The Work Life of a Property Executive (Corporate Culture)

Introduction

This is a follow up article on my article on corporate culture. I wanted to highlight a job in Singapore where the “corporate or work culture” that matters to the job is not what exists inside the organization but rather it is the job holder’s work environment or work condition.  The  job holder is immerse in his work environment for the most of his work hours, so what goes on in that environment defines the “corporate culture” for him.

In this article I will share about the I am talking about the role of a property executive (PE) whose job is to manage the upkeep condominiums assigned to him. In this role, he has to handle the condominium’s management committee that is made up of volunteer residents.

An Example of Job Advertisment for Property Executives / Officers (Strata Management)

Below is a random example that I randomly picked from a jobsite. It says nothing of the job challenges.

How Well Does the Job Pay?

I interviewed the owner of a strata management company (property managing agent) and he told me that generally people are willing to fork out millions to buy a private condominium but are not willing to spend on the periodic maintenance for the upkeep of the condominium. As a result, they will haggle about the management fees.

Because the strata management company needs to work within the budget stipulated by the contract, first, it cannot pay for overtime, for work on week ends, for work on public holidays. Second, it can only afford to pay staff out of what is left after accounting for business profits and costs, staff training and legislated benefits.

The salary ranges (in Singapore dollars) for offered salaries related to property executives taken from salary data samples collected by the jobsite “JobStreet” are as follows. They are comparatively lower than those paid for similar job levels in other fields of work.

Position Level Minimum Average Maximum
Senior Executive $2,600 $3,000 $3,600
Junior Executive $2,000 $2,500 $2,800

Gaining an Enemy or Friend for Life

First, we need to understand that the clients that the PE serve will be long term clients. The volunteer members for a condominium management committee are residents of the condominium.  As a resident, the occupier is staying for the long term. So if PE have a nasty resident, the PE is going to have to face this nasty resident as long as he remains assigned to a specific condominium.

Changing Committee Members

Sometimes the property executive have been lucky to work with a committee of friendly, cooperative and supportive residents. However, that will not remain forever. The term of service for the members may come to a close and a new term starts where other residents take over; or there could be some reasons that existing members do not wish to continue and other residents join as new members.

In this fashion, the property executive will always face the problems that come with the turnover of committee members. One such problem is to repeatedly present solutions, problems, proposals and other matters to the new in-coming committee that he had earlier did with the outgoing committee. The other problem is the risk of having nasty residents joining as new members.

PE Not Working With One Committee

In reality, the property executive is not working with one committee (the condominium committee as a whole). Individual residents would approach the PE for various reasons. Looking at the job from another perspective, the PE has many bosses.

Projects Often Gets Shelved and Respinned

Residents serve on the management committees for a predetermined term or time period.

The property executive may done his work in both identifying the additional but essential repairs and maintenance required for the condomiunium and even did a good job in developing the future maintenence  plan. He then present them to the members.

Subsequently, there may be unending discussions and debates that end nowhere. Otherwise, nobody wants to pay for the costs; worst they may question why they should be the ones to pay for them. Sometimes, nobody want to be held accountable for making the decisions.

There would be times when members do not bother to read the documents to be presented that are distributed ahead of time, and insist on coming to the meetings to listen to the presentations for the first time. They may be taking up a lot of meeting time asking questions on matters that are already self-explantory in the meeting documents. In worst case, there may be committee members that were absent previously and insist that presentations made at previous meetings be repeated.

Projects that was presented may get respinned for a number of terms (periods of service by different sets of committee members). Meanwhile the wear and tear of both infrastructure and equipment increases over time because needed maintenance were not carried out; and at a later time it may become necessary to replace them and usually replacement costs are much higher than maintenance costs.

Some Residents Just Do Not Follow the Condominium Rules

Some residents look for ways to benefit themselves. An example is the car parks in the condominium may be meant for condominium residents but a resident may raise a complaint as to why his father in law that lives elsewhere cannot be assigned a car park space. Sometimes the resident would bring the landlord mentality comes into the conversation.The property executive has to deal with such residents.

Why Residents Willing to Serve for Free on Condominium Management Committee?

There are many reasons why residents serves on the condominium management committee. As the committee makes important decision regarding the management of the entire condominium, being a member have some authority or power. By sitting in the committee, it gives the member a chance to raise or voice a matter, issue, idea ; make a complaint or raise objections to an on-going or impending project. For the selfish individuals, they would raise all these if they have some benefits for themselves, even not for the rest of the residents.

Some are businessmen. They may sit in to either create or wait for business opportunities by participating in tenders for projects decided by the committee. They may also take the opportunity propose projects that they may become business opportunities for them.

Some are serving because they wanted to. Other do so because it is their turn; or they were invited or dragged into it. Some may join to gain more cloud in disputes that they have with their neighbors or another resident.

Who Are Some of These Members?

Private condominiums are more expensive than public housings in Singapore. Commonly found owners are people either still working or were working in high organizational level positions within the corporate world or government service because generally they can afford to buy condominiums which come with amenities such as swimming pools, tennis courts, barbeque pits and function rooms.

These retirees who were formerly in high level corporate positions; now have no job to go back to and they want to serve in the committee because it is a place where they can exercise the autocratic management lifestyle that they were used to. They are only going to voiced themeselves; throw tantrums if that is their personalities; and so on. They long have realized that meetings involves only conversations. Ultimately they do not do the work but they can exert their authority because the condominium management committee has decision making power.

Some Committee Members Want Special Privileges

As they serve on the condomium management committee, some committee starts to ask for, press or even threaten the property executive for special privileges that may lead to condominium management policies and rules to be broken or bend. This of course put the property executive in a difficult position.

