Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Diverting Design Disaster: Property Managers Resolve Unsightly or Impractical Design Problems

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Diverting Design Disaster: Property Managers Resolve Unsightly or Impractical Design Problems

Article excerpt

The pipes were a disaster waiting to happen, and Jennifer Baiamonte, CPM[R], knew it. Too bad no one listened to her.

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Some years ago, Baiamonte was slated to manage a developing Ohio apartment complex that had plans to place plumbing and electrical meters beneath an outside staircase. Baiamonte, who has since become a property manager with Duke Realty Corporation, took one look and realized the pipes would freeze during brutal Midwestern winters. She told the development company about this problem, but it decided to stick with its design.

The project continued smoothly until the week residents were scheduled to move in, when, as Baiamonte predicted, the pipes froze and burst. Gushing water damaged drywall and carpet. It delayed the building's opening by two weeks, and the owner was forced to pay for some residents to stay in a hotel.

It's a horror story, but it's not uncommon. Plenty of other property managers have their own tales of office buildings lacking first-floor mailrooms or shopping centers built without an easy way to remove snow from the parking lot.

"You'd walk into a property and say, 'Why did they do this?'" said Bob Toothaker, CPM, chairman of the Real Estate Management Corporation in South Bend, Ind., and 2007 president of the Institute of Real Estate Management.

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Such situations stem from a development process routinely excluding property managers until the last minute, despite their practical knowledge about how buildings should function. But even when the developer hands over a migraine along with the master key, property managers still can take steps to market and manage a building successfully.

SINS OF OMISSION

The expertise property managers can bring to the design process has long been undervalued or unnoticed by developers and architects, said Richard Muhlebach, CPM, and senior management director of Kennedy-Wilson Properties Northwest Ltd., in Bellevue, Wash. Although construction takes months, and developing a project can take years, property managers typically have been summoned shortly before tenants or residents occupied the building.

The sin isn't so much one of commission as omission, said Randy Woodbury, CPM and vice president of property management at Woodbury Corporation in Salt Lake City. Architects, like anybody else, are unaware of what they don't know, and they often don't realize property managers can help. Consequently, they design buildings where changing an impossible-to-reach light bulb creates misery.

"I've always thought every architect should have to operate his building for a year before he's allowed to design the next one," Woodbury said.

This lack of cooperation has made for a slew of missed opportunities. Property managers can help developers predict operating costs and set rents appropriate for the targeted market. They know which trendy amenities will attract tenants or residents and can argue to keep them when developers start looking for ways to cut costs--understanding it's better to spend more than expected than to construct a building no one wants to lease.

Most importantly, property managers can offer advice on the unromantic details that make tenants' and residents' lives happy or hellish--the kind of details no one else notices until it is too late.

They know which accent colors will brighten an apartment, which appliances are hot, and which finishes are easy to clean or high-maintenance nightmares. They know where to place the lighting and security cameras. And they know Dumpsters belong out of sight but must still be accessible to garbage trucks--a seemingly obvious detail, but one designers often forget.

One company built an office building with elevator shafts, but no room to house the elevator motors; they didn't discover the problem until they were preparing to install the elevators. …

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