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Obsidian Property Management Ltd.

Articles about Obsidian Property Management Ltd

July 9th, 2013

Disclaimer:  This is not a legal opinion and should not be relied upon as such.  Although we are experts in strata property management in British Columbia, members of the public are encouraged to seek legal opinions on their specific circumstances before acting.

There are three scenarios in which a strata will be in the position of seeking new strata management.

  1. As the developer prior to the first conveyance
  2. As a Self-Managed Strata looking for more guidance or assistance
  3. As a Strata Council and Ownership unsatisfied with the current Strata Management brokerage

So in each case you are left with a decision as to who to contact as there are usually several options.

You are probably going to send out your request for management proposals to at least three management brokerages.  Assuming they all respond, you now have at least three different proposals to sift through and decide who to award the contract to.

The next step should be a “promo” meeting with each of the short listed candidates, because nothing can replace the face to face meeting.  At this meeting it is an opportunity for the council/committee to ask questions, and the manager to give you a feel for their style and approach.

Still, how do you compare.  Each manager has taken the same course to become licensed, read the same books, is regulated by the same authority, and follows the same rules.  So they are the same, right?  Comparing management companies is like shopping in a grocery store for apples.  Our local grocery store carries a minimum of three types of apples, but there are dozens of varieties.  The apples all have a different flavour, use, season, size, shape, & colour.  So although they are all still apples the nuances will make a big difference.

So how do you sort through the “apples” or management companies?  Before you even start figure out what you want, and be very clear when requesting your quote.  This is probably the most important thing.

However, there are a few other things to consider once the proposals have been received:

Watch for hidden or incidental costs:  Many management firms will quote low on monthly management fees and charge more for incidental “administration fees.” These administration fees can accumulate quickly.  A 100 unit building can expect to see admin fees around $150.00 per average month with a $0.15 per page charge.  When holding a general meeting those costs are expected to triple in that month.  Obsidian would rather charge for our service than gouge you on incidentals.  Our printing costs are 1/3 of the average competitor.  We have the option of colour printing too, to increase the impact of minutes, notices, and correspondence from council.

Portfolio Size:  Each strata manager will be managing a portfolio of multiple stratas.  Think about what it means when they managed 10, 15, 20+ strata.  How can they focus on you when every other day they are at a strata meeting gathering more and more action items?  Communicating with 10, 15, 20+ councils and ownerships?  How much admin support does each manager have?  Obsidian has no more than 8 strata or 1000 units per manager (with the exception of Basic and Accounting Management clients).  We back that up with bookkeeping staff and an assistant shared between every two managers.

On-Line Access:  Many firms offer this service, some still don’t.  It is critical in this age of communication that: owners, residents, managers, and suppliers have access to information and communication.  This allows for a much smoother operation of the strata.  Obsidian offers a unique community portal as part of our fee.

Termination Clause:  Ask about the termination clause in the contract.  No one wants to go into a relationship thinking about it failing.  However, sometimes the business relationship does fail.  The Strata Property Act and most management contracts require a ¾ vote at an Annual or Special General Meeting to terminate a strata management contract.  This process is awkward, confrontational, and consumes time and money.  Obsidian’s contract is client friendly, a majority vote by council at a properly convened and recorded council meeting, plus two clear-months notice, and we part ways professionally.

Updated Training:  The strata legislation and other factors that impact strata operation are changing quite rapidly.  Current continuing education requirements are very limited and frankly insufficient.  Ask how many seminars you manager has attended recently.  On what topics or areas of operation.  Ask if they are they part of CHOA, PAMA or CCI, any of these association hold regular seminars.  There is usually a seminar every other month.  At Obsidian we insist that our staff take as many training seminars as possible; we make it a priority to be up to date with our knowledge.

Meet the Manager:  Many brokerages will send their Managing Broker, Sales Manager, or General Manager to the meeting.  It is unlikely that any of these individuals will be your representative.  Ask them to bring your manager to the meeting so you can get a feel for them specifically.  The brokerage is only half the equation in management.  The relationship you have will be dictated by the weakest link of the two halves.  A strong manager in a week brokerage is equally handicapped as a weak manager in a strong brokerage.  Make sure both meet your requirements.  At Obsidian we understand this relationship, and by contract cannot reassign management without council approval.  Obviously if the manager leaves our team a new manager will have to fill the hole.  However, we hope that by creating redundancy within our management teams service levels will not be impacted.

