes washers need a little kick in the middle of the spin cycle to keep them going. That knowledge shows that we understand our homes and know when they're "healthy" and when they're not. Expand that base of knowledge ten—fold and you'll begin to understand the multitude of things a property manager needs to know about the residences for which he or she is responsible.
To alter the metaphor just a bit, "The manager is the captain of the ship," says Alfred Ojejinmi, regional director of The Wentworth Group management firm, and president elect of the New Jersey chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM). As the captain, the manager shoulders significant responsibility and a large portion of that responsibility centers on preserving and protecting the operating systems that keep individual units and common areas functioning smoothly, cleanly and efficiently.
A good manager "needs a familiarity with each of the systems (in his building) and a good solid knowledge of how each of those systems works," says Paul L. White, president of the Paul L. White Association in Miami and a member of IREM.
The Need to Know
White believes firmly in preventative maintenance. By having a good understanding of how the HVAC systems, boiler systems or other major operational components work in their properties, managers can end up saving the association significant sums of money. If they don't know what's going on with the systems, "it will become very costly," White says. With proper maintenance, a building's cooling system, for example, can see its life expectancy reduced by almost 20 years. "Cheap management can be costly," says White.
Part of that preventative maintenance involves proper monitoring. Along with the superintendent, the manager should inspect the building on a regular basis, preferably once a month, says Irwin Chopak, RAM, NYARM, property manager with the firm of JAL Diversified Management Corp., based in Brooklyn, New York. "It's a lot easier to lubricate something than replace something that burns out," he says. Major systems such as the heating system should be inspected by a qualified engineer every two to three years, checking on things like vacuum pumps, traps and other key components.