A Year On From Grenfell… How Have We Responded?

In the last few weeks, the media has been flooded with tributes to those who sadly lost their lives in Grenfell Tower, as well as former residents still seeking a home in the fire’s aftermath.

 

This horrific incident happened just over a year ago – for many, it is still fresh, and those in the residential property market are still in talks about how to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again.

 

urbanbubble have been working hard, behind the scenes, to assure safety across the sites we manage. Here’s an update on what we’ve been doing to protect our residents:

 

Extensive material reviews

Following Grenfell, any structure nationwide over 18m tall was assessed for the safety of its materials. However, the Mayor of Manchester went one step further, and set up a taskforce to examine every single building that is currently rented in the city.

 

Grenfell Tower’s cladding was an anomaly, in some respects. These aluminium panels were combustible with poor installation standards; far from the quality of cladding used on urbanbubble sites around the city.

 

Still, 11 out of 60 properties under our control were deemed to have ‘unsatisfactory compartmentalisation’, which means that – were a fire to break out – it wouldn’t necessarily be contained.

 

Two of those 11 have aluminium features; we are working with the fire department to determine how and when the existing cladding can be removed. Soon enough, this will lead to new fascia being installed, as well as 100% fulfilment on our mitigation promise.

 

Fire detection and management

Issues such as how to deal with flames if they do gain a foothold somewhere have thrown property management into a starker light. Services like ours do not simply pick up post in the lobby; we are here to uphold stringent safety measures as part of our resident care offering.

 

urbanbubble have therefore set up a ‘waking watch’ within the two residencies mentioned above. Two people are on-site, every hour of the day, keeping an eye on the internal and external safety of the structure around them. This will remain in place until cladding mitigation has been performed.

 

Detection systems have been upgraded across the board, whilst compartmentalisation has improved across our portfolio.

 

If you’re a stakeholder, or a current resident in an urbanbubble scheme, you can liaise with your property manager for further information about fire safety in your block.

 

Five Minutes With… Ed Howe

We have a chat with Research Analyst, Ed Howe, to learn about his role within the Build-to-Rent team.

Tell us about your role at urbanbubble

I’m here to research the cities we’re expanding into. As urbanbubble is working closely with L&G to run their portfolio, we’re keen to get a good understanding of not just the sites we’re responsible for, but the cities surrounding them too. My role involves mapping out cities like Bath and Bristol and finding out where the bars, restaurants, universities and other points of interest are in relation to the site.

This also feeds into future decision-making about which cities we should be expanding into, ensuring that we’ve conducted the necessary due diligence and gained a sound understanding of local markets before we move into them.

How long have you been with urbanbubble?

It’s a brand-new role, so I’m new to the team. I have joined the fast-growing Build-to-Rent department and can’t wait to see where it’s headed.

What’s your background?

I’ve always had a keen interest in data. I graduated in Urban Planning at Newcastle University in May 2017, after which I worked at Select Property as a Planning Assistant. Alongside this, I started building my own research business – UrbInfo Manc – making use of data I have been gathering for years on how many apartments, office, hotels, etc. are going up in the city. That’s how I met Michael – and my introduction to urbanbubble went from there.

How are urbanbubble different?

I’d heard of urbanbubble before and knew they did things differently, but this really shone through when I met Michael. His passion is infectious and it’s inspiring to hear about how he set the company up to fill a gap in the market. Everyone in the team shares this enthusiasm for improving the quality of renting, and it’s exciting to be part of such a tight-knit group of people aiming to make a difference.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

In my opinion, the best part of data and analytics is how you present it. I love mapping things – for me it’s the most effective way to measure how a city works. You can actually see clusters, such as housing and transport, and can gauge a lot about a city in that single snapshot.

When you’re not at work, how do you unwind?

Building and maintaining UrbInfo takes up a lot of my time. It started out as a hobby, but I’ve since realised how useful this information is for developers and operators. I’m hoping to develop this during my time at urbanbubble, and Michael is really supportive.

I also like to stay active when I’m not at work – I’ve always been a keen swimmer and now that I’m in the city I want to do more cycling too!

