As part of our Boost My Business initiative Fiona Alston caught up with Enda McGuane, Managing Director of Galway based Winters Property Management, to discuss what they've learned as a company this year.
Winters Property Management have been in business for 23 years and provide property services across the north west of Ireland in housing estates, apartment blocks, commercial units, and student accommodation.
"In that space we put budgets together, we repair lifts, we get insurance for the blocks and clean them – we have over 20,000 people living in the properties we manage," says Enda McGuane.
"We are also letting agents, so we let single residential properties or blocks of properties - we have probably about 800 units, managed or unmanaged to private tenants," he continues. "And we are also the largest operator of purpose-built student accommodation in the country with over 3000 students across seven sites."
The team of 50 also includes a sales and valuation service for residential and commercial properties.
Covid entering the country certainly created many challenges for Winters. While the teams working in offices could move to a remote working environment effectively, the business still needed to access people's home to address any issues with the property.
"We're managing people's homes, and if they have a problem internally in their house, for example, a water leak between one apartment and another, Covid or no Covid, you have to address that and also the government guidelines about maintaining people in homes," says McGuane.
"From a letting perspective we had to look at how we did things. We had to engage with tenants who are having difficulties because they lost their jobs and their incomes had disappeared," he says. "We had to work between them and the landlords and try to arrange new agreements in terms of rent reductions and all that piece."
Another issue which Covid brought to the fore front is how to create a healthy environment for people living and working together. Our neighbours became more than people we wave to as we rush out the door in the morning. Everyone was home at the same time, needing the amenities at the same time. Work and leisure shared the same timeline.
"That put huge pressure on services – people couldn't venture beyond two kilometres (in initial lockdown) so we had to maintain the greenspaces regularly," says McGuane, "but lockdown also created more challenges."
"All of a sudden somebody who used to be in an office all day," he says, "suddenly discovered that their neighbour has a dog that barks a lot."
The business also helped to develop new standards on how property management services should manage estates incompliance, using government guidelines.
The student accommodation side of the business has been a major concern for McGuane.
The initial lockdown period saw students preferring to stay in accommodation rather than going home to their families or sick relatives. During the summer, their usual summer lets were affected by the lower tourism numbers and now that third level institutions are back in action the move to online lectures has reduced the number of students looking for long term accommodation.
"We have some students who are staying with us as we continue to service Galway, Athlone, Sligo, Letterkenney and all the places we manage – the students need to have decent broadband and some of them don't have broadband at home so that they stay with us," says McGuane.
"We have had students who have had to self-isolate, and they were in a five bed apartment, so we’ve had to deal with all that – it's about adapting all the time but being conscious that we're providing a home for these kids away from home, and that we have to provide that in the best way we can. Keeping them in a safe, secure environment," he says.
Regardless of the ups and downs the Winters' team has endured over the last six months there is a strong positive awareness which has come out of their experience with their tenants. Covid has taught us many lessons and being aware of the environment we create, or is created for us, around us is more important than ever.
"There's an opportunity now to transform how we do things, for better," says McGuane. "How we can create spaces that people can live in and work in - this is the time to change that now and we need to be open minded to lots of variations of that."
"The one positive thing we’ve seen is more people value their community, because they're spending more time at home," he continues. "You suddenly realise how important it is to have friends and neighbours around you that you know, not just people waving at you as you drive out in the morning or come back in the evening."