Commercial property managers face a constant barrage of phone calls to return, issues to tackle, and formidable to-do lists. Most Property Managers have duel responsibilities to their clients (Tenants) and to the building owner (Asset Managers). Their organizations consider them go-to problem solvers, but when the fixer needs to assemble her professional team of contractors, where should she turn?
“During a big storm, you would just sit there (at home) thinking, ‘Oh God. Are we going to lose tiles in the control room?’ I didn’t know what I was going to see when I walked into the office Monday morning,” says Stacy Thiele, a seasoned property manager who spent 14 years as VP of Operations for a distinctive commercial building along the Dallas North Tollway. The structure measures almost 50,000 square feet, features a unique arched roofline, and a non-traditional building envelope, which makes troubleshooting all the more complex.
“We really try to get to the heart of the problem, says Tracey Donels, KPOST Company Service Department Manager. KPOST Company offers turnkey commercial roof and waterproofing services for the Dallas-Fort Worth market, spanning leak detection, commercial roof maintenance, and even storm prep. “Their (property managers’) phones ring day in and day out with all sorts of problems. Something is always going wrong in their buildings.” Tracey feels that if he can make property managers’ phones ring eight times instead of 10 times in a day, that’s more time they can devote to the rest of their jobs. “Let me manage your building’s envelope. I will communicate. I will protect you and your client. I will get it done.”
Here, Stacy Thiele shares her four greatest frustrations as a commercial property manager, and how she dealt with them.
Frustration 1 – No One On Speed Dial:
The Initial Process of Determining Who To Rely Upon When Problems Arise
Thiele’s background, like many successful commercial property managers, includes no experience in building engineering or maintenance. A successful stint as a commercial bank branch manager landed her the VP of Operations role at age 27. The sense of responsibility was vast.
“Vendors need to understand that when people like me are put into this role, we don’t have a ‘property managers for dummies’ reference manual. When I went into my role, I had to start from the bottom. Who are our vendors? Who are our plumbers? There’s not any of that,” says Thiele.
Thiele commenced a thorough process of research through every channel she could identify, sharing the contacts she made along the way. Property managers brand new to a given market often seek to identify their peer groups via online directories or web searches. The key is to reach out, ask a lot of questions, and keenly observe each referred vendor for traits indicating an abundance of professionalism.
Frustration 2 – Déja Vu
Puddles Soak the Floor, Torrents of Water Flood the Door.
As severe weather systems pummeled North Texas with dizzying frequency, Thiele found herself mired in an on-going defensive position, which frustrated her. She had always approached her work with forethought and planning. She was a proactive person. But now? This vast building was a whole new animal.
Thiele’s company’s enormous footprint housed high dollar equipment and systems that absolutely could not get wet. A strong team offering commercial roof leak detection and comprehensive roof consulting proves invaluable in scenarios like this one.
“So often, I wouldn’t see problems until we were in the middle of the wind and the rain. There was water pouring through the front door sometimes. Water would short out our electrical systems, requiring me to deal with safety on top of everything else. It was frustrating,” says Thiele.
Thiele feels a having preventative maintenance contract would have been very helpful.
“I didn’t even know there was a preventative maintenance contract available for roofing. I would call someone when there was a problem. We were forced to be very reactive,” says Thiele.
Frustration 3 – Problem Diagnosis Scattershot
One Problem, Multiple Explanations
Thiele felt it was important to do due diligence research as she evaluated the theories various contractors and vendors offered as the cause of her building’s leaks and problems, particularly when those theories differed radically from one another.
“We had some fail points on the corners of the building. I had one contractor say all four of them need to be replaced. Then I had another say the ceiling and roof was causing the problem. Each would show the reasons why. So, who do you believe?” Thiele asked.
Scott Bredehoeft, Director of Business Development, KPOST Company, says situations like this call for a careful look at who is doing the telling. “There are proper and improper ways to fix roof and building envelope leaks. Is this company simply two men and a truck? When you leave discretion to your contractor, a lower tier contractor just might say, ‘I’m just going to go dump roof cement or caulk on it.’“
Bredehoeft advises property managers to ask roofing and WP companies how many crews they employ and whether they are tasked to specific jobs, like roof removal and application, or waterproofing. Companies that pull a crew off a new roof application to go check out a leak report at another site tend to perform their jobs with less precision. Jack of all trades, master of none.
“If a contractor has only one or two crews that do both new roofs and repairs, that ‘s a warning sign. We run 18 repair and maintenance crews/trucks. That clearly demonstrates a roofing contractor’s investment in theirbusiness to take care of their clients. The fact we keep those guys segregated from the guys who install new roofs and WP systems IS important! It is two separate skill sets. Just because you can do new construction doesn’t qualify you for service or remedial, doesn’t mean you have the skillset to man leak detection crew.”
Thiele knew that a combination of her own research skills and her ability to detect transparency served her well. “If I didn’t feel they were just trying to win a job, if I could tell they were trying to be a strategic partner with us, I hired them.”
Thiele asked open-ended questions to find out if the vendors’ answers she had so steadily researched lined up with what she thought they should be.
“I would call people to find out if one material was better than another. I looked for honor and integrity and then we developed trust. They were transparent, they were honest, and they were experts. They may be more expensive but they know what they are talking about. In fact, I would usually try to stay away from the cheaper bids,” says Thiele.
Frustration 4 – “Hey, Little Lady!”
The Phenomenon of Treating Women Diminutively
Thiele was the boss, but awkward exchanges with male contractors eventually prompted her to include a male junior colleague in meetings, as a litmus test of sorts. Here, she reveals how gender bias impacted her interactions and ultimate hiring decisions:
“It was an automatic ‘no’ if I had a male counterpart with me, and I noticed the vendor talking to him and completely ignoring me. That would show they thought I didn’t know what I was doing. Understand your client,” Thiele says emphatically.
“I think that’s pretty old school. If you are getting an indication somebody is talking down to you in your position as a woman, that’s an indication this is someone you don’t need to be dealing with. ‘Hey, little lady!’ is just disrespectful” says Bredehoeft.
Thiele’s automatic ‘yes’ was consistently the vendor who met with her on-site, expressed an interest in the company, and took the time to make sure she was on-board, in terms of the details of required fixes. Thiele’s ideal vendor was not only respectful, but also willing to take the time to become acquainted with the intricacies of the problems. They were “experts in their field,” she said.
At the end of the day, it is up to the property manager to choose whom to hire, when, and for how much. As they assesses the contractors in front of them, property managers seek out potential collaborators who can be trusted to have their backs. Relationship building is personal. The key is to select partners who will help ease the burden and view the building’s maintenance as a crucial group project, with equal measures of transparency, respect, conscientiousness, and expertise.
“I think it’s about being transparent,” says Thiele, “and answering questions as sincerely and honestly as possible.”