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Developing effective property management – By Steve Harber, BNP Paribas Real Estate
You know the scenario. That first time you meet someone socially and they ask “What do you do for a living?”
When I explain what I do there are two common reactions. The first can be placed in the “So you’re an estate agent then?” category. The second reaction is generally to being asked about a blocked drain or a leaking roof!
When I explain the actual services that property managers provide there is usually a look of surprise and a “Well I never knew that!” moment. One of the biggest surprises to most people (including many property professionals) is our involvement in the development process. All too often property managers are brought into development projects too late, which can have practical and financial knock-on effects for both landlords and tenants at a later date.
Ultimately the purpose of any property development project is to provide fit for purpose accommodation for occupiers in order to achieve the maximum rental value possible. Buildings are often complex structures and their interior design needs to be as efficient as possible if the return on investment is to be maximised. Buildings that do not function efficiently in terms of the occupier’s (or occupiers’) needs often need further investment if they are to prove attractive and useable by businesses.
Mistakes made in relation to efficiency, in terms of layout and functionality during the initial design phase of a development can prove costly. The expertise of an experienced property manager can, at this early stage of a project, help avoid potentially expensive problems at a later date.
As working patterns have changed and become more ‘flexible’, so the way in which businesses utilise the space they occupy has altered. The way in which buildings are managed has also changed to reflect the growing trend in which offices are increasingly treated ‘as a service’.
A comprehensive review, from a management perspective, of the base design at an early stage can be very beneficial to a property’s management at a later date. The importance of management facilities and occupier amenities on the practical operation of a building are not always prioritised by architects and interior designers and are sometimes overlooked, to the possible detriment of the building’s efficiency, its attractiveness to occupiers and, ultimately, the return on investment of a developer or landlord.
Having a purpose designed management facility may sound like a luxury to some, and possibly a reduction in the net floor space, but attracting the right calibre of management staff is important and can prove invaluable in terms of a building’s operational efficiency.
Design reviews also look at areas such as loading bays and the handling of goods. While, in the age of digital communication, receiving letters in the post may be a bit of a rarity for many, the growth of online retail makes the provision of a post room just as important as ever. Staff receiving deliveries at their work address of personal goods ordered online may be frowned upon by some organisations but other businesses are quite happy with such arrangements, on the basis of staff welfare and retention.
Another feature that is seen by many as an important amenity is the provision of a comprehensive cycle facility. Cycling to work continues to be a growing trend, particularly in urban locations, and has been actively encouraged by many, including the government with the financial incentives provided by the “Ride to Work” scheme.
In central London, 200 Aldersgate in the City was comprehensively refurbished and remodelled in 2011 which included the provision of around 275 cycle racks. This has proved hugely popular with occupiers and was a valuable marketing tool during the letting phase. Many developers have copied the design but few have delivered to such a high specification, which included the generous provision of top-quality shower and changing facilities. This innovation continues with the major renovation of the facilities and opening of treatment rooms in January 2016, which attracted over 600 occupier enquiries over the first week alone.
Cycling to work is considered by many businesses as an important part of the green agenda, along with the growth in significance of recycling. Such processes require space which needs to be planned at the earliest stage possible.
Another design feature that can be overlooked to the detriment of a building is the reception area. With businesses having to compete for both customers and staff, first impressions count. But the reception area is not just important for visitors. There is a growing trend with occupiers to embrace a more relaxed and inclusive working environment and “lobby life” is an important part of a workplace.
The question is: would not having the best possible facilities such as efficient cycle storage, shower and changing facilities, reception and communal areas be to the detriment of the lettability of a building? If the answer is yes, then they need addressing during the construction phase rather than during the mobilisation of a property or when it is occupied and the management turns to maintaining a happy and efficient building. These are important phases for the property manager and topics I will return to in due course.