Property / Construction

Setting new standards in property management

by Ella Lee

Eton Low, assistant general manager, China Overseas Property Services Ltd

As the services expected of property managers increase, so does the demand for talented new recruits

Traditional property management services are relatively straightforward, focusing on tenancy and the maintenance of a building. However, with stricter standards being set down by the government and owners' corporations, there has recently been an increase in the range of valued-added services being offered by many property management companies. They have been searching for innovative ways to provide enhanced security, energy-saving schemes and environmental protection, all with a view to improving living standards and the spirit of community for residents.

According to Eton Low, assistant general manager of China Overseas Property Services Ltd, the job of property management is becoming ever more challenging. "Simply cleaning, doing maintenance and providing security services is no longer sufficient," he says. "We now need to think about offering other add-on services such as delivering newspapers, selling stamps, improving clubhouse facilities and organising recreational activities."

Many owners and tenants may be paying lower management fees than a few years ago, but that does not stop them from demanding a higher level of services. This may partly be because some property management companies are controlled by the major developers which dominate the local market. Mr Low's employer, for example, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of China Overseas Land & Investment Ltd, whose core business is in construction, contracting and property development. Knowing what such developers charge for a new apartment, residents are inclined to demand something extra in terms of service.

There is more to property management than meets the eye

Diverse challenges

Mr Low is quick to emphasise that there has always been more to property management than meets the eye. It involves everything in the daily operations of a building or facility, requiring a professional approach and specialised knowledge. "Even in terms of cleaning, technical know-how is essential," he says. "For proper maintenance of the different materials used in construction, such as marble, you must know exactly what to do."

Staff at all levels must get used to long and irregular working hours. Some need to be on standby 24 hours a day, ready to deal with any kind of complaint or minor crisis in the most efficient way. As a result, a calm personality and helpful disposition are of the utmost importance for anyone in the property management field.

"You must always remain cheerful, with a positive and proactive attitude, despite the day-to-day frustrations encountered," says Mr Low. He points out the company plays an important role in cultivating this type of positive outlook among employees. "We make sure everyone gets the chance to express their views. Our management, for example, make regular onsite visits to understand the difficulties of frontline staff and listen to their opinions. These visits show their concern, support and encouragement in a practical way."

Whatever post or responsibilities someone holds, communication and people skills are essential. "Whether you work in a residential property, industrial building or shopping mall, the same management techniques are required," Mr Low emphasises. "You meet different people with different concerns but, in every case, customer orientation is the key." While complaints of one kind or another cannot be avoided, lasting job satisfaction can, nevertheless, be derived from the appreciation and recognition shown by residents.

In terms of personal qualities, a property management officer must possess a high degree of honesty and integrity. He or she may be in charge of budgeting and financial management and be required to draft letters and memos. Therefore, language, writing and numerical skills are all important

Starting line

Recent graduates usually start out as an estate assistant or estate management trainee with a base salary of around HK$7,000 to HK$8,000. On average, promotion to the rank of property officer takes about three to four years with a further two years needed to advance to management level.

"Having the right attitude is more important than specific qualifications," says Mr Low. China Overseas hires graduates as well as Form 5 and Form 7 school leavers, provided they are proactive and diligent. The rate of staff turnover among new joiners is comparatively high, since not all have thoroughly considered what the work will involve before applying. "Like in any other job, there can be frustrations," admits Mr Low, "but by showing tolerance, when necessary, and commitment, it is possible to develop a very successful career." Every effort is made to retain well-qualified staff and offer them the chance for speedier promotions.

With regard to continuing professional development, there are a number of opportunities offered by City University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong to study for part-time degrees in property management. In addition, individual companies organise their own in-house training programmes to ensure that professional knowledge is passed on and that employees provide top quality services.

For example, China Overseas Property Services Ltd recently arranged an intensive 15-week training course specifically for estate and property officers. It covered quality standards, financial management and ethics. Attendees were awarded a certificate on completing the course and passing a final examination. Ad hoc courses are also arranged about the latest regulations and emerging trends.

"As the scope of the industry grows, more talented people will be needed in property management in Hong Kong," says Mr Low. "It is a challenging field and is set for a period of sustained expansion."

Raising the bar

  • Property management companies expanding their range of services
  • Specialised technical knowledge is needed in many areas
  • Recruits must possess tolerance and integrity among other attributes
  • Continuing professional development can include study for a relevant degree

Taken from Career Times 17 September 2004
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