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RTÉ One, Tuesday, 8.30pm
The Consumer Show

The Consumer Show

Property Management Charges

Apartments now account for just over 10pc of households nationally and almost one-third of those in Dublin city.

Apartment owners - and a growing number of householders - must pay charges for communal services and facilities like gardening, insurance, lighting and waste. Home-owners' complaints to The Consumer Show indicate that many are not happy about the level of these charges - or what they are getting for their money.

However, a growing number of home-owners are doing something about it by getting involved in their management company and saving themselves, and their neighbours, hundreds of euro a year as a result. The owner of every house or apartment in a Multi-Unit Development gets one vote and can attend annual meetings to elect the directors and query the accounts.

" It really comes down to finding a few people within every development who have it in them to stand up and say, you know, I've had enough and I'm prepared to do this now," said Sonia McEntee, a solicitor who specialises in apartment law, speaking in an interview with TCS.

In one Dublin development featured in the show, service charges were cut by hundreds of euro a year through simple measures such as not leaving the lights on all the time. In a County Galway development residents got elected as directors of their management company and saved ¤6k a year.

Home-owners can make substantial savings in three areas in particular: waste disposal, electricity and insurance.

Siobhan O'Dwyer, Chair of the Property Management Division of The Society of Chartered Surveyors, joined Keelin on the Consumer Show couch to offer some tips to viewers:

General Tips

  1. Attend the AGM -as a unit owner you have a vote in major decisions taken at the AGM on the running of the development
  2. At the AGM and you can raise questions around the annual service charge and what it covers - it should include items such as block insurance costs, general maintenance and repairs, cleaning, gardening, landscaping etc
  3. Monitor income & expenditure - the OMC must prepare an Annual Report that sets out specific information including a Statement of Income & Expenditure, Statement of Assets & Liabilities and Statement of Sinking Fund account etc
  4. If you are becoming a Director of an OMC - make sure you know your responsibilities as a Director of the company responsible for the management of the common areas
  5. Before taking charge of the common areas from the Developer - make sure a thorough survey is carried out of the common area to identify and issues and make a list of required repairs
  6. When choosing a property managing agent - make sure they are competent and reliable and fully licensed and regulated by the PSRA. Check references of other clients and make sure you get value for money.

Tips to reduce costs

  1. Review and agree the service specification you need (for cleaning /Grounds maintenance etc ) and annually invite a minimum of 3 contractors to quotes - that way you are regularly reviewing market rates, comparing costs like with like and have a better basis to minimise cost and insure value
  2. Check that the common area lighting systems are on the most efficient tariff - usually this is general purpose and general purpose night saver
  3. Consider having an energy audit carried out - new more cost effective technologies in the market such as LED sensor lighting have payback periods of last than two years (can result in 50% annualised savings)
  4. Consider seasonal adjustment to the grounds maintenance - i.e. less service in the winter when there is limited growth and more in the summer
  5. Waste Management - promote recycling - Management of waste streams can significantly reduce costs (rates can be reduced to as low as ¤100 per apartment - a significant saving on what a traditional householder might pay)
  6. Insurance - ensure buildings are re-valued at regular intervals and adjust valuations and cover in line with current buildings costs.

Tips to protect the value of your estate and property

  1. Ensure your managing agents are professionally qualified and licensed
  2. Communicate with owners - make everyone aware of what is going on - where the money is spent - i.e. explain the purpose and the benefits of service charges
  3. Attend your AGM - ask questions
  4. Become involved on the board of directors - and if you cannot check that those who are, are bonefide and acting in the best interests of the estate
  5. Maintain an adequate sinking fund - charge and put away a small amount of your service charge each year into a "building investment fund" also known as a "sinking fund" to ensure funds are available for big jobs which are required every few years like refurbishment of the common areas or replacement of the lift carriages
  6. To maximise life span ensure proper Planned Preventative Maintenance is in place on all mechanical and electrical equipment, roofs areas and building fabrics etc

Tips on health and safety

  1. Ensure your fire /life systems are serviced and maintained in compliance with statutory regulations
  2. Have a H&S procedures & policy in place particularly if there are any employees like a janitor.
  3. Make all residents aware of their H&S responsibilities to protect the OMC from any potential claims for liability
  4. Undertake regular documented inspections (risk assessments) of the common area to identify hazards/risks. eg loose cobblestone, torn carpets, uncollected waste
  5. Provide a helpdesk and or procedure to follow in the event of an emergency

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