If you find water dripping through the ceiling of your apartment, one of your first calls is likely to be to the company which manages the building. Their representative will then be involved in assessing the problem, contacting the owners, and organising repairs and redecoration. It might sound straightforward, but the process can often involve lengthy negotiations, especially if the building manager gets caught in the middle of a dispute between the various parties about liability and costs. That is what makes the job hard work and constantly challenging.
"On such occasions, all you can do is to try your best because you can't always please everyone," says Simon Tang, associate director of A.G. Wilkinson & Associates Property Management Limited. "Views about what is needed are subjective, so it all depends on the customers and how they see your service."
Mr Tang started to work in leasing in 1992 and switched to property management four years later. Through on-the-job training and continuous study, he managed to move up steadily to reach his present position. Nowadays, he concentrates his energies on tendering for new projects and gives his team of professionals a relatively free hand in running the day-to-day management operations.
"In the modern property management business, it's necessary to be a jack of all trades and realise that the competition is getting tougher," Mr Tang says. "Many firms are offering service packages at lower rates to retain current clients and attract new business. Because of this, profit margins are becoming thinner."
You must treat your clients like close relatives
He adds that competition has become so intense that even a comparatively small project like a 100-unit residential building, will attract bids from at least 20 property management companies. Whoever wins will have to offer the right combination of price, brand name, technical expertise, performance pledge, and the ability to mobilise sufficient manpower in the case of an emergency.
When preparing to tender, it is mandatory to inspect the property and the site carefully in order to identify possible problems and suggest solutions. Mr Tang points out that having a good track record supported by industry awards and certificates is an important element in winning the bigger projects. Some owners' incorporations also require property management companies to have various ISO certificates before regarding them as eligible to submit tenders.
Another general requirement is to keep work procedures under constant review and to find ways to upgrade the service. In this, frontline staff can help by noting comments when in contact with residents, and management can get additional feedback by conducting surveys or even arranging activities like barbeques to gauge residents' views.
Mr Tang is still ambitious and would like to manage a real estate development project from the acquisition of the site right through to completion of the buildings. "It would be a real challenge to handle the whole gamut of leasing, sales, marketing, strategic planning, architecture, construction and quality surveying," he says.
Recent graduates going into property management can expect to start out as an estate assistant in a large firm or as a management trainee with an agency. Candidates must have good communication skills and understand the concept of providing a service. They must also be outgoing, optimistic and able to control their emotions when dealing with difficult customers.
"It's important to get on well with your colleagues and regard them as partners with a mutual goal," says Mr Tang. "Also, you must treat your clients like close relatives because only in that way can you hope to win long-term business."
He adds that the best thing about working in the industry is that it gives the chance to broaden one's perspective and meet people from different walks of life. "It is estimated that an average of 22,000 residential flats will be constructed annually, so property management is an area which can guarantee a steady career," he says.
Although there are many job opportunities for property management professionals in mainland China, the laws and procedures which govern operations are different from those in Hong Kong. Anyone wanting to work in China must therefore comply with the standard requirements. Senior professionals from Hong Kong can expect a similar level of remuneration, but must expect to work longer hours and be willing to accept a wider range of responsibilities.