The past six months have been unlike any other, with the Coronavirus pandemic having a huge impact on all of our lives. At the time of writing, lockdown restrictions have been eased, making it the ideal time to give you a service update and answer the most frequently asked questions.
We began the transition back to our Seven Dials offices in early June. To adhere to social distancing guidelines, we split our departments into teams and established a rota, allowing staff to alternate between remote and office working. We’re closely monitoring the situation and will obviously be led by the Government, but it is our intention to continue this hybrid style of working until 1st September.
Although it’s not quite ‘business as usual’, we are fully networked and equipped to provide you with a highly responsive service. The feedback we’ve received to date has been overwhelmingly positive and we’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to comment on our handling of the crisis.
Careful consideration of staffing throughout the pandemic has ensured that every building under our management continues to have a designated Property Manager, supported by a dedicated member of our Accounts team. If you’re unaware of who this is or how to contact them, please do get in touch. Rest assured that the way in which we manage your property hasn’t changed. Your Property and Accounts Managers are undertaking their usual tasks, which are tailored to your specific building.
We are encouraging open communication via email and telephone calls, and also offer video conferencing. Over the coming weeks, you may be contacted by a member of our admin team, asking you to confirm your contact details and preferred method of correspondence. This is to ensure that our systems are kept up to date and to help us achieve our ‘going green’ objective of becoming paperless where legally possible.
We have now resumed site inspections and your Property Manager will place works orders for matters identified whilst visiting your property. It’s important to remember that some contractors are unable to meet government guidelines on social distancing and are therefore unable to attend to some routine duties. Any jobs that have been put on hold will be prioritised as and when directives permit.
If we need to visit your individual property, you will be asked if anyone in your household has Coronavirus symptoms or is self-isolating. If they are, we may need to reschedule the visit for a later date. On arrival, our staff or contractors will be wearing protective equipment. If possible, to respect social distancing, we ask that you move to a different area whilst they carry out their work.
Included with this leaflet, you may find your individual service charge demand, which is issued in accordance with your lease and itemised in your annual budget.
The service charge is a vital source of income for the upkeep of your building and, under the terms of your lease, must be paid. The fee covers many essential items like buildings insurance, general repairs, lighting, heating and fire system maintenance. It varies building by building and only relates to communal and shared facilities. It’s possible that some aspects of maintenance may have been temporarily suspended during lockdown, however a number of other services, especially those relating to health and safety compliance, will have increased.
We do understand that this is an incredibly difficult time. If you’re genuinely struggling to pay your service charge, we advise you to contact your Property Manager to discuss your individual circumstances and the options that may be available to you.
Lessons learnt during lockdown
It is said that, “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity”. At Austin Rees, we have gained precious insights from the pandemic and see it as an opportunity to re-evaluate and improve our services.
Being accredited members of ARMA (Association of Residential Managing Agents) and RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) has been invaluable. Their regular updates and expert advice have guided us when deviating from normal working practices. In turn, we have been able to advise our clients and remain confident in the course of action we have taken.
Technology has also been a big talking point. Whilst laptops, mobiles and video conferencing have played a crucial role in remote working, we are now looking to the future and identifying information and communications technology to streamline our services and improve the client experience.
Minor repairs & cleaning
The cleaning of buildings continues to be of the utmost importance. We constantly review the effectiveness of the methods used, paying particular attention to high touch points such as door handles, push plates, bannisters and lift buttons.
Following the easing of restrictions, the construction industry is experiencing a backlog of non-urgent repair work that had been booked prior to 23rd March. We’re working closely with a host of contractors to ensure that these jobs can be completed as quickly as possible. We ask that you bear with us whilst our tradespeople re-prioritise their workload.
At the start of the lockdown, we devised a ‘traffic light’ risk assessment for major works due to be undertaken in 2020. Working with our clients, we made an informed decision whether each project should proceed, and if so, what additional precautions would be necessary. When instructing works, we’ve considered the self-isolation of residents, the supply of materials and availability of contractors, as well as travel restrictions. For projects deemed to be low risk, we’ve been booking contractors for future dates to avoid further delays and inflated prices due to high demand.