Why urbanbubble Are Your Best Bet For Sales And Lettings

urbanbubble might be best known for quality apartment care, but we are not just equipped to handle the management side of property. We also specialise in sales and lettings – with a whole department dedicated to helping homeowners get the best prices or yields in every scenario.

In this blog, we take a closer look at the benefits of using urbanbubble for sales and lettings in the North West, showing you how our team can help you attract buyers and renters.

urbanbubble sales

Sales prices across the North are currently strong, with many Buy-to-Let investors and home movers taking advantage by marketing their properties for sale.

urbanbubble have become a big presence on the property sales market over the past two years, earning excellent feedback from vendors due to our range of services.

These include:

  • 1% plus VAT (1.2% incl. VAT) sales fees on all new sales instructions
  • An average of 7% more in sales value than other agents on those agreed within urbanbubble-managed properties
  • 97% of marketed price achieved over the last two years
  • Free appraisals and recommendations that ensure stronger sales prices
  • Faster sales process (by up to four weeks) from issuing the leasehold information pack to the solicitor when a sale is agreed

We have greater knowledge of all our managed buildings than any other agent in the city, giving buyers the confidence of investing in an urbanbubble property. Our dedicated sales progressors guide the vendor and buyer through the sale process right up to completion, and video appraisals are also available for non-resident vendors.

urbanbubble lettings

Letting in the region is particularly competitive right now, and given the increase in the number of new developments, the market will only continue to get tougher.

At urbanbubble, we help existing and new customers get the best out of their property investment, assisting them with refinancing through our recommended financial advisor. We also utilise our network of contractors to provide suggestions on property improvements, even dressing them for specially made marketing photographs and stand-out viewings.

As part of our lettings service, customers also receive:

  • Reduced management fees of just 6% plus VAT (8% incl. VAT) on all new managed let instructions
  • Rent guarantee options at just £15 incl. VAT per month
  • Smooth transition from the landlord’s existing agent to urbanbubble
  • An average of 12% more than other agents on rents within some of our managed properties

urbanbubble offer a hands-off management service with a dedicated maintenance reporting facility, including a single point of contact for property management for both landlords and residents.

We also guarantee regular property inspections and flexible payments, with the option to have the service charge taken out of the monthly rental income. Full support and guidance is also available for any landlords overseas.

Get in touch with urbanbubble to learn more

If you’re looking to sell your home or get involved in the Buy-to-Let market, don’t hesitate to contact urbanbubble today on 0161 667 7666, or sales@urbanbubble.co.uk or lettings@urbanbubble.co.uk. Our team will be able to answer any questions you might have.

urbanbubble’s Away Day: Catalyst for Change  

Great change is afoot at urbanbubble. 2018 marks our 9thyear in the property management business. When we began life, BTR (Build to Rent) schemes were yet to be conceived in the market, now, they’re defining its direction. This last near-decade has given us time to refine our service and establish ourselves as leading managing agents in the North West, making us ideally placed to pioneer the operation of numerous BTR schemes.

Our leaders, office staff and site teams have had the privilege of seeing the industry grow up around them. Yet with several high-profile investments due to be realised before 2020, we are committed to building on our key strength – the customer experience.

It is a critical factor in what we want to accomplish. Our customers are at the heart of everything we do. Without care and transparency, managing agents erode trust in those they serve which includes occupants, owners, developers and more. Such care is the principal on which our business was built, and our dedicated people work hard to maintain this in a fast-paced market.

That’s why we went to great lengths to plan a training Away Day that would ensure everyone at urbanbubble was involved in charting our future development. It was held on the 30thJanuary, at the gorgeous Midland Hotel in Manchester, where the whole team came together to develop a customer charter that will set the standards for our customers’ experience.

Keep reading for a summary of the event…

 

A high-spirited start

The last urbanbubble Away Day was 18 months ago. Many familiar faces were in the audience as we took our chairs at 9am. More, however, were joining in for the first time – our team has expanded considerably since summer 2016.

