An Original Essay by Rosemary Rae

In these ever changing, stressful times that we are living in, it is now, more than ever, essential to be effective in communication.

How often have we found that Owners take a decision to move the management of their group for something that is in actual fact no more than a misunderstanding of a situation or a misaligned expectation of the service supplied. Something that could have possibly been resolved, If perhaps, the lines of communication between both the Owners and their Strata Manager was one of mutual trust and respect.

I have worked in the industry for nearly twenty years, both here in Australia and overseas, and one thing that I have found in common with both the countries and the management companies is the feeling that it is “them versus us.”

This perception is something that exists from the side of the owners towards their manager and also from a manager towards the owners. It is a perception that I have never understood because at the end of the day the Owners choose to employ a manger to work with them and for them in the interests of their investment.

When you employ a financial advisor, you do not employ them with the perception that you are going to have to fight. You employ them as you have done your research into the services that they provide, and you are of the opinion that their expertise and service is the right one for your needs. This is the same for every service provider you employ. You take your pet to the vet, but you visit the doctor. At no time do you expect their services to be anything other than what they are and in actual fact, if your vet ever suggested medication for you, you would be horrified. So why do we employ a strata manager without the confidence that they are going to be providing us with exactly what is required for our Corporation?

To those of us who work in the industry it is a typical paradigm that owners not only request us, and indeed expect us, to supply a service which is outside our scope of expertise, but are convinced that when they do contact us in relation to a matter pertaining to the Strata or Community Titles Acts, we will provide them with the incorrect information.

In March this year when South Australians were looking at the very real possibility of suffering from the Covid 19 pandemic in the same manner that the rest of the world was, the need for our communication skills came into play as never before. Strata/Community Managers found themselves working remotely from home, unable to attend meetings on a face to face basis, and communication skills had to be drawn upon like never before. To be able to hold an Annual General Meeting via telephone conference and to be able to have the same “connection” with the Owners called on a whole different set of skills with the inability to actually see each other, shake hands and the like.

Owners were also finding themselves at this time working from home, noticing more and more with each passing day the deteriorating state of the buildings and the lack of maintenance undertaken to the property over the past fifteen years. Over a period of days, or weeks, this frustration turned to anger as these thoughts took momentum and several things were noted by the owner. These were:

1) They paid their levies every quarter;

2) The manager took this money and did not maintain the buildings;

3) The manager did not visit the site and provide a report on any maintenance that may be required.

As an owner this was the perfect opportunity for me to phone my manager let them know of the disgusting state of the property and that we were aware that they had taken all our money and not done what we had paid them for!

As a manager I was aware of a very different scenario than the one above. This was as follows:

1) The Owner believed that all their quarterly levy was paid directly to their manager, when in actual fact only a small portion of this levy was for the management fee. Most of the quarterly levy actually went towards their insurance, grounds maintenance, electricity and water charges.

2) Approximately 6 years ago several quotations for each of the following items had been obtained:

a) Gutter repairs; 

b) Wood Rot repairs; 

c) Painting

At the Annual General Meeting these were discussed by owners and it was noted that the Corporation did not have sufficient funds to pay for this necessary maintenance. Owners declined to raise a once off special levy or to increase their current contributions towards the sinking fund with a view to meeting this expenditure over the next few years. It was agreed the Manager would obtain updated quotations prior to the next Annual General Meeting for discussion. This took place in a similar manner for the following two years after which discussion around maintenance ceased.

3) In terms of 27A(1) and (2) of the Strata Titles Act 1955 the Corporation had delegated to their manager, an administrative role and while section 27A(2)(k) allows the manager to arrange for the maintenance and repair of the common property this is only on behalf of the Corporation. The final authority lies with the owners or the management committee.

While the above is just one scenario, and there are many more, I would humbly encourage you, if you can relate to any of the above in your own experiences, that you refine your communication skills, remembering that hearing is as vital a part of communicating as is talking. For while you hold a mainly administrative position, good communication skills will enable you to not only educate owners of their responsibilities and your role, but it will equip you to forge strong, successful business relationships in the process.

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