Cut-Price Property Management: Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap

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Urban high streets across Melbourne are populated by what now appear to be our most essential businesses: nail salons, coffee shops, property development display suites and supermarkets.

Between the gel pedicures and the Aesop-filled real estate display suites, there’s another trend that’s emerging more brazenly than ever before: dirt cheap property management. Whether pasted on empty apartment windows, dropped into our letterboxes, bombarding us from billboards or as part of our Facebook feed, it’s not unusual to see property management fees advertised for as little as 3.3%.

If you work in the real estate industry, you’ll probably be disgusted by such a low fee. But if you’re not (and let’s face it, most of the community are not), you won’t intuit much from the advertised fee – you won’t know if it’s high or low, and what value you get for your hard-earned. This deficit in communicating value is a failing of the real estate industry in Australia: they’ve not convincingly told the story of property management, and how it is an expert profession.

As a country, we’ve become intensely price-driven across many industries. Having been drip-fed an insulin-sweet feed of cheap clothes and cheap supermarket shopping, our national lizard consciousness now equates cheapness with value. At the same time, most of us inherently seem to understand that we pay a cost for our cheapness: it’s the obsolescence built into our technology, the fashion tops that look rubbish after three washes, the throw-away culture we’ve engendered. As wages stagnate, the cost of essential services like gas and electricity rise and the median price of housing soars, we look for ways to cut costs in other parts of our lives. It’s an uncomfortable tightwalk we balance upon as our economy shifts.

There are, however, some categories of expertise you don’t want to go cheap on. It’s pretty clear that a bargain basement overseas medical procedure is unlikely to be equal to its more expensive local delivery. Cheapness in professional services is something most of us are wary of, too: we want to know our lawyer, accountant and conveyancer are expert in their field. It’s only the few who are entirely price-driven that pretend all doctors are the same, all lawyers are the same and all accountants are the same – regardless of their level of expertise and accountability.

So why do we not feel similarly about our real estate professionals? Being responsible for the care of our real estate assets is clearly an important role – so why do we think that a cheap property manager will be a good property manager? Aren’t we worried that a business who wins custom courtesy of their cheapness might not be the most legitimate and experienced business? It’s disappointing that the race to the bottom when it comes to real estate fees is often fuelled by real estate businesses themselves.

If you’re an investor attracted by ultra-cheap property management fees, here’s a few reasons to think twice before handing over your precious real estate.

  • If you’re not paying much money, YOU ARE THE MONEY.

A real estate agency’s value is based on the only true asset that business has: this is their rent roll. Whilst the public often think sales is where the money is made, property management is where an agency builds its saleable value. There’s no consistency in sales – having six months of outstanding results is no predictor of the next year being a corker. Sales are just the cream on top of property management earnings.

Cheap property management fees are a sure sign of a Principal wanting to build their asset before selling it on. In short: they’re cutting fees to bulk out their property management asset in an effort to raise its value before flipping it. Their focus isn’t about quality service, supporting their property managers to do a great job for landlords or only managing properties in a geographic area that makes sense: it’s just about numbers.

The result for you as a landlord? Prepare to be sold on to another real estate agency, and soon! You’re a number, not a member.

  • Which way do you want your property management service?

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You can only ever pick two. (I take every opportunity I can to wheel out this clever venn diagram.) Cheapness and speed don’t equal excellence – and when you’re gambling with literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of real estate, do you really want your property managed by an agency who put such little value in their services that they slash their own wages? Probs not.

  • The Golden Ratio

There’s a maximum amount of properties that any single manager should be responsible for. It’s approximately 150. In real terms, that’s a minimum of 300 relationships for a competent single individual to manage between landlords and tenants. Do you know how many properties the cut-rate, beleaguered property manager might be handling? Anywhere from 200 to 300 properties. We’re talking about 600 relationships. You don’t have to be a property expert to know that these figures don’t spell quality management. Far better to trust your asset to an experienced property manager handling an appropriate amount of properties. You want them to know you, remember you, call you and know about your weird air conditioner.

There are a bevvy of reasons not to go cheap on yourself when it comes to important services like property management – but these three spine-chillers should do for now. 3.3% management fees? No thanks!

Iolanthe Gabrie is Director of social media agency Ruby Slipper

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All The Single Ladies, All The One Bedroom Apartments

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Today’s Hometruths Melbourne blog is for the ladies in the audience. And not just the single ones. I want y’all to be financially literate and financially independent. And the key to this literacy and independence rests on one keystone: the one bedroom apartment in your own name.

