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FIVE ESSENTIALS FOR WEATHERIZING YOUR BUILDING

Possibly the busiest season for property managers and buildings, fall comes with a laundry list of actions to be completed. These necessary activities run the gamut, ranging from budgeting to repairs and maintenance. Many of these to-do’s must be completed to ensure a seamless transition for residents from season to season as well as to create a solid financial plan for the following the year.

As the vice president of client services at Argo Real Estate with over 20 years of industry experience, I’ve found the easiest way to ensure that all of the essential to-do’s are checked off is to take the standard list-making approach. During my time at Argo I developed what we like to fondly call the “Five Essentials for a Foolproof Fall.” Separating the myriad of repairs, maintenance, budgeting and other activities into five different categories, this list covers all aspects of the property management spectrum and ensures that all necessary parties and activities have been addressed.

Listed below with a corresponding detailed description are the Five Fall Essentials. Through the acknowledgement and completion of each one, a building and its property managers should transition easily between seasons, particularly from fall to winter, which is the hardest transition of all.

1. Budget Creation/Financial Planning:Examining the financial standing of a building and planning for the ensuing year is the first and most important fall task to be completed each year. Drafted by the property manager and controller, the following year’s budget should be reviewed by a building’s board in October and finalized in November. Although this is not a firm deadline mandated by an official entity, it is the schedule utilized by myself and the buildings managed at Argo because it gives all parties ample time to research cost effective budget strategies and fully invest themselves in the review process. With 80 percent of the budget allocated to fixed operating expenses, the remaining 20 percent falls prey to repair and maintenance fees, which the property manager and controller must determine based on past history as well as the previous nine months.

2. Management of Building Staff: An essential component of any property, a building’s staff is one of its most valuable assets. It must manage all day-to-day affairs within a building as well as be equipped to handle a host of problems and issues that may arise at any moment, ranging from individual apartment mishaps to inclement weather and seasonal preparations. As the fall season precedes the following year, I’ve always found that it is an excellent period to review, and revise if necessary, all job descriptions for a building’s employees. At Argo, we strongly suggest all property managers do this as well as monitor each of its employees’ personal performances. Employees are the life and blood of a building — they keep it running smoothly, which in turn keeps residents happy. Thus, periodic evaluations of jobs and performances are necessary to ensure the staff is not only performing above average, but also that all necessary areas and issues are being addressed. Additionally, the more problems and issues a building staff is able to handle internally, then the less need there will be to outsource additional support and incur unnecessary expenses.

3. Communication with Building Residents: As fall is a time of change and evaluation, it is more important than ever for a building to maintain excellent communication with its residents. Being shareholders, a building’s residents want to know what is happening — they are interested in maintenance and repair issues as well as budgeting and seasonal events. Too often property managers and boards underestimate the level of communication their tenants want and expect. At Argo we strongly emphasize the importance of communication, not just during the fall, but throughout the year. For example, at Fordham Hill we send out a quarterly newsletter updating residents on building happenings, personnel changes and anything else they may find interesting or useful. The newsletter has been an overwhelming success and not only left residents happier, but has increased the community feel at the building. With so much happening in terms of heating systems and impending storms, property managers must maintain adequate communication with their residents during this time.

4. Maintenance and Repair Planning: Ideally a property manager should begin addressing this topic at the tail end of summer. Argo begins its planning in late August to ensure adequate time to finalize all necessary preparations. The reason being thatbuildings must be thinking months ahead of the incoming seasons, particularly winter where salt must be ordered, snow blowers serviced and a host of other seasonal activities completed. If planning is left last minute, one risks the chance of incurring exorbitant expenses by having to procure winter materials when supplies are low and costs are high. Additionally boilers must be overhauled and all heating needs must be addressed and finalized so that come Oct. 1, a building’s system is running smoothly and can be turned on without issue. Although this phase may seem inconsequential because much of it involves maintenance and supply ordering, it is essential that each of these tasks is completed well in advance of winter’s cold and inclement weather. Otherwise there is no guarantee that a building will receive all of the materials it needs to keep residents safe and warm, sidewalks clear and lobbies and hallways immaculate during the coldest months, particularly at a reasonable cost.

5. Facilitating Capital Repairs: Another matter concerning funds, as fall truly is the season for finance, it is during this season that a board must review its building as a whole, analyzing it to determine its capital needs. It must figure out what larger scale repairs must be made immediately, and what can be deferred to a later date. Once the prioritization has taken place, a funding plan must be created. It is especially important to discuss these improvements and their respective timeframes because the costs undertaken to remedy them are not part of the standard budget, which has already been finalized. Payment methods can vary widely, including the use of credit or existing funds. When I work with the boards of buildings Argo manages, I always emphasize the importance of analyzing each repair in terms of its degree of severity and length of the existing equipment’s lifecycle. We look at long-term costs as opposed to short-term costs — some things appear expensive initially, however when put off months or years, they can increase exponentially.

— Lynn Whiting is the vice president of client services at Argo Real Estate, a New York City-based real estate firm. Argo's portoflio includes residential and commercial holdings in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and New Jersey. The company owns and manages 5,500 units and also specializes in converting buildings, such as transforming residential rentals into condominiums or cooperatives.

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