A condominium development is like the human body after a certain age. Every little problem, if ignored, will somehow snowball into a major disaster. Tiny things, such as the lift lights not working, or a leaky spot in the carpark, all compound over time. After 10 years, the combination of problems will result in malfunctioning elevators, underground flooding, and a building that looks like ground zero of a zombie apocalypse. The only thing standing in its way is a good managing agent:
What is a Managing Agent?
The managing agent is appointed by your condo’s Management Corporation (MC). The MC oversees the condo’s upkeep and improvements, and the managing agent is their main operations executive.
In practice, the managing agent’s role is twofold.
The “official” role of the managing agent is to oversee day-to-day maintenance and improvement. This means making sure the cleaning staff have a proper schedule, checking that the security guards are doing their rounds, taking note of any malfunctioning equipment in the gym, etc.
The management acts with the authority of the MC in this regard (e.g. if the maintenance crew wants to shut down the swimming pool for a week, they probably need to persuade the managing agent to let them; not the individual members of the MC).
The second role of the managing agent, which comes about as a matter of course, is to act as the “face” of the MC. This is the person residents will deal with, when they want to complain about a rude security guard, install grilles on the windows, or make major renovations.
Note that it’s possible to have a good MC, but a terrible managing agent.
For example, your condo’s MC may be very accommodating; but the managing agent – whom you must work through – may be more resistant to your suggestions or needs. This shouldn’t happen in theory, but it’s a common reality you should be ready to deal with.
How does the managing agent affect your property value?
The most obvious way the managing agent affects value is through maintenance.
Your condo’s various cleaners, administrative staff, security guards, etc. all work as well as long as the managing agent can direct them. If you get a managing agent who is too laid back, you can see your condo grounds starting to go to pot.
The signs of neglect are very telling – the grass in the gardens goes untrimmed, there are dead plants everywhere, there are missing tiles in the swimming pool, the lifts don’t work every other day, etc.
Over time, this affects the condo’s amenities. No one wants to swim in a pool that resembles toxic sludge, or work out in a gym where the main facilities are half a dumbbell and the lingering smell of perspiration.
This doesn’t just affect the resale value of the condo – it also affects rentability. The poorer the state of the amenities, the harder it is for you to attract tenants (without dropping your rental income significantly).
The issue of contractors, and the sinking fund
The biggest contention with managing agents often comes down to how money is spent. If the MC is especially laid back, the managing agent can be given a lot of clout, in deciding how the sinking fund Is used.
When it comes to procurement (i.e. choosing which contractors to engage, or which suppliers to buy from), not all managing agents are equal. Good managing agents go through extensive vetting processes, to get the best prices for their residents.
Lousy managing agents don’t care, and don’t make comparison efforts. This cavalier attitude can quickly wipe out the sinking fund, and result in owners having to pay more for maintenance.
The very worst managing agents might fly too close to the wind, and award contracts to companies run by their friends or relatives.
The best way to prevent this is to be part of the Annual General Meetings (AGMs). Take note of how the managing agent justifies expenses. You might insist that the managing agent produce get a few quotes, when picking between vendors. You could also ask the managing agent on any conflict of interest (e.g. does the managing agent have equity in the company that will repaint the condo?)
How do you spot a good managing agent?
There are three main qualities that good managing agents share:
- They are highly responsive and polite
Good managing agents respond very quickly, whether you email them or call them. Note that they may not be on the premises all the time – and that alone isn’t a good way to judge a managing agent. What’s important is that, whenever you have a query, they get back to you within a day or two at the latest.
One way this shows is during renovations. Lousy managing agents reject your renovations without a reason, and consider it a bother to explain it to you. Good managing agents seldom stop at rejection; instead, they’ll explain which parts of your renovation plan need to be changed, and will even sit down with you and the contractor to determine what you can do.
We’ll also let you in on a secret: politeness and responsiveness tend to be intertwined, when it comes to managing agents.
In our experience, the managing agents who bother to do things like send Chinese New Year greetings, or write polite and properly worded emails, tend to also be good at their job (perhaps because they pay attention to detail).
They are, not coincidentally, the same type to notice when things are missing from the gym, or when a corridor hasn’t been mopped.
At any rate, you don’t want to develop blood pressure issues by dealing with a rude managing agent.
- They’re active, not passive
Good managing agents are calling for maintenance before something breaks. Everyone knows to call the contractor when the pool has become a greenish-yellow pee bucket, and the filters are jammed.
Good managing agent call in maintenance before it even gets to that point, thus preventing the need to close the pool later.
The very best managing agents don’t even stop at maintenance; at AGMs, they will make suggestions for upgrades to the condo (e.g. installation of new bike paths, or night lights for swimmers in the late evening).
One other sign of an active managing agent is that they offer solutions which go beyond bans. For example, if there’s a problem with children skating along a corridor, a lazy managing agent will just put up a sign saying it’s banned*.
A more competent one will put up the sign, but then suggest cordoning off an alternative area for the children to skate. They will also explain how exactly the ban will be enforced.
*This is the lazy managing agent’s solution to practically everything.
- They’re consistent in what they say
Beware of flip-flopping managing agents, at AGMs. Some managing agents will agree with everything an MC member says, just to be agreeable. However, they’ll make minimal effort to execute the actual plans. And if someone suggests the direct opposite of that plan later, they’ll agree to that too.
These managing agents don’t really have a position or plan, beyond collecting their cheque. They’ll just smile, nod, and do nothing (while agreeing with whoever speaks last). It’s in contrast to good managing agents, who walk the ground and have a solid idea of what the development needs.
Managing agents should also be consistent when giving out numbers, or stating their next move. If they say they’re going to hire contractor X for Y dollars, they should be held to it. If they’re constantly changing their mind about who gets hired, and keep adding extra costs like “administration charges”, that can mean two things:
The first is they’re not being honest, and are trying to manipulate the MC into hiring someone they like.
The second is that they’re just inept – they don’t have any confidence in what they’re doing, or how much they should be paying. It’s best to avoid casting your vote in favour of these types.
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