In partnership with urbanbubble, property owners achieved:
- 30% reduction in service charges on apartments within the development
- A 32K deficit turned into £20K surplus in just three years
- £18K of historic debt written off for leaseholders
- Positive engagement and regular communication with managing agent
The full story:
A development of 60 apartments and 320 homes on Ashton Old Road in East Manchester, The Way takes premier position on Manchester City FC’s home turf, an area that’s recently benefitted from massive investment and regeneration.
Built around two distinct zones, the gated estate features an eye-catching mix of modern housing for families and young professionals, with large gardens and landscaped areas, creating a vibrant community close to the city.
In 2010, the development was still to be completed, with zones one and two occupied and five further zones still under construction. Though residents had already moved into zone one, they found that it wasn’t just the next stage of The Way that needed work.
Service charge debt had increased to £60,000, partly caused by the high rates charged by the incumbent managing agent. This was compounded by systemic non-collection of monies owed, leading to a major shortfall of cash that should have been used maintain the estate. A spiral of neglect began, followed by an increase in dissatisfied leaseholders who withheld their service charge, leading to less essential work being carried out due to depleted funds. This didn’t just affect existing residents, but also meant market interest in the estate suffered as potential buyers saw that zones one and two were neglected and took their investment elsewhere. The knock on effect of a drop in sales then meant that the overall completion of the development was put in jeopardy.
urbanbubble was approached by a concerned leaseholder in 2009. Taking on the challenge, they quickly found that the management company was in the still in the hands of the developer who was not fully aware of issues affecting the leaseholders.
Developing strong business relationships
Their first move was to meet with the developer and convince them that joining forces to tackle the problems was the best way forward for The Way.
With the estate developer on board, a retender process was brokered by urbanbubble and initiated with the incumbent managing agent in place, resulting in urbanbubble being chosen to take over the management of the estate.
Applying their unique approach to the problems, urbanbubble started with by assessing and drawing up a comprehensive Initial Property Inspection Plan (IPIP); a detailed assessment of the development carried out with full leaseholder consultation that scrutinises every aspect of the structure, cosmetic requirements, maintenance regime and operational procedures.
IPIP: This creates a comprehensive picture of the current situation at a development that gives the property management experts at urbanbubble a 360° view of the current situation. This allows them to apply their experience to quickly solving immediate problems and identifying any issues that may not have been apparent to leaseholders. It also provides all the information they need to begin planning holistically to minimise the risk of future problems.
This gave them an all-round picture of what issued needed addressing at The Way and more importantly, what to prioritise.
Finding the right way to move forward
The first problem to tackle was the large deficit caused by historic non-payment of service charges by leaseholders.
Following a close examination of the problem, it was discovered that a large proportion of this debt was made up by excessive recovery charges that had accrued as a result of the incumbent’s unresponsive and ineffective debt recovery process. It also revealed that a large amount was owed by social landlords.
urbanbubble effectively engaged with leaseholders to recover part of the money owed and inject much-needed funds into the development’s coffers, creating a brand new budget plan from day one to ensure everyone was paying their share.
An erroneous refund made to the previous managing agent, from the energy supplier (creating a large energy debt for the RMC) was painstakingly reversed by urbanbubble releasing £25k immediately back into the Managing Company accounts.
A Proactive approach to upkeep
The infrastructure of the site was then closely assessed by urbanbubble, who quickly put their expertise in streamlining day-to-day requirements with no compromise on service into practice.
Their site assessments revealed that automatic gates at the development had the same safety problems that had tragically caused the death of a child on a nearby development. An instant response to upgrade security across the site at a cost of £21k, again part funded by the developer, went beyond HSE recommendations to make them safe. This put three separate safety measures in place to prevent the risk of future accidents and has since been recognised as best safety practice nationwide for gate installation.
Next, the communal garden areas were treated to a makeover to make them a pleasant place for residents once again. During this process, it was revealed that much of the land bordering the development was unadopted, and did not fall under the responsibility of either the managing agent or the city council. As a result, no upkeep had taken place and these gateway areas had become overgrown and badly littered.
Never ones to do things by halves, urbanbubble rolled up their sleeves and got to work on the problem. Not by breaking out the litter pickers (though they do prefer the hands-on approach) but by carrying out a purge of these unsightly areas with funding help from the developer. This was followed by the initiation of a smart ongoing solution to the problem that saw a proportion of ground rent payable to Manchester City Council being ring fenced towards maintenance.
A reactive approach to problems
urbanbubble recognises that there’s a lot more to being a managing agent than just day-to-day maintenance. The unexpected does happen, and when things go wrong they understand that residents and leaseholders want things put fast right and with minimum impact.
This was put the test on the very first of taking over as managing agent at The Way, when major vandalism occurred to a lift in the development. This required major works to put right, which was pushed through within seven days to minimise inconvenience.
Two major floods followed, one on Christmas Eve 2013 that caused a major power outage and could well have meant that many residents had a less than happy Christmas. Though other managing agents would have been wrapping things up for the festive period and unable to respond, urbanbubble sprung into action and ensured water was removed within a day and access control and fire safety systems back to normal within a week.
The urbanbubble benefit
With a new proactive managing agent in place, leaseholders at The Way now benefit from well-kept grounds and cleaner, more appealing public areas that really help build the community. They are also happy that these improvements mean a more attractive place to live for less service charge. In fact, their monthly payment was immediately cut by 30% following urbanbubble’s appointment.
Residents also now benefit from a permanent onsite Building Service Assistant (BSA) who ensures that any issues concerning day-to-day maintenance such as cleaning and repairs are dealt with quickly and efficiently.
BSA: Building Service Assistants are on-the-ground members of the urbanbubble team, responsible for the day-to-day upkeep of a residential development including cleaning, caretaking and light maintenance. Along with regular dialogue with residents, their feedback helps us provide a better service and prevent small problems becoming big ones.
With the development now complete, looking good and with facilities functioning perfectly for residents, The Way is the attractive community with a diverse mixture of residents first envisaged by the developers.
Sales are high, whilst rental demand has risen, giving leaseholders the peace of mind that their service charge isn’t just improving the development, but also helping maximise the return on their investment.
Proving that when it comes to turning things round if a managing agent isn’t delivering, there’s always a way.
“urbanbubble maintain our estate to a good standard. It is kept clean and tidy and Wes, our building service assistant, is always happy to help. If I need to speak directly with urbanbubble I can do so with ease, they always respond and resolve problems speedily.”
Tracey Jones, The Way Owner and Resident
“I get a lot out of making The Way look great for residents and visitors. There’s a real community here and it’s great to play an active role in making it a happy one.”
Wes, The Way Building Service Assistant