Continuing Education Keeps Managers Current

Given the constantly changing Local Laws and regulations in New York City, and the stream of new technology hitting the market, property managers must keep abreast of trends in their field. We understand exactly what our clients need to remain in compliance and up to date. And we make sure that all of our property managers and their support staff stay current on these issues by holding bi-monthly In-House Training Seminars.

It is this kind of attention to detail that separates the people at DEPM from other managers—they are constantly being educated right in our office so that they can remain at the top of their game, and protect the properties they manage.

At prior seminars, we have brought in experts to discuss the oil-to-gas and “dirty” fuel to “clean” fuel conversion process, best practices for cost-effective façade maintenance, updates on our new accounting and streamlined bill-approval systems, and how we can help our clients save hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel costs.

During our in-house seminars, managers are given the opportunity to question engineers, architects, expediters, accountants and other professionals brought in to teach, helping them understand the many requirements and options that affect their specific properties. In turn, they can pass along this hands-on knowledge to help boards make informed decisions, stay on budget, save money whenever possible, and avoid fines and violations.

At DEPM, we take great pride in ensuring that our entire staff—both in the office and on premises—has the expertise and education needed to run your building as effectively and efficiently as possible, to enhance both the quality of life and the value of your property. This is one of the reasons why more properties than ever are trusting DEPM with their management services.

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DEPM President Jim O’Connor MC’s our Managers Seminar Series, ongoing in-house education for our managers.

 

Unique Hands-On Approach to Management Draws Properties to DEPM

By Jim O’Connor, Douglas Elliman Property Management

In the 30 years I’ve been at Douglas Elliman Property Management, I’ve seen a changing business. With the price of properties here in New York City hitting astronomical levels, new owners are coming in spending millions of dollars for their apartments and bringing different expectations of service. We have to address that need, while also being sensitive to those who have been living here for decades, many of whom take a more traditional approach to management. In addition, Local Law requirements, inspection regulations, the tax code and other considerations are as ever-changing as the City skyline.

In the past year or so, dozens of new properties have come to us for their property management needs. In 2015 we added nearly 20 new properties to our management portfolio, and we already have two dozen additional buildings starting with us in 2016. Why? Because of our unique hands-on approach to management, our dedication to service, the firm’s exclusive focus on property management, the longevity of our company and staff, and the continuity that affords.

Founded in 1911, DEPM manages over 350 buildings and almost 50,000 apartments. Our portfolio includes every type of property from Mitchell-Lamas to rent stabilized units to luxury properties on Fifth, Park and Central Park West, to newly constructed downtown high-rises. We manage properties in four of the five boroughs, Westchester and Long Island.

Our Services

One of the reasons that DEPM has such a fine reputation in the City is our extraordinary staff and the resources we bring to bear on a daily basis on our clients’ behalf. Because of our size, our central purchasing allows buildings to save significantly on supplies: between five and fifteen percent compared to other companies. Our closing department is staffed by 14 people and handles over 4,000 transactions a year—sales, sublets, lease changes, etc. Each of our buildings is assigned a financial analyst who works with the board and treasurer to produce budgets on an annual basis, review monthly financials, and provide cash flow statements so properties can plan their expenses twelve months out. We have special relationships that provide our clients with competitive mortgage refinancing; we’ve refinanced over 100 buildings’ underlying mortgages in the last five years.

Our energy management department aggregates the energy needs of our properties—fuel oil, natural gas, and electricity—and shops these on a regular basis, resulting in savings for our clients of over $3 million a year for the last three years. We also purchase insurance for our buildings through two competing master insurance programs, each of which offers an umbrella liability plan of $150 million aggregate per building, offered at competitive premiums.

Our Experience

As an established company that’s been in the forefront of New York City property management for over 100 years, our experience with issues and solutions are second to none in the industry. Steam leaks, floods, gas leaks, water tower collapses, we’ve seen it all. As a property manager, you hope it doesn’t happen, but it’s our job to be well prepared to deal with any situation or crises that arises in our buildings.

As you might imagine, most building emergencies don’t happen 9:00 to 5:00 Monday to Friday. We have a trained Emergency Response Team. They come on after 5 o’clock, and they carry what we call “The Bible,” which is the emergency contacts for not only everyone at each building, but for the home numbers of all the vendors that service our buildings. In addition to doing the basics—making sure that everything is tied down, that all the drains are clear when a storm is forecast—in the event that something goes wrong, we know who to call and when to call them.

