Property / Construction

Upgrading the profession

by Kapila Bandara

Wong Kit Loong, chairman, Asian Pacific, the Chartered Institute of Housing

Stricter statutory requirements, rising professionalism and greater stability are resulting in a healthy interest in property management from young graduates - thanks in part to a Hong Kong institute's response to diversity and change

Over the years, the professionalism in property management in Hong Kong has been increasing as a result of regulatory developments, safety and health considerations, environmental concerns, and numerous other factors. And as the profession continues to evolve, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Asian Pacific Branch is playing an important role in the entry of qualified and experienced practitioners into the field.

The institute also plays a critical role in housing policy development and makes its voice is heard. When Michael Suen, Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, underlined government housing strategies and set policy direction in November 2002, he announced a review of the security of tenure provisions in the Landlord and Tenant (Consolidation) Ordinance. Among those to be consulted and to submit proposals was the CIH.

However, Wong Kit Loong, chairman, CIH Asian Pacific Branch, says engaging the government in discussions and debates on housing policy is only one of the institute's many objectives. "We were consulted on issues such as Team Clean," Mr Wong says. "The Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands has invited our comments on ways to promote better property management."

Other changes include the reorganisation of the Housing Bureau and the Housing Department into the Housing Department, integrating policy formulation and implementation. The institute has also dealt with issues such as sub-standard public housing scandals, environmental and health concerns, fire safety, construction problems, evolving market conditions and policy considerations.

These days, housing diploma courses are oversubscribed

A changing industry

The property management profession has clearly undergone a considerable transformation, beginning in the late 1980s to early 1990s. "This was a time [when] big residential developments were completed," says Mr Wong. "Developers wanted to ensure that their assets were well managed and formed subsidiary companies to manage their properties. This created a need for professionally-qualified managers."

Over the past decade, various amendments to the Building Management Ordinance, in terms of provisions related to tendering and insurance, had a positive impact on the profession. In addition, regulations governing fire safety, electrical installations, slope inspection and maintenance played an important role.

Stricter, more updated statutory requirements meant that developers needed more professionally-qualified and experienced managers. Meanwhile, the opening-up of the mainland real estate market and residential, commercial and office projects undertaken by Hong Kong developers created a need for professionals, says Mr Wong.

More proposed amendments to the Building Management Ordinance (Cap 344) are also expected to have a far-reaching impact on the property management industry, residents and owners, among others. The CIH is currently addressing these challenges through various initiatives, such as recommendations to the relevant authorities.

A unique institute

The only branch of the United Kingdom's parent institute, the CIH Asian Pacific Branch boasts 2,300 members in Hong Kong and more than 20,000 worldwide. "The majority of our Hong Kong members are from the Housing Authority. We have members from the public and private sectors," Mr Wong says.

While the institute has been working to upgrade the profession and raise its profile, it has also been building bridges in the region through visits to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Macau, Singapore and Australia. These contacts, says Mr Wong, aid the exchange of ideas and best practices.

The CIH has also been strengthening its links in the mainland, including initiatives to accredit housing and property management courses. It co-operated with the College of Higher and Continuing Education at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou to provide lectures for the CEO Diploma in Advanced International Property Management while, in October 2002, a sub-office was opened in Guangzhou to foster closer contact. Recently, the institute concluded a visit to Zhuhai, one of many such engagements.

Aiming to present a united front on housing policy issues and to promote professionalism in property management, the institute formed the Professional Property Services Alliance with the Hong Kong Institute of Housing, the Hong Kong Association of Property Management Companies and the Hong Kong Institute of Real Estate Administration.

Endorsing housing and property management education programmes provided by the City University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong, sharing experiences and knowledge with practitioners through visits and discussions, arranging workshops and seminars for members and sharing best practices are among other objectives.

Juggling roles

Mr Wong notes that an increasing number of graduates are entering the property management profession and that its stability is a major attraction. "These days, housing diploma courses are oversubscribed," he says.

He advises those keen to enter the profession to prepare to play multiple roles - not just to be a manager, but also to be able to handle community relations. "Sometimes, the property manager has to be a social worker," he says, noting that, on occasion, a manager will have to settle disputes - even family squabbles.

Besides personal attributes such as good interpersonal skills, people management abilities are needed. Newcomers need to be well aware of relevant regulatory matters and have a way with numbers, so they can manage accounts.

Taken from Career Times 12 September 2003
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