Imagine an energy-efficient, fiscally sound co-op, condo, or rental building with a responsive property manager, highly trained service personnel, and an around-the-clock customer care team available to assist residents. It’s not fiction; for more than 500 buildings, with over 70,000 apartments managed by FirstService Residential, it’s a daily reality.
By listening to its clients, FirstService Residential has found they generally have four primary needs. “Our clients want an experienced, knowledgeable manager, an accessible, responsive company, a keen focus on cost savings and expertise in managing their finances, and a focus on increasing service levels and property values,” said Dan Wurtzel, president of FirstService Residential New York, who joined the firm in 1987 when it operated as Cooper Square Realty. “And that’s precisely what we deliver.”
As part of the FirstService Residential network throughout North America, the company has invested in infrastructure including technology, systems, and people, to not only deliver core management services extremely well, but to offer exclusive programs that produce real value and solutions that positively impact a property’s bottom line.
FirstService Residential is a partner and trusted advisor to its clients. “If we’re just collecting the monthly revenue, paying the bills, and making sure the building is clean, we’re not doing nearly enough,” Wurtzel observed. “Buildings are an asset that require planning, important decision-making, and specialized services. In order to maximize the asset, we need to be in a position to provide a high-level of expertise that will enable our clients to make the most informed decisions.”
To help team members meet its high performance standards, FirstService Residential provides continual education and development programs for its managers, as well as for building employees. Courses help strengthen their knowledge of topics ranging from local law compliance to energy efficiency; they also cover essential areas such as budgeting, insurance, customer service, and ethics.
“Because we mandate that our team members remain well-versed on the latest industry developments, products, and services, our property managers bring added value to our clients that is well above and beyond the industry standard,” added Wurtzel.
Classroom training is complemented by hands-on education in the company’s on-site Learning Center, which features various stations replicating building equipment and systems. Its online school of professional development offers a customized curriculum covering all aspects of building operations and management.
FirstService Residential also regularly hosts in-house seminars led by industry experts. After identifying a city-wide knowledge gap concerning the mandates of Local Law 77, the company teamed up with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to offer cooling tower training seminars for property managers and building operators that drew over 400 attendees from throughout the city.
The company also provides hospitality-style customer service training for the doormen, concierges, and front of house staff of its managed buildings. “How the staff interacts with residents, visitors, and each other is a crucial element that contributes to a building’s reputation and quality of life,” Wurtzel said. The company also trains staff in its standard operating procedures and best practices for building operations.
Everyday condo and co-op board members face challenges ranging from proper financial stewardship to navigating conflicts. FirstService Residential aims to alleviate any stress that comes with making difficult decisions. “We want our board members to be confident that they have a reliable partner that will help them make informed decisions on any situation that might arise and provide quality of life solutions,” explained Wurtzel.
The company also invites its board members to seminars and panel discussions to educate them on issues they encounter regularly and to help them establish a greater appreciation of their obligation as fiduciaries. Recent topics covered include managing capital projects, avoiding liability exposure, improving energy efficiency, and resolving quality of life issues.
FirstService Residential property managers operate as part of small teams, each led by a team leader and overseen by a senior vice president. This built-in support network stimulates a client-focused approach to delivering consistent, responsive service and provides clients with additional resources for their account.
“It’s impossible for a property manager to be an expert in every aspect of this business without strong internal support,” said Wurtzel. “That’s why our managers are backed by a team of in-house subject matter experts, including management executives, a general counsel, compliance team, banking, finance and insurance experts, engineering and energy specialists, applications and closing professionals, and a transition team.”
The nature of the business means property managers are often in the field and not able to immediately respond to queries from residents. Yet, explained Wurtzel, “We know residents want to speak with a live person when they have a question.” That’s why the company invested in the customer service experience by creating an innovative 24/7 Care Center staffed with professionals trained to resolve inquiries. “Our Customer Care representatives serve as an extension of each property’s dedicated management team,” added Wurtzel. A translation service is available for residents whose primary language is not English.
FirstService Residential’s proprietary technology enables the Customer Care team to access the company’s operating platform in order to quickly and effectively handle billing questions, facilitate service requests, and address inquires about building policies and procedures, among other issues. Over 80 percent of inquiries are resolved on the initial call. “This has dramatically increased the amount of time our property managers can devote to making more substantial contributions to our clients,” noted Wurtzel.
Unique among management companies, FirstService Residential has an energy subsidiary solely focused on identifying efficiency opportunities, securing financial incentives, and helping to implement solutions for clients that will reduce costs and consumption while increasing efficiency. The electric and gas purchasing program run for its clients is the largest residential program in the U.S. and delivers various options for clients to save money. Additionally, buildings receive an Energy Report Card each year analyzing their performance against comparable properties to help identify issues and start the conversation on developing efficiency strategies.
The size of its management portfolio also allows FirstService Residential to negotiate volume discounts and lock in better terms through its insurance, banking, and tax certiorari programs, as well as for local law compliance and other goods and services, resulting in significant savings to its clients.
“New clients are amazed when they see the actual savings their building will achieve by participating in our programs,” said Wurtzel. “In many cases, the savings total tens of thousands of dollars annually.”
The company’s financial affiliate serves as an adviser to its clients concerning investment strategies. The team proactively evaluates clients’ reserve portfolios to maximize interest income. A recent transaction facilitated for a 200-unit co-op will generate $20,000 in annual interest income as a result of investing $5 million in refinance proceeds.
Looking ahead, Wurtzel knows that his team will continue to seek ways to improve the company’s service offerings in order to bring additional value to clients. “Ultimately we need to ensure that we are positioned to effectively execute our mission so that the properties under our management continue to thrive.”
622 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017