We’ve gone through Hurricane Sandy where we had buildings wiped out by the storm. We had buildings that had water go through their lobbies, damaged buildings that were uninhabitable for months afterwards. But we worked with our boards, our owners, FEMA, and the insurance companies to get these buildings up and running. It was a staggering accomplishment, which took much longer than any of us wanted. People were without their homes for a significant length of time, but we got it done. In all these years, the monumental task of rebuilding after Sandy was easily the greatest challenge we ever faced.

Our People

Part of what makes us one of the leading companies in the City is our people. We have property managers with a wealth of experience who have been with DEPM for an extraordinary period of time; some managers have been assigned to the same buildings for over 20 years. Fully 180 of our 240-plus employees have been with us for over 15 years. That kind of continuity is unknown in our business.

I’ve gone to work for the last 30 years with the greatest collection of professionals that anyone could ask for. I truly wouldn’t change anyone in our company for anyone else in the industry. This place is unique in that respect: people like property management here. And people like working with each other here. That’s a testament to the type of people we have and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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“I truly wouldn’t change anyone in our company for anyone else in the industry,” says DEPM President Jim O’Connor, pictured here with Vice Presidents Peter Lampen (center) and Elly Pateras.

 

 

 

 

Web Updates Provide More Info for Users

In our continuing efforts to provide helpful and user-friendly online information through our website EllimanPM.com, we have added some new features to improve your experience. Our new Properties section lists all 350 properties in our management portfolio, featuring photos and links to complete background and contact information to each one of them. Just click on the building and you will be taken to an information page with names, phone numbers and email addresses of everyone who works with that property.

We also have a new Mortgage service association with Citizens Bank, which streamlines the process for mortgage applications, and also offers an application discount. Click the DE Mortgage link at the bottom of any page of our website for more information.

In addition, we have updated our Pay Online portal, and encourage all residents to sign up for online payments and e-billing. As an extra incentive to choose this easy payment option, everyone who is signed up for online pay and e-billing will be entered into a drawing to win a $100 gift card, as our New Year’s Thanks.

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Our new PROPERTIES page provides complete description, contact info and application forms for all the buildings in our portfolio.

Online Payments Improve Property Cash Flow and Help Budget Planning

It has been over two years since DEPM has implemented our online resident payment portal and the response has been dramatic and positive. Over 99% of our buildings have enrolled and are using the system, and we have achieved an overall usage rate of close to 30% of all residents with a monthly dollar volume of over $27 million.

To recap the specifics of the program, residents who enroll in this optional plan can easily pay their rent, maintenance, common charges or any outstanding balance with an electronic check or a credit card payment through a secure website. Residents can set up
recurring payments as well as make onetime payments at any time. If payment is made by credit card, the 2.5% service fee charged by and paid directly to the credit card company is paid by the resident. In addition, residents are able to view their account balance and payment history online. If a resident’s transaction is unable to be processed due to insufficient funds, they will be charged a $5 fee. The standard fee to your property for this service is $50 per month.

Going forward we would like to partner with our Boards to encourage and increase the usage and adoption rate and feel that increased penetration would benefit all parties. The certainty and expediency of online collection not only improves your building’s cash flow but also allows residents to plan accordingly for their monthly obligations. If you would like
specific usage and payment rates for your property please reach out to your Account Executive for that confidential information. Over the next few months we will be communicating with residents through email, bill insertion pamphlets and flyers that can be displayed in building lobbies to encourage participation. If you feel that your building needs a more personal touch, please reach out to us at rentpayment@ellimanpm.com and inquire about a possible lobby event that could be hosted by DEPM to help new users sign up or to answer any questions.

New Online Invoice Approval System

As some of you may know, DEPM has begun implementing our new AvidXchange online invoice approval system. AvidXchange is a web-based paperless invoice management system designed to automate the accounts payable approval and payment process.

This system provides Board members, Account Executives, Financial Analysts and AP managers with flexible approval controls, powerful reporting and full visibility of invoice history. Other benefits include eliminating paper invoices and the transit time wasted waiting for signed and approved invoices to be delivered via messenger or mail. All users have real-time access to the status and approvals of payments 24/7, and receive all payment details for easy tracking, research, and reconciliation. Access to the system is password protected for your security and can be used on any internet enabled device. No payment is made until it receives final approval from all parties as determined by the specific property based rules.