A slew of new opinions is vital to keeping urbanbubble responsive and competitive in the customer service arena. We intended to throw the question of ‘How do we measure excellence?’ back to the people who make our organisation tick.

HR & OD Manager Carolyn Preston took the mic with business magnate Lily Newman, to define who our customers are. The residents? Yes. Our investment partners? Definitely. But in fact, it’s everyone who interacts with us regardless of whether it’s our managers, building assistants or office staff they are all stakeholders in our vision.

Appropriately enough, the session began by assigning delegates to a table – we placed them deliberately with people whom they may never have worked with before. Our sites are spread across much of the North West; often, it means that employees don’t get to mix as a large group. The initial part of our Away Day remedied that, with a ‘Getting To Know You’ quiz and word game to loosen everyone up.

 

Honing in on our core values

The key takeaway from our 2016 Away Day was a list of Core Values i.e. six traits that we wanted to exhibit through the entirety of urbanbubble. They are Professional, Hard-Working, Effective, Engaging, Passionate and Innovative.

Founder Michael Howard spoke about how these characteristics were born from the offer he made, nine years ago, to take over a subpar management service himself, in the Manchester flat he inhabited with his young family. However, we wanted to drill down into the practical nature of hitting such targets… Values are useful, but they don’t pave a route to how we track and measure their accomplishment.

That’s why we gave each table – ringed with eight or so people – a copy of our draft Customer Service Charter. This is a document Carolyn drew up from the urbanbubble philosophy as an example for discussion and constructive feedback. We want to publish this to our customers as well as make it discoverable on our website.

Steadily, the teams tucked into what we represent. Examples from the Charter include ‘transparency’, the ‘quick resolution of concerns’ and ‘treating customers with respect.’ As they read, we gave every table an A3 sheet of paper. Staff had a chance to note down their responses, building the groundwork for a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) system that can empirically state how actions lead to great results.

 

Making tangible steps forward

After lunch, Lily Newman gave a brief but inspiring talk just before 2pm, when the room was asked to feedback on what they felt our key measures and standards of customer service should be. It was about making the customer experience more than a circled noun on a piece of paper…

Carolyn offered a few thoughts on how this might be done. One of them is bringing events to sites like The Slate Yard in Spinningfields: a complex that enjoys top-quality, hotel-style concierge and amenity privileges. In the future we will liaise with events teams so they can give residents a higher level of customer experience, such as fun social events through the year.

The KPI’s will be used as an internal tracking network, there to verify whether a maintenance or admin task has been done on time. By coaching employees through the system, we can then measure the results during performance reviews, eliminating any doubt as to how well someone is delivering that customer excellence we want to be renowned for.

But the highlights of the day came from the mouths of our staff. Here are some choice cuts from the evaluation survey:

  • “I really enjoyed the day. It was my first Away Day so wasn’t sure what to expect – but I found the speakers really engaging, and the presentations interesting and insightful. I think the job role swap is a brilliant idea!”
  • “A very worthwhile day overall, and the feedback from my table was the same. There were comments about how they remembered setting the values and mission statement in a previous session, and that they felt their views were being considered.”
  • “The element of fun, as well as the seriousness, was kept alive throughout the day. It was also nice to spend time getting to know more of the wider urbanbubble family.

Together, we can now update the value proposition at the heart of urbanbubble. Joining known qualities and functional, innovative means to achieve them will bolster our position in the market. Our workforce left with plenty of smiles between them; a fine sign of our trust in what they have to say.

We will be publishing the Customer Charter later in the year – keep an eye out for more news as this develops.

What’s Ahead For The Manchester Property Market?

Manchester was the talk of Cannes at MIPIM this spring. Whilst the urbanbubble team took our Glastonbury ‘fallow year’ for 2018, after representing the city at the global conference for four years running, we kept a close eye on commentary at MIPIM.

One thing is true: Manchester’s property market is expanding at a rate of knots. A wave of residential apartments is coming to the city, and this influx of supply is already having an impact on the sector. Here, we take a look at some of the market speculation and ask: what’s ahead for our great city?

