The Community Management industry has experienced redevelopment in Dubai, compared to other markets that contain similar jointly owned property.
It is developing into an all-encompassing asset management industry, covering Administrative, Legal, Financial, Technical, and also the management of a multitude of stakeholders.
In the past, a developer would build and hand over to the owners, before the Community Manager would take over the project, working closely with the owners to operate the facility. Usually, they are the majority of owner-occupied units. The developer would then leave and build elsewhere.
In Dubai, the city which never stands still, the industry has evolved. There, the developers remain, even without assets in the project. The regulator is also heavily involved operationally, while there is a multitude of owners, each with differing opinions and agendas on how the association should operate as the UAE develops its own best practices.
The other challenges faced are the larger amount of tenants living in the communities, of which we have little access too as our relationship is with owners. The clue is in the name – Owners Association.
Again, historically, the industry was managed by posted letters, committee meetings, and notice boards in the lobby. Nowadays we still have that, but our clients are wanting more, our stakeholders are wanting more.
How do we manage that? In truth, it’s not easy.
As Association Managers, we are essentially an administrator. We are there to keep you compliant, however we are expected to be so much more, including Facility Managers and Property Managers (which are in fact both completely different roles).
The issue is we are living in the era of ‘now’. Everyone wants instant gratification, instant responses, instant completion. In Dubai – where you don’t even need to visit the gas station to get fill your vehicle as it can be delivered to your home when you sleep – the challenge is escalated many times over.
The reality is that when dealing in a space in the market where you need to keep so many stakeholders involved in the process, reviews, checks, and going through approval processes both internally and externally – the chances of acting ‘now’ is slim.
So what can we do? How can we continue to deliver a service level that will keep our clients happy and keep them coming back for more?
Well, for most people, the property is the single biggest expense you will ever purchase or rent. When you commit money to something, it comes with emotion, and with emotion this can come in waves of good and bad.
We believe that by providing a transparent ethical service, trust is built between our clients and our team. They need to know that we have the best interests of the asset at heart. It is in the core of what we do.
We believe we can leverage the technological advantages to streamline our services whilst maintaining the human presence that can provide that level of trust.
For example, you can view the project’s finances in real-time, same as we can, via the community portal which will show you every single transaction. However, we also maintain significant human resources to be able to explain, meet, or break this transaction down for you. Not everyone is a chartered accountant, but we still want to feel comfortable in our transactions. We want to show that transparency.
We found that despite working traditional office hours, our clients wanted us to be available when they were available. To do this we digitalised our way of thinking to process requests, move-ins, payments, and other transactions.
We dedicated a 24/7 call centre that will take your calls any time of the day and night and provide our team with the information required to answer your requests. We are always reviewing these methods of service delivery to satisfy the want of the client.
We found that our tenants wanted more information on the operation of the asset. Not only information, but input on how the facilities – which they don’t own – are operated. This means we are engaged in community events and development of communication tools with tenants – not just the owners.
We found that the developer wanted to maintain the ‘brand’ so they could control and continue it across other projects. This included having a say over costs and maintenance providers to protect the interests of the builder, so we are engaging with certified third parties to ensure compliance and transparency that has perhaps been missing over the last five-to-ten years in the market.
We learned that owner-occupiers tend to be amenable to spending more money maintaining and upgrading the asset, compared to an owner-investor who is looking at the ROI in a reduced real estate market, so we are finding ways of engaging in renovation works via financing deals extended over a life0-span to obtain the best of both worlds.
We found that the regulator is now evolving into operational aspects of the projects, including tendering, energy management, and management fees.
All of the above means it’s a major challenge for any Association Management firm to adapt and develop itself into a fully customer-centric company. After all, our job is at times to protect people from themselves, to protect the asset which can lead to confrontation or differences of opinion.
We are having to develop ourselves into not only Administrators, but also Legal Consultants, Financial Advisors, Marketing Executives, Public Relation Officers, Engineers of all disciplines, and Public Speakers.
An easy task? Not at all, but we relish the challenge of incorporating the challenges faced into our operations, because if the industry leaders don’t then they will be left behind in an ever-evolving customer landscape.