Our commitment to health and safety remains paramount. Throughout the lockdown, our focus has been on reducing risk and ensuring fire safety compliance, including servicing lifts and maintaining emergency lighting.
Noise & social distancing
Due to the increased amount of people staying at home and remote working, there has been a surge in complaints relating to noise. We understand how disturbing music, DIY, children’s voices and even footsteps can be. Please be both tolerant and mindful of your neighbours. Consider where you place speakers, radios and televisions, avoiding floors and party walls.
Concerns have also been raised that fellow residents have, at times, not been following government guidelines regarding social distancing. Unfortunately, we have no power to enforce the rules and can only request that you adhere to them in an effort to keep everyone safe and well.
As Managing Agents, we are only aware of the legal owner of each property, however this may not be the person who resides in the building. The Grenfell disaster highlighted the importance of knowing who is on the premises at any given time. If you are an absent leaseholder who privately rents out your property, we propose that you provide us with your tenant’s details for their own safety.
Many of you will know that Austin Rees have an in-house lettings department, AR Lettings, who are also based at our Dyke Road offices. Working alongside our Property Managers, the Lettings team are familiar with our management portfolio and can be trusted to find the right tenant for your property. The team work with a number of our landlords – private, corporate and overseas – to provide an integrated and efficient service. For further information, including special rates for Austin Rees leaseholders, call 01273 760007 or visit www.arlets.co.uk
Before lockdown, we were exploring various software solutions that provide an out-of-hours emergency service. We appreciate that disasters don’t always happen during the working day and, for a while now, we have aspired to offer a 24/7 service. In the event of an emergency, we want our clients to be able to speak to a real person, someone who is experienced in property management and who will take control of the situation. We’re delighted to announce that we’re in talks with a provider who meets all of our criteria and will pilot the service with a select group of properties this autumn.
AR Lettings trialled 3D technology during lockdown, using it to market properties, and it proved a huge success. Austin Rees plan to roll it out across our portfolio to create real-life visual experiences. We hope to offer guided tours to new residents, more accurate floor plans to facilitate major works and important information relating to meter cupboards, exit routes and fire safety strategies.
Going green initiative
Austin Rees remain absolutely committed to reducing the carbon footprints of the buildings under our management. Although our attention has been needed in other areas during this pandemic, our green plans are now back on track and making excellent progress.
Working closely with BHESCo (Brighton & Hove
Energy Services Cooperative) and their partners, we’re now organising environmental assessment surveys on buildings comprising long leasehold flats.
The first survey has just been completed on a block of 41 flats on Hove seafront. It examines the electricity and gas services used and how savings can be made, for financial and environmental benefit. The efficiency of heating systems, window replacement and building insulation have been considered, as well as the possibility of introducing solar energy. This building is being used as a case study and we’ll report on the findings in due course.
Our job as Managing Agents will be to break down the recommendations and determine the responsibilities for change. We’ll need to consider the terms of the leases, leaseholder and freeholder liabilities and those items which can and cannot be funded through service charges. If necessary, we’ll need to reset annual service charge budgets and take future planned works projects into account. Recycling, waste and bicycle storage will also be considered. We’ll be working closely with our clients and leaseholders at every stage.
BHESCo charge a fee for the completion of the survey but we do not charge any fees for our involvement.
If you consider that your building would benefit from such a survey and would like to take the first step in making your building as green as possible, please
contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to your Property Manager.
Our website and social media pages came into their own during lockdown, keeping everyone abreast of the latest
industry guidance and news on our services. If you’re on social, please do follow us on Facebook and Twitter:
We hope that you’ve found the above information useful. If you have any further queries, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Rest assured that we are prepared for a second wave of the virus and will adapt swiftly to ensure minimum disruption to our services. In the meantime, we wish you and your family well.