 

The rise of Build-to-Rent

There are currently 30,000 apartments in Manchester city centre. To date, the rental market has been dominated by Buy to Let units, so it’s no surprise that the rise of countless Build-to-Rent schemes is being viewed with some concern by landlords in the city.

Between now and 2020 there will be approximately 13,000 new residential apartments coming on-stream within the city boundary. These are primarily large-scale, institutionally owned developments, and they come with far more facilities and amenities than the 30,000 units built between 1998 and 2006.

These customer-first schemes focus on providing a better lifestyle for the customer. Typical amenities include free wifi, a concierge, an on-site gym and welfare services. There’s no doubt that Build-to-Rent is going to transform the rental market, but how does it affect BTL landlords in Manchester?

 

The impact on BTL landlords

Some BTL landlords have already reported a softening of rents over the past 15 months. It’s hardly surprising, given that the city centre has seen an 8% increase in supply. This has led many to question whether Manchester can handle the wave of new apartments. There is even talk of a possible collapse on the cards.

However, you only have to look across the pond to ageing apartment blocks in US cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Houston to see that this is very unlikely to happen. Demand is still high in these thriving markets, and this optimistic outlook is supported by strong research on Manchester’s residential market from the likes of Deloitte and Savills.

Yes, we can’t ignore the fact that prices will be impacted in the short- to medium-term – especially as graduates, fresh out of their £180pw student accommodation, enter the market with their own high expectations. However, it doesn’t mean that apartments without the shiny new BTR facilities won’t also have their place within it.

Besides, landlords have enjoyed exponential growth of rental income and property prices in recent years. Rents have increased, on average, by 9% over the last five years, while the rising value of property over a 30-year period has given owners sustainable and steadily growing returns on their investment.

What you’ll see in the run-up to 2020 is rent dropping slowly, followed by a stable 3-4% growth rate. Those who are prepared to invest in their property will undoubtedly benefit from higher yields and better occupancy rates.

 

The key to success in Manchester

When you compare Manchester to other locations across the UK, being based in the city is a first step to success in itself. However, beyond this, landlords should consider how they care for both their asset and their customer, the tenant.

The golden age of BTL meant that few landlords have felt the need to undergo capital improvements on their apartments to date. Now is the time to start thinking about what you can do to improve living standards for your resident. Are you providing for their needs? How can their accommodation be improved?

Ask these questions and you’ll be one step closer to protecting and maximising your returns as Manchester’s new wave of developments hit the market.

We’re Transforming urbanbubble For The Better

It’s a bit of a misconception amongst clients and customers that we’re growing rapidly. We’d like to assure you that this isn’t the case; we are not currently actively looking for new blocks, in order to consolidate our business and implement structural changes.

To give you an understanding of where we are as an organisation, we wanted to take a moment to tell you about our recent developments and how we’re transforming urbanbubble for the better.

Planning for future growth

In 2013, we were taking on 400 new apartments every quarter; those days are gone. This year, the only site we’ve taken on so far is Ringley Locks. Despite the wave of new developers and developments coming to Manchester, we are not open for business.

Thanks to some fantastic wins, we are in the fortunate position of not needing to proactively look for business. We have every new customer we need to keep us busy over the next five years, with a portfolio of 6,500 units across Manchester and phenomenal growth across Liverpool.

Most of the leading new schemes we are working on will come on-stream in mid-2019.  We are working closely with the following clients to support in the delivery of circa 6500 homes across Manchester City Centre and Salford.   Salboy’s will provide 1100 homes across three schemes all of which are phenomenal developments with beautiful outdoor spaces, due to launch during 2019. In addition to this Property Alliance will be providing 800 homes. Capital and Centric with 500 homes and DTZi with a further 150 homes currently under construction on Blossom Street located next to the popular and sought after Northern Quarter.

We continue to work with Legal & General operating The Slate Yard scheme in Salford and can proudly announce that we will be supporting L&G with their expansion of BtR reaching outside of the North West, taking urbanbubble National with their second BtR scheme of circa 170 homes in Bath which is scheduled to be ready for occupation towards the end of Q4 2018 to the beginning of Q1 2019.  Bristol, Leeds and London following closely after providing just over 3000 homes by 2020.  As such, we will be using this year to transform the business so that we can continue to deliver against our objectives when these homes ae ready for occupation.