How Members May Treat the Property Executive

As the strata management company is hired by the condominium management committee, both committee members or residents will hold this idea that they are not only the landlord but the employment master.

A committee member may verbally abuse the property executive or in certain cases threaten to terminate the services of the property executive; either to achieve his personal objective or simply to vent frustrations because he cannot get what he wants.

Sometimes, the committee member or other non-committee-member residents may be unhappy that they are unable to get what they want, even it is outside the contracted service or terms and conditions of service; or outside the condominium policies and regulations; so they attack the property executive by complaining to his manager; telling tales or even insisting for his services to be terminated.

My personal comment is that how long the property executive can hold on to his job depends on the character of his manager. I will like to point out that because the residents and committee members felt that they are both the landlord and employment masters, issues get regularly escalated to the manager and the manager is also being abused and criticised.

If his manager gave in to pressures from the residents or committee members, either the property executive loses his job or he would experience another round of verbal abuse; this time from his manager venting his anger or frustrations on the poor property executive.

How Members Behave Among Themselves

As the committee members are condominium residents; they may meet each other by chance as they uses the condominium’s facilities or as they enter or exit the grounds of the condominium. So in condominium management committee meetings, they behave and speak as though they are friendly or agreeable with each other. However, they may in private press the property executive for what they want personally or they may complain against another committee member behind each other’s back.

The person that I interviewed was the business owner. He told me them many a times, when conflicts occurs between committee members, they were escalated to him and the role of being a mediator landed on his laps. He commented that at the start, many criticisms and nasty remarks were hurled to him as well; but eventually through the years, some of his abusers learnt to tolerate certain situations that they were unhappy with.

My comments are that the owner still stay in the business only because he is the owner.

The Work Tasks Are Easy But Not People Handling

During the interview, it was pointed out to me that the if not for the difficult aspects of hhandling condominium residents, the  job of the property executive is an simple and easy one. It was explained to me that the strata management company actually engages thirty party contractors to perform the actual maintenance work; the pest control management and the landscaping; and all the property executive needs to do is to ensure that the work to be done gets carried out and checked.

Working Hours

As condonominium management committee meetings are held after normal office hours once a month or in some cases, more often, the property executive have to stay on the job after completing his day duties, in order to attend these meetings.

During the meetings, he is not only going to make presentations; raise matters for discussions and decision making; propose recommendations but also he have to record minutes of the meeting. In addition, because the use of whatapps mobilephone application is so common nowadays, the committee is likely to set up a whatsapps chatgroup and the meeting may have ended at the condominium but the dicussion may have been moved to the whatsapps chat group. In some cases, the discussion may continue for another 5 hours after the face to face committee meeting had ended.

The property executive is expected to return on week ends and public holidays for meetings and work if required.

Old Office Furniture and Cluttered Office

As I was conducting the interview in the office of this strata management company, I could not help but noticed that the chairs were old, uncoordinated, and looked like throwaways.

Documents binded with plastic two-hole binders were either boxed or unboxed everywhere. They were unboxed copies were piled high on the owner’s office desk while the tiny office conference had boxes of documents that were piled high.

The company’s key services are strata management services; defects claims and defects rectification management services; cleaning and landscaping; accounting, financial management and credit control services; and car park operations and management.  It manages 12 residential properties. This company do not have a human resource manager and the owner’s job title was sales and operations director.

There was another interview with a second company. The key services for this company are property and facilities management; property valuation; property agency; property consultancy and investment sales. It manages 10 residential properties and 8 industrial or commercial propertiies. This company has a human resource manager. There was a manned reception counter and the office was better organized.

I had also the opportunity to speak to the human resource manager.  She commented that in this industry, there is a high turnover of property executives and most people are reluctant to take up the job. So, we can also noted that the human resource practitioner has great difficulties in meeting her KPI of filling a key operating position.

The key services of a third company are facilities management; design consultancy and project management; and real estate solutions (marketing and lease management). I  It manages 11 large commercial properties including large malls. This company has a human resource manager and a employee CEO. However, this company is a subsidiary of a large union.

I can only draw from inferences that the property management for residential properties is service industry of low entry barriers; and that the revenues from serving commercial properties are better. The only reason why the last company had so many good quality commercial properties is because of strong business connection. It also matters a lot as to what key services the business choose to be in. None of these companies that I mentioned are multi-national companies.

Why HDB Property Executive Do Not Have Similar Plight

HDB is Singapore public housing authority. The Singapore Government owns the public housing but lease them out to its tenants. The tenants do not own the common areas (for example common corridors),  and common amenities (for example community halls). As the true landlord, the Singapore Government collects conservacy charges and use the collected monies to upkeep its Town Council and the upkeep of the areas under it charge. It has the legal power to raise or lower these charges. There is no “condominium management committee”. The property executive focuses on repairs and maintenance work. H

My Comments on Corporate Culture

This strata management company is the managing agent for both residential and commercial buildings.

The property executive’s portfolio could include more than one buildings. However, as the employee, the property executive has no say as to where he would be assigned to.

As we can see from above, the property executive will spend most of his working hours at the location(s) that he is assigned to. The work environment or  “corporate culture” that he is immersed in is not the work environment at his head office.

If the company could afford to hire a Organizational Development specialist; in order for him  to carry out his job, he would first need to appreciate this fact. In this case, the role of the property executive is latchpin for the entire business model of residential property management and that cannot be easily ignored.

My additional comments is that no career counselling services or resources would highlight the job challenges of the residential property executive just as I did here.

In my next article, I will touch on the subtle behavioral differences of volunteer management committees in a church, a country club and a private alumini club.

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