To date, DEPM has transitioned over 100 buildings to this new system and so far the response by Boards and other users has been extremely positive. Within the next six months we anticipate that all of DEPM’s managed buildings will be using the system. If your building has already been transitioned please let us know if you have any questions or issues. If you would like to fast track your property and get online in 2015 please contact our Director of Accounting Operations Mr. Matthew Cleary at 212-692-8384 or matthew.cleary@ellimanpm.com. Join the online invoice revolution and eliminate office visits by the super/resident manager, wasting time at board meetings, or waiting for transit of invoices in the real world thus saving time and money, and helping to protect the environment.

Board members love our new online invoice approval process.

Board members love our new online invoice approval process.

DEPM Videos Highlight Our Strengths

What makes DEPM stand out from the crowd? According to company President Jim O’Connor, “Clearly, what separates us from other management firms is our people. Fully 180 of our 240-plus employees have been with us for over 15 years.”

Toni Hanson, Vice President of Management adds, “We attract great managers and I think it’s because we have a wonderful support group. And because of that our clients stay with us for a long time. I personally have one client that has been with us since the 1950’s. And we’re very proud of that.”

In a recent video, Jim O’Connor also talks about how DEPM is able to save our clients considerable amounts of money: “Our central purchasing department consistently buys supplies at five to 15 percent lower than our competition. We also purchase insurance for our buildings. We have two competing master insurance programs, each of which offers umbrella liability coverage of $150 million aggregate per building.”

When it comes to energy savings, he adds, “We have demonstrated recurring savings of over $3 million a year for the last three years.”

In our Energy Savings video, Peter Lampen, Vice President + Architect for DEPM, adds, “A good example of the kind of savings measures that we’ve been able to implement, which save energy costs for the buildings and reduce their long-term capital expenditures, as well as benefit the City and the environment through carbon reduction, are boiler conversions. This has represented a significant savings to buildings.”

To view the videos in their entirely, visit our YouTube channel at bit.ly/DEPMvideo.

DEPM's long-term staff and cost-savings are two of the things that set us apart from other firms in the industry. Pictured here are VP Toni Hanson, CFO Harris Bornstein, President Jim O'Connor, and VPs Peter Lampen and Elly Pateras. Listen to more on our videos at bit.ly/DEPMvideo.

DEPM’s long-term staff and cost-savings are two of the things that set us apart from other firms in the industry. Pictured here are VP Toni Hanson, CFO Harris Bornstein, President Jim O’Connor, and VPs Peter Lampen and Elly Pateras. Listen to more on our videos at bit.ly/DEPMvideo.

The Importance of Fire Safety: Many Fires Can Be Prevented With Vigilance and Care

By Thomas Usztoke, Vice President of Douglas Elliman Property Management.

Each year, throughout New York City, property managers distribute fire safety information to their apartment residents in compliance with Local Law 10 of 1999. The mailing contains building specific details and basic instructions on fire emergencies in your building.  While it is the job of New York City’s Bravest to “put the blue stuff on the red stuff,” there are a number of pointers New York apartment dwellers should commit to memory.

The breadth of New York City’s properties involves multiple types of construction. A key distinguisher is whether the building materials are combustible or non-combustible. The difference is critically important in determining if residents should evacuate immediately or remain in their apartments while firefighters do their job. In most cases, residents are advised to shelter in place in non-combustible buildings, as long as they are out of imminent harm, but at all times the instructions of the FDNY are to be followed.

Common Causes of Fire

The three most common causes of fire are oil or grease fires that start in the kitchen, overloaded electrical circuitry, and the open flame of a candle or the embers of a cigarette. Most of these fire dangers are easily avoidable if certain precautions are implemented, as outlined below.

Kitchen Fires: Kitchen fires, most typically caused by oil or grease in or on top of the oven, usually start when someone wanders off or gets distracted while cooking. Forgetting that you’ve got something on the stovetop or in the oven is a sure way to ruin more than just dinner. Every kitchen should have a portable fire extinguisher handy. All members of the household should be well versed in pulling it off its bracket, aiming at the fire and pulling the trigger. Become familiar enough with its operation that its use is an instinctual response. Doing so can save you more than just your kitchen. And don’t underestimate the value of setting a kitchen timer when cooking.