Structural changes at urbanbubble

To ensure that we are able to maintain and improve service levels, we have developed a well-articulated three-year business plan that details how we intend to grow and adapt to change. As part of this, we have created a mobilisation team, which is being led by our very own Tina Clinton is made up of 2 x Mobilisation / Asset Managers Leanne Hargreaves (currently General Manager of The Slate Yard, Manchester) & Kate Barnes (currently Senior Property Manager, Manchester) who will be supported by 2 x Mobilisation / Asset support roles Rowan Moore has transferred from our Liverpool team where he was previously working as Assistant Property Manager and Emily Worswick who is new to the urbabubble family.

Alongside these changes, we are also delighted to announce that Andrea Hall (née Wilkinson), who joined us as an Assistant Property Manager five years ago, and was promoted two years ago to PM, has now taken the helm as a Senior Property Manager.

It’s fantastic to be able to provide progression and development opportunities for the team as a business – congratulations to all for your success so far in 2018.

In the same transition, Nathan Yates (Property Manager), who came on board without a background in property and has been with us for two years, has secured a promotional position with a new organisation. Whilst we’re sad to see him go, we wish him the best of luck. We’re very proud that our talent is going on to progress in the industry.

Our updated portfolio structure 

As you can see, there’s been a bit of a shuffle around at urbanbubble; we’ve decided to play to our strengths and have developed a new portfolio structure as a result. By now, clients should have received a message from their current Senior Property Manager with more details, but portfolios will now be led by three SPMs – Steve Austin, Andrea Hall and Anthony Donnellan. They will each be supported by a PM – Stuart Prescott, Chris Lawrence and Michael Kowalczyk.

You’ll receive full details of the timetable of these changes if you haven’t already, although most will retain their portfolios to ensure no expertise is lost. In any case, these changes won’t take effect until June, as we’re keen to ensure that all moves are done right and consistently.

To support these changes we have recruited a Business Analyst, dedicated to improving systems and processes. This year, we will be releasing a new system to allow residents and owner occupiers to engage with us via an app, so we can easily communicate with everyone who has a property in a scheme we manage. We’re expecting to see really good progress on this and will provide more updates after Easter.

A new Director of Property Management

Finally, we’ve had a tremendous response in terms of applications to the new role of Director of Property Management. This individual will be leading the SPM team and must demonstrate passion for customers, not just technical experience in block management.

We have a very strong, high-calibre shortlist of three candidates and will be announcing the successful candidate in due course, ahead of them joining the urbanbubble team in the summer of 2018. The first priority for the director of property will be to meet every single one of our property clients and start developing strong relationships with both our SPMs and stakeholders, we can’t wait for you to meet our new recruits, we are doing everything we can to ensure that our customers remain at the forefront of everything we do.

Five Minutes With… Steve Austin

We take a few minutes to learn about what Senior Property Manager, Steve Austin, enjoys most about his role.

Tell us about your role at urbanbubble

As Senior Property Manager, I head up a team responsible for looking after a portfolio of properties in Manchester city centre. Supported by Property Manager Andrea and Assistant Property Managers Vanessa and Hayley, I oversee maintenance, repairs, budgets and site staff for the properties in our portfolio.

My role includes ensuring jobs are completed to a high standard; overseeing finances to ensure each site remains within budgetary limits; managing the safety, wellbeing and performance of site staff; and producing budgets for each year along with commentary on where customers’ money is going.

 

How long have you been with urbanbubble?

I joined the company six years ago as a Property Manager. At the time, the Senior Property Manager role didn’t exist; as urbanbubble has grown, I’ve moved with the business.

 

What’s your background?

I’ve been in residential property management for the past 12 years, working for the likes of RMG, Urban Splash and a host of management agencies. Originally I started out in retail, before moving into lettings after university. Customer service was a heavy focus in both, and I carried this into block management.