In my years as an estate agent, I was privy to the financial and emotional bullying of young women who were attempting to assert their independence by purchasing their own asset. Here’s two ways their story would go:

Scenario One: 

The young woman would start attending open for inspections to get a measure of the market they were in. Most young female purchasers are well-informed, taking time to research their preferred investment location and its sales histories. They have their finance in order and they are ready to purchase. They absolutely have the capacity to make independent financial decisions for themselves. They’ve got their eye on a one bedroom apartment, and they’re ready to make a commitment. But then the well-meaning family members or significant others step in.

‘Oh darling, this place is so small! Why don’t you spend the same money on buying a villa unit in (insert outer urban location here)?’ says Mum. ‘Sweetheart, you’ve gotta be careful with these agents. They’re swindlers. Offer them $100,000 less, and not a penny more. And this place is old – think of all the repairs you’re gonna have to do. Trust Dad. We’ll help you save for a better place than this – something new, something where you’ll get better value for your dollar.’ Finally, the boyfriend (who often hasn’t the savings or will to assert financial independence behind him that she has) chimes in. ‘Babe. I don’t think we’re ready for this. What about the housing bubble? Wait for that. What about an overseas holiday for six months? Don’t you want to make memories with me? Also, I hear that Collingwood is going to become overvalued soon. Don’t take the risk honey.’

Scenario Two:

They would find a one bedroom apartment in an inner-urban area which matched their budget and lifestyle requirements. Their hands would shake with the gravity of the situation as they signed the contract of sale (after having their solicitor look it over, young women being the rightfully cautious peeps they are). The relief in their voices was palpable upon learning their offer had been accepted by the vendor – sometimes there were tears and hugs, too. But then it came time for their ‘final inspection’ of the property prior to settlement – and naturally, they’d bring along Mum and Dad and the boyf, wanting to share their joy and hoping for praise from their loved ones at their achievement.

This would rarely occur. Rather, she would skip into the apartment with glee ahead of me, before her Mum and Dad would begin picking out every irrelevant, negative detail of the property. ‘Ooh, the grout in the bathroom’s a bit dirty isn’t it?’ ‘Great living room, but it’s so close to the kitchen isn’t it?’ ‘The view’s not great darl. Wish you called me to have a look at it first.’ And often, in whispered tones ‘can you get out of this contract’? The joy in her eyes would dim. She had made the wrong decision, it seemed. She wasn’t capable of buying property – isn’t that something only the professionals, and men were to be relied upon to do well?

This bullying is insidious, profoundly destabilising and ultimately misogynist. It’s sabotage. Sure, it’s coated in a veneer of concern – it’s probably unconscious on behalf of the perpetrators – but at core, these attitudes reinforce that she can’t make decisions about financial matters for herself. Which is patently untrue. In all cases, ‘she’ – the buyer of that much saved for and wanted one bedroom apartment – had saved her shekels, done her research and shown great bravery in committing to her own future.  For a woman, purchasing a one bedroom apartment on her own is a revolutionary, feminist act. She is saying to the world (and to herself, more importantly) that I can make a decision, I am capable and I am responsible for myself in this rowdy world.

A one bedroom is the keystone to a woman’s financial future. Don’t listen to the naysayers who pretend that one bedrooms aren’t valuable because they’re not on land. Pish tosh. Value has to do with location, not land per se. Particularly when you’re young and you just have to get a foothold in the escalating market. The one bedroom you buy isn’t for you to live in forever. It’s just an elevator – it will grow at a rate that you can’t hope to save for yourself per annum. It will give you equity as the years pass, and enforces savings on you into the bargain. Soon enough, you’ll be able to buy something else – either keeping that first, important one bedder or selling it to trade up. The only thing you need to worry about, lady, is buying in an area that is desirable – or in the suburb next to the desirable one. Older apartments are fine – they increase in value just as much (and often moreso) than their newer counterparts. I probably wouldn’t recommend buying in a giant development or ‘off the plan’ – but that’s my own peccadillo. A property in a good area that you can afford to service is better than no property at all. 

And that boyfriend? Don’t let him move into your hard-won asset, or ride on your coattails onto the contract of sale with a declaration of eternal love. If he didn’t put in half the deposit, he’s not the owner. Let something which has taken such focus and commitment – and bearing of emotional strain to purchase – be yours alone. Repercussions for allowing a casual partner to cohabit for an extended period of time in your residence can be severe: if you split up and a court rules you as de facto, that ex-partner may be due a portion of your property. If he liked it, then he should have a put a ring on it. Whether you’re a fan of marriage or not, buying a property with a partner at an appropriate stage in your relationship is the best bet. You can then liquidate your one bedroom and put it towards the bigger purchaser made together, or (even better!) keep it and build a portfolio in your name.

You can do it, ladies. Buy a one bedroom apartment. On your own. No boyfs or BS about it.