Green Initiatives:  Business communities are now recognizing the savings that can be realized by reducing their impact on the environment and implementing sustainable operating solutions.  Ask the manager for some projects they initiated to save their clients’ money and how they could assist you.  Our team has experience and connections to implement green solutions that allow money to be diverted from expenses to the Contingency Fund.

These questions should assist you in understanding how to pick a management company.

Any questions on this article or other strata matters are welcome.  Please contact us though our contact us page.

June 15th, 2013

It seemed fitting that the first blog be about why I started Obsidian Property Management instead of joining another brokerage doing Strata Property Management in Surrey.

The simple answer is: my vision of what a Property Manager is today and what I believe it should be do not match.

As approximately 70% of BC families live in strata everyone has experienced strata whether personally or vicariously through their family, friends, or co-workers.  Most of the time the experience we hear about is negative.  In all the stories that negative force is one of or both of two factors:

  1. Misguided councils/owners
  2. Complacent Strata Management

I truly believe that as strata managers we need to change this.  I believe that through educating we can guide councils to better decisions. I believe that through proper internal support strata managers should have more time to assist their clients and creatively solve problems.

We do have a few hurdles:

  1. Councils not following our advice: As strata managers we have no real authority to control our clients, contrary to popular public belief.  So if a council deliberately is acting against our best advice we cannot stop them.
  2. Retaining Good Talent: I believe we need to change the environment we work in as strata managers to attract and retain good new talent.  Obsidian is implementing a system much like apprenticeships.  Recent graduates of the licensing course will assist experienced strata managers learning the profession until such time they are ready to take on their own client portfolio.  This ensures that some experience and further relevant training occurs before they are let loose on a strata.  It also creates some redundancy in knowledge relating to the client.  This is in an effort to combat why we are loosing good managers:
    • High stress job: long hours, and difficult people
    • Too many clients, could never provide level of service they were happy providing
    • Lack of training and internal support from brokerage
  3. Trust and Motivation:  I think it is critical that a relationship be formed between the clients and the manager for various reasons:
    • Council and management have to work as a cohesive unit to the mutual benefit of the owners.
    • It allows the manager to perform their function without interference, because the council knows the managers is working to their best interest.
    • It means that if an issue is identified everyone works with each other to solve the issue rather than exacerbating a problem with finger pointing.
    • It motivates the council and owners to participate out of a sense of security
    • It motivates the managers to want to be part of the buildings community rather than a neutral paid third party.
  4. Ultimately trust and respect need to be earned through a demonstration of continual courtesy, communication, and results.  However, it is easier to reach this goal if we enter the relationship without any negative pre-conceived notions.  I will agree there have been and probably are a few bad apples amongst my peers.  They can cause a lot of problems… but the average strata manager by nature enjoys helping people and wants to provide good service.  So the hurdle here is to somehow start without being judged by the benchmark set by the worst of us.
  5. Managing expectations:  This is probably the biggest hurdle we face - -In my opinion.  Quick statistics (because I find them fun) at last count there is over 29,000 strata corporations in British Columbia.  The Real Estate Council last reported 1,181 licensed strata managers in the province.  It is assumed that 60% of stratas are managed by a licensed manager, 17,400 stratas.  Assuming all the property managers had equal sized client portfolios, each strata manager manages 15 stratas.  Again in my opinion this is not feasible.  I have created caps for my management staff to ensure their portfolio is reasonable and to ensure quality.  This however feeds the issue of retaining more good people.  What I ask of every strata is be clear when seeking help what you are expecting… don’t assume we are all offering the same service.

To wrap this article up, I started Obsidian to help both owners and strata managers find a better way.  To raise the bar so we all have a better experience with strata.  Whether you have a strata property in Surrey, Langley, White Rock, Delta, New Westminster or anywhere in BC you deserve to enjoy your strata unit.