 

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

Coping with the growth of the company and still being able to maintain standards on-site remains one of my greatest accomplishments. I’ve turned some sites around which has been very satisfying, such as the Wentwood building.

At Wentwood, we brought standards up to the levels we expect, increasing both property and rental values and reducing anti-social behaviour. The residents in the building were cautious about us coming in given their experience with their former agents, but they’ve become some of our oldest and most loyal customers. We’ve really proven ourselves to them, and I’m immensely proud of that.

 

How are urbanbubble different?

What attracted me to urbanbubble is their incredible customer service – Mick wanted to do things differently and I really bought into that goal. The organisation’s approach is unlike many other companies that I’ve worked for; they’ve tended to focus very much on the bottom line, rather than going above and beyond. Meanwhile some other businesses only speak to the leaseholder – ignoring the people actually living in the building.

At urbanbubble, we’re not about box ticking. Our honest and open approach is entirely focused on pleasing our customers and making sure we remain transparent. Mick really built the business on that, and that’s why we’ve grown so much.

When we developed the business a few years ago, we did presume people would automatically come with us. We now realise that they want close contact and attention – the rise of social media has brought with it expectations for faster (often instant) responses.

In light of this, we’ve restructured our portfolio. More meetings, more on-site visits… all the while retaining that excellent customer service. We realised that this was not possible with 24 properties, so I will be reducing my portfolio to 17 sites in the summer.

 

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The variety. I’m always dealing with something different – from chasing a rat out of a building we’ve just taken on, to dealing with the renovation of big, multi-million pound projects. There’s never a dull day and that’s what I enjoy the most.

 

When you’re not at work, how do you unwind?

I love spending time at home (on the outskirts of Manchester and Bolton) with my other half and taking the dogs out – a Beagle cross Toy Poodle and a Westie cross Jack Russell. We’ll often watch movies after a nice long walk.

BTR vs BTL. What’s the real difference?

A lot has changed in the last three years since I hosted an event at MIPIM which focused on a citywide survey in Manchester and Salford, outlining what residents wanted and would pay for in the new wave of PRS developments. We’ve gone from the moans and groans of planning, funding and construction costs to having over 11,000 homes in development regionally. 2017 broke the construction levels of 2016, which in turn beat the 2006/7 boom pre-recession.

Massive strides have been taken since 2014/15. In that time, we’ve all become acquainted with the most popular property acronym, PRS, but now we hear a new one – BTR, short for Build-to-Rent. So, what does it mean? Is it different to PRS? Is the industry just getting a little snobby, or will it represent something truly different?

MORE THAN A NEW ACRONYM

Build-to-Rent is the term used for the residential schemes being designed, built and managed specifically for rent, whilst PRS (Private Rented Sector) is the catch-all for all rented homes, including Buy-to-Let (BTL).

Yet the term requires further drilling down. Plenty of developers have created schemes that are ‘designed, built and managed for rent’ but then sold, often across the globe, to BTL investors. The real difference in BTR is the singular ownership: the investor purchases the entire residential asset and a single operator manages it on their behalf.

Many schemes claim to be BTR (designed and built specifically to rent), but have fractional ownership and are, as such, governed by leasehold law. Those that are singularly owned are typically schemes purchased by the institutional funds we’ve all been so keen to see enter the market. Now, they are doing so in a big way.

It’s silly to make a sweeping statement that institutional or singular ownership rental schemes (true BTR) are ‘better’ than fractional ownership (BTL) ones – not least as we’re appointed to some of the North West’s top developers! However, there are key differences which impact the quality of real estate and service delivered to residents.

A DIFFERENT WAY OF THINKING

Institutions have an immense amount of firepower, knowledge and experience in real estate – already holding billions of pounds’ worth of property. They forward-fund schemes and commit significant resources to ensure the final product is ‘leading’ for the city. The residential scheme is thought of as a community, with a brand created for the target demographic, and the quality of build, materials and fit-out suitable for a long-term hold of 15 years and beyond.

