How can you tell whether the on-site property manager at a condominium or homeowners association community is doing a good job? And what is “a good job”? Whether a manager is well-liked and whether he or she manages well may not be the same thing. How do you distinguish one from the other?
Such questions arise whether an association’s board of directors hires the on-site manager or contracts with a property management firm that employs the on-site manager. The major difference is that management firms assume responsibility for periodic performance reviews of on-site managers, although some firms involve their clients in the review process.
If your board hires the manager directly, resources exist to help ensure that your performance-review process is fair and accurately measures his or her performance.
Performance Review Consultants
For a fee, your association can tap into the resources of a consulting firm that will provide forms you can use or adapt, and manage the paperwork and record-keeping. One such vendor is ADP TotalSource, a subsidiary of payroll-processing firm ADP (Automatic Data Processing, Inc.) that provides human-resources services and benefits programs.
To find other vendors, Google the search terms “performance appraisal consultants” and “performance review consultants”—but expect that many of the firms listed are likely targeting clients much larger than your association. Your board’s attorney may be able to offer a referral, and networking at Community Associations Institute (CAI) and Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) events also may help you find suitable consulting firms.
IREM offers three performance-review publications free to members. Others pay a nominal fee.
• An 11-page Job Performance Evaluation ($12.95) “enables the reviewer and individual to assess and document the degree to which the individual has accomplished specified objectives from the previous review. The evaluation includes descriptions of performance ratings and key areas in which the individual is assessed.”
• Select List of Recommended Performance Measures ($5.95) is a form you can customize to set an employee’s “performance goals and expectations.”
• Annual Performance Scorecard ($3.95), also customizable, is “an organized set of performance measures, grouped according to various aspects of performance.”
If you’re going to write your own form, first stir your creative juices by collecting some samples of forms created by others. Google the search term “performance review forms” to access forms from such diverse sources as Employee Performance Solutions, Inc. magazine, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Microsoft Office.
Then your entire board should conduct a workshop to discuss what performance-review criteria belong on your association’s form.
Christine Evans, president and CEO of Vanguard Community Management in Schaumburg believes communication should top the list. “Communication is everything. Everything. It all comes down to communication and I think almost anything can be fixed with some good communication,” she says. “If a board doesn’t understand how the company works and who is in charge of what then the blame for things gone awry is going to be misplaced. And then the next thing that happens if you’re not communicating with a board and checking in with them on how things are going and if things aren’t going well they get angry and then they call in, in an angry mood complaining. But the complaints are misplaced or worse yet, you can a cancellation letter and you had no inkling that anything was even wrong. So I like to give people as many opportunities as possible to speak with us.”
Jim Stoller, president of The Building Group in Chicago, agrees with Evans about the importance of communication. “Communication is key. Communication and transparency of operation is critical,” he says. “We are talking about people’s homes and they are working from an emotional and business perspective. They need to know what’s going on. Many times there are emergencies in their unit or their association and they need someone who can respond and handle their problems on a timely basis. Communication is important, but honest and integrity and having the buildings best interest is also important.”
Assessing Property Managers
At any job, be it running a multinational investing firm of flipping burgers at a chain restaurant, employees are given periodic reviews of their performance to assess how they’re doing, what their strengths are, and what areas need improvement. Property management companies do the same thing with their employees.
“As a management company we assess our managers by many different criteria,” says Rosemarie Wert, vice president and director of supervisors for Community Specialists, a management company in Chicago. “We take a look at the professional relationship between the manager and the Board of Directors, the practical and technical knowledge required for the job, the demonstrated ability to complete tasks on time and the fact that he or she is a self-starter and performs well without oversight or supervision, among many other things. It’s important that the manager conducts a thorough search for relevant information when approaching problems, grasps pertinent issues in all their complexity and carefully weighs the impact of a broad range of related issues or factors.”
“We talk to our clients and to the boards and we do questionnaires to see how that individual is doing,” says Stoller. “A few of the questions on the questionnaire is: how responsive are they to communication? How quickly do they return phone calls and respond to emails? How are they perceived by residents and owners of the building? Do they communicate well? Do they provide information in a timely basis? Are they responsive?”
“One thing we do is spot surveys,” adds Evans. “We’ll email our clients very brief surveys so we are not taking up too much of their time. It’s usually three questions at a time. Sometimes the questions are very general like: ‘Are there any areas you feel like we can improve in our services?’ And other times they are very specific like: ‘Are you satisfied with the managers performance at meetings, including preparations for those meetings?’ We get better results than say rating them from one to 10 because most people are going to pick the middle.”
Assessing On Your Own
If a building or association board wanted to do an annual or semi-annual assessment of their individual manager performances on their own, certain criteria should be included.
“We provide an evaluation form to board members that they can use that helps them review their property manager’s competency,” says Stoller. “It’s a document that we’ve developed over the years that rates everything from communication to knowledge of the building systems to financial expertise. Most people on boards are not employment professionals so by providing them with an evaluation form, they can use it to help them review their property managers’ work.”
“Boards are usually not the best at evaluating the manager because they don’t really know how much is due to the manager—whether it be giving credit to the manager for getting it done or saying that it’s the manager’s fault for it not getting done,” adds Evans. “They don’t know everything that goes on behind the scenes. “I say this from the perspective of having a fairly large company. We have a customer service department and in accounting we’ve got AR (accounts receivable) and AP (accounts payable), we’ve got an insurance manager. You’ve got all of these moving parts, and they do a lot of the background work. So part of that evaluation is not just how is the manager performing, but how is he managing the people behind the scenes.”
There are red flags that might indicate that a manager isn’t fulfilling their obligation to a building but it’s important tthat boards and associations know what they are.
Experts agree the if reoccurring issues keep cropping up at board meetings, it means that someone is not executing or performing efficiently.
“From my perspective the biggest red flags are when I start getting complaints from residents and board members,” says Stoller. “I’m the president of the company but I’m accessible. I give out my phone number and email to everyone. I encourage people to let me know of any issues they may have. I want to know of any problems or compliments they have for the staff and I want to address it.”
“Some red flags that might indicate that a manager is not really doing a good job are lots of resident complaints that work orders are not being completed on a timely basis,” adds Wert. “Other clues are a disgruntled staff, the building is not being cleaned properly and files and documents are not kept in an orderly fashion.”
Experts agree that in the end it’s all about what should be done for the greater good of the property and then executing and then getting the job done.
George Leposky is a freelance writer and is a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator. Additional reporting by Staff Writer Christy Smith-Sloman.