Overloaded Electrical Circuitry: If you are repeatedly tripping a circuit breaker, it’s overloaded. Heaters, clothes dryers and other appliances all draw a lot of electricity and are liable to overload a system if piled on with the use of multiple extension cords or power strips. No electrical power supply cord or wall outlet should be HOT to the touch. If you have any doubts about the safety of your electrical outlets or wiring, contact your manager, super or handyman.

Open Flames and Cigarettes: The open flame of a candle or the smoking ember of a cigar or cigarette are common causes of house fires. Not infrequently, residents fall asleep while smoking, allowing embers to drop to the carpet or the bed, and ignite. A forgotten candle that shrinks down to its base can superheat the surface it rests on, starting a smoldering fire that can lead to a blaze. A burning ember in a mattress can remain incubating for hours before igniting into a king size room-filling inferno. Be extremely vigilant with any open flame, whether it be the stove, candle, cigarette or cigar.

Protect Yourself, Your Home, Your Family

The two easiest forms of fire prevention are knowledge and a working set of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, both of which are regularly tested to ensure they are in working order. Check detectors monthly and replace their batteries at least twice a year. Many people routinely replace their detector batteries when changing to and from Daylight Savings Time, an easy semi-annual date to remember.

Should a fire occur in your apartment, call 911, call the lobby staff if available, leave the apartment immediately, and close (do not lock) all doors while exiting. New York City is fortunate to have quick Fire Department response times, which can often contain the fire to a room, or at least the apartment of its occurrence, limiting the amount of damage to the building as a whole. The FDNY’s water source is street-side hydrants and/or in buildings over six stories, the red fire standpipe lines that you see in the public stairwells. NEVER obstruct the stairs or the standpipe system by using the stairwells as a storage area. It is a serious building code violation and a dangerous obstruction to you and your neighbors as well as responding firefighters. Forget about using the elevators unless you have been directed to do so by the FDNY. Unfortunately, elevators can end up traveling to the floor where the fire is located.

When your property manager sends out the fire safety materials, take the time to read and understand them, and be sure to create a safety plan for you and your family. It can be as simple as setting a specific meeting place outside in the event of an emergency, and should also include learning to find and use the fire extinguisher if necessary and what to do in the event of a fire. For any type of NYC emergency, a web search to “Ready New York” provides an abundance of training and practice materials. Be a helping hand to your family and others by being aware of these basics.

Many fire dangers are easily avoidable if certain precautions are implemented, as outlined above.

Many fire dangers are easily avoidable if certain precautions are implemented, as outlined above.

Upgrade Your Landscaping this Year With Tips from the Pros

As warm weather finally arrives, spring flowers and new foliage are a welcome sight after
the long, cold winter. But your landscaping may need a facelift this season. From entryways to rooftops, the plantings your building installs make an enormous difference in the lifestyles of your residents as well as the value of the entire property. DEPM’s managers
work closely with boards and contractors to make sure that these oases retain their beauty
all season long.
According to landscape architect Tom Salaki, owner of Square Acre Studio, who is working on the landscaping at one of our complexes in Queens, maintaining and upgrading urban landscapes is a joint effort involving building staff, contractors, caretakers and designers. Here are a few of his tips for keeping your landscaping looking
great:
• Irrigation: Having a proper irrigation system installed will save you money in the long run. It keeps plants wet during dry spells, helps to flush out any soil contaminants and reduces the need for plant replacement and fertilizers.
• Maintenance: It is important for the building manager and the landscape maintenance
crew to be on the same page as to how outdoor spaces should be maintained. Many times a watchful manager can spot problems before the landscape crew is on site for their weekly visit. Sometimes just one day can make a huge difference between keeping plants alive and having to replace them.
• Patience: Climate, seasonal changes and availability play a huge factor in what can
successfully be installed at your property. Give plants and landscapes time. The general rule with newly installed plants is that the first year they sleep, the next year they creep, and the third year they leap.

BEFORE: This barren roof is not only unattractive, but it's also wasted space.

BEFORE: This barren roof is not only unattractive, but it’s also wasted space.