This has had a remarkable impact on the developer community in Manchester. Residential schemes are being sold on the open market for BTL. Where once they would have had nothing more than lift lobbies and bin stores, these units now come with the same amenities, facilities, and on-site services that the BTR sector is delivering. However, if the management of this community is fractional, across half a dozen letting agents and a block manager, the ongoing upkeep of the property and service to residents will fall behind its BTR equivalent very quickly.

RUNNING COSTS: SERVICE CHARGES AND OPERATING EXPENSES (OPEX)

A BTR scheme runs on an operating and capital expenditure forecast over the long term (we plan 15 years past stabilisation). A BTL scheme has a freeholder typically collecting ground rents, a managing agent running the communal aspects of the development with service charges, and several agents leasing the apartments on behalf of landlords.

In Manchester, adding up all the fees of a freeholder, managing agent and letting agent, the costs charged to an owner of a 2-bed apartment sit around £2.3k per annum. For a 400-unit scheme, that’s around £920k a year in management fees alone. BTR fees would be considerably less for a scheme of the same size; we’ve found, across all spend areas, that running a BTR scheme is significantly more efficient than BTL.

DELIVERING EXCELLENT SERVICE FOR OUR CUSTOMERS

urbanbubble have always seen our tenants as customers. The industry is now in agreement: we have to deliver the best resident experience to maximise appeal and rents, whilst reducing resident attrition. A singular owner, with a singular operator, working on a cost-efficient scheme can invest in long-term staffing as the largest proportional cost in the OPEX. By contrast, BTL schemes face pressures on the £-per-square-foot service charge by owners wishing to maximise returns – often compromising the on-site facilities team.

Letting agents compete to fill vacant units as the negotiators are rewarded on ‘tenant find’. They often undercut one another on rents, which can reduce the investment return the landlord could receive. There are also no resources provided by the letting agent to provide day-to-day resident care and service (unlike BTR, where we provide a whole team, on-site, dedicated to Resident and Leasing Services).

This article is not meant to underplay new BTL schemes – we have some amazing developments being launched in Manchester and Liverpool that will out-compete some of their BTR rivals. However, this is only possible if a singular operator or management approach is taken.

BTR is different. It has arrived in a big way, already redefining the residential rental market. We know that it will continue to have a profound effect over the coming decade.

Five Minutes With… Jackie Carter

We have a sit-down with Building Service Manager, Jackie Carter, about the challenges and highlights of her role at urbanbubble.

 

Tell us about your role at urbanbubble

I’m the Estate Manager, also known as the Building Service Manager: in essence, dealing with the contractors, phone queries and residents within seven blocks of urbanbubble accommodation. These are based in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, as part of the same complex. Personally I’m in charge of two Building Service Assistants – then I report back to the Senior Property Manager with any issues that may have arisen on their rounds.

There’s a significant amount of liaising involved; I speak to the management team several times a week. The Building Service Assistants will ask us to go in, for instance, to check a leak, and I’ll phone the head office for plumber or electrician. My job is to supervise it all. We maintain sign-in books for each block; when contractors come in for keys or to assess a utility meter, I direct them to the right place and let them in.

 

How long have you been with urbanbubble?

Four years, roughly, although I’ve been on my site for 15/16 years altogether. I did my first tenure under another property management team, and urbanbubble seem to do much more, in terms of practical work and appreciating their team members.

 

What’s your background?

Really I’m only 37, so it feels like I’ve been doing this forever, seeing as it was one of my first jobs after leaving school. Family members were already working for my old employer. I started just like they did, cleaning the flats and hallways, before progressing to a managerial role. My family are very proud, since I’m the first amongst them to fill a position such as this.

 

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

Well, truth be told, everyone has their rough times – I was off myself for three months this year, but my great relationship with the office staff made it ten times easier. My thoughts were “I can still do anything I want in this organisation, no matter what’s affecting my health!” So the achievement was realising I could come back, with no caveats, and carry on with the same support and emotional incentive.

 

How are urbanbubble different?

Again, my ex-employer is the only other experience I can draw from, but residents would get fed up with lights being broken, shoddy painting, old carpets…. urbanbubble fixed all of that as soon as they arrived. Looking after the staff is so important; we finally have Christmas parties, and they give us an extra day’s holiday every year we stick with the company!

Our ‘away days’ mix staff from various sites together – without them, we’d very rarely see other employees, who are on their own little islands in Manchester, Bolton, Preston and other places. We can swap suggestions for contractors, as we’ll use the same people who’ve performed well from site to site.

Additionally, I was struck by how well urbanbubble are able to manage these properties. All in all, they take up a whole corner of the Northern Quarter, spread out between two hotels under our estate. That’s a lot of space to oversee, but they seem to make it effortless.

 

What do you enjoy most about your role?

You never know what could happen inside a building. For instance, I met someone the other day, discussing a supposed leak that was crossing from their flat to a SPAR convenience store. On the surface, though, nothing appeared to be wrong. urbanbubble’s plumber went in and removed the panel of her bath, revealing a tide of pouring water!

So the resident – while not exactly thrilled that her flat was the cause – was happy that the leak had finally be discovered, after many weeks of puzzlement. There turned out to be no sealant on the bathtub whatsoever. You might say I can still be surprised after all this time on the same site…

 

When you’re not at work, how do you unwind?

Have a beer. Go home to my son – he’s only three, so he better not be getting near the fridge and cracking one open himself! I love taking him to the park and strolling outdoors in the crisp air.

Preparing for GDPR at urbanbubble

The General Data Protection Regulation will affect almost every business in Britain: urbanbubble is no exception.

The EU-led legislation will be enforced on 25th May 2018, transforming the way in which organisations control and process data held on European citizens. This has been widely documented in business circles, but for some, the specific implications of the regulation are a little less clear. What exactly does GDPR mean for urbanbubble and its customers? And what are we doing to prepare accordingly?

Here’s everything you need to know.

What GDPR means for property management

GDPR dictates that no business can control or process data in quite the same way as before. From May 2018, European citizens will gain greater control over their own personal information, determining the specific ways in which businesses can use their data. Currently, this information is handled in accordance with rules outlined by the Data Protection Act 1998. However, GDPR will replace this legislation, tightening laws across the board.

As a leading property management company, urbanbubble currently hold data on both leaseholders and residents – so GDPR is enormously significant for us and our industry. The penalties for mishandling data will be huge (seven figures in some cases), so it’s crucial to get it right – from staff awareness training, to correctly reporting data breaches, to cementing the highest possible levels of data protection.

In our eyes, GDPR is a beneficial and important move made to reflect the times we live in. Everyone has the right to know what data is held on them, and why that data is held in the first instance. They also deserve to have their information safeguarded, limiting the risk of it falling into the wrong hands.

How urbanbubble are preparing for GDPR

At urbanbubble, we recognise GDPR as an opportunity to review our current data processes; strengthening existing policies and identifying areas that require further work.

Ultimately, our robust, smartly-organised system means minimal changes are required, although we will continue to conduct regular, thorough assessments and software updates. We are intimately familiar with our data, which is documented and mapped out within organisational plans used to train staff.  We also work alongside IT consultants to maintain a secure network and cloud-based services.

The main points of address are the company’s current Data Protection Policy and IT & Communications Policy. Terms are being updated to reflect GDPR, and these will be rolled out across staff training programmes moving forwards.

In addition, we are rechecking current suppliers where systems are holding data to ensure they comply with the new security and data control requirements. As an extra precaution, we are in discussions with third parties to complete penetration testing – auditing the effectiveness of our physical and IT security measures.

Preparing for GDPR is an ongoing process, but anyone involved in data handling should always be taking all possible measures to handle/protect information to the best of their ability.

GDPR and urbanbubble leaseholders

Unless leaseholders have their own business that handles EU citizen data, they will not need to worry about their urbanbubble property with regards to GDPR. We pride ourselves on the fact that our leaseholders trust us to take care of data, and we will strive to maintain these confidence levels.

Overall, urbanbubble are committed to an approach that does not just comply with GDPR, but fully embraces it. We want our clients to receive the best possible service, and we’re doing everything required to continue providing it. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact our customer support team.