AFTER: Creating a rooftop barbeque area can make a huge change in the lifestyles of all your buildings' residents.

AFTER: Creating a rooftop barbeque area can make a huge change in the lifestyles of all your building’s residents.

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BEFORE: The plantings around this entryway do nothing to enhance the look of the building

Strathmore After 1

AFTER: The same entryway is almost unrecognizable with new plantings, a seating area, and architectural details installed as part of the landscaping. The upgrade provides residents with outdoor living space and adds value to the entire property.

Be sure to speak to your property manager about how your building can improve its
landscaping or create new outdoor space to enjoy this season.

Choosing A Managing Agent: Key Questions to Ask in an Interview

By Jim O’Connor, President of Douglas Elliman Property Management.

If you really want to know what separates one management firm from the rest, there are a few questions you need to ask during your interview process. Surprisingly, many boards—even seasoned property owners—fail to ask some of the most important questions when searching for a new managing agent.

One of the biggest complaints we hear from prospective clients is that their current firm keeps changing their building’s Account Executive. This is a real problem, because a management firm needs to provide your property with an institutional memory. The best way to keep track of all the myriad decisions that go into the management of your building—investment history, billing and finances, staffing issues, maintenance, capital improvement projects, vendors’ history, and so on—is to have a long-term relationship with a reliable manager.

How Long Will Our Manager Stay With Our Building?

At Douglas Elliman Property Management, our managers have been with us an average of 15 years, and there are buildings that have been in our management portfolio for over 50 years. This kind of customer and staff loyalty results in an unparalleled level of continuity in our management services.

So when interviewing for a new Managing Agent, ask how long your Management Account Executive will stay with your building. Having the same manager for many years will not only ensure continuity of information, but may give you a higher level of expertise.

Who Manages Construction Projects?

Another very important question to ask when interviewing a prospective management firm is: who manages construction projects when they arise? As we all know, they inevitably will. So much work needs to be done on a regular basis to maintain buildings in New York that we at DEPM have developed a very sophisticated system for managing construction projects. From elevator replacements to oil-to-gas-conversions to new roofs, we have the depth of experience—and the manpower—to see your projects through from planning to completion. We approach each project at every building the same way: diligently and carefully, with the oversight that every project needs to have, so that it gets done on time and on budget.

How Do You Track Building Codes and Violations?

It is very important that your property manager stays current with all of the City agencies and regulations, and the paperwork they require. From the Department of Buildings to the Fire Department, there are filing deadlines and regulatory requirements that must be met on time; some monthly, some annually, and some every third or fifth year. Failure to meet these deadlines can result in substantial fines and building code violations.

At DEPM, we have arranged with a number of outside vendors to maintain computerized records for each one of our buildings, to make sure that deadlines are met, to search databases on a regular basis to see if there are any violations, and to clear up those violations as needed.

With over 350 properties in our management portfolio, we get emails daily about our properties, about what needs to be done when, to make sure that each property is in compliance. We are also informed immediately should any of our properties be in violation of building code regulations, what the problem is, and what has to be done to clear it up. We know that violations carry fines, and we try to ensure that the properties we manage meet their filing deadlines and keep violations and fines to a bare minimum.

Other Important Questions

Questions about financial reporting and investing are also important, so be sure to ask what kinds of reports the firm will prepare for your board, and when you can expect to receive them. You may want to know if the company offers online payment options for maintenance fees or common charges. Most firms now offer online access to financial information, budgets, work orders, payment approvals, and other building records, but it’s important to ask about these systems and get a walkthrough of how they work.

Finally, be sure to ask: what separates your firm from the competition? If a firm can’t offer any substantive reasons why they stand out from the others, perhaps there are none. A firm with a long history of management service, a large portfolio of properties representing a wide range of types of buildings, experienced personnel who participate in continuing education programs, and a back office with a good reputation among vendors and contractors, should be able to tell you what separates them from the rest of the pack.

At Douglas Elliman Property Management, we meet those criteria and more. Our pro-active stance on everything from energy conservation to capital improvement projects helps our buildings save money, improve energy-efficiency, avoid fines, and run smoothly and efficiently. We hope that you will keep these important questions in mind when considering a managing agent for your property. For more information about DEPM’s staff and services, please feel free to call me directly at (212) 692-8463 or email me at jim.oconnor@ellimanpm.com.